Remembering Aug. 21, 1983
Last Saturday was Ninoy Aquino Day, the 38th year since the assassination of Sen. Benigno Simeon Aquino Jr. at the tarmac of the then Manila International Airport.
As a tribute to the fallen senator, the airport now bears his name, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
It is known the world over that Ninoy was among the staunchest critics of then President Marcos, who declared martial law in 1972. Ninoy’s assassination triggered a nationwide protest against Marcos and his immediate family, especially directed at the flamboyant, hypocritical, and flauntingly extravagant Imelda Romualdez-Marcos.
The protests created a groundswell of support for the intense call to oust Marcos and all members of his family.
Three years after Ninoy’s untimely death, the Marcoses had to flee the Philippines to stem a possible bloody revolution. On Feb. 26, 1986, the Marcoses, their children and grandchildren, with around 80 of their household staff and security escorts, arrived at the Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Marcoses’ escape flight to Hawaii is still deeply etched in my memory. Back then, I was among many Filipino scholars privileged to study in the United States through various scholarship programs. Together with fellow Filipino students and scholars, I took part in sit-down strikes at the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus. I distinctly remember that for several days, we took turns sitting on different benches at UH-
Manoa’s sprawling campus, carrying placards expressing in different ways how we opposed the stay of the Marcoses in Honolulu. At the time, we had strong doubts that our calls would be heard. We learned that then Hawaii governor George Ariyoshi and his wife were close friends of the Marcoses.
Marcos’ martial law regime is considered the darkest period in Philippine history—a time when people’s freedoms associated with being in a democracy were obliterated. There was no rule of law but the rule of the ruler (Marcos) and his cronies. Marcos had his horde of sycophants who were ready at all times to abide by his command, even if such bordered on the absurd. A joke used to be circulated about a former high-ranking military official who became a member of Marcos’ martial law Cabinet. Marcos allegedly ordered the official to jump from a building. The official reportedly asked, “Yes, Sir, from what floor, Sir?”
My memories of the darkest years of Philippine history are now coming back like flashes of lightning as we celebrate Ninoy’s life of constant and consistent advocacy toward unselfishly serving our country. Ninoy said once, “There is no greater nation on earth than our Motherland. No greater people than our own. Serve them with all your heart, with all your might, and with all your strength.”
My flashbacks to Ninoy’s assassination, Marcos’ ouster, and all other unpleasant events during martial law are now made even more startling because of present-day similarities. It is as if I am in a time warp—I have gone back to the martial law era with all its undersides exposed in clear, vivid colors under the present administration.
We have a president who has expressed many times how he admired the type of leadership that Marcos wielded. President Duterte is enamored with Marcos’ draconian ways of addressing many of society’s problems. Now that we live dangerously, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic, all these Marcosian “strongman” tactics have just created more problems than solved them.
Mr. Duterte’s latest tirades at an independent regulatory body, the Commission on Audit, eerily hark us back to the Marcosian way of dealing with legitimate dissent—like what happened to Ninoy on Aug. 21, 1983.Can we get out of this time warp next year when we elect a new set of leaders? Maybe we can, if we vote for leaders who are truly committed to serve their people with all their hearts and soul, just like what Ninoy said.
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