August 23,1986–If they had sent a limousine to the airport instead of a van, Marcos and Imelda would still be in Malacañang. The Conjugal Dictatorship, as the author of the book with that title called the regime, would still be in dictatorial power – to imprison, torture, murder whoever opposed the Monstrous Duo while the looting of the nation went on. The author of the book now lies in an unknown grave but Marcos and Imelda would be living horribly on.
Why the van? To take the body of Ninoy after his execution at the airport to a military camp where it would be dumped by his killers on the cement floor. (Why killers, not killer? Because he was killed by all those who plotted his assassination, not just by the soldier or officer who fired the shot. Only a conspiracy made possible the “salvaging”.) And so it came to pass.
But just think what would have happened to Ninoy – if he had been taken safely from the plane and escorted to a waiting limousine and brought to Malacañang. There Marcos and Imelda would be waiting to welcome him! Ninoy would have gone unsuspectingly and fallen into the trap. He would be alive today but politically dead. There would have been no millions accompanying his body for kilometers and kilometers to its grave, in outrage and grief at what they had done to him. No mass demonstrations against the dictatorship. No fearless confrontation of its clubs, guns and gas. No ceaseless cry for justice for Ninoy – and all the other victims of the regime. No People Power that drove the Two into headlong flight with their awful family and retainers and no such freedom as the Filipino people now enjoy.
Ninoy would be still alive but politically dead. And dead, politically and economically, would be the Filipino people with the exception of Marcos and his KBL Gang. (They would still be looting and killing together.) But why would Ninoy be politically dead?
He had been warned by Malacañang before his departure for Manila that there was a conspiracy to kill him if he went back. If Marcos et.al. had knowledge of such a conspiracy, why did they not go after the conspirators? Imelda had previously warned Ninoy that if he went back, there were those “loyal” to Marcos and her whom they could not control and who would, presumably, do him grievous harm. Kill him, in short. She offered him money to stay away. Afterward, she was quoted by Newsweek magazine as saying: “If Ninoy comes back, he’s dead.” How could she have been so certain of his death? How, if she and her husband were not set to kill him on his return?
Ninoy decided to return, anyway. He brushed aside all advice, Filipino and American, not to go back. He would bring peace and democracy back to a suffering people. He gave the Communists five years to seize power if the Marcos dictatorship went on in its usual way. Then, blood would flow. He would seek a meeting with Marcos, talk to him about the need for a peaceful; and orderly restoration of democracy in their and our country, forestalling a Communist take-over. Think of the Filipino people, in God’s name, and of his Marcos’s – place in Philippine history!
“I believe that there is some good in Marcos, and it is to that good that I shall address myself,” Ninoy said to the Free Press editor, who argued against his return in a long talk in New York, shortly before Ninoy went, fearlessly and hopefully, to meet his appointment with death in Manila.
Ninoy’s naivete cost him his life. He believed there was some good in Marcos! Yet, though there was nothing good in Marcos, there was, surely, a way to get rid of Ninoy without killing him. Perhaps, Marcos was too sick at the time to make the final, fatal decision on what to do with Ninoy. He was too sick then, perhaps, and besides, he was surely too clever, too smart a politician to do such a stupid thing as to order Ninoy’s killing; he would have foreseen the consequences, being so clever, so smart. So went a column of the American political “pundit” Max Lerner. On what basis, on what evidence of Marcos’s innocence, the American wise guy rendered the verdict acquiting Marcos, it is difficult to ascertain. Who is so clever as never to make mistakes? Marcos politically infallible? Why the rush to verdict? Why not just keep one’s mouth shut? But Marcos was sick at the time, perhaps, near death. Could he have ordered the killing of Ninoy?
If Marcos was well enough, however, to order Ninoy killed, would he have done so, considering his alleged intelligence? He was able to terrorize and rob the Filipino people as he pleased, to the extent he wanted, and he never ceased wanting. This is intelligence? This is what those who collaborated with his regime called brilliance, turning away from those who opposed his regime. Isn’t the better part of valor prudence in the face of such a master intellect? Al Capone ruled Chicago for years and there was nothing the U.S. government could do all that time except, finally, get him for income tax evasion. Capone ruled – robbing and killing at will – so, he, like Marcos, was brilliant? Anybody could be “brilliant” – with a gun.
So, Marcos was brilliant – at the start. He did not have a gun, then: martial law enforced by the Armed Forces of the Philippines with his Number 1 hood, Ver, as chief-of-staff. Then, martial law! Brilliant he was, okay, or just cunning, unprincipled, a thinking son of bitch? All right, brilliant Marcos was. But the intellect deteriorates not meeting real challenge. The gun makes all challenge ineffectual. The mind becomes dull. Absolute power does not only corrupt absolutely, it stupefies. There is no need for intelligence when the guns serves. The blade of the mind rusts. Absolute power brings absolute stupidity. Such is the lesson of all dictatorships. Except the Communist challenge to contend with, and so remains as sharp as ever. Marcos, if in control when Ninoy was killed, had become just plain stupid.
Anyway, if Marcos did not order Ninoy killed, he must have at least considered that option when Ninoy announced his return. Marcos had a military mind and a commander considers all the options that may be taken in case of an enemy attack. And Ninoy was enemy. A political enemy. The most formidable one. Tañada and other Opposition leaders had been reduced to political impotence and pleading with Ninoy to come back and bring the opposition back to effective life. What should be done with Ninoy? The options before the Marcos regime were: house arrest for Ninoy upon arrival; solitary confinement in prison again; freedom – to lead the Opposition against the regime and then shot while campaigning, blaming the Communists for it, or while allegedly trying to escape from prison if he should be so held by the government. If, though allowed to live and campaign freely against Marcos, he should prove ineffective, not much of a threat, then, let him live.
These were the options of Malacañang on what to do with Ninoy. There was another option obviously not considered. What? Hell, welcome him! He’d be dead politically, and Marcos and Imelda could live happily with that. Before Ninoy’s arrival, the Liberal Party leadership held a council during which a top Liberal leader said with the utmost conviction:
“I am betting my last peso that Ninoy has made a deal with Marcos!”
If Marcos or, if Marcos was too sick at the time to be consulted, Imelda had ordered Ver to send a limousine to bring Ninoy from the airport to Malacañang, instead of having him shot there and his body taken to a military camp in a van, Ninoy, with his faith in the goodness of human beings beyond understanding, would have gone trustingly to the palace. And there he would have been met Imelda, not to mention Marcos if he could get up from his bed, assuming he was sick, and not only welcomed but even – anything is possible – embraced by the Two. Television and press cameras would, of course, record the touching scene: Ninoy, grinning boyishly – the Free Press editor always thought of him, because of the difference in their ages, as a kid, knowing the world, he thought, more than Ninoy in his innocence did – and the cameras clicking and exposing him to future ignominy. For the general conclusion would have been that Ninoy had, as the Liberal leader had bet, made a deal with the enemy of the People and would serve that enemy’s purposes thenceforth, surrendering manhood and principles for peace for himself and his family. For an end to exile, the worst fate for one who loves his country, who would never be at home anywhere else.
Ninoy having thus apparently surrendered, having thus made peace with the Enemy, what else could the Filipino people have done but do the same? Peace without liberty, peace without dignity, peace without honor – peace at any price! The peace of the grave.
But they killed Ninoy.