August - September 2009
Till debt do us part?
On the 25th year of the Aquino assassination

Noynoy, Nene, Joker remember Ninoy

THE DEATH of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. 25 years ago jolted not just the Philippines but the rest of the world as well. But does the present generation of Filipinos, especially those born after 1983, understand why?

Do they know Ninoy beyond being the father of his celebrity daughter Kris, or the man on the 500-peso bill?

Ninoy’s only son and namesake, Sen. Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III, recalls his father as a friend and “barkada… the leader of the pack.” Ninoy was generous toward his children but could be stern when he needed to, Noynoy says.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, who had served as Ninoy’s legal counsel, calls Ninoy’s unsolved murder as “Exhibit No. 1 for human rights violation.”

On August 4, 1980, in a speech before the Asia Society in New York, Ninoy had uttered his immortal words, “the Filipino is worth dying for” but in Arroyo’s mind, present-day leaders in the Philippines, whether administration, opposition, or independent, “are only worth deporting.”

Another Ninoy friend, Sen. Aquilino ‘Nene’ Pimentel Jr., reckons that Ninoy is the image of a hero born and made.

In Pimentel’s view, it is not the annual observance of August 21 as the day of Ninoy’s murder that makes the man a hero. Rather, he adds, it is “the sum of his selfless deeds that makes him so and gives meaning to August 21…to remind ourselves of the meaning of his life and especially of his epic death.”

lawyer, fraternity brother and kindred spirit

The Filipino is worth dying for, said Ninoy. But present-day leaders — administration, opposition, and independents — are only worth deporting.

Politicians have not learned from Ninoy, the quintessential politician. Ninoy did not hide his ambition to be president. But he was ready to forfeit his dream and the business of politics for a legacy. Perhaps he had in mind the verdict of history. An avid student of history, he knew that the legacy of a hero would endure more than the politics of a president.

Ninoy’s murder is Exhibit No. 1 for human-rights violation. Only the small fry, who did not even know him, were convicted of his killing. The masterminds who ordered Ninoy killed have not even been tried. Better let them go, before they finally talk and embarrass everyone.

48, only son and namesake of Ninoy

The hard part of being the only son is that all of the dreams and the pain of the family were thrust upon me, and there were a lot of pressures involved there. I’m my dad’s namesake pa.

My father was the disciplinarian type. My mother is also firm when we did something wrong, but my father was like the court of no appeal.

He was also very generous, but was careful enough to avoid spoiling his children. If (he) needed to be stern, he was stern. At the same time, he communicated with us as a friend, like a barkada, but perhaps the more superior kind. He’s the leader of the pack and all of us were his supporters.

In terms of political decisions, he was not the typical patriarch who would insist that he is the head of the family and therefore, what he wants will be followed. There was always consensus building. When he made a decision, he would share with everybody the context of that decision. He would describe the process of arriving at that decision, but at the end, we all felt that we were part and parcel of coming up with that decision.

I was having difficulty focusing in school during the Martial Law years. How does one work for a future when you don’t believe you have a future? ‘Yung Martial Law kasi, an authoritarian regime (is normally moved by a) violent dictatorship or a violent revolution. And those at the forefront of the revolution will normally not reach the end of the entire process. They will be the ones who will learn the hard lesson that others can also learn from. So the first batch will be the one who will be committing all of the mistakes.

(But) I tried as much as possible not to further burden my mother and my father with my own age-of-puberty problems. Any or all of my problems paled in comparison from what they were undergoing.

When my dad was in jail, there were a lot of prayers, novenas, etc. The idea I guess that was instilled in us is do what you can, so long as you can satisfy the question that you were able to do everything that you could and…God will provide that which you lack.

There was always that tension, the violent or the non-violent response to an oppressive regime. There were groups that were already — apart from the NPA, and the Muslim insurgents — convinced, parang they were nomadic revolutionaries, Light A Fire movement and April 6. ‘Yung Light A Fire, ‘yung mga casino pinagsusunog. They felt that talking to these people, trying to find a reasonable dialogue, was pointless.

Living in exile in the United States was also very difficult period because… you don’t know when you are coming home, and you’re asking… ‘Why are we here? Why are we the ones suffering if we are the ones doing the right thing?’ (Yet) it’s like coming to terms on a deeper level. We had more time to be reflective rather than be concerned with the day-to-day problems of surviving the Martial Law regime. Being in the States afforded us that opportunity.

Upon learning of his death, I was shocked. We were really anxious to hear news of him landing in Manila, that he was arrested and was sent back to Fort Bonifacio. So we were waiting for the news and we were waiting by the phone. I was worried and was under the impression that I was alone at three a.m., but apparently, my siblings and my mother were upstairs praying the rosary, praying for my dad.

I was watching CNN. There was a flash report. I noticed that they misspelled my father’s name. Then it said, there were shots fired. He was seen lying in a pool of blood. At that particular instance, it was like time stood still. I only broke out of that when (I noticed) the phone was ringing. I wanted to spare my mother and my sisters any of the shock. Unfortunately, naunahan nila ako sa pagsagot. These were people from Los Angeles, who somehow got the news earlier than we did. They already got the worst news and were trying to confirm with us, but they did not want to tell us what they had learned.

The Japanese consul in Boston at that time happened to be a very good friend of my father. (He) gave us the first confirmation.

Very early on, (my dad) always strove to keep us out of the public eye. After his death, when we were thrust into the public eye, there were always the comparisons between myself and my father. There were also some comparisons later on with the achievements of my mother. At some point, I said, what is the point of competing with the two of them, when…I’m merely espousing and trying to continue what they had started, and to complete the work that has yet to be finished. I was content not to overcome and surpass what they had achieved, but rather, I was content on being able to continue the process that my dad described as a movement from black to white. It will not be black today and white tomorrow. It will be various shades of gray in between. Our job was to make sure that the gray becomes lighter and lighter in shade, approaching the white.

I consciously made up my mind not to compete with what they had done and were doing but rather, to the best of my efforts, achieve their dreams faster.

(I once asked) my dad, why don’t we enter the backdoor? Why not bargain for oppositional strength, rather than go home the way you are envisioning and entrust your fate to somebody who has never been kind to us? That was when he told me, what value will that have when in the end, if there’s a violent revolution, there are no victors, and the only question is how much suffering has been suffered?

Nobody wins in a bloody revolution. That is an anathema to a pronouncement that he (Marcos) wanted to truly serve the people, which is the reason for his coming back.

friend, human rights lawyer

In 1986 or three years after Ninoy’s assassination, the people had enough of martial rule. And it was now the turn of the executor of martial rule and his family — public and private — to leave the country and go into exile in Hawaii. Their leaving heralded the return of a democratic government to the land.

These are matters of fact that in my mind make Ninoy truly a hero, an instrument of God, or the fates if you like, whose death purchased for the nation the rights and liberties that we now enjoy in this country.

But was Ninoy a hero made or was he a hero born?

The question may sound academic but it has a bearing on whether or not Ninoy deserves the accolades that he has been receiving from our people since 1986 when martial law was finally uprooted from the land.

Skeptics probably entertain the view that setting aside August 21 of every year is an example of an undue honor for the man who would be hero.

I beg to disagree. It is not the setting aside of August 21 to commemorate the day of Ninoy’s assassination every year that makes him a hero. To belabor the point, it is rather the sum of his selfless deeds that makes him so and gives meaning to August 21 as a celebratory occasion for the people to remind ourselves of the meaning of his life and especially of his epic death.

But to go back to the larger question of whether or not heroes are made or born: I am not too sure that there is a neat “either or” reply to it. At least, not in the case of Ninoy.