Since August of last year, I have been asked to guide the regular proceedings of the various assemblies of the National Transformation Council. The NTC, as everyone knows by now, is asking that President B. S. Aquino 3rd and his regime now step down and allow a caretaker council to take over, because of his obvious accountability for the Mamasapano massacre and so many other unpunished crimes against the Filipino people.
This has not sat well with some who, instead of arguing against the idea, attack those advocating it, not by accusing them of any crime, but by calling them names. They find it unthinkable that the idea of regime change and system change should be coming from those who had been part of past administrations, including one from the Arroyo administration and another from the Marcos years.
A great saint reminds us not to stop at every barking dog on the road. This is a wise counsel I will avoid for now, for the sake of those who may have completely forgotten our history and those who have not read it at all. Many of our errors arise not so much from malice as from ignorance. Whether in politics or in religion, this tends to be the case.
Reading to the nation Ferdinand Marcos’s martial law edict on Sept. 23, 1972 will forever remain part of my political history. But I will not apologize for it. The communists, who are still with us today, were on the rampage and threatening to take over the government; martial law was Marcos’ best response. Somebody had to read the proclamation, and it was my duty to read it. Was that my crime?
Martial law lasted eight years. Many abuses were committed by those in power, just like now. Was I one of those? Did I, during that period, or at any other time in my life, commit any kind of abuse or injustice, or even simply use strong, unparliamentary language, or raise my voice on anyone? Did I seek any special favors or contracts from government or any private party either for myself, my relatives or my friends? Or did I not work to free detained newspapermen and help them leave the country if they liked; lift press censorship and normalize the situation in the press as soon as possible; and put correct information at the service of the people? Did I not initiate the program that put public discipline back on the road, and delivered public assistance to those in need, to the point where housewives were asking me to personally tell their husbands not to be coming home so late?
How it all began
But let me start where I should.
I was born and grew up in the poorest town of Catanduanes. I went to school half-clad and barefoot, crossed seven mountains every weekend to attend third year high school in the next town, then took a boat to Manila without a ticket in search of a better life. I did every odd job to finish high school, and then wrote speeches for some congressmen to go to college.
In 1963, I left college and began my career as a wire service journalist. In 1966, I moved to the Manila Daily Bulletin and became a diplomatic reporter and columnist. In 1969, at age 29, I was invited to the Marcos Cabinet and became the world’s youngest Cabinet member.
I served as press secretary, presidential spokesman, speechwriter and secretary/minister of information to the most brilliant political leader of the time. Each of these jobs required at least one individual to be in charge of it, and yet I was alone. My friends called me Kit, but Marcos called me— always in the plural—Kits.
Martial law and a vote of confidence
In 1972, Marcos declared martial law “to defeat the communist insurgency and build a New Society.” The local press was immobilized, but a hostile international press took over, watching every word and move of government. One had to move with extreme caution, as though trapped in a minefield. And yet in 1975, I received an unexpected vote of confidence. In an international survey, TIME Magazine named me, together with Ninoy Aquino, one of the world’s rising young leaders—- “150 Faces of the Future.”
The 1978 interim Batasan elections followed. I was elected to the Batasan, as one of the 12 regional assemblymen for Bicol (Region V). I got the highest number of votes, despite the fact that I came from the smallest Bicol province, which accounted for not more than 5 percent of the total votes; and despite the fact that the old politicians on my ticket worked very hard to exclude me from the winning slate.
Breaking with Marcos
In 1980, I broke with Marcos on the issue of “dynastic politics and real change.” I left the Cabinet, while remaining in the Batasan, where I teamed up with Doy Laurel and the marginal opposition from Central Visayas. This was three years before the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, and six years before the EDSA revolt. I stood alone, without an army or a political party, but I decided to remain in the country, despite all suggestions that I join Ninoy and the “steak commandos” in the United States.
In 1987, after a political appearance in Washington, D.C., someone called to ask if I could talk to Marcos in Makiki. I agreed with no commitments. But as soon as I rang at his door, his aide ushered me in, saying, “Sir, the Minister who caused your fall is here.” I quickly protested the affront, but from inside the house, Marcos called out to say, “Kits, I heard that, but don’t take offense. I’ll explain.” And as soon as I walked in and we shook hands, he said, “You know, the consensus here is that if you did not leave the Cabinet, I would probably still be there.”
It was the best compliment I ever received from the man.
Opposing the Marcos amendments
At the Batasan, I opposed the constitutional amendments that would revert the flawed “parliamentary system” back to the old presidential and allow Marcos to run again for president. In the only public debate ever held anywhere before the plebiscite, I rallied the Bicolanos against the amendments. I ended being bodily carried by the audience above their heads at the end of the debate. Bicol became the only region to reject the amendments. But I was vilified later for putting up a candidate against Marcos; four years later I also lost my Batasan seat. In 1992 in Carson City, a Malacañang operative asked me for my forgiveness, saying he had been in charge of the operation against me in 1984, and that his instructions were, under no circumstance should I win.
Marcos called for a “snap presidential election” in 1986. I supported Cory Aquino against Doy Laurel as the opposition candidate. Doy ended as her teammate. I accompanied Cory on her first political sortie to Bicol, but quickly disengaged after she said she saw no need for a responsible campaign organization nor for a program of government. “The people are angry with Marcos, we don’t need anything else,” she said.
Greatly disappointed, I said I would just vote for her, but could not campaign for her anymore, since I would not know what to say about her proposed government. ButI joined the crowd at EDSA, cheered her oath-taking as revolutionary president at Club Filipino, and thanked her sister-in-law Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara for suggesting that I go to Cojuangco Building in Makati “to ask for the Cabinet position of your choice.”
Later, the late Speaker Monching Mitra came to offer me, on Cory’s behalf, the post of Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. I thanked her, and him, but declined.
In 1986, Cory asked me to interview her on her TV program on her upcoming US state visit. In Washington, I watched the US Congress bloom with yellow roses on the lapels of its members and other national politicians as Cory addressed them from the podium.
But major political differences intervened. I found it unacceptable that the President who had come through “people power” had to handpick 48 men and women to write a new Constitution because she could not trust the people to choose their own delegates to write it. I also found it unacceptable that she had to dismantle the nation’s energy program and other useful projects simply because they were initiated by Marcos; and that she barred Marcos from coming home from Hawaii, where the Americans had dumped him, in order to answer for all the crimes he was supposed to have committed against the Filipinos.
With (now Senator) Juan Ponce Enrile, whom Cory had just sacked as her defense secretary, I campaigned against the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. Upon its approval, I joined the Grand Alliance for Democracy’s senatorial slate in the first disastrous election held under Cory.
Tear-gassed at EDSA
I was tear-gassed at EDSA while protesting its results, and had to air my grievance before a global forum in Washington, D.C. before Enrile was allowed to take the 24th winning senatorial slot. The only other GAD candidate allowed to win was the former movie actor and future president, Joseph Ejercito Estrada. All 22 other candidates, including the unbeatable Arturo Tolentino, simply lost.
The Senate record
I was finally elected to the Senate in 1992, reelected in 1995, as a pro-life and pro-family advocate, on a shoestring budget. I became and remained Senate majority leader through five changes in the Senate presidency, and earned the title “Moral Conscience of the Senate.”
Here I have tried to show that I have served on both ships of state that sailed the seas during the Marcos and Cory Aquino years, and not a moment for personal profit.
I am no longer as unwashed and barefoot as on the day I left my hometown on the typhoon belt, but I have not become a man of wealth. Despite my having run the entire information machinery of government for ten long years, I do not own a single share in any newspaper, radio or TV station, or printing press. I own nothing beyond my basic needs; I have no material attachments.
I have not been implicated in any scandal in my public or private life.
I have never employed bodyguards and go anywhere unescorted, without fear of being attacked by anyone I had offended or failed to treat right. Once my car broke down on a mountain road in Quezon Province, and I had to ask for a lift from a family who could not believe seeing a crazy senator stranded alone in the forest.
Twice I met with Nur Misuari at the height of his power, before he made peace with the government. When he asked where was my security, I pointed to his troops. Likewise, I went up Camp Abubakar to talk to Haji Murad during the presidential campaign of 1998. When asked the same question, I pointed to a group of Muslim women who had come with me in a jeep.
I once trod the dark and reputedly dangerous labyrinthine streets of the Muslim ghetto near Quiapo under the littlest light to pay my final respects to an old Muslim friend who had died in the foreign service. When I got to the wake, they said to me, “You walked alone! You could’ve been shot!” “No, I never walk alone,” I said. “I always walk with my Guardian Angel and my God.”
A human person, first and last
This, for me, is the bottom line. I am first a man, a creature of God, before I am anything else. My whole being will be judged not on the basis of some ideological label, which I reject, but on the basis of what I have done or failed to do in the love and service of others. I have no enemy among men because I am no enemy to anyone. No one has done me any wrong I have not forgiven, nor am unable to forgive, and I long for the day when all of us can joyfully forgive one another in love and peace.