Ninoy’s Martyrdom: 40 Years Since

Manuel L. Quezon III
25 min readAug 20, 2023
My “The Explainer” on Ninoy’s martyrdom

I remember the first time I heard about Ninoy Aquino. It was in 1978. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was the eve of the Interim Batasan elections. Only recently did I realize that that election, in particular, marked a turning point, even for Marcos, because by then he had finally, and definitively, reneged on the promise, both implied and explicit, to allies and peers, that the abolition of the 1935 Constitution and its institutions, would accommodate cooperative constitutional convention delegates, congressmen, senators and other officials, in the New Society. Through a series of referendums he backed out of these commitments.

In the hospital room where I was (recovering from pneumonia after having appendicitis) I saw my dad, brows furrowed, reading mimegraphed leaflets calling for a noise barrage. My impression was this was a paper announcing a very dangerous thing.

The next time I heard of Ninoy was after he was killed.

After an extremely short-lived and thus, aborted attempt to emigrate to Australia, my father decided we’d thrive better in America. We arrived on August 19, 1983 and the next day, my father fell violently ill with an intestinal bug. It was just the two of us and I had to somehow attend to him as he vomited practically non-stop. I was 13 years old.

I had to ask, “who is Ninoy Aquino?”

The late Peter Jennings that day mistakenly referred to Aquino as “Niño Aquino.” That was funny. The situation itself, of course, was not. My father despite being very sick was constantly on the phone to family and friends in Manila. At times we knew more overseas than people at home were being told or could find out. There were only really two papers, then: the Bulletin Today was as it is now, as the Manila Bulletin: generally, vanilla. The other paper, the Times Journal was to those times as the Manila Times is in our time.

My impression of those confusing hours and days was plain and simply, the shock that my elders felt; and after the feeling of shock, the inner turmoil Ninoy’s death provoked: had he been rash? Was Marcos a lunatic, or in a coma? Would anyone care?

People did care. People started smuggling around his undelivered statement; and if you watch the documentaries and read recollections of the time, as breathtaking as the manner in which Ninoy was murdered, was the decision of individual people to do something that should have come easily under normal circumstances: attend a wake, and march in a funeral procession.

The long road (1973–1986) to restoring democracy is one I chronicled back in 1996, on the 10th anniversary of EDSA, see The Fabric of Freedom.

Reenactment

For my generation the era was captured in a B Movie, A Dangerous Life, whose low production values and so on was transcended by individual performances: Ruben Rustia as The Great Dictator, in particular.

Testimony

These are excerpts from a marvelous little book that had a tiny run: Memories of a Hero, by Cynthia Sycip with Avel C. De Guzman, privately published in 1984. I am reproducing some portions concerning the last days of Ninoy and his assassination as witnessed and experienced by close associates and family members.

I.

Q: Was that the last time you saw him?

A: I saw him in New York, almost exactly one year before he died because in August of 1982, we were in New York with President Angara of the U.P. to raise funds for the Diamond jubilee.

He called me at my hotel. You know, he had this penchant for being able to find people. You know, it was so surprising because I had just arrived and I presumed nobody knew where I was./All of sudden, the phone rang and there was Ninoy. He said, “let’s have lunch” and he picked me up and he was driving his own car and we talked about his coming home.

I remembered the question he asked me, “What do the UP students think of me?” I said, ‘You know Ninoy it’s not just you in particular, but they have a very dim view of people who do their fighting here in the United States because a lot of them do their fighting publicly in the Philippines. They get picked up, some of them get killed, some of them are in jail and its very hard to accept the leadership of somebody who’s enjoying the American way of life and enjoying the real meaning of democracy, and enjoying freedom, and then railing out against somebody who’s trying to destroy all of those.” He paused for about five to ten minutes. He didn’t seem to be able to talk, which was rare for Ninoy, and then finally he said, “You know Louie, I think they’re right, I don’t think any leader can pretend to be a leader while leading from another foreign country. That’s why I’ve more or less made up my mind, I’m going to come back whatever happens”. And he asked me, “What do you think will happen if I come back?” and I said “The options should be very clear to you by now,” and my own projection was that he’d be sent back to jail… — Louie Beltran

II.

Q: After that, did you ever visit Ninoy again when he was in Boston?

A: Yes… Sometime shortly before he left to go to Manila we got in touch with each other. I was living with my wife and my son in an apartment in New York. When he learned that I was there he said he would come to see us to have a talk. He drove from Boston to New York, picked up Maceda who was living in New York, called up my wife at about 7 in the morning and he asked if he could have breakfast. My wife said, “Of course Ninoy.” So he shows up with Maceda and we talked for five hours. Ninoy did almost all of the talking because he was explaining to me his decision to go home. This was before he received word from Manila that there was an assassination plot.

Ninoy considered the possibility, and I gave him all the arguments I could think of to make him stay. Later on T.V., I saw American officials, one from Rand Corporation, another one from Harvard speaking to Ninoy about how they warned him against going home. The State Department man at the Philippine desk told me that he told Ninoy not to come home. But Ninoy had been receiving pleas from Tan?ada and company to come home and revitalize the opposition which was dead on its feet…

Q: Was it more of the “nationalist” opposition that wanted him home?

A: Not necessarily. First, even Rodrigo said that he was against Ninoy going home, later, he said he decided that without Ninoy the opposition was nowhere, and Soc is not considered a “nationalist”… One thing, I was told by Joker Arroyo, that when Ninoy’s decision was made to come home they wanted to give him as biggest reception as possible. At a meeting between Olalia and Don?a Aurora, Ninoy’s mother asked him to help in organizing the welcome for Ninoy and Olalia said, according to Arroyo, “I cannot do that because I do not know whether he is a CIA man or not.” Then, another “nationalist” leader whom I cannot name because he is a friend of mine who was told to help welcome Ninoy also refused to go. He was a close associate of Ninoy.

Q: What did you tell Ninoy before he left for Manila?

A: This much I’ll tell you. I told him, “I cannot stand the thought that you, my friend, after eight years of solitary confinement will return to our cell… That’s too much. What will you accomplish by going there. What could you expect if you went home? They will take you back to your cell, imprison you, hold you in solitary confinement, and what would you do then for the opposition? Second, what would they do? Put you in house arrest? And then guard you closely so you could not do anything. Third, let you free. If you are going to be effective, whether in your cell or free, then they’ll neutralize you… if you can do nothing whether free or not to challenge the regime, then, what will you gain?… Suppose you are shot?” He said, “Well, you know Teddy the Spaniards made a mistake. If they had not recalled Rizal and shot him he would have ended his life a mere exile. He would be nothing in our history. The Spaniards made a mistake, recalled Rizal who was in his way to Cuba and shot him and made him our hero. If they make a mistake of killing me or shooting me, they will make me a hero and they will lose and I will win.”

I said to him, “My friend, I would rather have a live friend than a dead hero.”

He would not listen. He felt that he could do something somehow. He said he wanted to bring peace because unless we can establish a system of orderly succession we can look forward only to turmoil and revolution. That was a time when I saw that Ninoy had changed. There was a time when he seemed very, very young to me… -Teodoro M. Locsin

III.

Q: And when was the last time you met Ninoy?

A: I met Ninoy May 28, 1983 — it was the wedding of my brother in new Jersey and he was one of my sponsors. This was just about two months before he died and we had a long, long talk because he knew I was coming home while he was still in the States. Looking back, you know, before I get on with the story, I really regret so much that I could not accept his invitation to go back with him. He wanted to talk some more. I was already ready and I had to come back to Manila. I had been in the States for one month. Anyway, that was the time that Ninoy told me he was coming home to Manila. I was very surprised. He and I were alone outside, now and then other guys would come outside in the garden. He said, “You know, I came from Nicaragua and I feel that we are getting nearer and nearer the point where we are going to have a Nicaraguan situation in the Philippines, and at that point in time, sasabog na ang lahat. Hindi mo na mapipigil, masyadong marami ang mamamatay.” And just like Ninoy and I used to argue a lot when we were ‘inside,’ I guess we carried that habit, and this time we were again arguing. And I was asking him, “Ninoy, do you know enough of what is happening in the Philippines to make that assessment?” He said “yes”, and he rattles off with everything that is happening in the Philippines that you will be amazed. Here he was talking to me, and I was from here, and I was coming back, and he was telling me many things even I had not heard of. Obviously, he was getting an awful lot of information and feedback. But the thing that struck me the most was that he said, “As far as I am concerned, there is only one guy right now who can stop all of this and that is Mr. Marcos.” I said, “I don’t agree with you but you mean to tell me you’re coming to the Philippines just for that?” He said yes. “No matter what it takes, the expense, all of that, including my life, if I can, I will convince him to bring us back to democracy, while he is still there and before it is too late, I will do it.” Sabi ko, “Is it not too high a price to pay?” “No”, sabi niya, “ang daming mamamatay sa ating mga kababayan pagka nagrebolusyon tayo niyan.” I said I did not agree with him because one, I did not agree that Mr. Marcos will do it. Second, I did not believe that Mr. Marcos can do it even if he wanted to, meaning, this business of bringing us back to democracy. I was telling Ninoy I felt that at this point in time, it is debatable whether Mr. Marcos is calling the shots or he is merely following. So who’s leading whom? Certain events are taking over him, and at that point in time, as you recall, Marcos obviously was very sick. This was another consideration of Ninoy. Probably the other interesting highlight, he and I were discussing the various scenarios that could happen to him, like we were both talking about the possibility of his getting shot…

Q: And he talked about it…

A: Yes, of course. Well, the number one thing that we were talking about was he would be jailed. Sabi ko nga, “Tingnan mo naman Ninoy, pagbalik mo pa lang, pagbaba mo pa lang sa eroplano, tuloy-tuloy ka na naman sa Bonifacio. Sayang ka.” Sabi niya, “No, no, no, maybe this time I might have a chance to talk, anyway that’s one possibility. Pangalawa, house arrest. Baka naman kung i-house arrest ako ni Macoy, di doon na lamang ako sa bahay and so, alam mo naman pag-house arrest marami akong makakausap, so O.K. lang yon. Pangatlo, ang lalong mahirap, yung hindi ako huhulihin, hindi ako kukulungin, palalayain ako.” Alam mo naman pag si Ninoy ay pinalaya mo eh kung saan-saan pupunta yan magsasalita yan and so on and so forth. Eh napakadali ng magkaroon ng aksidente sa ganyan. We were very concerned, alam mo sabi ko, “Biruin mo kung dumating ka sa Pilipinas at magpadala ng banda si Marcos sa airport, sinalubong ka ,maraming Pilipinong hindi na maniniwala sa iyo. Baka ang akala ikaw ay nabili na ni Macoy.” This was May 28, you remember, May 21 he had a talk with Imelda in New York. Then Imelda was telling him not to come home. But then I was talking to him May 28 and he was determined to come home. I was asking him, “Ano ba? Mag-iiba pa ba ang pag-iisip mo?” Sabi niya, “Hindi. Talagang I have to come home. Alam mo time is running short, we’ll have to do something.” I kept trying to tell him, “You know Ninoy, I feel you will be needed more either alive or outside.” Hindi ko naman akalain na babarilin siya doon sa airport. Madaling sabihin yan ngayon dahil nabaril na. Sabi ko, “Alam mo pag nabaril ka, di wala na.” And even the unbelievable outpouring and what happened afterwards, not even Ninoy dreamed of that, that he would surpass the funeral of Gandhi and Nasser and everybody else in the history of man… I raised one point to him which bothered him a lot and that is — is Mr. Marcos in complete control? That was on May 28, 1983. And Ninoy said, “That’s what worries me a lot. If he is in complete control, it would probably be easier to predict what will happen. If he is not in complete control, this return of mine is going to be very risky.” So, it was on that note that he and I parted… There is another thing…he said he was more or less decided and that Ka Pepe (Diokno) was coming that week. He said he would talk to Ka Pepe. Later on sometime in July I talked to Ka Pepe Diokno dito na sa Manila. Tinanong ko, “Ka Pepe, nag-usap ba kayo ni Ninoy”. Sabi ni Ka Pepe, “Papaano ko kukumbinsihin yon? Hindi naman ako tinanong, sinabihan ako, he told me. “I am coming home, eh ano pa ang magagawa ko.” So, in short, talagang desidido si Ninoy umuwi… That was the last time I saw Ninoy alive.

Q: Were you at the airport when he was shot?

A: No, I was not at the airport… I decided to stay at home and wait. The irony was that I received a call from the States informing me that Ninoy had been shot. This must have been around 2 o’clock in the afternoon that Sunday. The caller asked, “Nabalitaan mo ba dyan na nabaril si Ninoy?” I said, “Hindi”. He asked, “Ano ba ang nangyayari dyan?” I said “Aba ewan ko… siguro bali-balita lamang yan… bakit nila babarilin si Ninoy? Anong klaseng kagaguhan yon?” Then I listened to the radio. The rst time I heard it from the radio I could not believe it. I could not believe it for its sheer stupidity. This was my rst reaction. I said how can anyone do that. By “anyone,” in so far as I was concerned, there’s only one group in this country who could have done such a thing. I was totally in shock and still was clinging on to the hope that maybe he was still alive. It was so frustrating trying to get details. You don’t know from whom to get details… I think the conrmation was about 5 o’clock or something… I guess I felt so sad about losing Ninoy and I recalled with regret the time I was trying to convince him not to come home. I thought they would wait a little bit longer before shooting him. — Jose Mari Velez

IV.

Q: Where were you when you heard he was shot?

A: I was at the airport with Tita Aurora. We did not know. We were at the VIP room and we all thought that he was coming by Japan Air Lines which was arriving I think at one or one thirty… Malapit na daw dumating so sabi ni Doy, “Tayo na Tita Aurora”, so we left the VIP room and we went towards this sliding door na papasok kami doon sa Customs area so we would wait near the tube. Ayaw na kaming papasukin. Nagmumura na si Doy, sabi niya, “Tawagin mo si Tabuena, nag-usap kami niyan eh ito’y ina, ito lang papasukin mo, kahit ako’y hindi mo papasukin…” Tapos sabi nila, “Doon po sa isang pinto,” di lakad na naman kami doon. Hirap na hirap na si Tita. Aurora. And you know how it is, the newsmen with the T.V. cameras were jostling and… punta na naman kami doon sa isang door, nakasara din yung door na yan, wala daw silang instructions na papasukin, wala daw makakapasok. Tapos ang sabi ay nandoon na, tapos lakad na naman kami.

Pagkatapos ay nakita nga namin si Ken Kashiwara. He was running towards the VIP, balik na naman kami sa VIP, ng dumating kami doon, ako na ang lumapit kay Ken, he was surrounded, nagmumura na si Ken, “Bastards, they shot him.” Ken saw Ninoy was bleeding. Ako ang nagsabi kay Tita Aurora. The way I said it was, I talked to Tan?ada to be overheard by Tita Aurora because she was in deep prayer, tangan yung kanyang Rosary. Sinabi ko kay Tan?ada, “Nandoon na si Ken,” ilinalakas ko, para marinig ni Tita Aurora, medyo bingi si Tan?ada, eh. “Binaril si Ninoy at nakita niya na dumudugo, eh pagdasal natin na huwag sanang patay,”… tapos, narinig namin nagsigawan sa labas, palakpakan pa. We thought it was Ninoy, yun pala they found out na lumabas si Doy Laurel kasama si Butz, nung nakita ng mga tao they thought it was Ninoy. There were about 18,000 people there, yun pala si Butz… well, Doy had to announce to them na iyon nga, nabaril si Ninoy… -Soc Rodrigo

V.

Q: Did you know that Ninoy was going to come back ?

A: Yes, I was one of those who waited for him at the airport. I marched together with the group and I was with the people who were outside. I was very happy when I saw the crowd.

Then one guy who was in a hurry told us that Ninoy was shot. I could not believe it and even the people there could not believe it.

Finally I went inside the VIP room and I saw the family. Esto Lichauco was outside. Then I saw the foreign press rushing out. Then I saw Ken Kashiwara, and he confirmed that Ninoy was shot. -Chino Roces

VI.

Q: Where were you and how’d you react when you heard he was shot?

A: My assignment was to stay downstairs at the airport, I mean there in the parking lot, because we didn’t know what they were going to do to him. Let us say, for instance, if they took him in a van and then they brought him out of the airport fast, at least he would see a lot of people in the airport downstairs. In the parking lot we were putting these yellow ribbons. If they would fly him in a helicopter he would still see there were a lot of people who came to meet him.

Q: And so, somebody told you he was shot?

A: Yes, at that point I sat down for something like ten or fifteen minutes and I said I want to go home for a while because, you know, we’re a very strange breed in the sense that my father always taught us that emotions shown in public are very unlady-like. Don’t forget that I am so many generations ahead away from this generation. As a matter of fact my sister’s upbringing, my own immediate sisters, was already about one or two generations lost because of the war. Our upbringing before the war was more rigid than the upbringing during the war and after the war. So I knew that I would not have wanted to break down and get hysterical. You don’t do that in public. I just said I wanted to go home for a while, sit down, collect myself, which took me about one hour. And then I went back to the house and I asked, ‘’Alright, where is he?’’ so we can go. At that time they did not tell us yet where he was, they wouldn’t give him to us, until we found out he was at the hospital and all of us rushed to the hospital… -Mila Albert, Ninoy’s elder sister

VII.

Q: Are you still apolitical?

A: In fact, when Ninoy was coming home, I was one of them who said, “Huwag na lang, napakaraming hasel.” In fact somebody came here and said that, you know, said, “Sa eroplano pa lang ay papatayin na siya.” But Ninoy kept saying that if anybody will kill you they won’t announce, you know.” That was his reason.

Anyway it happened, least expected, to this day. I’ll tell you this much: it still comes back to me, the trauma of seeing my brother dead, dirty, dropped as if he was a piece of laundry, at the Fort Bonifacio hospital. The sight was just a little too much. At that moment it was not revolting. I’d say it was shock, seeing him so carelessly handled, that is putting it mildly. We were there for five hours, waiting there for the ambulance that never came, because we were supposed to bring out the body and they said, “No, that cannot be,” so we were waiting… But at that point, what was most in my mind was how can man be as cruel to another living soul? Because thinking that we are of a higher strata than animals, how can we go to the level of animals? Does hatred bring you to that level? It gives you food for thought. How cruel can man be? So anyway, that passed and we were there and we brought him to Loyola. And my mother at that point was already too tired so I volunteered. Don’t forget it was only us who were here and Lupita had to take care of something else. I had the least to do, so I said, “I will just stay here at the morgue.” I was there until six o’clock in the morning, six o’clock in the morning.

So you know it’s in that reflection, when you’re all alone, sitting in the chair, waiting for that thing to be over, you start having thoughts, and of course you cannot help being angry and frustrated and bitter. But I tell you as the days passed, it doesn’t get less, it gets worse. I suppose that’s it. — Maur Lichauco, Ninoy’s younger sister

VIII.

Q: When he died, where were you, how did you take it?

A: When he died I was at the VIP room in the airport. We were not allowed to leave the VIP room, nakakoral kami don. Hindi bale, sanay naman ako ng ganon eh, napipigilan. Ngayon nung balitang binaril siya, hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala, complete disbelieving. So… “Tsismis lang yon,” may nagsasabi baka dobol lang yon, so, inulit-ulit. It was Lupita who was very alarmed about the whole thing. Sabi ko naman, “Exaggerated.” Then we went to Church. From there, I went to my mother’s house. Umalis na daw sila. Balita pumunta sila sa ospital kasi may kapitan daw na tumawag. Tumuloy ako sa bahay ni Ninoy, so, mga five o’clock ng hapon tumawag si Lupita, “Butz, you can now confirm it to everybody, that Ninoy is dead.” | still couldn’t believe it. I said, “Are you sure? Did you see?” “Yes.” Still, disbelieving pa rin ako, I was already serious now and I’d tell the people, “Lupita called, she’s confirming that Ninoy’s dead.” Of course, may mga nagiyakan na, pero ako, disbelieving pa, and so I gathered my remaining sisters and we went to Fort Bonifacio, but even as I was looking at him already, disbelief… when I saw him cut up, I suppose for the embalming… I was just wondering to myself, what happened to all his preparations, to all his sufferings, to all his ambitions, to all his learning… parang sayang. That’s when I concluded that life does not end when you die. When you die, you die physically, you got out of your shell… but you, or kung sino man yong “you,” lives on. And I am sure, right now, the memory of Ninoy is very much alive. -Butz Aquino

IX.

Q: When you look back at Ninoy’s life, is there anything more you wish that could have been? Do you have any regrets? Do you think his life was worth it?

A: Well, you know, you cannot afford to regret anything anymore once it is past. Make the most out of it and look optimistically to the future. I was not in favor of Ninoy’s coming back home. In fact I wrote him that he should not come back because I was informed that… ‘sa eroplano lang yan, patay na ‘yan’, somebody told me that, a higher up said that. And so I wrote him and then he answered me and he said, “They are just trying to scare you. They won’t assassinate me and they won’t make a hero out of me and I want to go home Mommy, there’s no place like home. I want to be home even if that home means jail.” l think he had a premonition… I asked Cory, “do you think that somebody tipped him in America that they would hit him there?”, and Cory said, “well, even if they had tipped him, perhaps he did not tell us anymore.” I am beginning to think that he must have been tipped that they might hit him in the States but that he didn’t like us to worry anymore, so, he didn’t tell us. So I asked Cory if there were some people thinking of having him hit in the States or outside the United States. But then Cory said, “well, he didn’t tell me anything about it.” I am conjecturing that if he had those tips he would not tell us… not to frighten us perhaps. But that I have regrets, no, because I believe that anything that happens is always God’s will.

Q: How do you think your son’s death affected history?

A: Well, it has some parrallel to the history of our country in the sense that when Rizal was executed it made the people aware of what he had been trying to get for them. And in the case of Ninoy, when he died, we didn’t expect that crowd in his funeral and I was so amazed when I saw it on Betamax… how the people lined up just to see him just for a few seconds, and they would come back again the next day to see him again. Because during the wake, I was groggy, I was not myself and I didn’t see the people out there. I was always inside the room or nearby the sala, but I did not see the lining outside.

It was when I saw it on Betamax that I was amazed. And then, during the funeral itself I saw how the people were affected. In fact, when there was that heavy rain the people were so drenched.They were hanging on our van, because our van did not have any air condition, and we kept those windows open. I put out my hand and touched the back of one of those young students. I said, ‘hjjo, umuwi na kayo, basang-basa kayo, baka kayo magkasakit’ and they answered and it touched me to the core, ‘hindi na po bale, si Ninoy po buhay ang ibinigay, kami po ito lamang, hindi na po bale, hindi kami uuwi sasama kami sa sementeryo at ihahatid namin siya’.And they were young students. People perhaps whom Ninoy didn’t even know or who didn’t know much about Ninoy. Because if they’re just 21 or 18, or 19, that was eleven years ago. That was eleven years ago, they were only 10 or 11 years old before martial law and they did not know Ninoy anymore perhaps. His death has really affected our people.

I have hearing of many young executives who were so touched, who had changed completely because they have been so affected by that death. I know of one, I was told, who could not eat for so many days. His wife had to take him to Baguio and when he was there he said he really was so affected because he felt guilty because we have been so silent these eleven years and now we had to reach this point. There are many people whose lives have changed. -Aurora Aquino, mother of Ninoy

Footage

Here is a playlist I saved on YouTube, primarily a collection of contemporary news clips from 1971–1989, chronicling, s it happened, the life and death of Ninoy and the frustrated effort to seek justice.

Readings

Instructive is Miguel de Unamuno on Rizal by way of Retana: see his Rizal: The Tagalog Hamlet:

The heroes of thought are invariably not the masters of their actions; the very strength of their spirit propels them to extremes which they would never have dreamed of entering. A certain poverty of imagination is needed in order to effectively control the external acts of one’s life; and it is this very imaginative poverty that is wanting among the brave heroes of thought, those great spirits who are not afraid to forge ahead with bold ideas, accepting their consequences within the theoretical and ideal realms of experience. Yet strangely, they are rarely men with the same bold will in external affairs.

The case of Ninoy Aquino, so often compared to Rizal, is less often identified as being in many ways, the opposite of Rizal, since he was first and foremost a man of action forced to become a man of thought. This reminds me of something Teodoro Locsin, Jr. writing in 1986, mentioned in Triumph of the Will:

We have forgotten the sage advice of Pepito Laurel which stopped the endless discussion about how to welcome Ninoy. Every arrangement was objected to because, someone would remark, Marcos can foil that plan by doing this or that. Pepito Laurel said, “ Huwag mo nang problemahin ang problema ni Marcos. His problem is how to stop us from giving Ninoy the reception he deserves. Our problem is to give Ninoy that reception. Too much talk going on here!” that broke the paralysis of the meeting.

The panorama of Ninoy’s life was chronicled in the Philippines Free Press, particularly by Teodoro M. Locsin and his son, Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.

The human dynamo that was Ninoy in his pre-martial law heyday is sketched out vividly in Locsin Jr.’s Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year, 1971.

The transformation of Ninoy is shown in Locsin, Senior’s Ninoy speaking, and The Conscience of the Filipino: The Sacrifice, both from 1986.

In If, an editorial from 1986, Locsin Senior attempted what today we would call a counterfactual: what if, indeed, Ninoy hadn’t been assassinated. There are two magnificent passages in this editorial.

The first:

If Marcos was well enough, however, to order Ninoy killed, would he have done so, considering his alleged intelligence? He was able to terrorize and rob the Filipino people as he pleased, to the extent he wanted, and he never ceased wanting. This is intelligence? This is what those who collaborated with his regime called brilliance, turning away from those who opposed his regime. Isn’t the better part of valor prudence in the face of such a master intellect? Al Capone ruled Chicago for years and there was nothing the U.S. government could do all that time except, finally, get him for income tax evasion. Capone ruled — robbing and killing at will — so, he, like Marcos, was brilliant? Anybody could be “brilliant” — with a gun.

So, Marcos was brilliant — at the start. He did not have a gun, then: martial law enforced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines with his Number 1 hood, Ver, as chief-of-staff. Then, martial law! Brilliant he was, okay, or just cunning, unprincipled, a thinking son of bitch? All right, brilliant Marcos was. But the intellect deteriorates not meeting real challenge. The gun makes all challenge ineffectual. The mind becomes dull. Absolute power does not only corrupt absolutely, it stupefies. There is no need for intelligence when the guns serves. The blade of the mind rusts. Absolute power brings absolute stupidity. Such is the lesson of all dictatorships.

The second:

If Marcos or, if Marcos was too sick at the time to be consulted, Imelda had ordered Ver to send a limousine to bring Ninoy from the airport to Malacañang, instead of having him shot there and his body taken to a military camp in a van, Ninoy, with his faith in the goodness of human beings beyond understanding, would have gone trustingly to the palace. And there he would have been met Imelda, not to mention Marcos if he could get up from his bed, assuming he was sick, and not only welcomed but even — anything is possible — embraced by the Two. Television and press cameras would, of course, record the touching scene: Ninoy, grinning boyishly — the Free Press editor always thought of him, because of the difference in their ages, as a kid, knowing the world, he thought, more than Ninoy in his innocence did — and the cameras clicking and exposing him to future ignominy. For the general conclusion would have been that Ninoy had, as the Liberal leader had bet, made a deal with the enemy of the People and would serve that enemy’s purposes thenceforth, surrendering manhood and principles for peace for himself and his family. For an end to exile, the worst fate for one who loves his country, who would never be at home anywhere else.

Ninoy having thus apparently surrendered, having thus made peace with the Enemy, what else could the Filipino people have done but do the same? Peace without liberty, peace without dignity, peace without honor — peace at any price! The peace of the grave.

But they killed Ninoy.

A reflection I quote very often is by Locsin Senior, in which he quoted Ninoy’s famous parting line, “the Filipino is worth dying for,” and asked, Is He?

Here is a mystery of human nature that defies solution while humbling us. Evil we know, and understand, knowing our nature. But good is something else. As martyrdom, it has had, history shows, a fascination for some. The cynic would say it is mere inflation of the ego. But how explain the slow martyrdom of Damien who lived among lepers, ministering to their needs, and finding a mystical fulfillment when he could say: “We lepers.” Ego-inflation still? If that is the supreme desire, then the cynic might try life in a leper colony. He should never think more highly of himself then. But cynicism is only fear-fear of knowing what one is. To debase the good is to rise in self-estimation. If all men are vile, then you are not worse than you might think you are. You just know the human score. To face and recognize goodness is to sit in judgment on oneself. Avoid it.

October 16, 1983, chronicled Aquino’s Final Journey, 1983. Looking back, the recollections of Miguel C. Suarez, then news editor of the Manila bureau of the Associated Press, are interesting, not least in recounting how breaking news -through the wires- worked, pre-internet.

From Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, we have an account of the Aquino assassination from the perspective of those in the inner circle of the Marcoses. It is a riveting read: Carmen Guerrero Nakpil Remembers Ninoy’s Assassination.

And at the end, the undelivered speech of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. upon his return from the U.S., August 21, 1983.

A contemporary analysis by Belinda Aquino: Political Violence in the Philippines: Aftermath of the Aquino Assassination, 1984.

To me, the most poignant photo: Doña Aurora Aquino, with Lorenzo Tañada, upon receiving news Ninoy had been shot and killed.

Originally published at https://www.quezon.ph.

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Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.