Remembering that day
“We all remember where we were that day,” said Sen. Bam Aquino, nephew of the day’s hero, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., at the wreath-laying ceremony yesterday at Ninoy’s bust at Terminal 3 of the airport named after him.
The senator recalled that he was a child of six that day in 1983. Chubby and a heavyweight, Bam was left at home because, his mother reasoned, if trouble broke out while they were at the airport to greet the returning Ninoy, she wouldn’t be able to pick him up and carry him to safety. So he stayed at home, looked after by a yaya who, sometime after lunch, called him to pray before the family altar because “your mommy called and said your Tito Ninoy is dead.”
“I remember them arriving and streaming through the sliding glass doors,” the senator confided. “And by the look on their faces, which I had never seen before then, I knew something bad had happened.”
Even as a young child, Bam had been involved in politics, taking turns with his equally young cousin Kris in speaking before crowds during Ninoy’s campaign for the Batasang Pambansa, mounted even as he was in detention and facing death by firing squad.
So it is no surprise that Bam now finds himself in the same arena where his late uncle thrived. And in much the same way that Ninoy braved the Marcos machinery as the loudest voice of dissent in the Senate, earning him the top spot in the list of oppositionists to be picked up upon the declaration of martial law, Bam now labors as one of the few opposition members in a Senate dominated by pro-Duterte lawmakers.
“I know how we all felt during those years,” said Bam. “We were frightened, fearful, intimidated into silence. But after Ninoy died, we grieved, then moved on to anger, and from anger, to action.” And that we must do in these times of EJKs and thuggish governance, he said. “It’s time to turn our sorrow and anger into action.”
The ceremony at the Naia is an annual affair. But there seemed to be a special spirit in yesterday morning’s ritual. The faces may have been more lined, the hair thinner, if at all still present on the scalp. But the spirit of protest and united action was strong as ever. The delegation of the August Twenty-one Movement or Atom even managed an impromptu cheer complete with the raising of fists.
Best of all, for me, was the presence of what organizer and emcee Deedee Siytangco called “the new generation of activists,” millennials and even youngsters who came clad appropriately in yellow, displaying a remarkable willingness, if not eagerness, to carry on the work of their parents and grandparents.
Former senator Joey Lina was in fine voice as he sang “The Impossible Dream” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” standing before a backdrop of wreaths of yellow flowers surrounding Ninoy’s bust. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so moved by these songs (not to mention Joey’s voice), but it was a welcome throwback to the days when we congregated in the streets and proved, as Bam put it, “that we are not a nation of cowards but of heroes.”
It was a “larger than usual” crowd that gathered before the tombs of Ninoy and Cory under gray skies and gentle rain. But the theme of carrying on with the struggle to create a country and a world where people are free and kinder to each other echoed as it did at the airport.
On all our minds was mourning for a different sort of hero, 17-year-old Kian delos Santos whose summary execution has jolted thousands into a belated realization of the murderous toll of Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs.
Amid the ranks of Cory and P-Noy veterans, as well as familiar faces from the days of protest, were urban poor volunteers, all clad in yellow T-shirts and braving the drizzles, distributing yellow blooms to everyone.
Too bad I couldn’t wait for the address by P-Noy. But he must have taken heart from the signs of what seems to be a
renewal of the yellow forces and the yellow spirit, a spirit that still animates all those who keep faith in democracy.
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