Next to Ferdinand E. Marcos, the most amazing politician I have ever covered in my 43 years of professional journalism, was the late Senator Benigno Servillano Aquino Jr..
Brainy and boyish-looking, Ninoy Aquino was the quintessential politician. Outwardly, he had no mean bones in his body. Yet, inside him, he had a killer instinct. He could eliminate an enemy if not by the ballot, by the bullet.
Partly to eliminate his enemies and partly to seek perhaps a modus vivendi with the rebels if he became president, Ninoy helped organize the New People’s Army (NPA) in December 1969 along a highway in Tarlac by befriending the young rebel Bernabe Buscayno (Kumander Dante).
Ninoy then linked the NPA with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) led by former university professor and landowner Jose Maria Sison. From 1969, the CPP-NPA would launch the world’s longest-running communist insurgency.
The NPA reached its peak during the presidency of Cory Aquino with 25,600 armed guerillas. NPA’s armed strength declined to 4,000 guerillas years later. Today, under the presidency of Ninoy’s only son, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino 3rd, the NPA has an armed strength of about 10,000 guerillas.
One issue against Marcos was his declaration of martial law on August 21, 1972 to quell the communist rebellion and reform Philippine society. In my interviews with him while he was on Christmas furlough at his Times Street residence, Ninoy disclosed he would declare martial law if he were elected president.
Ninoy believed martial law was the only way to solve the economic and political problems of the country which was in the grip of oligarchs, threatened by insurgents, riven by political discord, and bedeviled by nagging poverty. Martial Law would also facilitate the partitioning of the vast 6,400-hectare Hacienda Luisita of his wife’s Cojuangco clan to its tenant farmers. Ninoy promised to make an example of Hacienda Luisita to show his sincerity in enforcing land reform.
Ninoy would have been a very good president. There was a sense of urgency about him. His mind was malikot (very active) and worked like a sponge that could absorb bits of info from disparate sources yet could filter out the substantial from the inane.
He was frustratingly charismatic. He could make you feel very important to him, even if he disliked you, speaking with eyes focused on you as if you were the only one in the room. He showed incredible warmth, sincerity and effortless grace. He did not finish any college degree although he went to three universities all of which now claim him as their alumnus, and lectured at Harvard (his best years as a non-politician).
In December 1979 prisoner Ninoy was on a three-week furlough at his Times Street home. I visited him. He welcomed me at the gate, embraced me like a long lost brother, ushered me into his study room where Cory Aquino, the plain housewife, was doing some crocheting. He asked her to prepare coffee and merienda which she did dutifully without questions. Convent-bred, Cory was a Math and French major and served Ninoy with unbridled love and loyalty.
Then Ninoy and I sat down for more than an hour of interview. “I have finished the answers to your questions,” the senator began. “But I didn’t submit to you any questions,” I protested. “I framed the questions myself,” the former journalist replied, “and typed the answers.” He handed me a six-page document cleanly typewritten with no erasures nor corrections, a Q/A on a number of topics, from local politics to foreign policy. Later, he stood up, retrieved four sheets of bond paper from his filing cabinet. They were four poems which he said he had composed and typed just for me. He autographed each poem for me and handed them to me while embracing me.
Our birth dates are two days apart—November 25 for me, November 27 for him.
I do not know if Ninoy appreciated the fact that I was one of four or five foreign correspondents (I was working for the Mainichi Shimbun of Japan and Asiaweek Newsmagazine of Hongkong) who covered his trial before the military tribunal. It took some courage to do. One had to drive through a military gate, be interrogated by the sentry and searched. Inside the impromptu court room, the tribunal of military officers looked grim and menacing. Going home after the trial, I would look under my car for any signs—you know, of bugs or bombs.
On the evening of November 25, 1977, the tribunal convicted Ninoy for subversion, murder and illegal possession of firearms and to die by musketry. Since the penalty was death, the decision had to be affirmed by the Supreme Court. The high court affirmed the death penalty.
That act led to the military six years later to execute Aquino while going down the stairs of a jumbo jet in broad daylight on August 21, 1983. From that moment, the once ambitious politician who became deeply religious became a national hero.
And yes, I cried when I saw Ninoy inside a coffin with his bloodied face and bloodstained white jacket a day after his killing.
On February 25, 1986, Cory Aquino was proclaimed President by virtue of People Power. On August 2, 2009, Cory died of cancer. The nation wept the loss of the Icon of Democracy. On May 10, 2010, a grieving nation elected her son, Noynoy Aquino president.
If President Noynoy wants to preserve the legacy of his parents, he should kill the nasty pork barrel right now. Today. If he does not do that, Ninoy and
Cory died in vain.