MANILA - Minority senators commemorated Friday the 37th death anniversary of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., crediting the slain opposition lawmaker for "awakening" the nationalism and anger of Filipinos against dictators and oppressors.
The late Sen. Aquino was instrumental in unifying Filipinos to topple the decades-long dictatorship of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said in a statement.
"His assassination 37 years ago today awakened and opened the eyes of millions of Filipinos, including myself, to the brutality and arrogance of the dictatorship," said Pangilinan, now the president of the Liberal Party, the political group which helped Aquino's wife Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino ascend to the presidency in 1986.
"It was then that my own politicization and involvement in the struggle for freedom and democracy all began," he said.
Aquino - a vocal critic of Marcos - was assassinated in the tarmac of the Manila National Airport on August 21, 1983, minutes after he returned to the Philippines from exile in the United States.
His death fueled the rage of Filipinos against tyranny, and eventually prompted thousands to troop to EDSA to call for the ouster of Marcos.
"Deaths like these are built on extraordinary hope and an unwavering love for the Filipino," said Sen. Risa Hontiveros, who noted that she first thought of the late Sen. Aquino as a "traditional politician" (trapo).
"I was one of those who had objected to meeting him because I felt that he was a trapo and had not fought with us the previous years," Hontiveros said in a separate statement.
"I had many opinions of Ninoy, but then I realized when they killed him that he had returned to the Philippines knowing well the risks. He ultimately was willing to give up his one and only life," she said.
"He had said the Filipino was worth dying for, and he stood true to his words."
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima also praised Aquino for his "indomitable spirit and love of country."
"Ipinakulong ng diktador pero patuloy pa ring nanindigan. Hindi natakot. Hindi nanahimik," she said.
(He still fought even if he was imprisoned by the dictator. He did not cower. He was not silenced.)
"Piniling bumalik ng bansa upang imulat ang ating mga kababayan sa katotohanan, tuldukan ang kawalang katarungan at ipaglaban ang demokrasya," she said.
(He chose to return to the country to open our countrymen to the truth, to end injustice, and to fight for democracy.)
Hontiveros said that Aquino's "passionate desire to do something" to end oppression in the Philippines should inspire Filipinos to do the same today.
"Today, we are met with similar challenges. In the middle of a global pandemic, we are faced with threats to our democracy and liberties," she said, referring to the "thousands" of deaths in the Philippines each day.
"May Ninoy’s heroism challenge us to never accept the oppression and suffering as a given, to always be inspired by the Filipino and work towards building a future that works for all, and lastly, even if it meant fearful uncertainty, to hope," she said.
"Let us remember that the greatest act of hope is to return, even in uncertainty," she said.