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Ninoy Aquino remembered

The story of his life and his homecoming is one that surpasses what fiction can conjure. It is a story worth remembering by citizens, in continuing gratitude for his martyrdom that made a difference in our history. And for today’s youth, it is a life that inspires and invites closer study as it speaks to the times.

It is imperative to recall what actually transpired, especially in these times when history is under threat of revision, when the roles of hero and rogue are freely interchanged.

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It was on a Sunday, 35 years ago, on August 21, 1983, when Ninoy Aquino returned from three years of exile in the US against the advice of his mother, his closest advisers, and everyone else around him. Why would anyone make so rash and so foolish a decision when he was deemed to be the principal “enemy of the state” by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos? Wasn’t Ninoy the very first in a long list of oppositionists to be arrested when martial law was declared?

His arrest, with neither basis nor charges, began for Ninoy eight trying and lonely years of solitary confinement in military detention. He poignantly described the emptiness of his existence: “For seven years, I was not allowed to see the moon and stars.”

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Marcos falsely thought that the gregarious and outspoken senator would finally be silenced by isolating him from his family and constituents. But Ninoy proved even more eloquent stripped of the trappings of power. He waged a 40-day hunger strike in 1975 in protest of the military tribunal that tried him—a kangaroo court, he called it.

His exile to the US was meant to be a dictator’s humanitarian gesture to a foe who needed urgent medical attention. He was allowed to leave the country with his family with the express condition to behave while in exile.

Only 87 days after release, Ninoy reneged on his oath of silence. “A pact with the devil is no pact at all. My goal is to restore freedom to my people,” was how he justified his continued crusading. He delivered an impassioned speech to the Asia Society in New York City, and in his first three months abroad, had networked with other Filipino opposition leaders in exile.

He knew he had to return home to help fellow freedom fighters in their quest to restore democracy and citizens’ rights through nonviolence. So, despite all possible known and unknown odds, he flew home using a Philippine passport under the name of Marcial Bonifacio. He was determined and undeterred.

When the grim idea of losing his life was raised by “Free Press” publisher Teodoro Locsin, Sr., he answered,  “If they had not recalled Rizal and shot him, he would have ended his life as a mere exile. He would be nothing in our history… If they make the mistake of killing me or shooting me, they will make me a hero and they will lose and I will win.”

In Ninoy’s arrival statement which was never delivered, but which have reached more people than he could have imagined both in the Philippines and beyond its shores, he quoted the words of poet Archibald MacLeish, which are carved in granite on one of the long corridors of Harvard University: “How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma.  Always, and in the final act, by determination and faith.”

“I return from exile and to an uncertain future with only determination and faith to offer—faith in our people and faith in God,” concluded Ninoy’s statement.

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With a touch of prophecy, he had said about his return, “I have prepared for the worst… and return to an uncertain future.”

After that Sunday afternoon when Ninoy was welcomed home with an act of treachery by the very soldiers meant to protect him, the Filipinos were never the same again. It marked the beginning of the end of the dictatorship. Rather than being stilled and silenced, Ninoy and the voice of the opposition gained new life.

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is chair of the National Book Development Board and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.

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TAGS: commemoration, life, martyrdom, Ninoy Aquino
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