• The Ninoy Aquino I knew

    Tony Lopez

    Tony Lopez

    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.



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    1. EDIT–as author of the 1986 philippine people power revolution’s philosophical construct, this writer-journalist avers, with all the most incisive analysis i can make, that ferdinand marcos didn’t mastermind the killing of ninoy aquino. not that i am buttering up to the marcoses—what for? but the common perception is right: makoy couldn’t, wouldn’t do it—he was too brilliant to commit such a stupid act. marcos knew that if he did order ninoy’s assassination, he would be blamed for it, as word about it would get around as fast as a fired bullet.

      my take on the matter points to another figure as the brains in the dastardly deed. some day, when i have the luxury of time on my hand and the budget to focus on writing full blast about it, i would write my most insightful reading of said murder. the world will be shocked—as all the aquinos and cojuangcos will similarly be so—on the identity of the killers, that i can be sure of.

    2. Voice from the Wilderness on

      This columnist seem to insinuate that Marcos has something to do with the assassination of Ninoy. This is wrong because Marcos even though the sentence was already affirmed he had not scheduled it to be executed. The sentence was just left hanging by Marcos waiting for Ninoy to make the first move of pleading for clemency or pardon. Marcos is too brilliant to make the blabber senator a martyr like Jose Rizal. He even let the senator go to America for the treatment of his ailment. Some mysterious forces are behind the assassination and it may be connected to the group who can benefit most from the demise of the senator as they are now enjoying the perks and power in being in the the government and are not interested in knowing the whole truth.

    3. Never the pork barrel will be abolished by pinoy…..takot na lang nya mapahiya tulad ng ginawa niyankay cj corona. All his allies will be angered by the abolition of pork. Kaya nga mga nagbaligtaran at nag balimbingan ung mga buwaya kasi wala na si gloria. Drilon,dinky….. Anong mga similarities nila…. He,he he,, kiko too.

    4. If they are not too personal or confidential in message or connotation, may I suggest that you also publish the 4 poems the great Senator and hero had written and dedicated to you. God Bless..

    5. Jose A. Oliveros on

      The NPA was already a rag-tag organization during the last years of the Marcos regime. Its top leaders had been captured or killed in skirmishes with the AFP. But when Cory Aquino took over, she freed all the top Communist leaders; even allowing Jose Ma. Sison to go on self-exile in the Netherlands where he continued issuing polemics against every President of the Philippines and directing the activities of the CPP/NDF. That is the reason the NPA grew up to 25,000 during her regime.
      As for the death sentence imposed by Military Commission No. 2 on Ninoy, it was not the Supreme Court that affirmed it; rather it was Marcos, as Commander-in-Chief of the AFP who affirmed it and, ironically, on Aug. 21, 1983. Hence, it was said then that the military promptly implemented the death sentence, not by musketry, but by a single bullet.

    6. As of today, there is no comparison between Ninoy, Cory and PNoy. But I agree that if PNoy will not get rid of the PDAF, continue to protect his allies, run after his opponents and the opposition and blame others for his own deficiencies and failures, Ninoy and Cory will have died in vain.

    7. So Ninoy was a Communist?
      I believe Ferdinand Marcos said that it was Ninoy who killed/cause the killing of the Barangay Captain covering Hacienda Luisita. Is that true?
      Thanks for your replies.

    8. Sir can u please publish the six-page document written by Mr. Ninoy? It would be nice to know how his thoughts fared with our present state.

      I’m very impressed by his eloquence, audacity and conviction in one of his recorded speeches – a rare feat these days.