Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. or Ninoy would have been 85 years old on November 27 this coming Monday.
Let us remember. I have personal memories to share.
He was felled by an assassin’s bullet, from bare inches at the back of his head as he descended the stairs of China Air Lines Flt. 811 from Taipei, by the hand of his soldier-escort behind him and evidently upon design and orders from the highest State authority. It was shortly after the noon hour of a Sunday, August 21, 1983. History now attests irrevocably that the event was to embolden the people spurring the doom of a dictatorship.
A nation in shock and in grief caused an unforgettable phenomenon. Ninoy’s burial stood out to be the biggest and longest funeral cortege the Philippines has ever witnessed. The nation recognized and revered a martyr.
Ninoy’s willing sacrifice—returning home despite warnings and the confirmed foreknowledge of the perils awaiting him—cannot but leave a legacy of courage, such indomitable spirit at the very core of his martyrdom. A staunch devotion to the restoration of the Filipino people’s rights and freedoms through non-violence, and the personal sacrifice for genuine national reconciliation founded upon truth and justice. This was his avowed and well-announced mission in reaching out and in his intent to plead before the dictator Marcos. But the dictator would have none of it!
CHRISTMAS OF '78
For Christmas of 1978, at the request of President Jimmy Carter, the dictatorship granted Ninoy a furlough from solitary confinement after having been cooped up for over 7 years, to be able to spend the Holidays with his family. It was a joyful reunion with friends, kin, boosters and supporters. Smiles, laughter, jokes and serious side conversations marked the entire Yuletide stretch. Ninoy was almost without sleep but was much buoyed up. Here was man—a prisoner on a brief leave of shackles—without power, perhaps even without a future, yet No. 25 Times St. Quezon City, his home, was filled with callers for much all hours of the day and even way past midnight. Friends, political associates, foreign and local media, simple folk and ‘liders’ from all over the country.
The Marcos military posted a reception desk with sentries at Ninoy’s front gate asking all visitors to register, demanding identification, personal particulars and purpose of the visit. Obviously, it was one way of dissuading visits and keep track of the “who,” unexpectedly turning out to be a multitude. A few days into the furlough, the Malacanang-assigned sentries gave up in frustration and embarrassment because they could no longer keep up with the steady stream that continued to call on the very evidently still popular Ninoy.
I flew in from HongKong where I was already consigned under auspices contrived by my employer—Ayala—as a token asylum. (Call it a Martial Law soft and nominal exile but with profound and hurtful consequences. That is quite an altogether different story, though.) I had my cherished moments with Ninoy and as I left, he gave me some documents to be passed on. Ninoy also entrusted me with a personal letter for hand delivery to a respected elder, a copy of which I have treasured all these years. Let me quote from it:
“I have logged 2,646 days in solitary confinement and my physique has been scarred but I think I’ve emerged from prison a better man. For one, I’ve finally found my God—a discovery which is priceless. My imprisonment has purged me of pride, ego and cravings for material wants.”
“I’ve survived on one small meal a day over the last six years. I‘ve been placed inside a box and survived on bread and water for 30 days and nights. In 1975, I went on to a hunger strike for 40 days and forty nights and dropped to 121 lbs. from a high of 190 lbs.
I‘ve been humiliated and made to eat from tin cans licked by dogs. I was held incommunicado for months on end with only the bare walls to keep me company. But believe me, I’ve come out of the ordeal without any bitterness or rancor because I’ve surrendered my entire being to Him who is the cause of all….”
SAN BEDA YEARS
I knew Ninoy in 1947. In San Beda College Mendiola, because he was a campus standout. He was graduating High School and I was in Grade 6. Ninoy was the Preparatory Military Training (PMT) ‘adjutant officer.’ (I was with the Boy Scouts/Troop 24.) The adjutant was the center of attention in PMT campus parade formations. It is the cadet position featuring the very brisk, superfast stepping, cutting diagonally across the grounds, halting and shouting out his lungs, reporting the cadet corps as ready for the “pass-in-review.” A dramatic entrance tailored fit for a boy called “Ninoy!” And then, the band strikes up and the parade is on! (The bandmaster was a Mr. Efigenio Martinez, also a history teacher.)
There is a very distinct and memory-etched characterization of Ninoy which has indelibly impressed me all these years. I recall very vividly that in a campfire talk, our Scoutmaster, Mr. Mar. E. Serrano, hailed Ninoy as an exemplar of pride and dignity, extolling an admirable demeanor despite and because of the pain of a family setback. The Aquino patriarch’s personal honor. In fact, it was a painful national political issue that had the nation in rapt concern. His father, Benigno S. Aquino, Sr., was Speaker of the Assembly during the Japanese Occupation and was chairman of the lone political Party, KALIBAPI (Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas). Don Benigno, along with President Jose P. Laurel and members of his Cabinet, were charged with treason before the People’s Court. The agony of a festering social blot on the family’s honor but Ninoy withstood it all and still stood tall! So exemplified the Scoutmaster.
(On a Saturday, December 20, 1947, the elder Aquino suffered a fatal heart attack at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum, just less than three weeks before President Manuel A. Roxas declared an Amnesty Order pardoning all wartime accusations. Ninoy, who just turned 15 then, was with his father at ringside to witness the Bantamweight championship bout between Filipino challenger Tirso del Rosario and the winner, Mexican Manuel Ortiz. I remember listening to the blow-by-blow coverage on radio. I just do not remember if it was Willie Hernandez or Hal Bowie who was the sportscaster.)
'AQUINO FOR SENATOR'
While I saw Ninoy on occasions as Korean War correspondent, as a Central Azucarera de Tarlac manager and as a budding politician, it was not until the mid-1960s when I began to meet with Ninoy on a regular basis. Then it became a personal relationship. I was a Liberal Party acolyte serving in ‘gofer’ jobs for Speaker Cornelio “Tio Kune” Villareal. Ninoy was to become the secretay-general of the Party. We were active in the elections of 1965 with the GEROX team. (Gerry Roxas was running for Vice President under incumbent re-electionist President Diosdado P. Macapagal. Both lost to Marcos and Lopez.)
When Ninoy ran for the Senate in 1967, I took a leave of absence from Ayala to immerse myself into the thick of a very dramatic, exciting and historic campaign. “Youth. Experience. Hope.,” was our battle cry for “Superboy.” That was the endearing pet name that Manila journalism had began to adorn the burgeoning fame of Ninoy.
The “Aquino for Senator” project was attractive and popular. The candidate was inspiring and excitement personified. While the campaign apparatus had nationwide participation with numerous supporters, the campaign’s operating organization was divided up among three principal campaign managers. Ninoy called the shots. He was candidate and general-in-command. And then, there were Ben Guiao, Alfonso Policarpio and myself, each with geographic and tactical assignments. Bren and ‘Poli’ are both gone.
I have bags full of Ninoy-related memories, mostly personal. When shared, however, many can partake of endearing human interest categorized under the funny, the risky and even ridiculous happenstances. Some poignant and some heartwarming. Given time and occasion, I will seize the opportunity to share.
NINOY'S BSA PATCH
On that fateful date, August 21, 1983, for his arrival attire, Ninoy had sewn in a round black round patch unto the front left lower breast of his shirt. It was a black circle, about 2½-inches diameter, with white thread embroidery around with the initials “BSA” (for Benigno S. Aquino, of course) at the center. I found some patches in a Hong Kong souvenir shop and gave them to Ninoy as a fond ‘pasalubong’ (an arrival gift) during a visit to Boston. (BSA, in that logo-type patch, actually stood for “British Small Arms.”) Some photos taken of Ninoy’s arrival while still inside the aircraft as well as of his demise had that patch showing. Uncannily, a stark witness to the assassination. In a sentimental manner, I could say that something of me, something from me, died with Ninoy!
In the solitude of his prison cell, Ninoy had ample time to write contemplatively. There was haiku (that Japanese literary discipline calling for a five-seven-five syllabic three-line poetry), among others. Here is one which he passed on to another dear friend who called on him during that 1979-80 Holiday furlough:
If death is certain,
the secret’s not in living
but is in dying.
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