What will I share with my students about Ninoy?
Early in his life, Ninoy struggled and won over his fears. At the age of 17, he dared to cover the Korean War for the Manila Times. For this, he was awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor by then President Quirino. He did not hesitate to become Magsaysay’s personal emissary to negotiate with the rebel Luis Taruc. At the age of 22, he became mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac. At the age of 27, he became the youngest vice governor of that time. He was still young when he became the secretary general of the Liberal Party. In 1968, he became the youngest senator of the land. He seemed not to want to waste any time.
He was intensely aware and vigilant about the events of his time and sensitive about injustice. So he became a prominent Marcos critic. I can still remember how very eloquent he was during the rallies of the Liberal Party. His speeches were dazzling — the crowd was kept interested because of his amazing exposés. He also criticized the extravagance of Imelda Marcos. He warned the people about the increasing power of the military.
So it was not surprising that he was among the first to be arrested upon the declaration of Martial Law. For a time, he was in solitary confinement. He was accused of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. He went on trial under a military tribunal. On November 25, he was sentenced to death.
In detention, he fasted for forty days in protest against all the injustices to which he had been exposed. He also read Born Again. The whole experience of detention changed him, making him more reflective and tending toward the spiritual.
Even in detention, he ran against the Marcoses, asserting: LABAN!
Because of a serious heart ailment that needed surgery, he got permission to go to the United States. After the surgery, he stayed there with his family. He joined the anti-dictatorship movement there. It is often said that for the first time, he lived a normal family life. So why was he not contented with staying in the US?
He had heard that Marcos was dying. He knew about the declining economy. He feared the chaos that might occur in our country because of those realities. He did not want to watch the sufferings of the Filipinos from the distance. He wanted to be involved with the rebuilding of our country. So he wanted to come home. Many tried to stop him. They warned him about forces seeking his death because his passion for his country was dangerous for authoritarian rule.
He protected himself by not going directly to the Philippines — passing by Singapore, Malaysia, and then Taipei. He also wore a bulletproof jacket but left his head unprotected. He travelled under the name Marcial Bonifacio. Even in the plane, people were still trying to stop him from returning to the country for that was like approaching death. But he replied, “The Filipino is worth dying for!”
The assassination of August 21, 1983 had some witnesses. But it became known throughout the world. His family did not want his body retouched; they wanted all to see “what had been done to him.” Millions viewed the atrocity. Millions declared: “Hindi ka nag-iisa.” He has not been alone in fighting authoritarian rule.
The assassination provoked the passion of a whole people. It was a scandal that changed the lives of many young people and Filipinos of many ages. After more than 10 years of martial law, many came to see more clearly the horror of the situation we were all in, the oppression and the repression. Many realized that it was not enough to be scandalized; liberation required action. Many started acts of opposition. Many organized to end authoritarian rule.
Ninoy chose to struggle with his fears, to live a full life, most of the time making an effort to correct social problems. He loved us; he believed in our capacity to lead a meaningful life. So what are we doing “with the rest of your lives”?
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