Ninoy and the country’s Damascus moment
I heard of Ninoy’s death over the radio; then saw the white figure on the tarmac, on TV. The assassination was not shock at first sight; just another casualty in the political arena. What was Aquino but another glib-tongued, ambitious politician, except that he was young and certainly a far better speaker?
I did not take the trouble to see him lying in state, neither at Times St. nor Sto. Domingo. But with our children, I stood at South Superhighway (now SLEx) and watched the hearse pass by. Oh, the people that watched and waited, the throng that walked, biked, rode with it; thunderous applause every time the hearse came into view; candles lighting up as the sun began to set — a mesmerizing scene of solemnity, jubilation and magnitude never experienced before.
There was no clap of lightning, but it was a Damascus moment for me. The shot on Aug. 21, 1983, then lodged in my brain and unwound with the rest of the country. On impulse, I submitted a piece titled “A Call to Closet Nationalists” to Mr. And Ms. magazine (09/30/83). Then, in 1984, with Marcos very much around, I gathered a festschrift about, for and by Ninoy in “Ninoy Aquino, the Man, the Legend.” I was my first closest nationalist who came out of the closet.
A “natural” since boyhood, Ninoy seemed born and bred for center stage. In public life, he was in the eye of every significant political storm.
Hear Ninoy speak; always resonant, snappy in interviews, pensive in solitary. In adjoining cells, “[Pepe Diokno and I] were told not to communicate with each other, and so to assure each other that we were still alive, I sang ‘Bayan Ko’ and Pepe answered with ‘Bayang Magiliw.’”
To reporters he said, “You have to be very ready with your hand cameras because this action can become very fast… I may not be able to talk to you again…”
As Flight 811 approached Manila International Airport, he said, “I think the very fact alone that we can land is victory enough… I promised to return. I have returned against all odds.”
God may have then said, “You have found yourself; we have found each other.” Ninoy had become exactly the way God wanted him to be and was right where He wanted him to be, and it was time to go.
Soon after, the shot rang out. It whipped up a storm never seen before. The “Parliament of the Streets” took off. The march-rally combined rang like a roll-call in city-town-province, nationwide. Practically every sector stepped into a march: students, teachers, farmers, laborers, priests, nuns, housewives, doctors, dentists, lawyers, businessmen, artists, etc.
Forum grounds where people gathered to listen were Luneta, Ugarte Field, Liwasang Bonifacio, Mendiola, hometown plazas. Sto. Domingo and Baclaran became assembly or departure points for rallies. “Cause-oriented” groups mushroomed with acronyms such as JAJA, ATOM, MABINI, FLAG, WOMB, CWP, GABRIELA, AWARE, BAYAN, BANDILA, MANINDIGAN, KAAKBAY, etc. You weren’t in if you didn’t belong to one of them. Cars bloomed with flags and stickers — yellow, of course. And yellow confetti (shredded office scrap and phonebooks) regularly rained down on Ayala Ave.
How poignantly writers wrote: Jaime Cardinal Sin, Gregorio Brillantes, Maximo Soliven. How soulfully singers sang “Bayan Ko,” and later on, “Magkaisa.”
From sniping with leaflets passed from hand to hand, the “mosquito press” became the “alternative press,” typified by We Forum, Mr. And Ms., Malaya, Veritas, the Philippine Daily Inquirer. For three years, the fire burned, and the statement was strong: “Tama na, sobra na, palitan na!” Up to Edsa I, it was our unmatched shining moment.
Now, are we becoming a replica of the Marcos regime? Odd and not odd: The President is livid with contempt for just “a whiff of corruption,” yet he pines for Marcos. “We need another Marcos,” he has said. Shouldn’t their hearts’ desire then dovetail?
Shall this generation be gifted with a Damascus moment as ours was? Maybe not. What can make our 110 million daily-wage workers, the vast swath of the poor collectively belittled as “numb and dumb,” “woke”? How about the ruling, rapacious dynasts and politicians; wary business leaders; the struggling or comfortable middle class; the insulated rich; the ubiquitous millennials?
This generation may have to wake themselves up without a Ninoy.
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Asuncion David Maramba is a retired professor and book editor, columnist since 1984 and contributor to the Inquirer since 1992.
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