Yellow balloons, yellow flowers, yellow ribbons and men and women in yellow were all over the departure/arrival hall of Naia Terminal 3, and for good reason. It was Aug. 21 after all, marking the 30th death anniversary of Ninoy Aquino, who was shot and killed on the tarmac and thereby earned the honor of having the country’s main airport named after him.
The area is dominated by a bust of Ninoy, usually ignored on most days as passengers are either rushing to their gates or hurrying to get home, but on this morning Ninoy was receiving his due share of the limelight.
The day before, much of the metropolis and surrounding areas were rendered impassable by lashing rain, flash floods, and islands of garbage. But on that day, the streets were clear, if still littered with the detritus of the city’s waste, although some guests still had to muddle their way through remaining high water. But as latecomer Rene Saguisag remarked: “If Ninoy once said that the Filipino is worth dying for, then Ninoy is certainly worth braving the floods and the traffic for.”
No member of Ninoy’s immediate family was present, and for good reason. President Noynoy was visiting different evacuation centers, while his sisters were off on their own relief efforts. Representing the Aquino family were Ninoy’s youngest brother Paul, his senator-son Bam, and a delegation (his wife, daughter and granddaughters) representing Butz, who I understand is ailing.
But making up for the absence of Ninoy’s near-and-dear were friends and political allies, familiar faces who had taken part in the years of the pre-Ninoy and post-Ninoy protests, played important roles in the Cory government, and have become familiar figures in all the commemorations of Ninoy’s and Cory’s milestones. There was enough remembering to go around.
* * *
Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa was the first to indulge in the trip down recent history. His father who had been a local politician in Bulacan, he shared, had been a close associate of the late senator Ninoy. In fact, he said, in their trips across the country before the declaration of martial law, the older Ochoa and Ninoy were sometimes forced to share the same bed.
So when Ninoy was arrested and incarcerated, his father, said Ochoa, was downhearted and sunk into depression. He only brightened somewhat when he learned of Ninoy’s release into exile in Boston, and was heartened when he learned of the senator’s plans to return home. “He seemed to take the news of the assassination quite calmly,” Ochoa recalled, and his father’s only request was that they drive to Times Street to view Ninoy’s remains.
“But when we got to the street corner, we found a long queue of people waiting to get inside,” recalled Ochoa. “At this point, seeing all those people waiting to pay homage to Ninoy, my father broke down in tears, not just in tears but breaking out in sobs and wails.” The “little President” added, “I think it was only at that moment that the truth of Ninoy’s death had sunk in. So instead of stopping, I simply drove on and headed home.”
* * *
Delivering the response in behalf of the Aquinos was Bam, the senator, whose striking resemblance to Ninoy may have been his ticket to electoral victory.
But he opened his talk by sharing his feeling of dismay when a survey among young people showed how little they knew of the late senator and martyr. When asked what they knew about Ninoy, Bam said, most respondents said they knew him as “the father of Kris Aquino” (“not even of P-Noy,” Bam remarked), the man whose pensive face is shown in a P500 bill, and the man who lent his name to the country’s main airport.
Still, Senator Bam said, “this doesn’t mean that people power is dead,” it remains alive, but “only in different forms.” That so many young people have spent days and nights in evacuation centers helping flood victims, or helping put together relief packages, is a form of people power, he said. Even now citizens and netizens have called for another show of people power to denounce politicians who have abused the pork barrel and to demand for reforms of the system, while young people are organizing to help their communities and help build a more responsive society.
“So please, don’t talk about the ‘old guard’ and the ‘young turks’ of Edsa,” pleaded Bam. “We are all still in this, continuing Uncle Ninoy’s fight.”
* * *
Central to the morning’s ceremonies was the laying of wreaths before the bust of Ninoy by different groups, including the “veterans” of ATOM, the August 21 Movement that was formed immediately after the killing of Ninoy; the “Corvets” or Cory Veterans who served in the late president’s administration and worked for both her and P-Noy’s campaigns; the Estrada-Kalaw family led by former senator Eva Estrada Kalaw; and of course the Aquino family.
Bringing everyone back to those heady, stressful, suspenseful and yet hopeful years was singer Noel Cabangon, with the special participation of Ogie Alcasid who is a member of the Edsa People Power Commission. Of course, “Bayan Ko,” our second national anthem, was sung, although for me the more moving number was when Cabangon sang “My Personal Revenge,” a haunting hymn based on a poem by a Sandinista rebel that says, among its many beautiful lines, that “My personal revenge will be to show you/The kindness in the eyes of my people.”
Indeed, there was nostalgia, sadness, but also triumph in the air that morning. But anger? It seems to have dissipated in the typhoon’s departing winds, or to have been directed at new targets, as it should be.