Defiance and heroism
Coming home wasn’t Ninoy Aquino’s first act of defiance against the Marcos regime, as the 2000 article by former senator and Cory Aquino-era executive secretary Joker Arroyo reveals.
Indeed, it turns out that Ninoy had challenged the Marcoses long before (or maybe it wasn’t that long before) martial law was deemed the Marcoses’ last resort to perpetuate themselves in power. I do remember that as a senator, as the virtual “lone voice” of the opposition, Aquino dropped bombshells at the Senate floor, the most prominent being his exposé of the “Jabidah Massacre.”
But it was after he was ordered arrested and detained on “false charges of rebellion, murder and illegal possession of firearms” that Ninoy showed his full mettle and his towering defiance of the Marcoses and their military minions.
Arroyo says the first act of defiance was Ninoy’s refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the military court hearing his case, starting a “war of attrition” between “the tormentor and the tormented.” It was, wrote the former senator, “a battle of wills all the way.”
Throughout his years of detention, Ninoy would challenge the authority and power of the Marcos regime time and again. Among many instances, he went on a hunger fast to challenge the legality of his continued detention and trial against his will, ran for the “Batasang Pambansa” that triggered the memorable “noise barrage” that was an early and sweeping form of popular protest that presaged the People Power of years later, and then refused to stay put and stay quiet when he went for open-heart surgery in the United States, defying restrictions that had been imposed on him by the “magnanimous” Marcoses.
Coming home, despite the warning of possible assassination that Imelda Marcos issued, was just Ninoy’s “fifth act of defiance,” and as a consequence “paid for the act with his own life,” Arroyo wrote. The coda to Ninoy’s continuing defiance would be his widow Cory’s decision to run for president, and then the “People Power” revolt that led to the Marcoses’ downfall.
* * *
NOT covered by Arroyo’s article are subsequent events that we can say were but the wholly unexpected postscript to Ninoy’s history of defiance.
These events, of course, were Cory’s falling ill of colon cancer and her eventual demise in 2009, followed by widespread mourning by the Filipino people, grief that culminated in the outpouring of sympathy during her wake and funeral procession, an outpouring that swept her son Noynoy to the presidency in a sudden, surprise candidacy.
This was defiance not just of a dictatorship, but defiance of fate itself. Despite the rush of memories and intimations of heroism, there was and still must be vestiges of fear, of the superstitious belief that the fate that visited the parents could visit the son. History repeats itself?
Maybe that explains the tears that threatened to spill out during P-Noy’s State of the Nation Address. Tears that indeed trickled out from the eyes of his sisters listening to him in the plenary hall, much commented upon and even derided by some as “overacting.”
But who would not, given the circumstances, want to weep over the confluence of events? Who would not turn teary at the recollection of Ninoy’s martyrdom and Cory’s continuing hold on the hearts of the people? Who would not want to cry out in frustration at being besieged by snarky comments and unfair personal insults despite the personal sacrifice and unquestioned dedication?
Sometimes, I think, we’re appreciative of our leaders only when they’re dead.
* * *
AS I write this, we have just finished with a sumptuous lunch that used to be our family’s Sunday menu—steamed mussels (tahong) paired with roasted pork (inihaw na baboy). When we used to live together with the family of my sister-in-law Bel in the David home in Mandaluyong, this was our usual Sunday fare. This time, the lunch was prepared by our son and his wife, making the day feel “like a Sunday,” as the hubby commented.
This day, too, we owe to Ninoy, as Aug. 21 is celebrated as Ninoy Aquino Day, the anniversary of his martyrdom.
It was on a Sunday when, waking from a nap, I turned on the TV set and was confronted by a scene shot at the airport tarmac, with men in uniform dragging the prone body of a man in white, Ninoy Aquino himself.
Who knew then that our country’s history had reached a turning point? Who could have foreseen the events that would follow this galvanizing event?
I remember sitting in front of the TV set and wondering what the sight meant. Did this presage revolution, or a military crackdown?
* * *
BUT beneath the fear was a current of sadness, sadness that soon turned to anger. And as friends who trooped to the Aquino home on Times Street in Quezon City attested, the anger was apparently shared by hundreds, thousands, of people who patiently lined the street to be able to pay their respects.
A few days later, I suffered a miscarriage and had to undergo a “D&C” at the hospital. About the only memory I have of that procedure was listening to my doctor and the nurses discussing the massive crowds that had gathered along the route of Ninoy’s funeral before I succumbed to anesthesia. Talk about confluence of history. I would deliver my daughter three years later on Feb. 26, 1986, the day after the Marcoses flew off to Hawaii (instead of Paoay, the joke went) at the culmination of the “People Power” protests.
So along with history and heroism, we remember as well personal stories of where we were, what we were doing, what we were feeling, on the day Ninoy came home, was felled by a bullet on the airport tarmac, and, lying on his native soil as blood gathered beneath him, freed his people.