CORY AQUINO: LAST LETTER FROM NINOY AND A PRICELESS LEGACY

MANILA, August 21, 2003  (STAR) By Corazon C. Aquino - Throughout our three years and three months in the United States, Ninoy and I were always aware that our life there was temporary. Ninoy never stopped talking about returning to the Philippines even as we enjoyed living together as a family in the land of the free.

In the first quarter of 1983, Ninoy had been receiving information about the deteriorating political situation in our country combined with the rumored poor health of the dictator. Ninoy believed that it was imperative for him to speak to Marcos so that he could appeal to him to return our country to democracy, before extreme forces were released that would make such a return impossible. I told Ninoy: "What makes you think that Marcos will want to talk to you or even listen to you?" And Ninoy said: "I will never be able to forgive myself if I did not at least try."

Hearing Ninoy say that, I knew there was nothing I could do to stop him from returning. Not even after we were warned about the threats on his life. The tiniest hope that there could be a peaceful and painless restoration of democracy was enough to convince Ninoy he had to try it. For him, the important consideration was that the solution did not involve more of the pain and suffering that the original problem spawned. While it is true that Ninoy’s own suffering had convinced him of the inexhaustible capacity of man to endure pain, still he did not want anyone else to go through the same experience. I think that Ninoy was convinced that suffering ennobles, but he was not prepared to experiment with other people’s lives — only with his own.

The original plan was for Ninoy to arrive in Manila on Aug. 7, a Sunday, at a time when there would be four or five planes arriving so there would be a ready-made crowd at the airport. Our only son, Noynoy, and our youngest daughter, Kris, would accompany him. It was necessary for Kris to be in Manila early in August so she could enroll at the International School. And in case Ninoy were arrested at the airport and detained again in Fort Bonifacio, Noynoy could take care of Kris. Our three other daughters, Ballsy, Pinky and Viel, were to stay with me to finish the packing and the closing up of the house.

But then we learned from the Philippine Consulate official in New York that there were orders from Manila not to issue us any passports. At that time, all our passports had already expired and we had been denied new passports. So there was a change of plans. Ninoy decided it would be better if he went alone to attract less attention and the rest of us were supposed to follow him after two weeks.

Ninoy had acquired a passport through the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. This passport carried the name Marcial Bonifacio. (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio to represent his imprisonment in Fort Bonifacio). Ninoy was able to get a second passport from one of his friends in one of the Philippine consulates in America and this passport carried his name, Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

The last time I saw Ninoy alive was on Aug. 13, 1983. We had all attended Holy Mass that morning at Saint Mary’s Chapel in Boston College. Both of us had very little sleep the night before. I remember being so nervous and in fact I was shivering that night which was quite unusual, because it was a warm summer night in Boston. (Whenever I feel very nervous, I usually shiver regardless of the temperature). I could sense that Ninoy was also feeling quite apprehensive, but he reminded me that we had already discussed the matter before and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I guess he did not want me to worry more. And so we left it at that. I just prayed and prayed as I could not sleep even as I felt that Ninoy was just pretending to be asleep.

We saw Ninoy off at the Logan airport and we tried to be cheerful as we told Ninoy that we would see him in two weeks. Ninoy had to take another route home — from Boston on Aug. 13, 1983, to Los Angeles, then to Singapore, next to Malaysia, where we had friends in the ruling family, to Hong Kong and then to Taipei. And from Taipei to Manila. He had chosen Taipei as the final stopover because the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they did not know of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends to take care of him.

Ninoy and I talked for the last time on Aug. 20, 1983 at 7 p.m. Boston time, which was Aug. 21, 1983, 7 a.m. Taipei time. Ninoy told me that he had written letters for me and for each of our five children and that he would soon be leaving for the airport. I told him that I was informed that General Ver had warned any airline bringing Ninoy in that Ninoy would not be allowed to disembark, and that the airline would be ordered to fly Ninoy back to his original port of embarkation.

Ninoy said that they could not do that to him, because he is, was and always will be a Filipino. And he told me that most likely he would be re-arrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas for permission to call me up.

At around 2 a.m. Boston time, Sunday, Aug. 21, 1983, our phone rang and my oldest daughter Ballsy who answered it was shocked when the Kyodo news agency representative in New York asked her if it were true that her father had been killed in the Manila International Airport. United Press International and Associated Press reporters also called asking for verification. I was hoping and praying that all these reports were false. But when Member of Parliament Shintaro Ishihara of Japan called me up from Tokyo and told me that Kiyoshi Wakamiya had called him from Manila and verified the shooting report, my children and I cried as we had to accept the cruel fact that Ninoy had been shot dead.

Let me share with you parts of Ninoy’s last letter to me:

My dearest Cory,

In a few hours I shall be embarking on an uncertain fate, which may well be the end of a long struggle. I slept well last night for the first time since I left Boston–maybe because I’m just plain tired or I’m really at peace with myself. I want to tell you many things but time is running out and I do not have my machine. After a few more paragraphs, my penmanship will be illegible.

All the things I want to tell you may be capsulized in one line–I love you! You’ve stood by me in my most trying moments and there were times I was very hard on you. But if anyone will ever understand me, it is you and I know you will always find it in your heart to forgive — and unfair and ironic as it is — it is because of this thought and belief that I often took you for granted.

Early on I knew I was not meant to make money — so I won’t be able to leave anything to the children. I did what I thought I could do best which is public service and I hope our people in time will appreciate my sacrifices. This would be my legacy to the children. I may not bequeath them material wealth but I leave them a tradition, which can be priceless.

I realize I’ve been very stingy with my praise and appreciation for all your efforts — but though unsaid — you know that as far as I’m concerned you are the best. That’s why we’ve lasted this long. There will only be one thing in the world I will never accept — that you love me more than I love you — because my love though unarticulated for you will never be equaled.

If all goes well I should be back in my cell before sundown. Should I be detained do not rush to get home. Take your time and enjoy a side trip to Europe with the girls.

I’ll try to call you tonight if the authorities will allow me. Otherwise just remember me in your dreams.

Love,

Ninoy

P.S. I offered a special rosary for Papa and I asked for his intercession. You know he never failed me. (Ninoy here was referring to my father, Jose Cojuangco, who died on Aug. 21, 1976.)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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