The beginning of the deluge
Of course, this is a day for remembering, not only the man for whom this holiday was declared but also his assassination and what it triggered and ultimately led to.
When the former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. landed at the then Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, and was shot in the head as he disembarked from China Airlines Flight 811, his native land was in the doldrums, having been vised in Ferdinand Marcos’ rule for nearly two decades. The shock waves from the brutal murder inundated the nation and lashed other shores as well.
Filipinos of a certain age will remember that the impact of Aquino’s assassination was palpably felt in the long term, in both the political and economic spheres. It was generally agreed, to the extent that it became a bromidic expression, that the bullet that snuffed out his life marked the beginning of the end of the Marcos era — an era that the dictator’s heirs and their operators have been continuously trying mightily to resuscitate through a political-revisionist strategy primarily aimed at the young.
The martial law era as the Philippines’ “golden age” is the battle cry of the dictator’s heirs and their operators. The millennials are moving on, and their elders should follow suit, Imee Marcos claimed a couple of years ago, a senator’s post still a gleam in her eye and the scandal of her academic dissembling yet to explode.
It is important, therefore, to remember the way it was in the years leading to the dog days of August 1983 and how it was downhill from there: The Philippines was gripped in the severest economic contractions since World War II in the period shortly after Aquino’s murder and the debt moratorium declared two months later, according to professors of the University of the Philippines’ School of Economics (UPSE).
“There is no doubt that, viewed as a historical event, the Philippines’ economic crisis was precipitated by the assassination” of Aquino, the UPSE professors wrote in 1984. They cited the “crisis of confidence” in the Marcos administration that “seized the foreign banks,” leading the latter to refuse to renew short-term loans; the 90-day moratorium on external debt payments declared in October 1983, which stopped all official dollar trading, and which was extended four consecutive times; and the budget cut for 1984 as well as the restrictions imposed on foreign exchange.
As a consequence, as the economists noted, inflation grew explosively from 26.1 percent at the end of 1983 to 64 percent at the end of 1984.
Meanwhile, the plunder of the national coffers by the dictator, his heirs and cronies had been proceeding apace, as the Presidential Commission on Good Government formed in 1986 would formally discover. Through all those years of violence and oppression, the underground resistance was on a slow burn.
Thus, it was that Ninoy Aquino, on exile in the United States, made the fateful decision to come home. He had been warned by Imelda Marcos not to even think of it, as the then first lady herself told the New York Times in July 1984.
But his mind was made up: Although he was safely living with his wife and children in Boston, doing what he loved best on the lecture circuit, he could not stay put.
“I cannot,” he told a reporter before flying back to the land of his birth, “allow myself to be petrified by the fear of assassination and spend my life in a corner.”
It is important to remember the brazenness of Aquino’s murder, the sheer brutality of it, the infinity that ensued from the moment when he was led from his plane seat down the steps toward the tarmac, and then, in a cacophony of shouts from his military escorts, to the moment of his extinction.
Remembering, the historian and essayist Carmen Guerrero Nakpil wrote in her memoirs that she had heard the awful news at a restaurant in the company of other members of Imelda Marcos’ circle, as they were about to dig into the shark’s fin soup.
As she recalled it, the news knocked the ground out from under their feet. Later she would write: “Ninoy’s wake and burial were the beginning of the ‘deluge,’ which Louis XIV predicted two centuries earlier would be the aftermath of tyranny.”
Early this month, on the anniversary of former president Cory Aquino’s passing, President Duterte said Ninoy Aquino’s widow was “popular” today “for losing her husband in the hands of Marcos.” There was stony silence from the dictator’s heirs.
And yet, Mr. Duterte said Filipinos should “reflect on his sacrifice as we honor the courage and patriotism that Ninoy demonstrated during his struggle.”
“Sacrifice” it indeed was, to wrest back the democratic space that today we are so in danger of again losing.
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