Hell it has been the last few days. The other day a number of us tried to show that Ninoy was worth braving the stormy weather for in Terminal 3. It was a feel-good moment for those of us who fought with Ninoy and Cory, and those left, I saw, would seem to be in our Second Adolescence. I am entitled to my illusions, aren’t I?
What led to Edsa’86 was August 21, 1983. Ninoy, salvaged at the tarmac, had warned about an angered carabao whose patience has run out.
Tita Aurora, Ninoy’s ma, was with us on August 7, 1983, in the house of Esto and Maur Lichauco. We wise men and bright boys said naaaah!—when she said Ninoy would be shot on arrival; he was supported by Dr. Guy Fawker, a Rand guru, with his sophisticated analysis. Tita’s? So unsophisticated, “kutob ng Ina.”
I met Ninoy only once, in 1982, at Harvard in Cambridge and in his Newton home. The first time he called me in Boston, he made me feel like a long-lost friend. “Reneeee!” The first time I saw him was when he was San Beda’s riveting 1964 Commencement Speaker (“It was in this institution . . .” at least thrice, arguably overshadowed by Amalia Fuentes, then an institution, who accompanied a nephew on stage).
I was a stranger to Ninoy prior to October 13, 1982. I had not spoken with him before that night
I checked in at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel. I dialed his number, which Ernie Maceda had given me in New York. We arranged to meet the following noon at the Harvard JFK School of Government, where he was to give an informal talk to the JFK Fellows.
At the table, in T-shirt and jeans, I sat between State Sen. Mark Quentin Rhoads and Feminist Guru Betty Friedan. Ninoy in coat and tie, held court on his perceptions of the Philippine situation and international geopolitics. He looked trim but said he still had to knock off a few pounds (later, he would show me his scars from his 1980 operation, which he said had reduced him to 80 percent of what he was).
With typical American punctuality Sen. Rhoads adjourned the session at two p.m. Everyone it seemed wanted to be on the fast lane.
Ninoy and I drove to his place in Newton along Commonwealth Avenue. (The Aquinos had no driver but had a maid.) He changed to something comfortable, kicked off his shoes and laid back. There I was to be with him for the next seven hours or so, over cups of coffee and thru dinner. It was a mind-blowing experience. I spoke maybe for under an hour, from time to time that is, so that he would not mistake me for part of the furniture. He talked from the celestial to the mundane.
Fascinating, edifying, not a boring moment.
Ninoy obviously had done some homework on MABINI and me. He asked how my family was taking it, i.e., my devoting a great deal of time to non-revenue, maybe even risky, cases. I told him my Dulce supported what I did, the important thing. I could not resist pointing out that she got her master’s degree just across the street, the campus of the sprawling Jesuit-run Boston College, which had given her a two-year scholarship in its prestigious social work department.
He talked of his past, present and future. He would repeatedly stress that, partly as a result of his prison experience and being strapped for cash, his public life was behind him and that he had cancelled his reservation for what was at bottom an ego trip to the presidency. He had gotten elected youngest governor and senator in our history and—who knows?—perhaps would have been the youngest president of the country had not martial law been inflicted. His detractors said he would have been our first dictator.
Our Lee Kwan Yew?
He said he enjoyed the quiet life there. He was not sure after a trip to tropical Nicaragua that he could adjust again to our weather in the Philippines, let alone perhaps the heat Mr. Marcos would put on him, one might add. When I later told others about Ninoy’s forswearing politics they would smile ala Mona Lisa.
Would he consider teaming up with the Marcoses? He recalled that his father had helped a lot of people in World War II and was labeled a collaborator for his pains, which he tried to live down; he passed away at 53 of a heart ailment – was it a broken heart more like? Ninoy would rather not risk being so perceived or misunderstood.
There was, one might suppose, providence in Ninoy’s release. Did the fickle gods intervene in 1980? However that may be, his release on a deus ex machina basis has been at one a burden and a blessing. His monochromatic martyr-ized image was blurred.
He recalled that once in 1977, Mr. Marcos had sent for him. They met in Malacañang.
MARCOS—You know, a thought occurred to me last night, while I was thinking of our meeting today. Suppose I let you out right now, what will you do?
AQUINO (surprised)—Well, I don’t know, brod, I have not given it a thought really as I have not been allowed to read or hear or watch the news all these years. Maybe what I will do is to go out to the people and ask if they are happy under your administration. If they are, then I will just keep quiet. However, if they are not, then I will probably try to lead them against your administration.
MARCOS—You know, in a way, I envy you?
MARCOS—You have all the time to read the great books, the classics, the finest literature. Also I am still struggling for mine.
AQUINO—Well, my years in prison also made me realize who my very few real friends are. How about you, brod, do you know who your real friends are?
Ninoy had probably let loose a shaft and sensing it found the mark, twisted it. There was an uneasy shuffling in the seats by those present, he recalled.
He was serious, he was light, he would touch on matters of state and the latest gossip on the members of the local ruling elite and would punctuate most anything with “Jeez!”
San Beda awarded the Super Boy a high school diploma in less than four years. Then Ateneo, and finally UP. Then Korea and his star shone.
Glorious, but his life was ended 30 years ago. But, August 21, 1983 was not the end. It was not even the beginning of the end. It was the end of the beginning—Churchill—of a struggle that began on September 23, 1972, when we joined him.
We commemorate the event of 30 years back, about a loved one who gave the nation, freely and voluntarily, the gift of life, the highest and most precious of all. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” here, for his people. He put himself where his mouth was: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”