by Teodoro M. Locsin
Reflections on Ninoy Aquino’s “The Filipino is worth dying for”
August 23, 1986–WHEN NINOY AQUINO was arrested, together with thousands whose only crime was love of truth, justice and liberty, no voice of protest was heard; there were no demonstrations by those still “free.”
Traffic flowed smoothly. Business went on as usual. The Church went on in its non-militant way, preaching submission, by its silence, to the brutal rule. Marcos’s Iglesia was all for it, of course. Thus was upheld the judgment of the Communist Prophet: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Politicians went on their, to use Shakespeare’s term, scurvy way. But what else could be expected of them? But what was heartbreaking was the general indifference to the death of liberty. The Filipino people did not give a damn.
Except a few. The unhappy few who found their cries against the death of liberty met with indifference if not scorn. Ninoy and Cory would afterward speak of how those they thought their friends pretended they did not know them!
There were no demonstrations of any consequence for years and years. When Ninoy, in ultimate defiance and despair, went on a hunger strike, masses were held for him at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenhills. A hundred or two showed up. An American Jesuit, Reuter, and a Filipino, Olaguer, said mass for Ninoy, witnesses to his cause. The currently most conspicuous member of the order busied himself with constitutional law and judicial resignation to Marcos’s “revolutionary” government. A banker showed up. No other demonstration for what Ninoy was slowly, painfully, starving himself to restore: the rule of law, not the rule of one man.
To be a prisoner is to be dehumanized. It is to be no one. Nothing. You have no rights, no control of your life, no existence except what your jailer allows you. You eat, sleep, and live at his pleasure. You remain human only by saying No!
From Camp Bonifacio, Ninoy and Diokno were taken to Fort Laur where they were stripped naked and kept incommunicado in separate rooms, singing the best way they could to tell the other that they were still alive. After weeks and weeks in their sweatboxes, they were taken back to Bonifacio from which Diokno was finally released after two years. Leaving Ninoy alone. Thus he lived for five more years. Years during which he would watch the trail of ants on the wall and try to make friends with a mouse and go into a frenzy of physical exercise in that windowless room to keep his sanity. But still No! to Marcos and his rule.
Years more of solitary confinement, then a heart attack, with Imelda showing up at the hospital with a rosary (not the one with the inverted cross or the other with the face of an animal that were found in Malacañang after her hurried departure) and permission granted for Ninoy to leave for the United States for heart surgery. Freedom at last—freedom in exile. A death in life for one who misses his people. A sense of total irrelevance. For what is a Filipino like Ninoy—not one who went there to make it his home, to be an American—in that country? Home he must go.
Against all the warnings: Imelda’s, Ver’s….Against the advice of friends. What did he hope to accomplish by his return? Reconciliation, peace, restoration of Filipino liberties. He would address himself to the “good” he believed was still in Marcos. Did he ask his children what they thought about his going back? Yes, and his children said they would abide by his decision. Did he ask Cory what she thought?
“You are the one who will suffer, Ninoy,” said that long-suffering woman. “You decide.”
So he went home to death.
Why did Ninoy go so willingly enough to a fate he must have considered a possibility if not a probability? Why do men—and women—say No! to injustice and force? Why do they opt for good at the cost of their lives?
For love of country? Out of sheer patriotism?
Here is a mystery of human nature that defies solution while humbling us. Evil we know, and understand, knowing our nature. But good is something else. As martyrdom, it has had, history shows, a fascination for some. The cynic would say it is mere inflation of the ego. But how explain the slow martyrdom of Damien who lived among lepers, ministering to their needs, and finding a mystical fulfillment when he could say: “We lepers.” Ego-inflation still? If that is the supreme desire, then the cynic might try life in a leper colony. He should never think more highly of himself then. But cynicism is only fear—fear of knowing what one is. To debase the good is to rise in self-estimation. If all men are vile, then you are not worse than you might think you are. You just know the human score. To face and recognize goodness is to sit in judgment on oneself. Avoid it.
For us? Because, as he said, “The Filipino is worth dying for”? In spite of his indifference or submission to evil until the final sacrifice that reminded him of what he should be? Because Ninoy expected neither appreciation nor gratitude for what he did for until then a graceless breed? “He who would be a leader of his people must learn to forgive them,” he once said. Look not for praise or reward. The daring is all.
For what good is for all, whoever they are?
The mystery of human goodness is—according to one who has thought long and hard on the question—the final proof that, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, God is good. For from whom else could what is good in man have come if not from Him?