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Looking Back

From Bonifacio to Ninoy–Aug. 21 in PH history

The nonworking holidays that dot our calendars are declared to celebrate certain events, such as Christmas, Easter Sunday, New Year’s Day or Independence Day. Other dates are for commemoration, for no one should celebrate the violent deaths of Christ (Good Friday), Rizal (Dec. 30) or Ninoy Aquino (Aug. 21); rather one looks at the positive outcome these deaths have given to our lives today.

Some people have commented on the fact that the legal reason for yesterday’s holiday was a Muslim holiday, rather than the assassination of Ninoy in 1983 on the tarmac of the airport that now bears his name. In the past, especially during the two Aquino presidencies, Aug. 21 was a day of national observance; but this year, under a different administration, the commemoration was significantly downgraded.

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In Quezon City, for example, only the vice mayor and a representative of the National Historical Commission laid wreaths at the Ninoy memorial. The dress code indicated was “smart casual.” Over at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, yellow wreaths could not be laid on the actual spot where Aquino was murdered because of the recent runway mess, so the observance was relocated to a statue outside Terminal 1.

While memory is often blamed for the way history is remembered or forgotten, we must add that, sometimes, politics also affects the way we remember or forget. Aug. 21, depending on its significance to people’s lives, is remembered in various ways. It can be someone’s birthday, wedding or death anniversary.

Aug. 21 can also be viewed from a different historical lens: Look back 122 years to 1896, and you have Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Jacinto changing the secret Katipunan cipher from letters to numbers. On the same day, about 500 Katipuneros also left Balintawak for Kangkong in preparation for the outbreak of the Philippine Revolution against Spain.

Look back 120 years to 1898, and one would see the arrival of US Gen. Elwell S. Otis with 5,000 men, an event that changed the trusting relationship Emilio Aguinaldo had with the Americans, a friends-turned-enemies development that would lead to the Philippine-American War.

Look back 35 years to 1983, and it’s the assassination of Ninoy Aquino; look back 47 years to 1971, and it’s the Plaza Miranda bombing. What do we remember, and why?

Aquino’s assassination has always overshadowed the death and mayhem caused by the grenades thrown on stage during the Liberal Party rally at Plaza Miranda in 1971, which left nine people dead and 95 injured. At the time, Ferdinand Marcos was blamed for the blast that decimated the opposition; Marcos blamed the communists but nobody believed him.

Later, Jovito Salonga, one of the prominent victims of the Plaza Miranda bombing, also pointed to the communists. And,
to ruin yesterday’s commemoration of Aquino’s death, some people now even suggest, following the Marcos line, that Aquino was responsible because he was conveniently absent at the time of the bombing.

Marcos, in his diaries, tells us how he reacted swiftly by suspending the writ of habeas corpus and drafting a martial law proclamation just in case it was necessary. He lists down, by name, the Cabinet members and close aides he consulted before the writ was formally announced and officially took effect, noting that, in the discussion, Foreign Secretary Carlos P. Romulo “was all for it.”

He also consulted Speaker Cornelio Villareal and Senate President Gil Puyat, who did not offer any objections. It is significant to note that Marcos also consulted, by phone, US Ambassador Henry Byroade, “whom I asked whether it was true that Ninoy Aquino, as he, Ninoy has been busily spreading, was authorized by the US Embassy to buy the explosives and arms stolen from American bases.” Byroade, writes Marcos, said “he lost respect for Ninoy Aquino when he first met the latter and Ninoy Aquino said that he was willing to kill to attain his purpose, and that he [Ninoy] has—kill that is.”

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Three days after the Plaza Miranda bombing, Marcos charged Ninoy with subversion and rebellion based on intelligence reports submitted to him. Ninoy denied the charges in a valedictory at the Senate. Marcos then ordered that Ninoy would not be arrested but granted a chance to appear, with counsel, and cross-examine the witnesses in a public hearing prior to the filing of the case at the Department of Justice.

How this all played out is a book yet to be written on our recent history.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: Bonifacio Day, Christmas, Easter Sunday, Holidays, Independence Day, new year’s day
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