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Chanting for a new nation

In the dark, uncertain times we find ourselves in, and with our notoriety for having short memories, I woke up on Aug. 21 fearful. Though it was a declared holiday, would citizens still commemorate the day Ninoy Aquino was assassinated? After all, 1983 is 37 years ago. Would that history-changing event be remembered, besieged as we are now with our pandemic woes, deep disappointment with national leaders, grief over too many lives lost, unconscionable scandals in PhilHealth juxtaposed against a lamentable public health system, violence against those fighting for the rights of the marginalized, a much-feared anti-terrorism act, the harassment of print and broadcast media, an atmosphere that hearkens to the years of repression and human rights violations?

And that nasty talk about changing the name of the airport where he was shot dead and lay sprawled in his white suit, to be replaced with some unpronounceable and forgettable name. Clearly, another push at historical revisionism. Where would light and hope come from? What was there to look forward to? What has happened to the earnest and committed population that made the People Power revolution possible?

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Quite unexpectedly, my dread disappeared during my daily Jesuit Communications Keeping the Faith Mass for hope and healing. I had even made a special request that Ninoy’s name be mentioned as a special intention—my small way of keeping his memory alive. I suddenly felt I was not alone when the celebrant, Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ, aka Paring Bert, began with an emotional remembrance of the significance of the day, “Ninoy was not a saint, but he loved our country,” he said. He asked everyone not to lose hope, expressing confidence that from these times, new life and new prophets will emerge. Assigned to Ateneo de Davao during the years when anti-dictatorship protest rallies and yellow confetti were weekly occurrences in Manila, he admiringly recalled the leadership of Nanay Soling or Soledad Roa Duterte, who was known then as the foremost yellow activist in Davao.

Paring Bert felt no need to mention Nanay Soling’s ties to the present dispensation, but his deep sighs and intense concern were palpable especially when his prayer suddenly turned into a chant of his own poem, “Likhain Bayang May Dangal,” an earnest plea for us to have transformed hearts (“Ilikhâ mo kamí ng ’sang bagong pusò”), and to be a nation with renewed honor. The priest is known for his poetry, having published poetry books including translations of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems. This particular poem has had several incarnations, sung by the late Susan Fernandez and also by Isay Alvarez and Cris Villonco. Paring Bert is also known to be a skilled whistler, recently performing in the “Awit ng Paghilom” concert of the Jesuits, but he admitted daring to sing because he was emboldened to turn the poem into a sung prayer.

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If the day began that auspiciously, my day ended with a viewing of the award-winning documentary by director Jun Reyes, “The Last Journey of Ninoy.” It is a priceless resource especially for the youth, a document of this chapter of our history that will lead to their appreciation of what heroism and love of country are all about. I kept thinking of teachers needing multimedia resources this school year; films like this, along with “Heneral Luna,” “Goyo,” “Quezon’s Game,” will certainly leave more enduring impressions than reams of duplicated worksheets. Nothing like a good story to engage students.

Even for someone familiar with the Ninoy and Cory Aquino life stories, I found the film still riveting, clearly proving that life is stranger than fiction. I can imagine today’s young viewers finding details of Ninoy’s life and times incredulous: a phenomenal political career, a detention of seven years and seven months, a refusal to concede to the dictator, even his refrain that should he be killed, “So be it.” It was a well-made film, with thoroughly researched material and footage and, of course, put in proper context with the candid Cory Aquino interview.

Another welcome development is the availability of “To Love Another Day: The Memoirs of Cory Aquino” (2019, compiled and edited by Rapa Lopa) as an e-book on Amazon.

Materials like these will ensure that historical accuracy is perpetuated as a foil against attempts at altering documentation, so that yesteryears’ villains are not reborn as heroes. Let our proud history endure and endow us with the courage to forge ahead.

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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and former chair of the National Book Development Board.

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TAGS: 1983, August 21, Cory Aquino, History, Ninoy Aquino
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