By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
January 23, 2016
Philippine Daily Inquirer

THERE’S AN often-aired lament that we as a people have a short memory, so short that national figures and events and all that we swore off that were associated with the unlamented past, like the dark era of the dictatorship, are so easily accepted back into the fold. These figures are so accepted, even welcomed, that they even get elected to public office.

Linked with this lament is the regrettable fact that our textbooks do not adequately cover periods in recent history, such as the martial law years and the post-Edsa period. It is not accurate to say that the youth have forgotten about the struggle against martial law. How can they forget what they never knew about in the first place?

Even in the absence of dream textbooks that present Philippine historical periods accurately, a good place to start in the classroom is the commemoration of certain days, like Jan. 25, which this year marks the 83rd birth anniversary of the country’s 11th and first woman president, Cory Aquino.

One of my favorite classroom resources as a teacher is a book that my dear colleague, Ester Fernando, passed on to me when she retired, “The Book of Holidays Around the World” (E.P. Dutton, 1986). It was her bible and it soon became mine, because it gives a reason to celebrate every day of the year, and provides the interesting background and lovely illustrations for why the day is special in what part of the world. Of course, I did not follow it all that faithfully, especially when the day was not a literary figure’s birthday; I preferred to substitute Philippine events for particular dates. At any rate, a reference such as this was an enjoyable and meaningful way to start a class day.

And how wonderful it would be to have a Philippine or an Asean edition of such a book.
For instance, while Jan. 25 is observed as the birthday of Robert Burns (the poet behind “Auld Lang Syne”), for the Filipino audience, it can be marked as Cory Aquino’s day.

Teachers need not worry about upsetting lesson plans for the day and the curriculum to be followed. A brief intro would not take long. At the very least, she would already be known to our students as the mother of President Noynoy Aquino and of celebrity Kris Aquino, and as one of the images on our P500 bill. A few sentences of historical background about this woman in yellow would suffice, she who reluctantly carried on her husband Ninoy Aquino’s relentless struggle for democracy and found herself the successor to the dictator Marcos.

Allow the students to better know the woman behind the presidential title through these select anecdotes about her, from her classmates, her children and her grandchildren.

As a young student of St. Scholastica’s College before the war broke out, Cory was quiet and diligent and topped her class. But she herself said that she emerged No. 1 only when the “true” class valedictorian moved to Bicol. Her classmate and friend, Carina Tancinco Mañalac, likes to say that although they continued to be friends in adulthood, they were not that close in grade school because Cory belonged to the quiet group in class. Cory never stood out as belonging to a more privileged class, even wearing hand-me-down uniforms from her elder sisters. If her oral speech and diction were impeccable, it was because as a child, she loved practicing her skills by reading out loud to her elders.

Cory’s insistence on remaining as anonymous as she could get away with is evident in this account by her eldest grandson Jiggy Cruz: One time, she and Jiggy were shopping at Walmart, where a sales attendant began to say that she looked like Cory Aquino. Cory glared at Jiggy, wordlessly telling him not to confirm her identity.
Kris recalls with much amusement and gratitude her Mom’s words of counsel to her, including making sure that her family’s commercial modeling commitments always included her elder son Josh. Cory had said that Kris had no inheritance to expect, unlike Cory herself who was fortunate to enjoy that from her entrepreneurial father.
Is there value in knowing what may seem like trivia? Yes, if that will entice students to want to know more about who Cory Aquino really was and her role in the restoration of Philippine democracy. This was one of the reasons my husband Elfren and I embarked on a book, “The Aquino Legacy,” which is intended to introduce principally Ninoy and Cory to the millennial generation. And as for the parents, how can one ignore the incumbent head of the land? (The book is available in all Fully Booked stores.)

It is better, especially for the young, to know that heroes had feet of clay. They were not born heroes, but began as everyday folks like you and me. They made a significant choice with the challenges thrust upon them which they did not shirk. And there lies the big difference.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( nenisrcruz@gmail.com) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.