(Fourth of a series)
All else together, truly an unequalled fascinating life, a Filipino standout. “Superboy!”
We ended last week’s cyberchat by citing that favorite epithet for Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. The Philippines Free Press had dubbed him “Superboy,” with an illustration by the political cartoonist, Esmeraldo Izon. Indeed, it was a singular recognition and accolade.
I must assert, however, that such distinction must be apart and aside from his sterling performance as a senator of the land when he was just 35 because there was more bases, earlier, to that pet name.
A Manila Times star reporter, bemedaled journalist of the Korean war at 17; a presidential emissary and negotiator facilitating and delivering the unconditional surrender of the Huk Supremo Luis Taruc when he was 22; a boy-mayor of his hometown of Concepcion, Tarlac when 23; thereafter becoming then the youngest vice-governor of a province at 27; governor at 29. And, of course, senator at 35 and a political prisoner at 40.
His last engagement before his appointment with destiny was as lecturer on a fellowship grant at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
I surmise Ninoy’s stint at Harvard to be connected to a friendship Ninoy developed a near quarter century earlier with an American academic he met under unusual settings. That was when our “Superboy,” 25 years old, was engaged in a “cloak and dagger” adventure, a proto-James Bondish, top secret personal assignment from and reporting directly only to, the President of the Philippines. Evidently, the American academic was also on to a similar ‘sub-rosa’ assignment.
My own deductions tell me that had President Ramon Magsaysay not perish in a plane crash in March of 1957, the secret mission would have been launched by him, just the same and also with Ninoy as his point man. In other words, the circumstances warranting action undertaken was already on stream, with a presidential decision a done deal, albeit as yet non-operational.
President Garcia succeeding the presidency also ‘inherited’ the services of President Magsaysay’s ‘technical assistant,’ Ninoy Aquino. (Ninoy was shuttling between Concepcion and Malacañang, almost daily. He was not on the Malacañang payroll because he was also mayor of Concepcion but performing dual functions, simultaneously.)
Today, hardly anyone would even recall or remotely be familiar with “Permesta Rebellion.” This was the milieu of Ninoy’s clandestine assignment. It was the prelude to the eventual fall of Indonesia’s Sukarno. Sukarno was beginning to lean towards communism and the rebellion had commenced in Sumatra and Celebes. The movement was declared by pro-democracy civil and military leaders who were opposed to Sukarno. The movement was labeled Permesta, (an acronym – Piagam Perjuangan Semesta, ‘Charter for Universal Struggle). The movement’s center was in Menado, Sulawesi, East Indonesia where the leader, a certain Col. Suwan (Ventje Sumual?), was holding fort.
Ninoy’s assignment was to contact Col. Suwan, assess the war terrain and secure first-hand information, and report back to the President. It seems that President Garcia’s initiative was related to the Philippine membership in SEATO or the South East Asia Treaty Organization, an earlier incarnation of today’s ASEAN. And who knows, it could also have been preparatory or precautionary to American concerns as relayed by then US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, with whom President Garcia was expectedly to be in communications with.
This was the situation when President Garcia summoned Mayor Ninoy Aquino and asked him to undertake the mission: infiltrate the rebellion. The President wanted Ninoy to be his “eyes and ears there; then come back and make a personal report,” according to interviews conducted by the late Nick Joaquin.
Ninoy sneaked out of the Philippines via Zamboanga from where he vanished. At mid-sea, he rendezvoused with a pre-arranged diesel- motored blockade runner, island hopping until he made it to Menado. He set up a communications network, assisted by two Philippine Army Signal Corps specialists who followed with the necessary equipment. Reportedly, he likewise liaised among non-military elements of the aborning Indonesian revolution, coordinating with the still ragtag military rebels, while encampments already detected were being bombarded by Sukarno’s Air Force.
The rebels were reportedly in need of arms, ammunition and medicine. America was already assisting with supply coming from the Philippines, obviously from Clark Air Base. It is very possible that America wanted the Philippines to have ‘some skin in the game!’ Hence, President Garcia’s need of on the ground “eyes and ears.”
Unless the presidential archives of Malacañang have been assiduously cared for over these years and if in fact so, to be mined by a top-notch historical researcher for background material, we may never find out the definitive “why” President Carlos P. Garcia sent off such clandestine mission and entrusted Ninoy with a task so fraught with physical risk and potentially serious foreign relations repercussions. Nor will history be able to uncover incontrovertible material facts relative to this incident.
Academically credentialled historians the likes of Patricio Abinales, Vicente Rafael, Lisandro Claudio, etc. would be most ideal to do a well-researched biography of “Superboy.” Being an admiring acolyte, side-kick and friend of Ninoy, I am a qualified storyteller but I cannot escape being subjective. That would not be prudent and square. Nonetheless, I think I deserve to be excused for saying that there is something Churchillian or Hamiltonian about Ninoy Aquino that needs to be unveiled as an ideal for the Filipino youth to emulate.
By the way, that American academic, Ninoy’s fellow spy/Indonesian Rebellion-observer was Dr. Guy J. Pauker, educator, author and government advisor. Genuinely, a low-key American heavy weight. Actually he was a Romanian immigrant from Bucharest, who arrived in the US in the late 1940s already with a Law degree and doctorate in Political Science. He then attended Harvard for an additional Master’s and another Ph.D. joining Harvard’s faculty, thereafter.
Guy (pronounced with a hard French “gee”) was a classmate of Dr. Henry J. Kissinger and was one of the young acolytes of the American Foreign Policy icon George F. Kennan. Guy was an expert on South East Asia, a high-security clearance consultant to the US National Security Council, to the State and Defense Departments on Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. In the 1960s, he was head of RAND Corporation’s Asian section. But when Guy was in the jungle fastnesses of Sulawesi with Ninoy in the late 1950s, he must have been on leave from UC Berkeley where he was teaching political science and chairing the Center for South East Asian Studies.
I too enjoyed the opportunity of Guy’s friendship. He departed in 2002. I understand, it was Guy’s idea and recommendation that facilitated Ninoy lecturing in Harvard.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.