Remembering Ninoy Aquino’s death

Aquino's picture on Wikipedia

The first time I heard about Ninoy Aquino he was already dead for a few hours.

My mother, my brother, our longtime helper Adeling (whom we called Sister out of respect for her and her strong Catholic faith), and I were trapped inside my aunt’s two-storey house in Sampaloc. (At that time, my father was abroad, spending the first of his only two-year stint in the Middle East.)

All four of us were invited to the fiesta that day—a Sunday—and at around seven or eight in the evening, the heavy rain forced my aunt to extend her welcome.

Having nothing else to do, I turned on a small color television set located near the living room and tuned into RPN channel 9.

It was showing the last half of a movie that I would find out later was Murder by Death. (How could I remember? I was a fan of the Pink Panther movie series, and by extension, Peter Sellers, who was cast as a Chinese detective in the film. I just added Google into the mix decades later.) [See: Murder by Death, Peter Sellers, Pink Panther]

While seeing the film’s last few scenes—a large suitcase being snapped shut by Truman Capote who played the eccentric millionaire—Sister ran up to me and told me that Ninoy Aquino was shot.

“Sino siya?” I asked her.

She gave me an explanation so colorful and detailed it must have been riddled with half truths and rumors.

But it was enough to keep Ninoy Aquino in the periphery of my imagination until next year.

In November 1984, I wrote a letter to the editor about Ninoy Aquino to Mr & Ms Special Edition, a weekly newsmagazine that was part of the mosquito press. [See: Mr & Ms]

The letter was handwritten on a lined piece of paper that I used for school. The document was folded, stapled, and was deliberately sent without an envelope—a tip I learned from a special portion of the GMA News program that asked viewers to send in their money-saving strategies which, at that time, was read on the air by Tina Monzon-Palma.

I then gave the letter to my mother who, now that I think about it, must have gotten a kick from sending stuff through the mail. (She forced us to write letters to our grandparents who were staying in California.)

The letter was later published, copies of which were shown proudly to relatives every time they visited.

It was the first time I saw my name in print.

Too bad the event was associated with someone who had to be assassinated, if only to bring us where we—as a country—should go.

We’re not there yet.

But I do hope that we get there wherever “there” is. [See: Raissa Robles’ take on Ninoy Aquino]


From the On Another Note Dept. Been re-reading “The Public Has The Right to Know,” a book written by Bienvenido A. Tan, the public coordinator of the Agrava Fact-Finding Board, the body that investigated the assassination of Ninoy Aquino. Tan, father of Jose Ma. Lorenzo, who heads the World Wildlife Fund Philippines, would later become Cory Aquino’s tax chief. Tan’s book is candid, describing how certain individuals even said they were able to communicate with Aquino in the afterlife. And at one point during the proceedings, he became so frustrated with the assertions of Butz Aquino, Ninoy’s brother, that he bought himself a new set of golf clubs. [See: Tan on buying a new set of golf clubs.] Since we’re already on the topic, try visiting [Five things Donald Draper and Ferdinand Marcos have in common].

Tan on buying a new set of golf clubs

Picture from an seller

“In the beginning there was a marked reluctance among witnesses to come out and contradict the military theory [that Rolando Galman shot Marcos opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.]. In fact, people like Butz Aquino [Aquino’s brother] openly stated that he had eleven witnesses to the assassination, although admittedly he only spoke with two; he refused to allow any of these witnesses to testify. As Butz Aquino reasoned out, these witnesses feared for their lives and the [Fact-Finding Board] did not have the power to protect them, moreover, he did not recognize the legality of the Board nor did he have any faith in its ability to arrive at a fair decision. Personally, I did not give credence to his story. It made front-page news, but as far as I was concerned it was patently a political decision. He had nothing to gain by presenting these witnesses if they really existed. On the witness stand they could have easily failed to test or they could have been exposed as keeping skeletons in their closet; skeletons totally unrelated to whatever they imagined they have witnessed. Butz Aquino had come out with a definite theory as to how his brother was assassinated. This earned him some publicity without exposing his witnesses to the risk or probably likelihood of being discredited. If the Board’s decision went his way he could say, “I told you so.” Either way, he was a winner. From a non-political standpoint, there was no justification for his stance, which so exasperated me that, for solace, I bought myself a new set of golf clubs.”
— From The Public Has The Right to Know, an account of the activities of the Fact-Finding Board created to investigate the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. written by Bienvenido A. Tan Jr., the Board’s Public Coordinator, who would later become the late president Corazon Aquino’s Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner.

Fenton on the Aquino assassination

Not everybody believes, I was to discover, that President [Ferdinand] Marcos personally authorized the murder. At the time, one is assured, he was having one of his relapses. A man who was involved in the design of the presidential dentures told me, meaningly, that at the time of Ninoy’s death Marcos’s gums were very swollen – which was always a sign. And he added, intriguingly, that whenever Marcos’s gums were swollen, the gums of General Ver, the Chief of Staff, swelled up in sympathy. Marcos was in the military hospital at the time, and I have it from someone who knew one of his nurses that, when he heard the news, Marcos threw his food-tray at his wife, Imelda. Others say he slapped her, but I prefer the food-tray version.

— James Fenton on The Snap Revolution as published in Granta 18