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10:02 PM September 2nd, 2013

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By: John Nery, September 2nd, 2013 10:02 PM

I promised reader Lyndon Rutor I would link to columns I’ve written before that argue an important historical truth: that Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino followed the same path to heroic martyrdom. They suffered in the last 10 years or so of their life in the name of a higher cause; they chose to risk a return from exile; they embraced the near-certainty of death.

These columns may be found through the search function or the tag cloud in my Newsstand blog (at johnnery.wordpress.com). One, in particular, may serve to stand for all the others. In “The Aquinos in our life,” the third installment of a four-part series prompted by the death of Cory Aquino and written in August 2009, I repeated a distinction between the old and the new Ninoy that I first discovered in late August 1983.

“What became obvious to me and to many others, after Ninoy was assassinated and Filipinos who grew up during the martial law era scrambled to discover a clearer picture of the new martyr, was that the man who died on the tarmac . . . was very different from the helicopter-riding whiz kid whose political ambition had known no bounds.”

The difference lay in the 10 years of imprisonment and exile that had purified his ambition. By 1983, “he was the man imprisoned for seven years and exiled for three; he was the politician who refused to do the politically expedient (after months in solitary confinement in a remote facility, he was almost ready to call Marcos—his fraternity brother—and call it quits, but his will held, his spirit, though severely tested, remained unbroken); he was the exile who could have stayed away, but didn’t.”

This reading of the man was explicit in the Inquirer editorial written to mark the 25th anniversary of his assassination, “Ninoy, home at last.”

That helicopter-riding whiz kid with unfettered ambition? “This was an image that readers of Marcos’ crony press could readily visualize; they had been fed a steady diet of unflattering stories about a young and on-the-make politician, surrounded by a battalion of bodyguards and an overwhelming sense of elite entitlement. But in fact the crony press did not acknowledge, and indeed failed to recognize, that Aquino was a radically changed man because of what Marcos and his regime had done to him. Aquino’s years in the Marcos gulag had purged him of artifice and ambition.”

It was to this changed man and his death that millions of Filipinos responded. His massive funeral was history itself convulsing.

Thirty years on, traces of that convulsion remain. The March 2011 Social Weather Stations survey found that, among personalities considered genuine Filipino heroes, Ninoy Aquino came in a consistent third, after Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio—except in Mindanao, where he was fourth after Cory Aquino, and in the ABC demographic, where he shared second place with Bonifacio.

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Last Wednesday, I had the privilege of speaking before graduate students of the Loyola School of Theology (LST). I used the occasion, the Theological Study Hour for August, to discuss “church-media” dynamics “after” the passage of the Reproductive Health Law. Those quotation marks were meant to signal that the new law was merely an index of time.

I read prepared remarks, but these were meant mainly to prompt a discussion. I ended by raising three suggestions; the second involved preparing for the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of the Philippines, in 2021. To be more precise, I suggested that the preparations be thought of in terms of milestones, with—perhaps, perhaps—a third Plenary Council of the Philippines as a key landmark. In 2016, the year Pope Francis is expected to visit Cebu for the International Eucharistic Congress, the Church will mark the 25th anniversary of PCP 2. Why not a third Plenary Council, to celebrate the anniversary and to count down the five years to 2021?

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At that LST forum, I tried my hand at explaining the difference between the news and the Good News by, among other things, running a writing experiment. What would scripture look or sound like if its passages were rewritten as journalism?

I chose the Lucan parable of the Good Samaritan, which begins: “Jesus replied, ‘A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead.’”

After proposing two rounds of copy editing, I ventured into headline writing, as follows:

Nothing illustrates the art of compression better than the headline—by far the most effective “point of entry” to news content. Again, by way of example, we can try our hand at writing heads for our Good Samaritan crime story.

A two-deck headline, for a website with an international audience:

Jerusalem commuter

robbed at knifepoint

A one-deck head, perhaps on a broadsheet:

Rob gang leaves victim half-dead

A one-decker, in an English-language, maybe even UK, tabloid:

Half-naked, half-dead

And so on and so forth. If, as has been sometimes said, to summarize is to betray, then to cram an entire story into a news headline is almost to commit an act of treason. To do it while keeping faithful to the story that follows seems impossible … and yet, like walking, it is done all the time.

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