Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, or "Cory" as the Filipino people call her, is serene. That's what strikes you about her most when you see her in person.
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian pundit renown for pointing out that in an electronic age such as ours the medium is as much the message as anything that is said, separated people into two categories: hot and cold. Cold, more detached or lay-back people, he said were more effective personalities for television, which he also considered a cold medium. I'm pretty certain Mr. McLuhan, if he were alive today, would consider Mrs. Aquino a cold personality, per fectly suited for television. That might help explain her success as a leader.I was able to observe Mrs. Aquino for a couple of hours when she was in New York City in mid-September to address a dinner in her honor at the Hilton Hotel. Sponsored by the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Club of New York, it presented an opportunity for this eighth president of the Philippines to ask the business community of America to
reinvest in her country.
The 5 foot, 2 inch president walked into the room surrounded by security people. As she made her way to the dais, the Filipinos seated among a crowd of 1,600 or so people began chanting "Cor-ey, Cor-ey." She smiled and waved. She looked attractive in a simple black dress. Earlier in the week, my wife and I watched her on television as she addressed both houses of the U.S. Congress. I had been enthralled as she spoke. My wife sighed with displeasure. ''What's wrong," I said. "How could she wear that," my wife said. "That blouse just doesn't go with her suit." I knew right then that man's position of leadership was secure in America. This night, however, my wife probably would have found little wrong with Mrs. Aquino's outfit.
Those on the dais and those seated at the tables on the floor of the Grand Ballroom ate dinner before Mrs. Aquino was to speak. We in the press had been given sandwiches before Mrs. Aquino arrived. So I sat and observed her as she ate and spoke to the two men on either side of her.
Being a journalist for so many years, I have observed many leaders in government, business and entertainment. Most of them are very public people. By that I mean, they have a way of "turning on" when they are the center of attention. President Reagan actually glows. He holds his body erect, his chin is tilted slightly upward so his neck line looks younger. I once was friends with an actor. He played Tom on "As the World Turns," a daily soap opera. No men ever recognized him. But when he and I would be in a room of women, they knew who he was immediately. He had a sixth sense about this. He could tell instantly when he was being recognized. Automatically, he transformed before my eyes into a public person. Every posture was calculated to bring further attention to himself.
Mrs. Aquino was not like that at all. You would never have guessed that she was the center of everyone's attention. She nibbled at her food and talked to the men seated near her and sort of blended into the dais. You would think she was the wife of the main attraction, rather than the main attraction.
But her serenity is what most caught my attention. It reminded me of something. I searched back in my memory. Back when I was in the Army as a reporter for Stars & Stripes, I interviewed a lot of heroes. Men who had risked their lives to save others. Medal of Honor winners. To a person, they all had the same kind of serenity that I witnessed in Mrs. Aquino. It is a serenity that comes when having cheated death. It's as if every breath now was one under grace.
In speaking before both Houses of Congress, Mrs. Aquino identified herself with Abraham Lincoln. She, like him, is attempting to bring a nation together that is undergoing a civil war. I wondered if she, like him, assumes that one day she will give her life for her country. A dreaded thought. But one, it appeared that night, that she had come to terms with like other heroes before her.
Her speech was 20 minutes exactly. In it, I thought, she answered every question that every tough business person in that audience wanted to know. ''You know how unstable post revolutions can be," she said. A more religious group would have collectly said "amen." She also acknowledged that, "One woman's people power could be another man's mob." And then she phalanxed them between the eyes.
"Invest in the Philippines not because we need your money, and we do, not
because our people are poor, and they are, but because it is to our mutual benefit."
I remember General Arthur MacArthur, father of General Douglas MacArthur, had reported to Congress on the strategic position of the Philippines back at around the turn of the century. He said back then:
" . . . The finest group of islands in the world. Its strategic position is unexceeded by that of any other position on the globe. The China Sea, which separates it by something like 750 miles from the continent, is nothing more or less than a safety moat. It lies on the flank of what might be called a position of several thousand miles of coastline; it is in the center of that position. It is therefore relatively better placed than Japan, which is on its flank, and therefore remote from the other extremity; likewise, India, on another flank. The Philippines are in the center of that position. It affords a means of protecting American interests which with the very least output of physical power, has the effect of a commanding position in itself to retard hostile action."
The United States needs Mrs. Aquino. The Philippines is fortunate to have her. The world is fortunate to have her. Hopefully, we will all have her a long time.