Ninoy Aquino’s brutal and in-your face assassination at the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983, in total disregard of the thousands of supporters not permitted to enter the airport but waiting patiently out front with yellow ribbons, was a defining moment for millions of Filipinos. I was one of them.
I remember clearly, after all this time, where I was, what I was doing and the gamut of emotions I felt when I heard the news. I was at the Santuario de San Antonio, having merienda and enjoying a few moments of relaxation before the end of a Parish Renewal program which my husband and I were leading. Someone came in and told us what she had heard on the radio: That Ninoy Aquino, whose vow to return to the Philippines to fight the dictatorship was the talk of the country, had been shot and killed at the airport.
Stunned disbelief was my first reaction. How could this have happened to a Senator of the Republic, to my brother’s boyhood friend, to my husband’s fraternity brother, to our country?
And then followed a deep sense of shame: that I had sat back all those years, afraid to do my duty as a Filipino, and willing to let others, like Ninoy, do the work. And finally, a determination, a commitment to stand up and be counted, to avenge his death, to make up for my shortcomings. To accept that we were under a dictatorship which had to be overthrown. For my children. For my country.
I suppose that something like that was also going through the minds of every Filipino, in some form or another. The millions of Filipinos who patiently stood in line to get a last glimpse of Ninoy, bloodied and broken in his casket in Santo Domingo church, or who lined his funeral procession route waiting to pay their last regretful respects, were all thinking, all were processing, all were evaluating what to do to avenge his death, how to make amends for our cowardice-cum-indifference and how to continue his work. That’s also when we realized that we were not alone, there were so many of us who felt the same way. We just did not know it – there was absolute governmental news control and no social media. But that realization led us to decide: Tama Na, Sobra Na, Palitan Na. Marcos had to go.
It took a long time for that to happen – two-and-a-half years — during which we saw the proliferation of non-government (ngo’s) and community level (po’s) organizations — including the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) – and we realized that in unity there is strength.
We tested that strength, informally, over and over again, in the hundreds of marches, demonstrations, rallies held all over the country. And we tested that strength formally in the May 1984 Batasang Pambansa elections (where we won by enough to realize that we could overcome) and finally in the February 1986 presidential snap elections, which President Marcos stole, but we, the people, having been tried and tested, wrested it back from him in the EDSA People Power Revolution.
We took on Marcos, with his martial law, his dictatorship, his human rights violations, his cronies. We kicked them all out – and took our country back.
“Never again”, we swore.
Yet, now, on the fortieth anniversary of Ninoy’s death, the national landscape is remarkably similar to what it was when was killed.
The Marcoses and Romualdezes are back in power, with a Marcos as President, a Romualdez as Speaker, not to mention their occupying positions as Senator and Congresspersons. Moreover their positions in the private sector may be even stronger than before, especially the Romualdezes. These are not the originals, of course, but their sons, daughters, and grandchildren.
Forty years ago, Marcos used his martial law and dictatorship powers to take over the media, giving them to his cronies to run. Anything remotely resembling criticism of the regime was forbidden, under pain of either physical or economic reprisals. Fear and sycophancy reigned. Today, we don’t even need martial law and dictatorship to censor media. Media censors itself. Fear and sycophancy once again reign, as exemplified by the news blackout on the story that the Speaker was alleged to have received “heavy luggage” and was used by a foreign corporation to exert influence over the Supreme Court to render a decision favorable to that foreign entity. (See my blog last week Bravo, BRAVO) The “tutas” are back.
Forty years ago, Marcos used his Presidential Decrees and Letters of Instruction to give undue advantage to his cronies or grant them behest loans from our financial institutions. Today, we have , by law, a Maharlika Investment Corporation controlling a Maharlika Investment Fund, which looks like the modern day version of that strategy.
It actually looks like the son has one-upped the father. The way I see it, the MIF could be used to not only accommodate cronies but also as a conduit to safely bring back the Marcos’ stolen billions, and use them to make even more money – legally. The earlier trip to Switzerland may have been used as an opportunity to withdraw secret funds (who is going to inspect their luggage?), but that was small potatoes compared to this new scheme, which is theft on a grand scale from the Filipino people —legalized.
Forty years ago we woke up from our nightmare — which has now been recast as a golden age — and took steps to put us back on the path to democracy. Given the beginnings of another nightmare, will we rise again?