NINOY'S 30th: THE POWER OF ONE / NOY: EMOTION DOESN'T WANE W/ EACH RETELLING
The late President Corazon Aquino looks at the shirt that her husband Ninoy wore when he was assassinated. With her are (from left) children Ballsy, Kris, Benigno Jr., Pinky and Viel, and grandson Joshua. VAL RODRIGUEZ
MANILA, AUGUST 22, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Joanne Rae Ramirez - When he looks back at Aug. 21, 1983, President Aquino sees not only the tragic loss of his father. He also sees “the power of one.”
“I remember CNN had this ad, ‘The Power of One.’ When I look at Aug. 21, my dad’s fight against the martial law regime, it really was, as some would say, David vs. Goliath,” the President said in an interview for PeopleAsia magazine on the 30th death anniversary of his father and namesake, Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.
The main difference, Aquino said, was that the Biblical David “at least had a sling and was free to move around.”
His father, who was imprisoned for seven years and seven months, was not as fortunate.
“Still, he overcame the giant,” the President said during the interview held in a function room at Malacañang, not far from where the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos once held office.
The Aquino family holds Marcos responsible for Ninoy’s incarceration and assassination.
“So somehow, that CNN ad resonated with me,” he added. “It was my mom who said something like, ‘Courage, like cowardice, is infectious’.”
Ninoy’s assassination 30 years ago is widely seen as the spark that ignited the bloodless people power revolution in 1986 that led to the ouster of Marcos and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines.
Hoping for the truth
Former President Corazon Aquino was hoping till the end that the soldiers convicted for her husband’s assassination at the Manila International Airport 30 years ago would express remorse and shed more light on the dastardly crime.
No court has pointed to the mastermind of the murder.
In an unpublished interview this writer had with Mrs. Aquino in early 2008, the former president, then already with colon cancer, said that she was also still hoping the soldiers would tell the truth.
“I was really hoping that at least they would express remorse. Yes, they said before the media that they felt sorry for me and my children, but they were still claiming that it was (Rolando) Galman and not they. So that’s what hurts. To this day, they don’t want to own up to the truth,” she said.
“I know that God wants me to forgive, so I’ve forgiven them. But I was still hoping that maybe one of them would say something,” Mrs. Aquino, who died a year later on Aug. 1, 2009, said.
She said she believed it was Marcos who ordered the assassination of Ninoy. This was reiterated by her eldest daughter Ballsy Cruz, in a documentary on Ninoy to be aired this week by the History Channel.
“I just thought of him (Marcos) as the number one guy, who could order anybody and everybody around,” she said.
Mrs. Aquino said she didn’t believe reports that the strongman was sick and therefore not in control at the time of the assassination.
“I don’t believe that he was sick. Of course, we have reports that said it was just a cover-up,” she disclosed.
When told that a former close adviser of hers was supporting the pardon of the soldiers, a serene Mrs. Aquino simply said, “Well, I don’t have control over that. To each his own. My lawyers also explained to me that after a certain amount of time, they are entitled to pardon. Yes, they have suffered also,” she said.
Fifteen soldiers were convicted in the killing of Ninoy and his alleged communist assassin Rolando Galman.
They were convicted of double murder in September 1990, along with their commander, Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, former Aviation Security Command chief. Custodio died of cancer before the promulgation of his sentence.
FROM THE INQUIRER
Benigno Aquino assassination: Emotion doesn’t wane with each retelling By Thelma Sioson San Juan Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:40 am | Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
FATHER AND SON President Aquino gestures during an exclusive interview with the Inquirer on Monday, two days before the 30th anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. The iconic pointillist portrait of Ninoy at left was a labor of love of Inquirer art director Lynett Villariba. ALANAH TORRALBA
It was 1983, past midnight in Boston. He sat before the television, watching CNN.
“I can’t even remember the face of the announcer who mispronounced my father’s name. He said, opposition leader ‘Benigno Akwino was seen lying in a pool of blood, shots were fired.’ If I don’t recall exactly how it was (said) then, it wasn’t because nag-blur. Para talagang huminto everything (It was as if everything stopped)…I was neither in time nor space. I guess that was shock…”
Thirty years ago, to this day, President Aquino, then 23 years old, wouldn’t have thought that he would be retelling the story of that fateful night in Boston right in Malacañang Palace, inside a room that was only a few steps away from what was the bedroom of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, under whose watch Aquino’s father was assassinated.
The ghosts of the past must have been in the room on Monday afternoon during our exclusive interview. But these ghosts proved helpless against the force of destiny.
We sat and talked in the room adjoining Aquino’s office, behind us a big 1921 Fabian de la Rosa painting of a bucolic scene of farm folk planting rice. A glance away through the window was the Pasig River, incessantly in motion due to the constant downpour.
This setting drove home the ironic turn Philippine contemporary history has taken. The son of Marcos’ archrival now presides from the seat of power.
President Aquino continued: “I was brought out of (the shock) because the phone rang…I tried to reach the phone right beside my dad’s bed. But it was Ate [Ballsy] who was with my mom who got the call… The Filipinos in LA (Los Angeles) got wind of it earlier than those in the East Coast.”
These friends broke the news that the older Aquino had been shot upon his arrival at Manila International Airport. The family he left behind in Boston—his wife Cory, daughters Ballsy, Pinky, Viel, Kris, and only son Noynoy—were confused.
“They said something like huwag muna nating isipin, wala pang confirmed (Let’s not think about it yet. Nothing is confirmed). Medyo confusing pa ang report…They started praying the rosary,” Aquino continued his recollection.
Promise to dad
“Ako naman (what crossed my mind was) I promised my dad na pangangalagaan ko (looked after) my mother and my sisters. I was trying to find out what I could do to reinforce their security.”
This must have been the nth time Aquino was recalling his father’s assassination and its aftermath. And yet, still evident was a stirring of emotion in him.
Even now that he is President, there’s still that indescribable expression in his eyes that always comes with the recollection of the day his father was killed. That look in his eyes was there in 1984, as he, the only son of Ninoy and Cory, retold the episode to us for the martial law newspaper that I was then working for. It is still there now—a very vulnerable expression that is a mix of sadness and helplessness.
Why doesn’t the emotion wane with each retelling?
“Uhh…there was a time I couldn’t watch the video of him being taken down from the plane. Up to now I can’t even say I’m not affected by it anymore.”
Then he gestured, “Yung point na one of the guards touched his back to see if he was wearing a bulletproof vest…na memorize ko na yata yung (I’ve memorized) facial expressions ng lahat na sumalubong sa kaniya (of those who came to get him)… knowing there was a conspiracy…”
He then turned technical—his trademark penchant for details evident. “Maceda (former Marcos executive secretary-turned-senator Ernesto Maceda) told my dad, huwag kang sasama kung mga enlisted (men) lang pinasusundo sa ’yo may masamang balak ’yan (don’t go if only enlisted men came to pick you up. That shows a sinister plan)…True enough…Yung technical kasi dyan may officer, pinaka close-in directly responsible … the concept of fidelity in the custody of a prisoner…
In this case the officer commanding the detail stayed on the plane, or on top of the stairway, preventing people, or blocked (the way)… Why distance yourself from your detail, unless you knew there was a plan that you wanted somehow distanced from.”
Have you resolved within yourself who had him killed?
“I may sound like a broken record—we had a dictator….everything/anything about my dad had to be cleared with ‘Apo’ (Ilocano term of respect for elders, as Marcos was called by his close circle). He set up a system where such a thing could happen. People involved were connected to him.”
He then focused on a very crucial, and what to him, was a very telling detail contained in the Sandiganbayan report, which he had his aide brought out from his office. This voluminous sheaf of documents must have been one of his frequent readings; that was obvious in how some lines were highlighted in yellow.
6 a.m. Ver’s Palace meeting
“This Sandiganbayan report is very thorough. (It detailed) there were supposed to be two plans—whether he would be allowed into the country… kung dadaan ba sa tube or sa stairs (if he would be made to take the tube or stairs).…(Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian) Ver had (Aviation Security Command Chief Luther) Custodio called here to Malacañang Park that day, Aug. 21, at 6 a.m. (obviously to discuss that.) Ang point nun puwede naman tinawag sa telepono pero pinapunta pa sa Malacañang Park early morning. (He could have phoned but he called for him to go the Palace.) It showed that they really were on top of the situation, (that this task was) not assigned to low-level functionary. They discussed something in very minute detail…Custodio was actually Marcos pilot, not part of PSG (Presidential Security Group), ordered to report to Malacañang Park…the lieutenant of the Avsecom van was Ver’s pilot also.”
Statute of limitations
When he became President, why didn’t he pursue those he believed were responsible for his dad’s assassination?
“There’s a statute of limitations, 20 years… And those convicted were pardoned by GMA….”
Has he forgiven those responsible for his father’s assassination?
“People have never even admitted guilt, none of them has asked for forgiveness, and may I add, none of them has said that they suffered financial hardship at the loss of the solitary breadwinner.”
The rest of our interview:
The day your father was killed, was that when you felt you had to step up to the plate, as protector of the family?
“Earlier than that. I was 13. At Fort Magsaysay, nagpaalam nang daddy nun. (Daddy said goodbye.) Remember he wrote an article that was published I think in Thailand. As punishment for that, he, Senator Diokno were brought to Fort Magsaysay, loaded on separate helicopters, blindfolded, handcuffed to their escorts. Their escorts had .45 pistols pointed at the midsection of both my dad and Senator Diokno…my dad didn’t know exactly where they were being brought. He assumed it was Rizal…
“This was in 1973….all visiting privileges had been suspended. They were giving us back his stuff, including toothbrush. My mom asked the WAC (Women’s Auxiliary Corps), why? Hindi na ho niya kailangan ’yan (He wouldn’t need that anymore).
“As a 13-year-old I wondered, paanong hindi na niya kakailanganin (why wouldn’t my dad need that anymore)…
“Until we got to visit him at Magsaysay. When we got there—and this is very important—I admire the Dioknos, they’re tougher than us. As tough as us, at the very least… But I saw them step out of the building, they were in tears.
What induced them to shed tears?
“Then when we saw our dad. (As you know he was) roly poly….he had no glasses, he was unshaven, no watch, no ring. He was holding on to his pants because they kept falling down. (He lost weight.) He was so pleased to see us, very emotional…
“That was when he first told me, Wala naman akong ibang pagbibilinan—ikaw na bahala sa mommy mo, sa mga kapatid mo (There’s no one I could entrust. You take care of your mom, your sisters)…I was just listening the whole time.
Talagang shock na shock… Ako nang bahala, Dad (I will take care of them)
FROM THE INQUIRER
24 hours that changed Philippine history Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:43 am | Wednesday, August 21st, 2013
(Editor’s Note: Here is a timeline of the last hours of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.):
BOSTON, 8 P.M., AUG. 20 (8 A.M., AUG. 21, PHILIPPINE TIME)
From Taipei, Ninoy calls his wife, Cory, who is in Boston. He says he will soon be leaving for the airport for his final trip to Manila. He tells her he has written letters to her and to each of their five children.
Cory tells him that Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver has warned airlines not to bring in Ninoy, else, they will be ordered to fly him back to his place of origin.
Ninoy decided to go home after three years of self-exile in the United States despite warnings, especially from then First Lady Imelda Marcos, to postpone his arrival.
Ninoy had told Salvador “Doy” Laurel, former assemblyman of the Interim Batasang Pambansa and president of the opposition party Unido, that Imelda had offered to take Ninoy home with her. When he refused, she warned him: “You better not come home because some of our boys may just kill you, believing it would make us happy, although we would never order it.”
On Aug. 2, when Laurel told Imelda that Ninoy would arrive on Aug. 7 (the original planned date of arrival), she told him: “That’s impossible. If he comes, he’s dead.”
Always a Filipino
Despite the warnings, Ninoy was not going to change his mind. He was going home, telling Cory that they could not refuse him entry as he is, was and always would be, a Filipino.
And he told Cory that it would be most likely that he would be re-arrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio.
Ninoy was the first opposition leader to be arrested when Marcos declared martial law in September 1972 and was a political prisoner for seven years and seven months.
Ninoy was Marcos’ political archrival and was believed to have been a shoo-in the next presidential election had Marcos not declared martial law.
In a story published in the Inquirer, Cory said that in the first quarter of 1983, Ninoy had learned about the country’s deteriorating political situation and rumors of Marcos’ poor health. Ninoy believed it was imperative for him to speak to Marcos and convince him to bring back democracy to the country, before such a return would be made impossible with the release of “extreme forces.”
With the security concerns, Ninoy was coming home in a roundabout way. He left Boston on Aug. 13, 1983, for Los Angeles, then to Singapore, next to Malaysia, where he had friends in the royal family, to Hong Kong, and to Taipei. And from Taipei to Manila.
Taipei is his final stopover because the Philippines has severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they did not know of his presence. And there are also some Taiwanese friends who could take care of him.
9:00 A.M., AUG. 21
Ninoy meets with journalists who are to travel with him to Manila. He is in a bright mood as he notes that the white safari suit he is wearing with his initials embroidered on the shirt pocket was the same one he wore when he left the Philippines for the United States three years before.
Ninoy puts on a pair of sunglasses, saying he will travel disguised as a tourist. Sandra Burton, bureau chief of Time Magazine based in Hong Kong, was designated in the meeting the night before with foreign journalists as his girlfriend and decoy.
She would ride with him in the car, as journalists would have it, and use the opportunity to interview him—on his relations with Marcos, on the threats to his life, on the bases issue. Ninoy tells Burton he believes in a strong president with checks in a free judiciary and a free press.
Ninoy arrives at Chiang Kai Shek International Airport for his flight to Manila on China Airlines (CAL) Flight 811. He is to be accompanied by Ken Kashiwara, ABC News correspondent and husband of Ninoy’s younger sister, Lupita.
Burton and other foreign reporters who have flown in mostly from the United States—20 of them—are to also accompany Ninoy on his trip to Manila.
Ninoy checks in using a fake passport for “Marcial Bonifacio”—Marcial, from the martial law, and Bonifacio, from the name of the prison where he was detained.
The Aquino family—Ninoy’s mother, Dona Aurora, siblings Butz, Tessie and Lupita—and opposition leaders led by Salvador Laurel arrive at Manila International Airport (MIA).
Also in the welcome party are Joker Arroyo, Ninoy’s counsel, and former Senators Lorenzo Tañada, Eva Estrada Kalaw and Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo.
Laurel says they cannot enter the arrival area as all four doors to it are padlocked. The entire MIA, he said during the Agrava hearing in January 1984, has been taken over by the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom), with 1,999 soldiers securing the airport.
Security is tight. Journalists and welcomers can only stay at the airport Visitor’s Lounge, at the far end of the airport’s left-wing side. Entry to the arrival area is restricted to regular airport reporters.
Ninoy’s family and supporters are preparing for a triumphant return, the first step to victory for the opposition against Marcos. They have tied yellow ribbons around trees near the Aquino home on 25 Times Street, Quezon City, and on the trees along Roxas Boulevard.
There are also hundreds of people outside the airport terminal building to welcome Ninoy, wearing yellow head and armbands. They wave welcoming placards and chant, “Ninoy, Ninoy.”
After some delays, CAL Flight 811 takes off. Ninoy is in the middle group of seats in the economy section. The foreign journalists take the opportunity to interview him during the flight. Ninoy talks at length on the possibility of being assassinated. He says there is a plot to kill him but that is a risk every politician has to take.
Minutes before the plane lands, he puts on a bullet-proof vest and prays the rosary.
He uncannily tells Kashiwara, “I’m okay. I’m protected here, but if they hit me in the head, I’m a goner.”
Ninoy’s plane lands at the Manila International Airport (since renamed after him as Ninoy Aquino International Airport). The passengers are told over the plane’s public address system that nobody is to get off until further notice.
Then, men in soldiers’ uniform board the plane. The boarding party includes 2nd Lt. Jesus Castro, Sgt. Claro Lat, TSgt. Filomeno Miranda, Sgt. Arnulfo de Mesa, CIC Mario Lazaga and CIC Rogelio Moreno. They seem friendly as they approach Ninoy, who shakes hands with them.
They take Ninoy out of a first class exit and down a special ramp to the tarmac.
At the front portion of the aircraft are at least a dozen Army security people carrying M16s.
Just six seconds after Ninoy begins to descend the 19-step service stairs, a shot rings out, followed by five other shots.
John McLean reported in the South China Morning Post that pandemonium broke out on the plane. “Everybody in the aircraft was screaming at the top of their lungs—all these women on the plane starting screaming.”
According to the findings of the Agrava board, the first shot killed Ninoy, who was shot at close range at the back of his head. The board also found that he was shot not on the tarmac but on the last step of the service stairway.
The other shots kill Galman, the alleged assassin of Ninoy.
(Metrocom chief Propero Olivas said in the now defunct Times Journal banner story “Aquino shot dead” on Aug. 22, 1983, that Aquino was being escorted to an Avsecom van when the gunman, dressed in the blue uniform of an airport maintenance man, slipped through the security cordon and shot him from behind with a cal. 357 Smith and Wesson Magnum revolver.”)
From the MIA, Ninoy is brought by soldiers in the Avsecom van to the Army General Hospital at Fort Bonifacio. He is pronounced “dead on arrival.”
Ken Kashiwara comes to the VIP Lounge and cries, “Ninoy was shot! Ninoy was shot!”
Doña Aurora nearly faints and is speechless for sometime before bursting into tears. People in the room cry.
Laurel rushes outside the arrival area, now teeming with people. They cheer, thinking Aquino is coming out of the terminal. They are chanting, “Ninoy, Ninoy.”
A grave-faced Laurel mounts the iron railing and calls for silence. He tells them that Ninoy has fulfilled his promise to arrive. “He came back but you may not see him … I heard that Senator Aquino has been shot and that he was hit and fell … Another person was hit. Be cool, be cool.”
He also tells the hushed crowd that two passengers saw Ninoy slumped on the ground but “it is not known if he is alive. Let us pray for him.”
He then directs the people to proceed to the Redemptorist Church in Baclaran, where a prayer rally is held.
In Boston, Ballsy, Ninoy’s eldest daughter, answers a call from a Kyodo news agency representative in New York and is shocked when asked if it is true that her father has been killed at the MIA. Reporters from United Press International and Associated Press also call to ask for verification.
Cory and her children cry when a good friend of the Aquinos, Member of Parliament Shintaro Ishihara of Japan, calls Cory from Tokyo and tells her that Kiyoshi Wakamiya, one of the journalists who traveled with Ninoy from Taipei to Manila, has called him from Manila and verified the shooting report.
Three hours after the shooting, the Marcos government is silent. It does not confirm whether Ninoy has been shot or whether he is alive.
The autopsy of the remains of Ninoy is done by Dr. Bienvenido D. Muñoz, NBI medico-legal officer, at the morgue of Loyola Memorial Chapel. Among those present are doctors from UP College of Medicine, Cardinal Santos Hospital and Philippine Heart Center invited by the Aquino family to observe the proceedings. His findings: Ninoy died of “brain laceration and intracranial hemorrhage secondary to gunshot wound in the head”—due to a bullet fired into his head from behind.
The autopsy of the corpse of Galman—still then unidentified and described simply as “Unknown Adult Male”—is done by another NBI medico legal officer at the morgue of the PC Crime Laboratory. The cause of his death is “shock secondary to multiple gunshot wounds.
Ninoy’s family, friends and political colleagues had planned for a happy reunion. A sister had prepared dinner for 500 people and supporters provided 10,000 sandwiches. And according to an AP report, he was supposed to be serenaded with songs.
Instead, there is grief and anger at 25 Times St., which was to be a house of yellow ribbons, but the ribbon that flutters on the door is black.
Now and then sounds of wailing come from the kitchen. The voluble former Sen. Jose Diokno is too stunned to say anything.
MONDAY, AUG. 22
The day is sunny and bright.
Ninoy’s body is finally brought to the Aquino residence at 25 Times St.
At first, hundreds come. Then thousands more from all walks of life come to pay homage. Ninoy’s young nephews and nieces have to ask people to fall in line.
With somber faces and in silent grief, the people file past Ninoy’s coffin, a simple, open wooden casket. They see Ninoy lie in state in his bloodstained white suit.
It is the suggestion of Ninoy’s mother not to change Ninoy’s bloodstained clothes and leave his face as it is, saying, “I want the world to see what they did to my son.”
The unraveling of the Marcos dictatorship has begun.
Source: Reports of the Fact-Finding Board on the Assassination of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Impossible Dream: The Marcoses, the Aquinos, and the Unfinished Revolution by Sandra Burton, PCIJ and Inquirer Archives