Back to Ninoy, forward to PCP 3


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 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.

* * *

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?

* * *

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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  • carlbenedict

    All those who claim that Ninoy is not a hero, they have a simple test, if they can die expecting nothing now in the name of Marcos or Arroyo or Napoles or Binay or the Philippines, they can be called a hero. :)

  • Mang Teban

    I have great admiration for Ninoy Aquino as the man on the tarmac lying face down and being dragged onto the vehicle by the SWAT team. The figure of helplessness and cold death is akin to the dead gladiator face up in the Spolarium painted by Juan Luna. It was an image of triumph that Ninoy came home to die and jolted the Filipinos numbed by fear under the dictatorial regime of Marcos.

    However, I do not see the need to line up Ninoy with the national heroes. Every Filipino who fought or fights for truth and justice is a hero. While Rizal and Bonifacio struggled longer and under more difficult situations than Ninoy, what good will it do if a survey of Filipinos will determine the heroism of one man compared to others?

    We have not declared Ninoy as national hero, have we?

    • franciscoyapanalagbate

      Mr. Salvador Laurel,(RIP), went to the U.S., convinced Mr. Ninoy Aquino,(RIP), to go back to the Philippines since Mr. Marcos,(RIP), was about to die, that if Mr. Ninoy Aquino will not go back and Mr. Marcos dies, Mr, Aquino would never be president. Mr. Aquino went and died because of his unfettered ambition to be president. He didn’t die for the Filipinos. He died for his ambition. He is not a hero to me. It’s unfair for the National Heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal and Gat Andres Bonifacio to even line him up along with those genuine patriots. Dr. Jose Rizal and Gat Andres Bonifacio are heroes out of their true patriotism. Mr. Aquino is a “hero” out of political expediency. Anybody in power could simply declare what is expedient to prop up their tenure. Until the next who will be in power. After Dr. Jose Rizal and Gat Andres Bonifacio, everything in the Philippines is about politics. power, and money, (PDAF). Heroes, anyone? God bless the Philippines.

      • Jao Romero

        the reasons matter not. all that matters are the consequences. he died, the Filipino people rallied, Marcos was overthrown.

        there are natural heroes, and there are incidental heroes. there are even accidental heroes. heroism isn’t just about patriotism. it’s about fighting for a cause. whether you fight for that cause because of ambition or whatever personal reasons, it doesn’t matter. it’s what you achieved that counts.

        Ninoy is more of a hero than Aguinaldo ever was.

      • Mang Teban

        Okay, that is what you believe in. I heard the same tale that you narrated but I find it implausible. Ninoy was, in fact, also sick and “dying” as some theorized. Thus, how could he possibly think of power to become president when he was unsure that he would ever be remembered after being gone for three years in Boston?
        The noise barrage in Manila when he lost in the Batasan elections was isolated and hardly caused a ripple among Filipinos insulated by Marcos for so long that no other politician got the exposure except he, the dictator who spoke on TV frequently boasting of his “achievements”.
        Of course, this is also my own perspective. You can take it or leave it.

      • rjgc

        You have two contradicting ideas. First, you say Ninoy surely wanted to become president, so he returned home. Second, he knew he would be killed upon arrival.

        If he really wanted #1, why would he use #2 as a strategy? What did he want, to be a ghost president?

        Ambition connotes worldliness and comes with the desire for earthly power. The ones who embodied this were Marcos and Imelda. Such preoccupation with worldly power they were willing to murder just to stay in power.

      • honorable_guest

        If you’re alive at that time of Ninoy’s incarceration, you will not think Ninoy will become even an assemblyman, MManila governor, barangay captain, much less president. Marcos might be dying, but the cronies, Vers and the Romualdez’s are alive and kicking.

        No one alive at that time prior to Ninoy’s death, can say with a straight face, that the ruling power/clique (Marcoses) can be replaced. From my elementary days to college years, there’s only one Phil president for me. Can you imagine that now? At the top of Ninoy’s political status (no.1 senator) he was incarcerated and treated like a rag by Marcos. After years of imprisonment and a heart operation, he chose to come back with the possibility for more of this, or worse death. He chose to go back nonetheless. YOU CALL THAT AMBITION?

  • ConnieLee90

    “Aquino’s years in the Marcos gulag had purged him of artifice and ambition.”

    As we know, ambition is made of “sterner stuff.”

    It is a little hard to believe that the oubliette chastened the man sworn to ambition. It anything, FM’s “gulag” fortified rather than purged Ninoy’s impulse.

    FM was very sick and Ninoy knew it. It was his opportunity. It was his time to shine. But he was himself a sick man and by some accounts had not had too much time to live (he underwent heart by pass surgery). In such uncertain condition, what had he to lose if he returns (from the US) and go after the seat that he had all his life long coveted? The Presidency was his destiny, wasn’t it ? After all, wasn’t he the preordained one?

    Ninoy perfectly knew that he was the only man equal in stature to FM. He was the only opposition left most qualified to succeed his fraternity brother.

    He knew he had enemies already jostling for power. Failing to throw himself into the fray was a sure sign of personal defeat.

    Ninoy didn’t like what he saw: Imelda, Enrile, or Ver taking over the helm. But what sure struck fear more than anything else in Ninoy’s heart was the thought of the triumvirate (Imelda, Ver, & Enrile) wielding formidable powers. Such an alliance was impossible to overcome. He had to go home to break such a scheme.

    Nothing, not even alliances could thwart Ninoy’s ambition.

    • Jao Romero

      on the contrary, i think Ninoy knew he would be killed for certain if he went back. and it is in my opinion that he went back knowing this full well and that it was his intention to be martyred, hoping that the consequence would overthrow the dictatorship.

      i even think sometimes that Ninoy must have been killed by an anti-martial law group or even by his own allies. it just boggles me how anyone on Marcos’ side thought it was a good idea to have Ninoy killed. i mean any politically astute person could have predicted there would be a shitstorm if Ninoy got tagged.

    • rjgc

      If you review Ninoy’s speeches in the US, it was pretty clear he was sure he was never going to be president. He’d lost his “appetite for power.” But he knew his death would dismantle martial law. He never said people power, but he knew his death would produce a force that would topple the Marcoses. His words: “If they kill me, in two years, they be gone.”

    • rjgc

      The point is, if you want to become president, go ahead. Work on it. Work hard on it. Or even die for it. But do not lie, steal, or murder. Marcos lied, stole, and murdered. And that’s why he is remembered as a bad person.

    • AllaMo

      Maybe. Maybe not. But, at that point in time, i’d rather bet on Ninoy doing good for the Philippines than any of the unholy trinity of meldy, johnny, or fabian.

  • boybakal

    Back to Ninoy, forward to PCP 3…Back to Pnoy, forward to PSP 3.

  • buninay1

    I almost felt high when I read this column because it talks of Filipinos with pure hearts and selfless thoughts about the country’s eventual release from bondage and oppression from foreign and local masters until I got blown away by the swirling controversy around Napoles and the lawmakers. Nothing could be worse than this biggest let-down staring us in the face now. How come some of our countrymen can be so ignorant of the sacrifices of our heroes, so weak to resist the glitter of money that they can afford to deprive their less-privileged fellow Filipinos of govt services and assistance at the pretext brutally ironically of helping them? How more abundantly callous can one get than our Senators and representatives?

    Obviously, the sacrifices of our heroes have not really sunk in in the minds of the greedy and avaricious. They are a class by themselves. They are actually the present day turncoats, out to undermine the collective desire of Filipinos to have inclusive progress if only to satisfy their personal aggrandizement. Professing to serve the country, they are actually holding on to their positions for financial gain first and foremost. Far from living by the principles our heroes adopted as virtues, some of our lawmakers along with their cohorts are behaving more like automatons, more like Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) which instead of dispensing genuine services to the people take tax money from the helpless public to enrich themselves or if rich already to enrich themselves even more.


    Back to Ninoy, as Akbayan’s patronage…

  • virgoyap

    While Benedict was the Pope many ecclesiastics want to forget PCP II altogether. They even want to go back to the Church model before the Vatican II. Thanks to the coming of Pope Francis PCP III is now being looked forward.


    One’s hatred to Marcos and his regime, doesn’t outrightly makes an opportunist man a hero… Just like the hatred towards corruption and GMA makes the mediocre, lazy & clueless president a ROCKSTAR!
    Constant marketing of heroism = constant political & business gains…only to the known beneficiaries…one of which is AKBAYAD. The nation could not have doubted his “heroism” had it not been used as a political, business marketing and brainwashing tool to gain political and business gains among the oligarchs and the obvious beneficiaries. If there’s a legacy bequeathed then that is being an opportunist at all times and forever after… The descendants of our beloved Dr. Jose P. Rizal didn’t use that opportunistic strategy…. neither did the descendants of Abraham Lincoln…
    Think about it.

    • lex

      di ikaw yon ha…. peke ka! jose rizal…sal sal sal sal.. sallll. nagsarili na..

    • Ren-ren

      May religious groups, funeraria, schools, posporo, hospital, papel, etc na ginamit ang kabayanihan ni Rizal for profit, not to mention pa the Americans who used Rizal’s ideals to suppress the revolution. Enough ba yun para i-disregard ang heroism ni Rizal? Of course not. Same goes with Ninoy. How his family or political affiliation abused his legacy shouldn’t discredit what he himself did during his lifetime.

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