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That was 1967 By Quijano de Manila (1967)
Men of the Year: Joseph Estrada and Chavit Singson (2000) By Manuel L. Quezon III
Corazon Aquino: Person of the Century By Manuel L. Quezon III (1998)
Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year By Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. (1971)
Ferdinand E. Marcos, Man of the Year (1965) By Napoleon G. Rama
Diosdado Macapagal: Man of the Year By Napoleon G. Rama (1962)
Trinidad Legarda: Civil Leader of the Year: (1953) By Quijano de Manila
Ramon Magsaysay: Man of the Year By Leon .O. Ty (1951)
Osmeña: Man of the year By James G. Wingo (1940)
Joaquin Elizalde: Man of the Year (1940) By James G. Wingo
Manuel L. Quezon: Man of the Year (1933) By James G. Wingo
Philippines Free Press Special 101st Anniversary Issue, August 29, 2009.
The cover photo of Cory Aquino which I took on August 24, 1983 was during her press interview after the transfer of Ninoy’s body from their time street home to Sto, Domingo church. There were only a handful of reporters from the various news bureaus probably due to fear of reprisal by the authorities. Only Radio Veritas was bold enough to cover the arrival at the airport thanks to Mr. Harry Gasser who was GM of Radio Veritas in 1983. He assigned Veritas reporters Jun Tanya to cover the arrival at the airport with Ben Paipon stationed in the OB van at Baclaran church where Ninoy was suppose to proceed for a thanks giving mass had he been released on house arrest.
Note: this essay was commissioned for The Philippine Century: 1900-2000, published by the Philippines Free Press
Memories of a martial law minor
By Charlson Ong
I was twelve when Martial Law was declared. Too young for activism but old enough to have followed Ronnie Nathanieslz’ live updates on demonstrations in Plaza Miranda over radio; to have read Pete Lacaba’s scintillating reportage on the ‘Battle of Mendiola;’ to have been fascinated by my elder brother’s accounts of teach-ins at the Ateneo and the U.P.; to be intrigued by the presence of firearms and Maoist literature at our neighbor’s bodega; and be captivated by Ninoy’s eloquent put downs of Marcos on TV.
If I were older and in college, I too might have been caught up in the romance and rage of the times, gone to the hills when the time came to choose or settled down eventually to a comfortable mid-life with memories of the ‘First Quarter Storm’ and the ‘Diliman Commune.’ As it is I must contend myself with listening to the reminiscences of the ‘veterans’ of those days, feeling oddly that I had missed out on the most exciting period in this country’s post war history by a few years and increasingly convinced that our generation had been denied its place in history, had in fact become the subject of a most comprehensive, if not cynical, social experiment.
Still, I remember Damian Sotto, large and swarthy, cursing to high heavens, spewing venom, fouling up the airwaves with his diatribes against all and sundry. His every other adjective would likely be bleeped off today’s language sensitive primetime TV. We were never clear on his politics or advocacies, it was simply fascinating to listen to an adult using such language on TV that would have earned for us kids a dressing down from parents and teachers.
There was Soc Rodrigo and his Kuro Kuro, sober and thoughtful, his Tagalog sublime. There was Ninoy, clean cut and chubby, showing us scenes from a fast growing Taiwan, saying how this country could similarly take-off once his Liberal Party assumed power. There was Eddie Ilarde on Student Canteen, Orly Mercado on Radyo Patrol, Akong on Kwentong Kutsero. There was my father staying up to the wee hours hoping to catch the x-rated flicks that communists propagandists were supposedly broadcasting clandestinely as part of their destabilization campaign. There was Yvonne centerfolded in Pic magazine, another publication whose early demise we truly mourned. There was the Quintero expose and the Jabbidah Massacre. There was Rossana Ortiz, Jessica, Saging ni Pasing all at the mini-theatre along Recto. There was Bayside, Wells Fargo, the Flame, and other joints along Roxas Blvd. where my elder siblings and uncles went to for booze, roulette and slot machines. Rock was heavy and grass was cheap. It was crass, vulgar, decadent and exciting.
And then it ended. Not at once but sudden enough to catch the best of them off guard. I remember the tension that pervaded our household. The older people cautioned against discussing politics over the phone. School was suspended indefinitely and the streets, empty. Downtown Manila became a ghost town. The world had ended while we slept through the night of Sept. 22-23, 1972.
Philippines Free Press Person of the Century:
Corazon C. Aquino
By Manuel L. Quezon III
December 30, 1999–YEAR after year, for nearly three generations, the Philippines FREE PRESS has bestowed the distinction of Man or Woman of the Year on the Filipino who has had the most influence on the country for the year in question. Over the past 91 years of its existence, this magazine has seen leaders come and go; it has seen them rise and fall; and it knows, as no other institution can, which leaders have made a positive difference in the destiny of the Philippines and its people. Having covered leaders, having seen them up close -faults, foibles, virtues and all- the FREE PRESS knows that the leaders (and the leadership) that counts is what the American writer Garry Wills defined as “Trinitarian”: not just the push and pull between a leader and his followers, not merely the stories of people who have had great numbers either pushing them forward or being hectored onward by them, but rather the leaders who mobilized “others toward a goal shared by leader and followers.” As Wills points out, “one-legged and two-legged chairs do not, of themselves, stand. A third leg is needed. Leaders, followers, and goals make up the three equally necessary supports for leadership.”
Of the leaders entitled to consideration as the Philippines Free Press’s Person of the Century a short list of six comes to mind: Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Ramon Magsaysay, Claro M. Recto, Ninoy Aquino and Corazon Aquino. All of them were leaders, successful in their political careers and admired by their contemporaries; they had followers and they had goals which their followers shared. All of them have been both hailed and lambasted in the pages of this magazine over the years. And yet, time and again throughout its long history, the FREE PRESS has always returned to these leaders as exemplars of positive leadership –in contrast to that other Filipino, Ferdinand E. Marcos, who affected our lives and our history completely negatively: he was, after all, a leader, and had followers; but his goals, many of them achieved only at gunpoint, were rejected by the majority of his people.
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?
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.
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.
August 23, 1986
by Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr.
“If this is the price I must now pay… so be it. It is a privilege, not a sacrifice”
“I have been charged, “with the most serious crime against the Filipino people by President Marcos. I have, he has charged, subverted the state and planned the overthrow of the government in a conspiracy.
“I demand, in fact, Mr. President, that you bring me to court – and prove that I am guilty or be shown as the biggest liar in Philippine political life.
“I ask him to charge me formally so he and I can meet before the bar of Philippine justice.
“If I am guilty, I will pay for my alleged crimes.
“if I am innocent, he must face the people and account for the lies, the plots, the smears he has so freely and ruthlessly waged against me. But if this is the price I must now pay for having abided unflinchingly with the faith you have put in me, I say: So be it. it is a privelege, not a sacrifice.”
Aquino stood up. Enrile squeezed his arm and gave him a reassuring smile, as though to say it was all a game, a show, and no real harm would come to him. But Ninoy’s dark expression did not change. If the President was in earnest, he did not like being threatened. If the whole thing was a ploy to save the President from having to make embarrassing explanations concerning the bombing incident and the measures he had adopted, he did not like being used. He walked out of the room without saying a word. We drove to his house in his car.
“Jesus Christ!” he said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Imagine the canard he is trying to foist. Ako pa ang nagbomba together with the New People’s Army.”
“At least, I’ll die with my boots on”
On the night of the bombing he had not been on stage with other Liberals. He was at a goddaughter’s despedida de soltera. His absence had lent some credence to the speculation that he had planned the bombing.
“Christ’s sake, this guy is really determined to send me to jail,” he said.
He leaned back in the seat. The ordeal was over. He looked contented. Now there was no more having to choose. He had flung the Presiden’s threat back in the man’s complacent face and he was happy with his decision. All that remained was for the authorities to pick him up.
“So what? So one or two years in a stockade. At least I’ll die with my boots on.”
Had he plans of escaping into the hills? I asked.
“Ha, oblige him? Nah, I’ll stick it out here.”
If they came for him, what would he do?
“Aba, I’ll go. Christ’s sake! And tell your father not to forget the pocketbooks when he’s brought in, too. I’ll bring in the Philippine Reports and resume my law studies in jail and when I come out, take the bar. This is the only chance I’ll have.”
At this we started laughing.
“ ‘I erred on the side of generosity, ‘ did you hear that? Boy oh boy, what a shit of a bluffer. He’s thrown everything at me, but I’m numb.”
I asked him about the two witnesses Marcos had presented.
If one added up all the time he had seen Hernan Ilagan, it would amount to three hours, he said. As for Max Llorente, he saved the man’s life once and his skin several times over. This was how the man repaid him!
“The classic Filipino, “ said Ninoy. It was favorite phrase of his. He had used it in previous conversations to describe Filipinos who lived off the fat of the land but refused to pay for any of it.
“The Army,” I said, “can cope with the population, I think.”
“I agree, but for how long?”
“The youth movement is divided. Don’t you think that is a defect?”
“No. it is harder to crush a movement. Everyone is a leader. So if anyone gets bumped off, the movement does not crumble, which is what usually happens to tightly knit organizations. As it is, the movement is like jelly. You grad it and it slips between your fingers. Everyone is expendable.”
“How long do you think this phenomenon of dissent will last? I was thinking, Marcos has not really used even a fraction of the power he commands to stifle dissent. What if he were to mow down the students, like they did in Mexico? Perhaps they wouldn’t show up in the streets again. As it is, the students are killed haphazardly and, therefore, no one is afraid. Death comes as it usually does, when your time is up. But behind the deaths in the streets, no one really thinks there is conscious malevolence. But if it were known that the government intends to slaughter the students should they take to the streets again in a riotious manner, would that not cow the students? Especially if the government demonstrated in a bloody massacre that it meant business?”
“Perhaps, but it won’t happen like that,” said Aquino. “I agree that Marcos has used restraint. Any other man would have sent paratroops to recapture that radio station from which the students broadcast insults at President Marcos. They called him “magnanakaw” and a host of other things. That is his strength. He has not put a single student, journalist or politician in jail or had anyone killed who is prominent. He knows that the violent death of a prominent personality will be blamed on him.”
“And who will cast the blame and what does he care if he will not be punished?” I said.
“I know what you mean. The people are inert. I get more than 300 letters a day encouraging me, but I know that in a showdown, none will come forward to risk his life with me. But they will feel it deeply when one who has fought for them is hurt or killed because of it.”
“And what will they do? Will they avenge their champion?”
“I don’t know and we shouldn’t care. What they will do is none of our concern. Our role is to fight for the people. Whether they will show gratitude or not, immediately, later or never, should not enter into our calculations. That is our fate, to fight for what is right. Your father told me about how long the Free Press had been fighting and as far as he could see, nothing much had improved.”
“And you think that he had missed the point of all his endeavors?” I said. “The point is in the effort?” The outcome is irrelevant?”
He was up on his feet, with the portfolio in his hands.
“I’ll be late,” he said. Then he was out of the room. No introduction, no farewell. I had only half risen from my chair. I looked at the clock, the time had passed quickly. We had spoken for two and half hours. Most of what he had told me is unprintable. But the important part, I felt, was the last part. Could it be that a new breed of politician has come into being? I had given up all hope. I would have been satisfied if the next crop of politicians were bigger crooks than the present ones, so long as they were witty, refined and candid. But now, I wonder. Has one been too ready to throw in the towel?
“Honesty is becoming a fad” – that stuck in my memory. I always thought, why steal money when being honest will bring one glory? Isn’t money acquired to buy glory? Honesty in a position of power is the fastest way to fame. Why were there crooks who stole more than they would ever need if they lived twice over and then moaned that they had lost their good names? Hadn’t it ever occurred to them that if they did not steal so much, they could have both comfort and an honorable name? Perhaps, it finally has.
Addressing Senate President Gil Puyat, Aquino said:
“Mr. President, I would now like to enter these words into our records: Should I be assassinated, my blood would be on the hands of those who set me up for the kill.
“I do not know what fate awaits me, Mr. President. For the last five years, I have discharged my duty as God and my conscience have shown me the way. I have vowed, that here in the Senate, the ideals of our just and free society will be upheld – and only after we shall have perished, will thy be tampled upon.
“Rizal was truly prophetic when he said: ‘There are no tyrants where there are no slaves.’ And it is my conviction that tyranny will not rule the land so long as there are no slaves in this chamber.
“Mr. President, I am only human. And I must confess my disenchantment and near-despair. I see the cherished fundamental institutions of our country crumbling before us – to give way to the personal designs of a determined couple.
“I am seeing the collapse of our economy, of our monetary system, as the price that must be paid to perpetuate this family rule.
“I see the people in the hills. Their armed ranks are swelling, choosing a life of the hunted out of sheer despair.
“Our students and the young are out on the streets – in protest against the stifling environment.
“All these communal sufferings, Mr. President, so that one man and his wife can perpetuate themselves in power!
“Mr. President, allow this hmble representative to reiterate his commitment to the cherished ideals of our just and democratic society designed for us by our founding fathers.
“To Mr. Marcos, I say this: I am against you, yes; against the Republic, no!
“my fidelity is to the Constitution, not to your administration – and while I refuse you my loyalty, I give it unswervingly to the people, the Republic, the government.
“And in behalf of our people, agonized and terrified as they are, I ask you: do not mistake their disillusion for rebellion and their frustrations for subversion. Call off, Mr. President, your campaign of fear against them!
“I do not believe in communism, Maoism or any other ism repugnant to our own Filipinism. I love and I owe allegiance to our Republic – and to no other!” said Aquino.
The Conscience of the Filipino: The Sacrifice
by Teodoro M. Locsin
“WHEN my blindfold was removed, I found myself inside a newly painted room, roughly four by five meters. The windows were barred and covered with plywood panels from the outside. A space of six inches had been left between the panels and the window frame to allow a slight ventilation. A bright daylight neon tube on the ceiling was on day and night. There was no electric switch and the door had no knob, only locks on the outside. Except from an iron bed without a mattress, the room was completely bare. No chairs, no table, nothing.
“I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglass, shoes, clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard in civilian clothes brought a bed pan and told me I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes. In case of emergency, I must call a guard. I was issued two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guard held on to my toothbrush and toothpaste and I had to ask for them in the morning. Apparently the intention was to make me really feel helpless and dependent on everything on the guards. . . Diokno, who was brought in with me and locked up in an adjoining cell, later told me that he had gone through the same thing.
“They took my eyeglasses away and I suffered terrible headaches. For the first three or four days, I expected my guards were the ‘Monkeys’ who were licensed to kill. Suspecting they put drugs in my meager ration, I refused to touch it. I subsisted on six crackers and water for the rest of my stay. I became so depressed and despondent. I was haunted by the thought of my family. . .”
He came to question the justice of God. A friend had told him that God never slept. But what if He’s taken a siesta, Ninoy thought, “and when He finally wakes up, I’ll be gone?”
That was early in 1973 when he and Diokno, blindfolded and handcuffed, were taken by a helicopter emblazoned with the Presidential Seal to Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija and kept in solitary confinement in adjoining sweatboxes. To let the other know he was still alive, they would occasionally sing to each other. Neither could carry a tune.
After 30 days, he and Diokno were whisked out of their cells and returned to Fort Bonifacio. There they endured again solitary confinement, broken only by rare visits by their families. After a year or more, Diokno was released. Ninoy stated on in prison — for a total of seven and a half years.
“I would watch a line of ants go down the wall of my cell and another line going up and I would make a mental bet on which line, when the two met, would give way. I tried to befriend a mouse that ventured into my cell. When I felt my mind giving way, I would do a hundred pushups and then take a shower and I would be myself again.”
Every year in prison is a year thrown away out of the limited span of man’s life; it is the death penalty by installment: life without freedom is not life. Ninoy decided to fast and, if not given his freedom, die. His death would be on Marcos’s head. A terminal cry for justice, it would be an ultimate act of life.
On the 38th day of his hunger strike, his mother pleaded with him:
“My son, are you trying to outdo our Lord?”
Only one argument convinced him to break his fast and leave the divine record intact. He was told that the government would not let him die. A few more days of fasting would inflict irreparable damage on his brain and then the government would force-feed him. But he would be a vegetable by then. The government would be blameless.
It was during his hunger strike that he was made to stand trial before a military commission for all kinds of crime against the regime. I remember him, at one session, being lifted by two guards to the stage. He sat there and listened, without saying a word, as a government witness, a Huk commander, raged at him for being a Huk-coddler. Ninoy, he sputtered angrily, had helped him — yes, him, a Huk commander—when he was in need. Previously, another government witness had also accused Ninoy of helping the rebels. He was a man whom Ninoy had brought bleeding from gunshot wounds to a hospital in Manila. “The classic Filipino,” Ninoy said of this witness.
During the fast, one of Ninoy’s lawyers went to the newspapers and asked them to print Ninoy’s answer to the charges against him, charges those newspapers were playing up. Their answer was “no”. He asked if Ninoy’s answer could appear as an ad, which would be paid for, of course. The answer was still “no”. Later, the regime would accuse the American press of breach of journalistic ethics for “one-sided” reporting of the conduct of the regime.
When masses were being said for Ninoy during his hunger strike, only a hundred or so would attend. Nobody else seemed to care.
Now he was going back to all that.
“I am going home,” he said to me shortly before his departure from the United States for Manila.
He would seek an appointment with Marcos, he said. (He would get no further than the tarmac.)
“Have you thought of what would happen to you?”
We discussed the possibilities: arrest on arrival, followed by imprisonment again or house arrest or execution. Perhaps, freedom — who knows? I asked him if he seriously believed that he would be set free — to campaign in the coming elections against the regime, or as one of the Opposition candidates? I reminded him of his conviction by the military court for murder which bears the death penalty.
“I don’t think they’ll shoot me. As for that conviction—if I were guilty, would I be going home? My return would be the best proof of my innocence. How could they shoot me then?”
I asked him what good his return would do. His arrival would be made a non-event by the government. He would be either imprisoned or kept under house arrest—in either case , isolated and neutralized. What could he hope to do when he got back?
“I’ll go to Marcos, if he’ll see me. I’ll appeal to his sense of history, of his place in it. He would not be publishing all those books of his if he did not care for the judgment of history, if he did not want to look good in it. And that would be possible, I’ll tell him, only if there was an orderly restoration of democracy and freedom for our people. Otherwise, there would be only revolution and terrible suffering. I give the moderate opposition five years to restore democracy, after that there will be only the Communists as an alternative to Marcos or his successor. I’ll offer my services to him, but my price is freedom for our people.”
“Do you seriously think,” I asked, “that if you are able to see him, he will listen to you?”
“I can only try. If he is as sick as they say he is, then, more than ever, I must talk to him. If he dies suddenly, there will be a brutal struggle for power. Orderly succession is possibly only under a democratic regime. He must set up a system to make such succession possible before he goes. I must talk to him if I can. Who know, he may listen. He will know he is talking to a man who does not care for life and its comforts and must be telling him the disinterested truth. On the 38th day of my hunger strike, I though I was as good as dead. A dead man. I have regarded the years that followed as a second life that I should be able to give up. I have already lived and died and I am ready to go. I cannot spend that extra life here in American just living well, while our people are suffering. I must go home.”
He was hopeful.
“Maybe Marcos will listen to me. He would not want to appear in our history as a man who took away the liberties of our people and gave them only suffering in return. I am making a bet that there is good in him, deep inside him, and I shall talk to that.”
“Have you ever thought of the record.”
“I must take the chance. Think of the good that will come to our people if he listens to me. What have I got to lose? My freedom? He can have it. I’ll do anything, I’ll be his servant, but my price is freedom for our people..”
Freedom wasn’t the only thing he could lose, I reminded him.
“I have died, I told you. This is a second life I can give up. Besides, if they shoot me, they’ll make me a hero. What would Rizal have been if the Spaniards had not brought him back and shot him? Just another exile like me to the end of his life. To the end of my life. But if they make that mistake…”
“I’d rather have a live friend than a dead hero,” I said, then asked myself what I was doing arguing with a man in determined pursuit of his destiny whatever that might be.
He talked about his meeting with Mrs. Marcos, of her warning that there were people loyal to them whom they could not control and who might kill him. Financial help was offered if he did not go home. He politely said nothing. As for the loyalists . . .
“So be it,” Ninoy said.
“What will you ask Marcos if you do get to see him?”
“I’ll propose a caretaker government to be set up composed of independent and respected men so that free and honest elections could be held and democracy finally restored.”
“Do you think he will agree to that? Do you know what that would mean?”
“Yes. First, he must step down. Resign. He has had so many years of power! Now, he can resign. He can retire from public office to the thanks of a grateful people that will forget what it had suffered in its joy at being free again. We are a forgiving people. What a graceful exit that would be from power. He’ll go with honor.”
Was it this identification that moved millions of Filipinos to follow Ninoy’s body to its simple grave? Hundreds of thousands lined the long road to Tarlac when his body was brought to his hometown, before the funeral in Manila. When the cortege passed Clark Air Force Base, American fighter pilots revved their engines in tribute.
This massive outpouring of people and emotion had as much to do with what Filipinos had become once more, as with the national incredulity over the official version of the murder.
Soon after the imposition of martial law, a high American official reportedly described the Filipino people as composed of 40 million cowards and one son of a bitch. Otherwise, they should have risen as one against the destroyer of their liberties, the American must have reasoned. Yet, six million Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, stopping only to bicker over an extra crumb of bread that might keep one alive an extra day. The Nicaraguans swallowed 40 years of indignity and official thievery from the Somozas before putting an end to their rule. And the Poles, to date, have done nothing but picket. The Hungarians, after a brief spasms of prideful revolt, have traded the hope of liberty for that extra roll of toilet paper in the Soviet showcase of a consumer society.
The Filipino people rose in revolt against Spanish rule again and again through 350 years until the Revolution had cornered the last Spaniards in Manila. Then they fought the Americans, who had suddenly snatched the freedom that was almost in their grasp. Ten percent of the Filipino people died in that war. When the Japanese drove out the Americans, the Filipinos fought the Japanese.
Then came martial law, if not with American fore-knowledge and approval, definitely with American support after the event. First, submission. (Cowardice?) Resignation. (Not the Communists, for sure.) Almost 11 years after that, August 21, 1983, and Ninoy’s body bleeding on the tarmac.
The Filipino people are themselves again. And it took less than 11 years for a nation of “cowards” to be the men and women they are now.
So he went home, with these words:
“According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”
Before boarding the plane from Taipei for Manila, he said to a television crew that was accompanying him on that fatal day:
“You have to be ready with your hand camera because this action can come very fast. In a matter of three, four minutes it could be all over and I may not be able to talk to you again. Now I am taking precautions. I have my bulletproof vest. But if they hit me in the head there’s nothing we can do.”
Then he gave a gold Swiss watch he prized to his brother-in-law.
“I think it’s victory if we just land,” he said as the plane came in on final approach.
And a victory it was, if death is ever a victory.
He had come home to Filipinos rejoicing at the economic privileges and political offices that the death of Filipino liberty had procured for them. To a people weakly submissive to authority whatever it be. The arrest of thousands of their countrymen and imprisonment for months, years, without charge or trial, had failed to move them. The torture inflicted on so many was ignored. “No one, but no one has been tortured,” Marcos said. But Amnesty International reported a state of terror at 84 prisons where interrogation was marked by use of “fists, kicks, karate blows, beating (with) rifle butts, heavy wooden clubs, and family-sized soft-drinks bottles. . . the pounding of heads against walls or furniture, the burning of genitals and pubic hair with the flame of a cigarette lighter, falanga (beating the soles of the feet), and the so-called ‘lying-on-air’ torture.” The last consists of being made to lie rigid with one’s head on the end of one bed and the feet on that of another then the body beaten or kicked when it sagged from weakness or exhaustion.
“When we start to feel the pain of those who have been victimized by tyranny,” Ninoy said, “it’s only then we can liberate ourselves… The feeling right now is ‘Fred was tortured, thank God it’s Fred, not me.’ That’s the tragic part. Society is atomized. Until the Filipino nation can feel the loss of one life as if it was their own, we’ll never liberate ourselves.”
To Be A Woman!
February 7, 1986–THERE has never been anything like it in Philippine history: a woman telling the machos of business and industry to do what she is doing, to stand up to the injustices against which they have been content merely to complain. That the economy is being ruined, has been ruined, from which they happily drew so much profit in the past; that the system under which they prospered is in dire danger of total collapse and eventual replacement by one that would have no place for them is evident to them. Free enterprise, that holy of holiest in their minds, is doomed by crony capitalism. And one with any sense of morality, of human right and dignity, can only recoil from government by, for, and of one man clearly determined to maintain his rule at whatever cost to the nation. But it took a woman to do what a man, or men, should have been doing: Fight! Being a man was sadly inadequate. One had to be something else. Be a woman — like her!
Said a foreign observer as applause interrupted her speech at the Manila Intercontinental Hotel:
“You may not agree with her program but you can smell the honesty!” She doesn’t smell, as the regime she would replace does, but “smell the honesty!”
“It is like a religious experience,” said an otherwise cynical observer during another speech of hers, this time at the Manila Hotel before more than 2,000 — a speech preceded by a standing ovation, interrupted by 55 bursts of applause during its course, then ending with another ovation. “Jubilation and pride” filled the men and woman who were there and heard Cory give the regime, in the most forthright language: hello.
Support for her cause — the cause of the honest, decent and good, the long-suffering and patient, until now — comes not only comes from the well-heeled but also from the poor, the barely surviving. She asks for their votes and money pours out for her from those the regime feels compelled to bribe, cheat and coerce. Women and children form a cordon around the vehicle carrying her from the airport to Cebu City in an act of loving protectiveness against goons, uniformed or not, of the powers that be. A KBL poll, in spite of the inevitable adjustments of the results to favor the pollsters, showed Cory ahead: 65/35 for the widow of the man murdered in the custody of the Marcos military. At an American Embassy Christmas party, a general of the regime told embassy officials loudly enough for others to hear, that a recent survey by the military showed Cory leading Marcos by 2 million votes—up to then.
How could it be otherwise but humiliating for the dictator? What’s worse, the challenger is a woman. A cartoon in a Hong Kong paper shows him, in one panel, fuming over the predicament, the shame of it all, running against a woman, then, in the next panel, demanding who’s responsible for his having to run against Cory instead of Ninoy, then, quieting down, saying in a small voice: “Forget it.”
Not only humiliating but, if he loses, whether against a man or a woman, unacceptable! How could justice be allowed to prevail after so much injustice by the regime? Would life, in the pleasurable sense of the word, be possible for him? For him and his?
Worse still, the woman was calling him a coward!
“I am here in Mindanao in the midst of the violence and devastation that Mr. Marcos has wrought. And I am not afraid to be here. But Mr. Marcos is.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he has not come to Mindanao in the past 10 years to see for himself the horrible effects of his greed, his brutality and his ignorance.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he will not come to Mindanao to stand in the physical presence of the people he has hurt and betrayed.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he will not stand before me and dare to hurl his charges in my face and let my answers be heard.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he needed over 2,000 troops to kill one man — Ninoy Aquino. And he has the gall to say he fought off hordes of Japanese soldiers at Besang Pass. What a laugh.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of cowardice because he whimpers about a little scratch in his hand and ignores the hole that his people blew out of the face of Jeremias de Jesus and the mangled bodies of the Opposition after the grenade attack he launched at them in Plaza Miranda.
“I accuse Mr. Marcos of trying to cover up his cowardice with a salad of military decorations none of which he ever earned in the field of honor.
“I challenge Mr. Marcos to stand up, like a woman and answer my charges of his cowardice with truth — if he dares.”
He could meet one charge of cowardice based on his non-appearance in Mindanao, by going there, of course. But then came the U.S. Army leak about his war record and medals. My God, what next?
The election should never have been called, in the first place. Now, what must he do to “win”? it No. 1 . . . . . No. 2 . . . . . Number 3 . . . . . But who would believe in such a victory? He had until 1987 before having to run for reelection if he would stay in power—if he lived that long. All he had to do was sit there in Malacañang and rule. Why put his presidency at risk? True, the Americans were demanding an election for a new mandate as the condition of continued military and financial aid, but he could have told them to go to hell. They were not content with an election, any kind of election, it had to be honest and free — and what if he lost? What dictatorship ever willingly submitted to one of that kind? Why risk what you have to gain what you already have? That’s plain stupid. What could the Americans do to him that would be worse than what would happen to him if he lost in the election? Let them do their worst!
But victory was not to be ruled out — even in an honest and free election. That is, if the leading Opposition contender, Doy Laurel, were to gain the nomination, and it seemed clear enough that he would, boasting as he did of a political organization the others could not claim to have. Laurel, it was the Malacañang consensus, would be no problem. Especially since his candidacy would not unite the Opposition, none of the other contenders showing any willingness to concede that Laurel was the better man, the better bet. Cory would be a problem, but she was not running. (Not then.) The British Broadcasting Corporation survey showed Marcos leading Doy by a comfortable margin. So, let there be an election. It might not even need to be rigged.
Then Cory ran. And united the Opposition. Oh, my God again!
So, now there is Cory, challenging absolute power, with its Central Bank, AFP, Commission on Election and almost exclusive access to radio and television and the crony press all working for it. But could the Commission on Elections be wholly trusted despite its membership of Marcos appointees? Why not, if it ran true to form? And NAMFREL had yet to be given accreditation as a poll watcher. Now NAMFREL is an accredited observer and counter of votes, but could NAMFREL prevent fraud in the final official count? And what if terrorism kept people from freely voting, or vote-buying plus terror kept them at home? How could the true, untrammeled will of the people prevail?
To be resigned to evil is to support it. Acceptance is consent. So, Cory runs. Against all odds. And who knows, she may prevail. She will — if the good and brave are with her. The Filipino people cannot be held captive too long by any power, native or foreign. But they can be if there is no will to resist power however great.
“There are no tyrants,” as Rizal said, “where there are no slaves.”
Slavery is the just desert of slaves.