Wednesday is the 30th anniversary of former senator Benigno Aquino Jr.’s murder at Manila International Airport tarmac. What do you remember?
“They’ve killed Aquino,” screamed copassenger Rebecca Quijano. Time magazine reported: “Col. Vicente Tigas yanked her away and whispered: ‘Don’t talk. Or you’ll get in trouble’.”
Eight hours later, then President Ferdinand Marcos, ailing from lupus disease, pledged to investigate. Before the details could be established, he released the probe’s “conclusion”: A hitman from the Communist Party killed Ninoy. Truth, too, was cut down.
South Africa, in contrast, created a Truth Commission which confronted its apartheid past. It made amends to victims, like Nelson Mandela who, after 27 years of imprisonment, became president. Other countries like Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Bosnia created truth-seeking bodies. “The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from.”
The Philippines cringed from confronting reality. We later crafted Republic Act No. 9492 which mandates “Ninoy Aquino Day.” Can that reverse amnesia? Eight out of 10 students, barely recall “Ninoy,” a survey found.
Our cook is now 64 years old. Nita remembers the stunned silence after the deadly gunshots reverberated in Manila. Our helper is 28 and a third-year college dropout. Airen is clueless about Wednesday’s rites. Historian Ambeth Ocampo dubs this blank slate “tabula rasa.”
“We have little collective memory of the past,” Ateneo University’s Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, told the “Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship” conference. “We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we cannot see well into the future.”
Punishment is not revenge or even justice, Fr. John Carroll, SJ, told the gathering. “It is the community reaffirming values seriously violated. Not to react as a community would be to reduce a community’s values or ‘common conscience’ to personal preference—and invite collapse…. That willingness to forget (Marcos’ crimes) reflects a weakness of common conscience…. Unless, the nation rises up it may be condemned to wander forever in the wilderness of valueless power plays among the elite.”
Come Aug. 21, the same question resurges like a phoenix: Is the Ninoy murder a closed issue? Is it worth pursuing? Or will amnesia finally smother it?
The killing is a “closed book,” two sisters of Benigno Aquino III, the incumbent and 15th Philippine president, declared. “We know who was behind it,” said Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Cruz and Aurora “Pinky” Abellada. “But we’d rather see Noynoy devote his time to serving the people. Our parents got the love of our countrymen. Parang tama na siguro ’yun.” (We think that should be enough.)
Does forgiving smudge a bitter past? “A healed memory is not a deleted memory,” we are reminded. “Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates new ways to remember. We change our memory of our past into a hope for our future.”
Pope John Paul II pardoned Mehmet Ali Agca for shooting him thrice at St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981. The pontiff visited Agca in prison in 1983, but he did not intervene in the judicial process. Thus Agca moldered for 29 years in prison.
Isn’t that replayed in the unsolved Aquino murder? President Gloria Arroyo pardoned 13 of the convicted enlisted men after they spent 26 years in jail. Earlier, three had died in prison. Never unmasked, is(are) the mastermind(s) still out there?
“I pardoned and prayed for those convicted,” Corazon Aquino said. But she wished that the main plotters be named, “even if they could no longer be brought to justice.” Such knowledge would help prevent a similar tragedy.
Communal amnesia would expunge all “New Society” crimes. “The Marcos family never expressed any remorse,” Inquirer’s Randy David pointed out. “They do not seek forgiveness.” They saw the plan (House Resolution No. 1135)—to sanction the burial of the dictator’s mummy in Libingan ng mga Bayani—“as a vindication of his innocence.… They want the nation to revise its remembrance of the past.”
This would reverse People Power’s verdict. It would shove, into an Orwellian memory shredder, crimes—from shell foundations in Lichtenstein to bogus war medals, to confiscated 60-piece Roumeliotes jewels. Add 3,257 persons “salvaged,” 737 desaparecidos, plus thousands detained without trial, under the “New Society.”
The Marcoses perfected the art of the blank stare. Asked if he would run in the 2016 presidential elections, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. played coy. “If the situation is right,” Junior said, dodging queries on the US federal court’s $353-million contempt fines. “Right” is when amnesia spreads from the Ilocos to blanket the whole country?
Many who figured in the Aquino murder are now dead. “Imelda Marcos and Eduardo Cojuangco are alive,” notes San Francisco-based lawyer-journalist Rodel Rodis. “They know who ordered the hit on Ninoy.” Both zipper their lips. “Is an antemortem or death-bed statement more compelling?” asks Manuel de la Torre, now a Minnesota resident.
The ranks of the now grey Filipinos lashed by martial law are thinning. “Soon, we too will be gone,” muses the nun in “The Bridge of San Luis Rey,” the 1928 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Thornton Wilder. So was the memory of the five who died when the finest Peruvian bridge collapsed in 1714.
“Even memory is not necessary for love,” she adds. “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
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