Tag Archives: Ninoy Aquino

Column: Why Ninoy?

Published on November 25, 2014.

Let me begin with a basic question: Is Ninoy Aquino a role model of good governance? Millions of Filipinos see him as a modern-day martyr and (as a 2011 Social Weather Stations survey reminded us) a genuine hero. But is he the sort of political figure who represents the ideal that a school of government should aspire to form, to graduate?

When the Ateneo School of Government was renamed last August after Ninoy and his wife, the late ex-president Corazon Aquino, the reaction, or at least the response I was able to monitor, was generally positive. This reading may have been a result of the filter bubbles I am wittingly or unwittingly encased in, but as far as the Aquinos are concerned (in August 2009, for instance, I wrote a series of four columns on the legacy of this influential family), I think my opinion closely tracks that of a national majority.

As we prepare to mark Ninoy’s 82nd birth anniversary (it is to be held later this week), we can revisit the original question, and perhaps rephrase it: Was Ninoy a martyr in the mold of a Thomas More, who was by all accounts an excellent administrator before Henry VIII turned against him, or was he more like Jose Rizal, less a political personality than a heroic one, whose violent death sealed his fate as a national hero? Continue reading


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Column: One real legacy of Edsa

Published on March 4, 2014.

For lack of space, an article prepared by Inquirer Research on the so-called myths of Edsa 1986, as seen by political scientists, did not see print last week. I was especially struck by the view of Benjamin Tolosa Jr.—a friend and indeed a fellow citizen of the streets in the 1980s—because he cogently summed up not only the worldview that many Filipinos (myself included) subscribed to but also the history that it helped shape. I reproduce Tolosa’s view, which he shared with me by e-mail, below. Continue reading

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Column: ‘You can’t go back again’

Published on February 4, 2014.

The Akbayan party-list group invited me to speak, as “an outsider looking in,” at its 16th anniversary program last Thursday. I began by adverting to what I supposed was “a time of mixed emotions” for the party I had occasionally voted for, following its entry into mainstream politics and its mingled success and failure in last year’s election. Then I offered three points for reflection, as follows:

You cannot go back again.

By that I mean that now that you are part of mainstream politics, you can no longer act as though you are an alternative political party. At least, public opinion won’t allow you that leeway…. Let me explain with an example from a previous political crisis. Continue reading

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Ninoy Aquino: Witnessing in word

Today’s column includes a reference to Ninoy Aquino’s unread arrival statement of Aug. 21, 1983. Here is the copy I first posted in 2006.

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Column: Back to Ninoy, forward to PCP 3

Published on September 3, 2013.

I promised reader Lyndon Rutor I would link to columns I’ve written before that argue an important historical truth: that Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino followed the same path to heroic martyrdom. They suffered in the last 10 years or so of their life in the name of a higher cause; they chose to risk a return from exile; they embraced the near-certainty of death.

These columns may be found through the search function or the tag cloud in my Newsstand blog (at johnnery.wordpress.com). One, in particular, may serve to stand for all the others. In “The Aquinos in our life,” the third installment of a four-part series prompted by the death of Cory Aquino and written in August 2009, I repeated a distinction between the old and the new Ninoy that I first discovered in late August 1983.

“What became obvious to me and to many others, after Ninoy was assassinated and Filipinos who grew up during the martial law era scrambled to discover a clearer picture of the new martyr, was that the man who died on the tarmac . . . was very different from the helicopter-riding whiz kid whose political ambition had known no bounds.”
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Column: What Aquino and Rizal had in common

A tale of two martyrs. Published on August 20, 2013.

They came home. They did not have to; the threats they faced to life or liberty were real and manifest, the work they could have done outside the country to continue to contribute to the freedom struggle useful and varied.

The advice they received was almost uniformly negative. “I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends and a few of my most valued political mentors,” Ninoy Aquino wrote in his arrival statement. He had planned to read it the day he returned to Manila 30 years ago; he did not get the chance.

Jose Rizal prepared two letters before leaving Hong Kong in June 1892, to return to the Philippines for the second time. They were to be opened in the event of his death; about three years after his execution, Apolinario Mabini became the first to make them public.

In the letter addressed “A los Filipinos,” Rizal wrote: “The step that I have taken or I am about to take is undoubtedly very perilous, and I need not say that I have pondered on it a great deal. I realize that everyone is opposed to it; but I realize also that hardly anybody knows what is going on in my heart.”

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Column: Not yet, Bam, not yet

Yesterday, at a public function, a Cabinet secretary’s first words to me were, “Not now, Bam”–a playful, slightly imprecise reference to the following column, which was published on September 4, 2012.

Bam Aquino was my student at the Ateneo de Manila all of 17 years ago; he was, in a word, outstanding, the sort of student a teacher remembers long after the last papers have been marked. I still vividly remember the distinction he once proposed, just right after one particular class ended, between “convince” and “persuade”—the first was an appeal to reason, the second an appeal to the will—which I found a little too categorical for my taste then, but whose explanatory power I understand with greater clarity today.

Now Bam wants to run for the Senate; I have no doubt that he would excel in it—but I urge him not to run. Not next year, and not in 2016. Like many others, I believe that the Aquino family has sometimes served as history’s instrument; there is a family legacy we can all reference (even those critics who cannot stand the Aquinos can hold them accountable according to that legacy’s own terms). Continue reading


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Column: Crooks in the “daang matuwid”

Published on April 12, 2011.

AFTER THE filing of charges against the former crown prince Mikey Arroyo, the former court jester Prospero Pichay and the former Palace tribune Merceditas Gutierrez, hopes are rising that the all-out campaign against corruption—the standard under which the Aquino presidency’s election mandate was won—has finally been launched. The Inquirer editorial yesterday spoke of the possibility of a genuine “momentum” in the war on corruption, but only if the charges and first legal victories are closely followed by others of the same kind. Continue reading

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Column: What he didn’t say

Published on August 3, 2010.

Last week, a series of editorials in the Inquirer discussed various aspects of President Benigno Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address, starting with a piece entitled “What he said.”

I would like to respond to that first editorial by writing about what President Aquino did not say—in the obvious hope that what he left out proves to be as revealing, of his frame of mind if not of his priorities, as what he left in. Continue reading

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Column: Noynoy? I do not know

The intro to my Facebook note: “A confession of semi-ambivalence. Obviously something momentous has taken place, and Noynoy Aquino is duty-bound to divine what it means, personally, for him. That the nation recovered its sense of self during Cory’s funeral points to something greater than the presidency; would a Noynoy candidacy, even a principled, non-traditional run, help in this task of recovery, or get in the way? Published September 8, 2009.”


I do not know if Sen. Benigno Aquino III—“Noynoy” to everyone in our republic of diminutives—should run for president. I do know that his mother’s slow death and historic funeral revitalized the political scene, and that it is only in keeping with the noblest tradition of public service that Noynoy thinks he is duty-bound to listen to what the people are saying.
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Column: Thanks, Kris, but are you sure you want it?

The last of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation. Published on August 25, 2009.  (Incidentally, in this version, I correct a “floating comma” that swam against the tide in the print and online editions. )

It has since become clear: Kris Aquino’s overwhelming celebrity helped the public rediscover her mother. In Cory Aquino’s last months, her health became a regular topic on Kris’ TV shows. For several Sundays in a row, an intensely curious national audience tuned in to find out the latest in a riveting drama, narrated (and, naturally, starred in) by the one Aquino heir who inherited Ninoy Aquino’s charisma and impeccable actor’s timing. (I understand much the same thing happened on weeknights, too, with Kris’ other gossip show, but I did not have an opportunity to see it for myself.)

The unremitting attention helped the public to come to final terms with Ninoy’s widow, the democratic icon who led the restoration of the democratic institutions savaged by Marcos. The new focus came at a time when the country’s second woman president was roundly seen as yet again devising another way to stay in power. The contrast with Cory, who used her last State of the Nation Address not to confound the critics and tempt the tacticians but to prepare for the transition, could not have been more stark. Continue reading

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Column: The Aquinos in our life

In praise of Ninoy Aquino’s difficult choices. The third of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation.  Published August 18, 2009.

Shortly before Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines in 1983, after three years of post-surgery convalescence and exile in the United States, the Marcos newspapers began republishing old stories about the leader of the opposition. I remember reading one such article in the Philippine Daily Express (I believe it was a New York Times feature, written after Aquino became the only Liberal to win a Senate seat during the Nacionalista landslide of 1967). The story painted a portrait of Aquino as (in today’s terms) a traditional politician—a brash young man on the make, the scion of moneyed families, the charismatic symbol of a mod decade’s a-go-go culture. (You could say, if you want to, that he was the Chiz Escudero or Allan Peter Cayetano of his time.)

The idea behind republication, I am certain, was to cut Aquino down to size. Continue reading

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Column: Cory, damaged culture and cacique democracy

The second of four reflections on the role of the Aquinos in the life of the nation, at least since 1972. Published August 11, 2009.

Cory Aquino’s personal qualities helped her assume the mantle of leadership after her husband’s assassination. But what was her legacy, not as leader of the opposition but as first president of the post-Marcos era?

To my mind, the most devastating critiques of the Aquino presidency were written very early in her unexpected term (it is easy to forget how, before it became inevitable, Marcos’ fall from power seemed improbable). James Fallows wrote “A Damaged Culture” in 1987, after spending six weeks in the country; the still-controversial article, a finalist for the National Magazine Award in the United States, appeared in the November 1987 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Benedict Anderson’s “Cacique Democracy in the Philippines,” a sweeping context-setting study, was published in the May-June 1988 issue (No. 169) of the London-based New Left Review. Continue reading

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Cory’s coming-out speech (at Ninoy’s funeral)

Copied from “Human Society No. 21,” published by the La Ignaciana Apostolic Center on September 1, 1983. The day before, Ninoy Aquino’s funeral had drawn millions of people into the streets. Titled (perhaps by the issue editor?) “New Turn of Events,” this was Cory Aquino’s response to Jaime Cardinal Sin’s homily at the funeral Mass in Sto. Domingo Church, in Quezon City. We did not know it yet, but it marked her assumption of opposition leadership. (In copying the remarks, I retained the misspellings and floating commas.)

I talked to Ninoy for the last time on August 20, 7 p.m., Boston time, which was August 21, 7 a.m., Taipeh time. He told me that he would soon be leaving for the airport. I told him I was informed that Gen. Ver had warned any airline bringing Ninoy in that Ninoy would not be allowed to disembark, and that the airline would be asked to fly Ninoy back to his original port of embarcation.

Ninoy said that they could not do that to him because he is, was, and always will be a Filipino. And he told me that most likely he would be rearrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas to allow him to call me up. If, on the other hand, he would be placed under house arrest, he would call me up as soon as he arrived at our home in Quezon City. Then he told me that if we were brought back to Fort Bonifacio, there would be no need for me to hurry home. Instead, he said I should take my time finishing my packing. And in the event that our children and I would be issued passports, he said that I should take our three older daughters on a side trip to Europe.

Our only son Noynoy and our youngest daughter Kris were scheduled to leave for Manila a week after Ninoy arrived.

At 2:30 a.m., Sunday, August 21, Boston time, the phone rang and my oldest daughter Ballsy who answered it, was shocked when Kyodo agency in New York, asked her if it were true that her father had been killed in the Manila International Airport. They were asking for her confirmation. UPI and AP also called asking for verification; but it wasn’t until Congressman Shintaro Ishihara of Japan called me from Tokyo and verified the shooting report, that my family had to accept the cruel fact that Ninoy had been shot dead.

The children and I cried when I told them of the bad news. After a few minutes, we all knelt down to pray the rosary and ask the Blessed Mother for help.

We arrived in Manila on Wednesday, August 24. I could not believe my eyes when I saw a huge crowd at our home in Times St. waiting patiently in line to view Ninoy’s body. I was overwhelmed by this extraordinary display of love and devotion.

I had asked that my children and I be given a few minutes to be alone with our beloved Ninoy. We wanted to have him to ourselves for a few private, and cherished moments. From that first night of our return to Manila, my children and I continue to witness an even greater display of love, respect and admiration for Ninoy.

Our friends have been very kind and generous to us; but even more comforting is the sight and presence of countless men and women who did not even know Ninoy but are now helping to make our lives a little less difficult by demonstrating to us that we are not alone.

The huge throng that met us the other day when we journeyed from Tarlac to Manila must have numbered in the millions. They had waited for hours and hours under the hot sun and no doubt had gone hungry and thirsty but had patiently waited if only to catch a glimpse of my husband’s hearse.

If my children and I appear to be brave during this, the most difficult period yet of our lives, it is because we know that this is what Ninoy would have expected of us. It is also because of our faith in God, and the belief that he is now helping us in this, our greatest need.

And so today, I wish to thank all the Filipino men and women, young and old, who have demonstrated to me, to my children, to Ninoy’s mother and to his family, that Ninoy did not die in vain.

Ninoy, who loved you, the Filipino people, is now loved in turn.


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Ninoy’s last words

It would be nice if someone can determine exactly when Ninoy Aquino wrote his arrival statement. Was it in Taipei, the night before he returned to Manila? Or when he sojourned in Malaysia?

The full text, here.

PS August 24, 2009: Cory’s response, at Ninoy’s funeral Mass (August 31, 1983).

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Ninoy Aquino’s Arrival Statement

The most famous undelivered speech in Philippine history

PS August 24, 2009: Cory’s response at Ninoy’s funeral Mass (August 31, 1983)

I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through nonviolence.

I seek no confrontation. I only pray and will strive for a genuine national reconciliation founded on justice.

I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends and a few of my most valued political mentors.

A death sentence awaits me. Two more subversion charges, both calling for death penalties, have been filed since I left three years ago and are now pending with the courts.

I could have opted to seek political asylum in America, but I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people especially in time of crisis.

I never sought nor have I been given assurances or promise of leniency by the regime. I return voluntarily armed only with a clear conscience and fortified in the faith that in the end justice will emerge triumphant.

According to Gandhi, the WILLING sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.

Three years ago when I left for an emergency heart bypass operation, I hoped and prayed that the rights and freedoms of our people would soon be restored, that living conditions would improve and that blood-letting would stop.

Rather than move forward, we have moved backward. The killings have increased, the economy has taken a turn for the worse and the human rights situation has deteriorated.

During the martial law period, the Supreme Court heard petitions for Habeas Corpus. It is most ironic, after martial law has allegedly been lifted, that the Supreme Court last April ruled it can no longer entertain petitions for Habeas Corpus for persons detained under a Presidential Commitment Order, which covers all so-called national security cases and which under present circumstances can cover almost anything.

The country is far advanced in her times of trouble. Economic, social and political problems bedevil the Filipino. These problems may be surmounted if we are united. But we can be united only if all the rights and freedoms enjoyed before September 21, 1972 are fully restored.

The Filipino asks for nothing more, but will surely accept nothing less, than all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the 1935 Constitution — the most sacred legacies from the Founding Fathers.

Yes, the Filipino is patient, but there is a limit to his patience. Must we wait until that patience snaps?

The nation-wide rebellion is escalating and threatens to explode into a bloody revolution. There is a growing cadre of young Filipinos who have finally come to realize that freedom is never granted, it is taken. Must we relive the agonies and the blood-letting of the past that brought forth our Republic or can we sit down as brothers and sisters and discuss our differences with reason and goodwill?

I have often wondered how many disputes could have been settled easily had the disputants only dared to define their terms.

So as to leave no room for misunderstanding, I shall define my terms:

1. Six years ago, I was sentenced to die before a firing squad by a Military Tribunal whose jurisdiction I steadfastly refused to recognize. It is now time for the regime to decide. Order my IMMEDIATE EXECUTION OR SET ME FREE.

I was sentenced to die for allegedly being the leading communist leader. I am not a communist, never was and never will be.

2. National reconciliation and unity can be achieved but only with justice, including justice for our Muslim and Ifugao brothers. There can be no deal with a Dictator. No compromise with Dictatorship.

3. In a revolution there can really be no victors, only victims. We do not have to destroy in order to build.

4. Subversion stems from economic, social and political causes and will not be solved by purely military solutions; it can be curbed not with ever increasing repression but with a more equitable distribution of wealth, more democracy and more freedom, and

5. For the economy to get going once again, the workingman must be given his just and rightful share of his labor, and to the owners and managers must be restored the hope where there is so much uncertainty if not despair.

On one of the long corridors of Harvard University are carved in granite the words of Archibald Macleish:

“How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it is attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, and in the final act, by determination and faith.”

I return from exile and to an uncertain future with only determination and faith to offer — faith in our people and faith in God.

This is the entire statement as it appears (all-caps, italicized quote, and all) in “A Testimony by Ninoy,” a pamphlet published on September 1, 1983 by the Human Development Research and Documentation office of the La Ignaciana Apostolic Center as Human Society No. 21


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