[PHOTO AT LEFT - Former President Corazon Aquino visits the tomb of her husband, Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr., at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque yesterday. With her are her grandson Justin ‘Jiggy’ Cruz, eldest daughter Ballsy Cruz, grandson Jonty Cruz, sister-in-law Maur Aquino-Lichauco and only son Tarlac Rep. Benigno Aquino III. Photo by MANNY MARCELO]

MANILA, AUGUST 22, 2006 (STAR) He stood for unity, but the 23rd anniversary of his death required that his family split up to cover the private and public commemorations of his martyrdom.

Despite calls for reconciliation, President Arroyo led the government’s commemoration of the 23rd death anniversary of former Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. without Aquino’s widow, former President Corazon Aquino or the Aquino children, apparently due to political differences.

However, Malacañang doused speculations over the decision of Mrs. Aquino and her children to decline Mrs. Arroyo’s invitation to attend the wreath-laying ceremony and tree-planting at the Ninoy Aquino Monument on P. Burgos street near the Manila Hotel along Roxas Boulevard in Manila and attend the Mass celebrated in Aquino’s honor at the EDSA Shrine in Ortigas, Mandaluyong City.

When asked why she wasn’t at the wreath-laying in Manila, Mrs. Aquino told reporters, "I cannot be in two places at the same time."

The City of Manila commemorated Aquino’s death anniversary by planting 500,000 saplings citywide, a move lauded by the President.

At the Manila commemorations, the President wore a yellow t-shirt upon which Aquino’s face and name were printed.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Aquino’s siblings were present at the wreath-laying ceremony. They are former senator Tessie Aquino-Oreta, movie director Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, Makati City Rep. Agapito "Butz" Aquino and their sister Maur and brother Paul.

"They were all there in full force because of their brother. Don’t associate Ninoy Aquino with the conflicts involving his family but what Ninoy stood for — liberty, democracy, national unity. The most important is the restoration of democracy because that’s what Ninoy stands for," Ermita said.

He also said the commemoration of the Aquino’s heroism should no longer center on his family: "We should be able to project to the whole world, especially to the youth in the Philippines what Ninoy died for."

Also at the Manila rites were: former Sen. Eva Estrada-Kalaw, Manila City Hall officials and employees and representatives of the Universidad de Manila and the Pamantasang Lungsod ng Maynila. With them were National Historical Institute executive director Ludivico Badoy and August 21 Movement (ATOM) president Reli German.

Property of the people

Ermita said honoring heroes does not call for the government or anybody else to seek the permission or participation from the hero’s family: "We don’t have to deal with anybody else... That is how it is with heroes."

He said the lack of a joint commemoration should not be hyped anymore as talks must go beyond families and their political stands: "Remember, Ninoy Aquino is not just a member of the Aquino family, just like (national hero) Jose Rizal who is now a property of the Filipino people, Ninoy Aquino now is a property of the Filipino people."

He also said the Palace can understand that Mrs. Aquino and her family have their own plans for the commemoration of their patriarch’s death anniversary.

Former President Fidel Ramos, one of the key personalities in the first Edsa people power revolution that was believed to have been the result of Aquino’s assassination, was also invited but Ramos did not attend because he was out of town, Ermita said.

Last year, Mrs. Arroyo joined Mrs. Aquino and her family in their commemoration of Aquino’s death anniversary at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City despite Mrs. Aquino’s calls for Mrs. Arroyo to step down due to allegations that the administration cheated in the 2004 elections.

Mrs. Aquino’s daughter, actress and TV game show host Kris, helped campaign for Mrs. Arroyo in 2004.

This year, Mrs. Aquino, her son Tarlac Rep. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Kris were all clad in yellow as they commemorated Aquino’s death anniversary in Manila Memorial Park.

Yellow also was also the dominant color for the garb of Aquino’s other family and friends, including influential politicians, who had come to pay their respects despite the constant drizzle of rain.

The color yellow is significant now as it was then and it carried a message: "JAJA — Justice for Aquino, Justice for All."

"Immediately after Ninoy’s death, I was hoping he would show himself to me in my dreams," Mrs. Aquino said, "that he would give me a sign on what I should do. But he did not, which I took as a message to me that I have to decide for myself how I would go on."

"I don’t think I would have had the courage to go on if not for people like you who are ready and willing to make sacrifices," Aquino said, addressing the small crowd of family and friends gathered by Aquino’s tomb.

A choir sang Aquino’s favorite songs, Frank Sinatra’s "Impossible Dream" and the revolutionary kundiman ballad "Bayan Ko."

Awkwardness in church

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo and her arch-critic Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani found themselves in an awkward situation as Bacani officiated the commemorative Mass for Aquino’s death anniversary at the Edsa Shrine.

The Mass was arranged by the Edsa People Power Commission and Mrs. Arroyo was the main guest at the celebration. Bacani and Mrs. Arroyo did not look at each other over the duration of the Mass, although the President did receive communion from Bacani.

Bacani said he did not want to throw potshots at the President during his homily and instead exhorted his flock to live up to Aquino’s ideals, adding that Aquino had died seeking social change.

However, Bacani also said Aquino would not have wanted Mrs. Arroyo’s style of governance for the Filipino people.

He cited the President’s actions which Aquino would have disagreed with as the President’s issuance of Proclamation No. 1017 declaring a state of emergency in February and her issuance of Executive order 464, which bans Cabinet, police and military officials from attending legislative hearings without her prior consent.

"We are all glad that the recognition of (Aquino’s) greatness has been institutionalized," Bacani said. "However, I cannot help but recall the reminder of the Lord to his fellow countrymen, his fellow Jews, that the children of those who killed the prophets built monuments for the prophets while at the same time continuing in the spirit of their fathers who had killed the prophets."

The President attended the Mass in a yellow dress, as did Kashiwahara, the only member of the Aquino family present at the Edsa Shrine, which was secured by at least 120 riot police personnel who enforced the seven-meter "no-rally zone" along the shrine’s perimeter.

Opportunity for reconciliation

Ermita and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said the Arroyo administration is serious in pushing for reconciliation with various sectors of society and Ermita said of the opportunities would have been the commemoration of Aquino’s death anniversary.

"The approach is not to just go to them and say, can we shake hands now? That is not the case, you must present the situation, like this one, this is the opportunity," Ermita said.

He also said the Palace must respect the decision of Aquino’s widow and children not to attend the government’s commemoration rites.

"We cannot make any publication and state that we want a reconciliation, let us meet in the Church. It’s not like that. These things happen naturally, in accordance with the schedule as well as the preference of people concerned. So we just have to respect that," Ermita said.

"You cannot impose reconciliation on everybody. But this should have been a good chance to have a meeting of the minds," he said.

Ermita said yesterday’s events would have been a good unifying factor, as Aquino was the one who helped spark the first Edsa revolution — "the first of its kind in the world, the inspiration of many. That is what we should dwell on."

Bunye said the Mrs. Arroyo’s offer of reconciliation comes "in all sincerity and humility and with the greater good of the people in mind."

"This government has always been open in extending the hand of unity and reconciliation based on peace, justice and rule of

law; and once again, she is offering the olive branch to all her critics and detractors — to take up the challenge of a principled partnership for the people," he said.

"We are over the hump as far as political turmoil is concerned and all camps must tear down the barbed fences that are standing on the path towards a united Philippines. It is now time to bury the political hatchet and face the more pressing concerns of the nation," Bunye said.

"The President will not cease offering her hand for the sake of unity because this is the only road towards fulfilling our aspirations as a people," he added.

Speaker Jose de Venecia Monday said reconciliation based on Christian love and forgiveness is possible between Mrs. Arroyo and former Mrs. Aquino.

"Both leaders are devout Catholics and very religious and have a strong faith in the core values of Christianity. Forgiveness is the core of Christian faith," de Venecia said.

He visited Mrs. Aquino over lunch at the Cojuangco residence, where distinguished Filipino leaders recalled the former Senator’s heroism, his death sparking an outrage that culminated three years later with the People Power revolt that ended years of one-man rule.

Earlier, Mrs. Gina de Venecia joined Mrs. Aquino and members of her family at the Manila Memorial Park, where a Mass and simple ceremonies marked the event.

Not popular?

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Jesli Lapus expressed concern that the Sex Bomb Dancers are more popular with the youth than Aquino.

In a telephone interview with the media, Lapus also lamented that the media these days is promoting more variety shows in television and radio, rather than national heroes such as Aquino.

Lapus also said the Department of Education (DepEd) should not be blamed for our heroes’ lack of popularity.

He said parents should take responsibility in informing their children about heroes like Aquino and Rizal.

He said Aquino is still considered a new hero, since his life has not been published in history textbooks and that it should still be fresh in the minds of the parents of present times.

Earlier, a report indicated that the Sex Bomb Dancers a group of singers and dancers who gained popularity via a noontime variety show, are more popular with the youth than Aquino, whose death catalyzed the ouster of the 20-year Marcos dictatorship and led to democracy and freedom for the Filipino people.

The report also said that its research indicated that most of the youth either did not know Aquino or only mentioned that he is a man whose image is in the P500 bill.

The report also cited that when asked who Rochelle Pangilinan and Jopay Paguia were, most of the youth had answered that they were members of the Sex Bomb Dancers. — Aurea Calica, Rhodina Villanueva, Non Alquitran, Evelyn Macairan and Sandy Araneta

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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