At 17, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. began his journalism career at The Manila Times, the country’s leading newspaper throughout the postwar era.
Starting out as a copy boy, Ninoy rose to become an international correspondent covering the Korean War for The Times, for which he was later given an award by then-President Elpidio Quirino.
In an excerpt from the book, Memories of a Hero, written by Cynthia Sycip, The Times publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces said that Ninoy, being the youngest and an adventurous fellow, was the favorite of all the correspondents covering the war.
He even described Ninoy as “a person with unusually strong personality.”
“He could get along with anybody. He had charisma and he was a gentleman,” Roces added.
Asked why The Times assigned Ninoy to Korea when he was so young, Roces said, “That was the recommendation of the editor.”
“I suppose he also wanted to go to Korea to gain more experience which was an opportunity. Going to Korea at that time was not a very glamorous assignment, but he probably took that chance of volunteering to go,” he said
In the same book, Teodoro Locsin Sr., publisher of the Philippines Free Press, said that his impression of Ninoy, when he first heard him reporting of the Korean War, ‘was that of a young man, very intelligent, very quick witted.”
“Ninoy was never hard up for an answer to any question. He thought on his feet. He hardly paused to search for an answer to questions,” Locsin said.
“He was a very fluent talker. He never got tired of talking. He could get along with anybody except, of course, Marcos and company,” he added.
Ninoy went on to become a Times correspondent, sending dispatches from around Southeast Asia. He was a “roving” reporter, writing prodigiously on China, Indonesia, Singapore, Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand.
He also served as technical observer in Southeast Asia for the
Philippine government, preparing classified reports for then-President Ramon Magsaysay.
Magsaysay started Ninoy on his political career. With his support, Ninoy was elected mayor of Concepcion town in Tarlac at age 22, the youngest ever to occupy the post. He then was elected governor of Tarlac province in 1962 when he was 28. He was elected senator in 1969, leading the victory for the opposition.
Without any question, Roces believed that Ninoy would have made a good president, citing that he “had qualities exceptionally rare in comparison to the average person.”
“He ran for mayor, and then governor—in other words, he went through all these experiences. And then, from mayor, he finally made it to senator. You can only judge the quality of this person by the stand he took and by the consistency of his behavior,” he said.
“The fact that he had stayed in jail for so long is proof enough of his quality as a person. He sacrificed all the years because he believed it was necessary for the sake of the country,” he added.
However, Marcos planned to use martial law to extend his term as president.
Following the declaration of Martial Law, the Times was shut down and Ninoy was detained together with Roces and others critical of the Marcos regime in Fort Bonifacio.
Foreign governments and organizations flooded the regime with letters of concern in behalf of Ninoy and other political prisoners. To defuse the situation, Marcos allowed Ninoy a retrial and called for parliamentary elections (Batasang Pambansa), letting Ninoy run as opposition candidate.
Election results were so rigged that disenchantment for the regime merely worsened. Ninoy then launched a 40-day prison hunger strike to focus attention on the regime’s abuses. It nearly killed him but it strengthened the opposition to martial law.
To rid himself of Ninoy, Marcos let him go for heart surgery abroad in 1980. Ninoy stayed three years in the US, continuing to denounce martial law and building a network of expatriates critical of the regime.
Ninoy returned to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, knowing that a prolonged stay in jail or possibly even death awaited him. As soon as his plane landed at the Manila International Airport, soldiers fetched him from the plane, escorted him down toward the tarmac, and shot him dead. He was 48.
Meanwhile, Roces expressed hope that people will not forget what happened.
“Ninoy gave his life for the sake of his country. I feel that Ninoy knew that by sacrificing his life he could awaken the people—to make them realize the crisis we have today,” Roces said.
“I hope that the people will understand that Ninoy sacrificed his life to awaken us. What else can you expect from a man? No doubt, he knew that by coming back there was the possibility that he would lose his life. But he took that chance,” Roces added.
The nation commemorates Ninoy’s death anniversary on August 21.