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Aug. 21, 1983: A date etched in memory

It has been 36 years since that Sunday afternoon that changed our lives and altered our history. All because returning 51-year-old opposition leader Ninoy Aquino was shot dead on the tarmac, something he knew might happen but still did not discourage him from taking the flight home from Boston, where he had been in exile for three years. That image of the bloodied man lying dead in white on the tarmac is a frighteningly memorable image that continues to haunt.

From that Sunday on, the nation was roused to anger, concerned that such a murder could be so brazenly committed. The citizenry, supposedly cowed by the dictatorship, was expected to be mere helpless witnesses. But that was a major miscalculation on the part of the powers-that-be, for Aug. 21 crystallized all the anti-dictatorship efforts of the past 14 years. The yellow ribbons that Ninoy followers had tied on trees as a welcoming gesture became the yellow ribbon for the anti-dictatorship protests that ensued.

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The time had come, the time was ripe for more aggressive, more focused and more unrelenting protests. All that would climax in the Edsa People Power Revolution of 1986. Yes, it still took three years to regain democracy, but that period now seems brief considering we feared a dictatorship that knew no end.

To the youth who must at least know why last Wednesday was a no-school day, why Ninoy appears on the P500 bill, why the airport is named after Ninoy, may your elders, parents and teachers seize such occasions and your curiosity for a mini history lesson.

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And as proof of the rotten state of our judicial system, there is still nothing certain about whoever masterminded the assassination of Ninoy. Who hired the gunman? It is logical to think: Who stood to benefit the most from the total elimination of the man deemed most likely to succeed the dictator?

While it may seem that we know Ninoy Aquino’s life and times well, writer Angela Stuart Santiago feels there are still many gaps in the chronologies and history accounts of Ninoy’s life available to us today. Known as the author of “Edsa 1986: The Original People Power Revolution,” Santiago feels Ninoy’s narrative wanting, specifying phases of his life she is exploring: Ninoy’s relations with the Left that had the dictator Marcos tagging him as a communist sympathizer, the years of imprisonment and the travails of a military trial, the years of exile in America and the decision to return home. Thus her work in progress on a 1932-1983 timeline of Ninoy Aquino’s life.

One of the strict conditions for Ninoy’s exile in the United States was not to engage in political assemblies while abroad. But there was no gagging someone like Ninoy Aquino with his phenomenal gift of gab. He met and consorted with Philippine opposition leaders abroad and was at his most eloquent talking about the dictator, the rampant corruption, the dismal state of affairs in the country. The goal of these crusading and networking efforts was clear: As a prerequisite to national unity, Marcos had to step down and dismantle the martial law regime. Ninoy justified breaking his oath of silence so early in his exile or his release with his now famous, “A pact with the devil is no pact at all. My goal is to restore freedom to my people.”

I wore yellow three days ago to honor Ninoy and the truth, justice and democracy he fought for. It may seem like a meaningless gesture. No one asked me to and I was not joining any mass action, but it has become a tradition I have adopted over the years. My own way of commemorating a day of tragedy, eventually a day of liberation. A day like Aug. 21 reaffirms a struggle that cannot but continue as the society we have today is not one to be proud of. Not yet—and so, the hopeless optimist in me dreams on.

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

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TAGS: assassination, Ninoy Aquino, People Power Revolution
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