Two heroes, two widows

This month of August we celebrate the death anniversaries of two of the most illustrious fellows who graced the local political landscape.

Their extraordinary lives and legacies have left indelible marks in our history, leaving a profound mark on our people, not even the passage of time can dim.

On August 18, 10 years ago, Jessie Manalastas Robredo met his tragic end in a plane crash off the shore of Masbate from an official function as Interior Secretary in Cebu on a flight home to Naga City when the small aircraft encountered engine problems.

Taken at a very early age of 54, Robredo’s accomplishments in public service will easily obscure those of many of our public servants who have been in positions of power for decades.

Unlike mediocre politicians who strut like peacocks and wield power like potentates, Jessie, as a public servant, gave premium to action and helped his constituents in Naga City without fanfare.

He was averse to don the trappings of power, mingling with ordinary folk and, taking on the most menial tasks just like them, thus, his “tsinelas style of leadership.”

Also this month, August 21 to be exact, marked the 39th death anniversary of Ninoy Aquino, a patriot and a martyr.

Volumes have been said and written about the life and times of Ninoy.

How he fought the Marcos dictatorship, suffered imprisonment and persecution to finally fall from an assassin’s bullet 39 years ago.

For sure, Ninoy was no saint which he himself admitted. His ordeal however in the hands of Marcos, his nemesis, was an epiphany of sorts that reawakened in him the latent goodness in the man.

While in prison he became deeply religious. He preached non-violence in the midst of oppression and pursued social reforms and lambasted the iniquitous social order at that time every chance he could.

Surely, adversity brings out the best and the worst in people.

Heroes and martyrs as well as villains and opportunists are produced when people are immersed in difficult situations.

Lucky for us, Robredo and Ninoy chose to become heroes rather than villains. Which is why, to this day, we have every reason to celebrate their lives and their legacies.

Heroes are not born heroes, they are but ordinary people who make their lives extraordinary, the intrepid souls who choose to transcend their “ordinariness” to achieve a noble goal.

As Ninoy once said: “We must transcend our petty selves, forget our hurts and bitterness, cast aside thought of revenge, and let sanity, reason, and above all, love of country prevail during our gravest hour.”

Jessie and Ninoy were fortunate to have, during their lifetime, supportive and likeminded, and loving partners.

Widowed by their husbands’ untimely death, Cory and Leni chose not to remain ensconced in their own private lives but offered themselves, albeit reluctantly at times, to fill in the void left by their husbands.

Cory, was thrust into the limelight after the death of Ninoy to lead the nation after the EDSA Revolt.

As president, Cory took no time to restore democracy and dismantle the vestiges of the dictatorship.

Like it or not, Cory may have had her share of shortcomings as a leader, but thru sheer grit and unassailable integrity, she slowly raised the nation from the ashes of decades-long misrule and abuse by the Marcos conjugal dictatorship and their hordes of enablers.

By the end of her term, a functioning democracy was restored, and democratic space once again made available to the people.

Leni is no different. A long-time human rights lawyer and social activist, she eventually ran for public office when Jessie died, and was elected in 2013 as the 3rd district representative of Camarines Sur, her home province. She assumed the vice-presidency in 2016.

As de facto leader of the opposition, Leni did not hesitate to criticize the Duterte government especially over its human rights violations.

We all know that her role as the primary fiscalizer did not sit well with those in power which tried relentlessly to alienate and deplatform her every chance they got.

Despite her untainted public record, she lost in the 2022 elections. Retirement however, is not in her vocabulary.

Her unsuccessful bid for the highest post is an occasion to return to her first love – to do her part in uplifting the lives of the poor and the marginalized, which she endearingly refers to as people in the “laylayan.”

And then there are the children in the case of the Aquinos.

Certainly, Noynoy Aquino did his part to build our country; while his sisters as private citizens did their part.

And the Aquino grandchildren too must be good citizens. And of course the three daughters of Jesse and Leni – no one can be prouder of what they have become than their parents.

Ninoy and Jessie, Cory and Leni. We thank you for your lives of service.


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