His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
In commemoration of the 30th Death Anniversary of
Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
[August 21, 2013]
I join the Filipino people in commemorating the 30th Death Anniversary of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
On August 21, 1983, my father made the difficult decision to return to his ailing nation. No exile could lull him into comfort amidst the pleas of his kababayans for a peaceful life; no distance could make him neglect the duties he swore to his motherland. Instead, he headed home, alone, heart burning with fervor, to fight for the democracy he dreamed of reclaiming for his country.
This was the choice that led to his martyrdom, and the turning point of our continuing narrative: In grief, the indomitable Filipino spirit was awakened. This spurred the People Power that brought back our people's liberty and our national dignity.
As we celebrate his courage and patriotism, may we be reminded that individual choice can change the course of our history, and that each and every Filipino carries the potential to bring about lasting transformation in society. Let the heroes in each of us thrive in our everyday words and action, in service of the greater good; exercise the freedom we enjoy today to spark a revolution for positive change and cast our stake in forging our destiny as a nation.
Time and again, we have proven that no challenge is too daunting and no task is too great for a united Filipino nation. Our recent history attests to the power of our solidarity, as we seized the chance to steer our nation towards the straight and righteous path and to rebuild the just, equitably progressive society my father aspired for. Let us remain steadfast in our journey of renewal and bestow the legacy of an even more mature democracy upon coming generations.
(Sgd.) BENIGNO S. AQUINO III
Benigno Simeon "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. (November 27, 1932 - August 21, 1983), was a Filipino Senator and a former Governor of Tarlac. Aquino, together with Gerry Roxas andJovito Salonga, formed the leadership of the opposition to the government of President Ferdinand Marcos. Shortly after the imposition of Martial Law, he was arrested in 1973 along with other dissidents and incarcerated for seven years. Aquino was permitted to travel to the United States for medical treatment following a heart attack. He was assassinated at the Manila International Airport in 1983 upon returning from his self-imposed exile. His death catapulted his widow, Corazon Aquino, into the political limelight, and prompted her to run for President as member of the UNIDO party in the 1986 snap elections.
Among other public structures, Manila International Airport has since been renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport in his honour, and the anniversary of his death is a national holiday.
Early life and career
Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was born in Concepcion, Tarlac, to a prosperous family of hacenderos (landlords), original owners of Hacienda Tinang, Hacienda Lawang and Hacienda Murcia.
His grandfather, Servillano Aquino, was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo.
His father, Benigno S. Aquino, Sr. (1894-1947) was the Speaker of the House of Representatives during the World War II Japanese collaborationist government of José P. Laurel. His father was one of two politicians representing Tarlac during his lifetime. The other was Jose Cojuangco, father of his future wife. His mother, Doña Aurora Aquino-Aquino, was also his father's third cousin. His father died while Ninoy was in his teens prior to coming to trial on treason charges resulting from his collaboration with the Japanese during the occupation.
Aquino was educated in different prominent schools- He finished his grades school at St. Joseph's College of QC and high school at San Beda College. Aquino took his tertiary education at the Ateneo de Manila to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, but he interrupted his studies. According to one of his biographies, he considered himself to be an average student; his grade was not in the line of 90s nor did it fall into the 70s. At age 17, he was the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War for the newspaper The Manila Times of Joaquin "Chino" Roces. Because of his journalistic feats, he received the Philippine Legion of Honor award from President Elpidio Quirino at age 18. At 21, he became a close adviser to then defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Aquino took up law at the University of the Philippines, where he became a member of Upsilon Sigma Phi, the same fraternity as Ferdinand Marcos. He interrupted his studies again however to pursue a career in journalism. According to Maximo Soliven, Aquino "later 'explained' that he had decided to go to as many schools as possible, so that he could make as many new friends as possible." In early 1954, he was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay, his wedding sponsor to his 1953 wedding at the Our Lady of Sorrows church in Pasay with Corazon Cojuangco, to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he was credited for Taruc's unconditional surrender and was given a second Philippine Legion of Honor award with the degree of Commander on October 14, 1954.
He became mayor of Concepcion in 1955 at the age of 22.
Aquino gained an early familiarity with Philippine politics, as he was born into one of the Philippines' prominent oligarchic clans. His grandfather served under President Aguinaldo, while his father held office under Presidents Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. As a consequence, Aquino was able to be elected mayor when he was 22 years old. Five years later, he was elected the nation's youngest vice-governor at 27 (which record was erased by Jolo Revilla at the age of 25 in 2013), despite having no real executive experience. Two years later he became governor of Tarlac province in 1961 at age 29, then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966. In 1967 he became the youngest elected senator in the country's history at age 34.
In 1968, during his first year as senator, Aquino alleged that Marcos was on the road to establishing "a garrison state" by "ballooning the armed forces budget", saddling the defense establishment with "overstaying generals" and "militarizing our civilian government offices"-all these caveats were uttered barely four years before martial law, as was typical of the accusatory style of political confrontation at the time. However, no evidence was ever produced for any of these statements.
Aquino became known as a constant critic of the Marcos regime, as his flamboyant rhetoric had made him a darling of the media. His most polemical speech, "A Pantheon for Imelda", was delivered on February 10, 1969. He assailed the Cultural Center, the first project of First Lady Imelda Marcos as extravagant, and dubbed it "a monument to shame" and labelled its designer "a megalomaniac, with a penchant to captivate". By the end of the day, the country's broadsheets had blared that he labelled the President's wife, his cousin Paz's former ward, and a woman he had once courted, "the Philippines Eva Peron". President Marcos is said to have been outraged and labelled Aquino "a congenital liar". The First Lady's friends angrily accused Aquino of being "ungallant". These so-called "fiscalization" tactics of Aquino quickly became his trademark in the Senate.
Martial law, hunger strike
It was not until the Plaza Miranda bombing however-on August 21, 1971, 12 years to the day before Aquino's own assassination-that the pattern of direct confrontation between Marcos and Aquino emerged. At 9:15 pm, at the kick-off rally of the Liberal Party, the candidates had formed a line on a makeshift platform and were raising their hands as the crowd applauded. The band played, a fireworks display drew all eyes, when suddenly there were two loud explosions that obviously were not part of the show. In an instant the stage became a scene of wild carnage. The police later discovered two fragmentation grenades that had been thrown at the stage by "unknown persons". Eight people died, and 120 others were wounded, many critically. While Aquino was not present at the incident, the event rise to further political confrontation.
Although suspicions pointed to the Nacionalistas (the political party of Marcos), Marcos allies sought to deflect this by insinuating that, perhaps, Aquino might have had a hand in the blast in a bid to eliminate his potential rivals within the party. Later, the Marcos government presented "evidence" of the bombings as well as an alleged threat of a communist insurgency, suggesting that the bombings were the handiwork of the growing New People's Army. Marcos made this a pretext to suspend the right of habeas corpus, vowed that the killers would be apprehended within 48 hours, and arrested a score of known "Maoists" on general principle. Ironically, the police captured one of the bombers, who was identified as a sergeant of the firearms and explosive section of the Philippine Constabulary, a military arm of the government. According to Aquino, this man was later snatched from police custody by military personnel and never seen again.
President Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 through proclamation 1081 and he went on air to broadcast his declaration on midnight of September 23. Aquino was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. He was tried before Military Commission No. 2 headed by Major-General Jose Syjuco. On April 4, 1975, Aquino announced that he was going on a hunger strike, a fast to the death to protest the injustices of his military trial. Ten days through his hunger strike, he instructed his lawyers to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he subsisted solely on salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, amino acids, and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, suffering from chills and cramps, soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunal's session. His family and hundreds of friends and supporters heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, San Juan, praying for his survival. Near the end, Aquino's weight had dropped from 54 to 36 kilos. Aquino nonetheless was able to walk throughout his ordeal. On May 13, 1975, on the 40th day, his family and several priests and friends, begged him to end his fast, pointing out that even Christ fasted only for 40 days. He acquiesced, confident that he had made a symbolic gesture. But he remained in prison, and the trial continued, drawn out for several years. On November 25, 1977, the Military Commission found Aquino guilty of all charges and sentenced him to death by firing squad.
1978 elections, bypass surgery, exile
In mid-March 1980, Aquino suffered a heart attack, possibly the result of seven years in prison, mostly in a solitary cell. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center, where he suffered a second heart attack. ECG and other tests showed that he had a blocked artery. Philippine surgeons were reluctant to do a coronary bypass, because it could involve them in a controversy. In addition, Aquino refused to submit himself to Philippine doctors, fearing possible Marcos "duplicity"; he preferred to go to the United States for the procedure or return to his cell at Fort Bonifacio and die.
Throughout his years of expatriation, Aquino was always aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual return even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family on American soil. After spending 7 years and 7 months in prison, Aquino's finances were in ruins. Making up for the lost time as the family's breadwinner, he toured America; attending symposiums, lectures, and giving speeches in freedom rallies opposing the Marcos dictatorship. The most memorable was held at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, California on February 15, 1981.
In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino received news about the deteriorating political situation in his country and the rumored declining health of President Marcos (due to lupus). He believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country's return to democracy, before extremists took over and made such a change impossible. Moreover, his years of absence made his allies worry that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos' strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.
Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, "if it's my fate to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay in the side..."] His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consular official that there were orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any passports for them. At that time, their visas had expired and their renewal had been denied. They therefore formulated a plan for Aquino to fly alone (to attract less attention), with the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Despite the government's ban on issuing him a passport, Aquino acquired one with the help of Rashid Lucman, a former Mindanao legislator and founder of the Bangsamoro Liberation Front, a Moro separatist group against Marcos. It carried the aliasMarcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison). He eventually obtained a legitimate passport from a sympathizer working in a Philippine consulate through the help of Roque R. Ablan Jr, then a Congressman. The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Aquino to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and that no government could prevent him from doing so. He left Logan International Airport on August 13, 1983, took a circuitous route home from Boston, via Los Angeles to Singapore. In Singapore, then Tunku Ibrahim Ismail of Johor met Aquino upon his arrival in Singapore and later brought him to Johor to meet with other Malaysian leaders. Once in Johor, Aquino met up with Tunku Ibrahim's father, SultanIskandar, who was a close friend to Aquino.
He then left for Hong Kong and on to Taipei. He had chosen Taipei as the final stopover when he learned the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with theRepublic of China(Taiwan). This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan government could pretend they were not aware of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends accompanying him. From Taipei he flew to Manila on then Taiwan's flag carrier China Airlines Flight 811.
Marcos wanted Aquino to stay out of politics, however Aquino asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, "the Filipino is worth dying for." He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down, for a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, at an interview in his suite at the Taipei Grand Hotel, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that "it's only good for the body, but in the head there's nothing else we can do." Sensing his own doom, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight, "You have to be very ready with your hand camera because this action can become very fast. In a matter of a three or four minutes it could be all over, you know, and [laughing] I may not be able to talk to you again after this." His last televised interview took place just prior his assassination, in the flight, with international journalist Jim Laurie.
In his last formal statement that he was not able to deliver, he said, "I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through violence. I seek no confrontation."
Aquino was assassinated on August 21, 1983, when he was shot in the head after returning to the country. At the time, bodyguards were assigned to him by the Marcos government. A subsequent investigation produced controversy but no definitive results. After the Marcos government was overthrown, another investigation found sixteen defendants guilty. They were all sentenced to life in prison. Some were released over the years, the last ones in March 2009.
Another man present at the airport tarmac, Rolando Galman, was shot dead shortly after Aquino was killed. The Marcos government claimed Galman was the trigger man in Aquino's assassination.
In Senator Aquino's honor, the Manila International Airport (MIA) where he was assassinated was renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and his image is printed on the 500-peso bill. August 21, the anniversary of his death, is Ninoy Aquino Day, an annual public holiday in the Philippines. Several monuments were built in his honor. Most renowned is the bronze memorial in Makati City near the Philippine Stock Exchange, which has become a popular venue for anti-government rallies and large demonstrations. Another bronze statue is in front of the Municipal Building of Concepcion, Tarlac.
Although Aquino was recognized as the most prominent and most dynamic opposition leader of his generation, in the years prior to martial law he was regarded by many as being a representative of the entrenched familial elite which to this day dominates Philippine politics. While atypically telegenic and uncommonly articulate, he had his share of detractors and was not known to be immune to ambitions and excesses of the ruling political class. However, during his seven years and seven months imprisoned as a political prisoner of Marcos, Aquino read the book Born Again by convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and it inspired him to a religious awakening.
As a result, the remainder of his personal and political life had a distinct spiritual sheen. He emerged as a contemporary counterpart of Jose Rizal, who was among the world's earliest proponents of the use of non-violence to combat a repressive regime. Some remained skeptical of Aquino's redirected spiritual focus, but it ultimately had an effect on his wife's political career. While some may question the prominence given Aquino in Philippine history, it was his assassination that was pivotal to the downfall of a despotic ruler and the eventual restoration of democracy in the Philippines.