I covered the presidential term and sailed through its choppy waters while chronicling President Cory Aquino’s wavy patterns of success and glory, laughter and grief, loss and devastation, troubles and genuine delights.
Through the oppressive summers, we fluttered around her — hot and heaving, sticky and dusty, marinated in different astringents, alcohol and talcum. The rainy days never dampened our spirits, only our shoes. As palace reporters, we took note of changes, some exits (which grieved her) and a few entrances in a broad colorful exposure that prepares you for anything.
Each day brought unexpected twists: shouting matches behind the scenes among the biggies, intrigues among the lightweights; plus surprises which did not surprise the Malacanang Press Corp.
The daily coverage of the president, given her round the clock presidential schedule, saw more twists and turns than a roller coaster.
The Press Lounge is generally filled with activity, cigarette smoke, profanity and ribald humor. In a smoke-filled confusion, 27 sassy presidential reporters spend endless hours playing trick with words coming up with statements that could move you from sublimity to nausea. These 23-24 specimens make me feel like a fossil, after all most of them are children of my colleagues.
We’ve covered typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, golf games of disdainful royalties, cabinet men’s wrongdoing;s between entrances and exits where vindictive reprisals from their loyal supporters cannot be discounted. We soldiered, because after all, these were all in a day’s work.
The next few hours you’re down in the lowlands going after the indefatigable Chief Executive as she heads anywhere from Pangasinan and Pampanga, to Cotabato and Koronadal.
If one thought that walking down the corridors of power at the palace is all perks, think again. If often could be more quirks listening to Presidential Press Secretary Buddy Gomez, Adolfo Azcuna and Cabinet Secretary Jose “Ping” de Jesus; translating Malacanang policies and programs in three versions purporting to be about as authoritative as gospels from St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. John. Meanwhile, deadlines flashed while you have to be in seven places in so agonizingly short a time.
Between Davao del Norte and Davao del Sur, while President Cory flew into each place, we took the low road; in a ride that slithered, coiled and snaked its way up the rugged roads until you’re all about shaken, rattled and rolled. You dangled by your cuticles, three and a half hours airborne, inside the belly of a metal container called Fokker, and discovered what it is to have pains even in your nails up to the follicles of your hair.
But once we passed the grunt level, we graduated from survival to comfort. In blue jeans, sweat soaked shirts, and rubber sneakers; we found the trips to Hacienda Luisita were bucolic benedictions that sent sprits soaring. The First Family comforted us to bliss. Balsy and Eldon Cruz served you hand foot with food on the moderate side of sinful until your fabric tore. As ever, President Cory’s specialty pate de foie gras was to die for. Noynoy (then a senator) made the Malacanang Press Corp comfortable and at home; and gave me boyish little interviews which infuriated serious reporters.
The men around President
Who will say that President Cory isn’t the one who’s quick to take a firm grip on things? She lost no time asking for emergency powers to arm her when shooting war breaks out in the Middle East.
To top these, Congress came in to endorse the whole idea — lock, stock and barrel. Senate President Jovito Salonga and Speaker Ramon Mitra have said Amen.
The skillful spade work in Congress largely can be credited to her dynamic Executive Secretary Oscar Orbos (to be replaced by Secretary Drilon till the end of President Cory’s term) who the pace of work at Malacanang. He put his old ties with the Lower House to good work, buttonholing key solons for the swift passage of the emergency powers act.
President Cory was thoroughly delighted with the upturn, and showed little of her scars from the anxiety she went through when she let go of her Cabinet officials whose company she had cherished. It was indeed agonizing for her to put Secretaries Jose Concepcion, Catalino Macaraeg and even Fiorello Estuar to past tense. But life has to go on the palace.
As they said, she was the Queen we never had.