August and the Aquinos
Since 1983, August has always been associated with opposition hero Ninoy Aquino, because he was assassinated on the tarmac on his homecoming as a returning exile on Aug. 21 of that year. It shocked and angered the nation, hastening the long struggle toward the restoration of democracy after years of the Marcos dictatorship. The vivid, harrowing image of that Sunday afternoon that the Aquino children most remember is “Dad in white, lying dead on the tarmac.”
The family claim on August as their month of remembering has been further strengthened with the passing of former president Cory Aquino on Aug. 1, 2009. Those were days of national mourning, marked with a lengthy funeral procession similar to what the fallen Ninoy had. The outpouring of sentiment, respect, and admiration for Cory catapulted the only Aquino son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, to the presidency. He was a reluctant candidate, but proceeded to have an admired and successful term of office that was reawakened in the public consciousness after his death on June 24 this year. As fate would have it, P-Noy’s 40th day was marked on Aug. 2, a day after his mother’s 12th death anniversary. It was commemorated with prayers, tributes, and music, especially Original Pilipino Music, something that P-Noy appreciated and encouraged.
The August-Aquino link now sticks in my mind, especially with members of this family declaring during their lifetimes variations on the same theme: “The Filipino is worth dying for” (Ninoy), “The Filipino is worth living for” (Cory), and “The Filipino is worth fighting for” (P-Noy). Words we now take courage from, words we ourselves can live by in these challenging times.
Among the numerous touching eulogies lavished on P-Noy was a semi-private ceremony hosted by the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM) community and the alumnae of St. Theresa’s College. The account of the head of the congregation, Sister Cora P. Sastre, ICM, brought us back to the years of martial law when Ninoy was in prison and she was a young student in an ICM school, St. Francis Academy in Balamban, Cebu.
Sister Cora remembered being taught that, as Christians, we “have the duty to take the side of the voiceless, the poor and the victims of oppression.” Even her sleepy barrio experienced what martial law was like, with sounds of gunfire and seeing a “dead body covered in a bloodstained blanket carried on bamboo poles, then made to lie on the floor of the fire station in our town.” Sister Cora was convinced even then that these were not the country’s “golden nor the most peaceful and prosperous years” of government, as historical revisionists would have us believe now.
It was also during this period that the ICM community, which included Sister Jo Bagtas, Sister Luming Torres, and Sister Consuy Varela, all assigned in STC Manila-San Marcelino, became special pillars of strength for Cory Aquino. Sister Jo was a psychologist and a counselor, a friend and confidante of Cory’s. Sister Luming and Sister Consuy were both actively involved in the National Secretariat for Social Action. There were times when Sister Luming and Sister Consuy would accompany Cory in her visits to the incarcerated Ninoy. Letters from Ninoy were smuggled out of prison through the nuns.
Sister Cora recounted with pride: “One of those letters smuggled by Sister Luming was the one denouncing the military tribunal who would try Ninoy as a civilian. The letter was reproduced in the middle of the night by Sister Helen Rivera, who rolled the Gestetner copying machine with some Sisters. By daytime, 2,000 letters were already in the hands of the people, all the more fanning the nationalist embers…”
Just when you think you have heard and read all about the Aquinos and martial law, you chance upon accounts like this and grow even more in your admiration of this family’s courage and heroism. They did not choose the roles that fate threw their way — but how splendidly they embraced them. An inspiring thought as we mark National Heroes Day tomorrow, Aug. 30.
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Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ([email protected]) is founding director of the creative writing center Write Things, and was former chair of the National Book Development Board.
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