A conversion moment
Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was shot dead at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983. While some would dismiss the event as one politician’s gambit taking a bad turn, there is a deep dimension to the sacrifice of Ninoy’s life: Society at large and a critical mass of individuals, over a period of 30 months (August 1983 to February 1986), went through a Damascus or conversion experience that made Edsa 1, a nonviolent people power revolution, happen. It was a distinct and life-changing moment demonstrating that the seemingly impossible, bringing down a dictatorship without violence, can be possible. This was what Ninoy wanted: a nonviolent transition from the Marcos dictatorship to a renewed order for the succeeding presidents to get elected by popular vote.
It was an offering of life, a martyrdom: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
But the continuing widespread poverty must be making Ninoy turn in his grave. There remain deep divisions in society, and pockets of violent expression of civil discontent get to be experienced. These, however, does not diminish one bit the impact of that one death on that Sunday in August. It was one moment for societal and personal conversion, truly an unforgettable experience. After all, it is not every day that a high-profile martyrdom takes place.
Of what stuff are martyrs made that makes possible their impact on the lives of persons and, collectively, on society?
Martyrs are individuals who transcend their mortal reality while living, enabling them to overcome fear. They are gifted with the awareness of the fundamental truth: that the Creator is constantly in and with everyone, regardless of color or creed, age or gender, whether poor or rich, powerless or powerful, broken or whole, unborn or dying, and moves their being.
Martyrs are further gifted with the grace to accept the gift of that awareness. The gift is for everyone; acceptance is a choice to be made with the grace.
Martyrs are distinct from “suicide bombers” who suffer death by their own hand and cause death to others for a promised reward of afterlife bliss. Martyrs die by the hand of the world so that others may appreciate and have life. The “reward” is built-in from the awareness of God in them, a personal choice to live the eternal reality in this life. Such must have been the reality of Ninoy Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983. And by his choice, he gave life to the Filipino.
Ninoy did not become president though it was a real possibility then. In his undelivered speech, he said he had come for reconciliation. Philippine society was breaking down at that time.
A person in the awareness of God-in-him needs no power, wealth, or fame. Nothing more can be added to the being of someone in the recognition and acceptance of the God-in-him reality. This is a special situation of selflessness, indeed, because the self is subordinated to the infinite power within. Power, wealth and fame then just become means for the greater end to help bring everyone to that awareness.
Benigno Simeon Aquino III is president because of two deaths in August: his father Ninoy’s on Aug. 21, 1983, and his mother Cory’s on Aug. 1, 2009. He proceeds from their legacy of keeping the fire of freedom burning, faithful to the principle that governance must shun corruption. There could have been people around Ninoy and Cory with a dubious agenda, but their persons were cleansed by the experience of persecution by worldly and raw ambitions. P-Noy is in their mold.
The emotional appeal in P-Noy’s fifth State of the Nation Address to his connection to the legacy of his parents can only be strong and resonant if he has been true to the aspiration from that legacy for clean and selfless governance. After four years, can anyone say he has enriched himself from any project, public or private, using his position as president of the land? The fiasco generated by the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) can be fatal to this presidency if there is but an iota of corruption that can be linked to P-Noy’s office from any item in the DAP. To be sure, attempts will continue to be made by various groups whose interests will be served by P-Noy’s downfall. And the people around him must become aware that this presidency, in its final two years, must finally realize that its most important legacy will be to show the Filipino people that fundamental change in the power mindset of people in government: It is public service, not privilege and entitlement; it is not an excuse for graft and corrupt practices.
Ambitions for power are again on the move in anticipation of the May 2016 general elections, barely 21 months away. P-Noy’s anticorruption agenda faces hurdles and may suffer setbacks in the wheeling and dealing among the political players. Yet this agenda solidly backs a potentially culture-changing “revolution.”
Corruption is a reality of the world. It is deemed endemic in contemporary behavior in many different settings in the country. It is a dark legacy running counter to the common good. They who proceed from this reality will only sustain the country in the path to perdition, instead of making it continue forward on the straight path.
Those who “witnessed” Ninoy Aquino’s death on Aug. 21, 1983, and the aftermath of that death, are blessed to have this particular experience for personal conversion. Ninoy showed that there was a greater power in him beyond what he could personally muster in life, which worked to make fundamental societal change in his time. And this same power can work in each one. Ninoy lived this reality by his death.
Danilo S. Venida ([email protected]) holds undergraduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of the Philippines and the Center for Research and Communication/University of Asia and the Pacific. He is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.