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Remembering Butz–and his dream

One by one they have left us—the men and women who played pivotal roles in the fall of the Marcos dictatorship heralded by the protests of the parliament of the streets, the “People Power” revolution, and the victory of Cory Aquino in the 1986 presidential election.

The latest to leave is Butz Aquino, who was a businessman when his elder brother Ninoy was assassinated on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport in August 1983, and was launched into the limelight when he founded the August 21 Movement or Atom, to commemorate the day of Ninoy’s death.

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There were various cause-oriented and ideological groupings at the time of Ninoy’s assassination, as well as the remnants of political parties that valiantly tried to mount a credible opposition to the Marcos juggernaut. But Ninoy’s assassination sowed the seeds for the flowering of groups organized to express the people’s mounting anger. The groups were a mix of school-based alumni, professional organizations, neighborhood associations, even regional networks. Atom was one of these post-assassination groups, best-known for its memorable and attention-grabbing gimmicks, marked usually by catchy titles like the “Tarlac to tarmac” march, bringing marchers and runners from Ninoy’s birthplace to the locale of his death.

Efforts were made to bring a semblance of organization into the hodgepodge of protest groups and protest actions. But one of the best things about the protests was the sheer anarchy involved, the blossoming of unscripted, humorous, creative and chaotic actions that attracted a lot of foreign and local media attention. Even media outlets run by Marcos cronies couldn’t ignore the ferment for long, and the subversive content began seeping into even entertainment shows.

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Butz Aquino has been called an “unsung hero” of Edsa, even if he certainly enjoyed the limelight in the years of the parliament of the streets, the Edsa upheaval, and the immediate post-Edsa era.

The reason some say he was “unsung” may be this: He chose to keep a low profile while Cory was president, and had virtually disappeared from the scene when his nephew Noynoy also became president. But before then, he became a congressman and senator, showing an unexpected and unheralded side to him as a social and political reformer, especially his championing of the cooperative movement.

Unlike many Edsa players before him, who sought to parlay their roles in the anti-Marcos protests into more prominent public positions and then grew bitter when their ambitions were frustrated, Butz seemed content with whatever fate handed him. He certainly never lost the self-deprecating sense of humor that he employed to charm most everyone he met, but especially the ladies.

There was some sort of reunion of Edsa figures at the cremation of his remains yesterday, as gleaned from Facebook posts. Everybody seemed older than they looked in those days of almost wall-to-wall media coverage of the protests. Hair was noticeably grayer, the once-lithe and athletic builds of rally leaders had turned soft and comfy. But I would guess that it was the memories, not just of Butz at his prime, but also of all of us when we were younger and when our passions were still fiery and furious, that drew everyone to pay homage to the passing of yet another Edsa icon.

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Which brings us now to this pass: What now? What now, almost 30 years after Edsa? What now, after those heady days of protests and rallies, when our passions now seem to find greater expression in snippy put-downs and cruel sobriquets against our political leaders on social media? Where do we find the old spirit that animated our youthful passion and our collective anger? Or do we even care to look for it?

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The passing of Butz Aquino reminds us of exactly what we nearly lost those decades ago, and of what threatens to return—and to entrench itself again—if we let down our guard in the next few months.

We have elections coming around the corner, and in our choosing we have to keep in mind a vision for the future of this country. What did we fight for, after all, all those years ago? Did we fight just to wreak vengeance for the killing of Ninoy Aquino and for all the deaths and suffering imposed by the dictatorship?

Or were we animated by a greater vision—a vision for the Philippines free from repression and injustice, a Philippines where we, its children, could hold our heads high as we took our rightful place in the community of nations?

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I don’t know if we all share in the tantalizing vision that P-Noy laid out in his last State of the Nation Address: the ascension to “first world” status of our perennially sad-sack nation, if the trajectory of economic growth and political stability were to continue untrammeled.

But I do know that the majority do dream of a better Philippines, a country that is slowly making its way to developed-world status (if the prohibitive traffic allows us room) if we are not derailed and if everybody pulls together and looks in the same direction.

I believe this is what Butz Aquino—of the ready good humor and charming smile—wanted for this country, for all of us. It’s too bad he had to leave before he could see this dream come to fruition. But it would be even worse if, by our conspiring or indifference, we allow the country to go the other way, in the direction we dreaded and struggled against. I wonder what Butz would have said or done if this should happen?

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TAGS: August 21 Movement, Butz Aquino, Cory Aquino, EDSA, Ninoy Aquino, People Power Revolution
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