Courage and determination
His bronze statute caught my eyes. I stopped and reflected. Perhaps being near the symbol of courage, indomitable spirit and martyrdom gains special significance now, amid the political turmoil that our beloved country once again finds itself in.
We just observed his 85th birth date on November 27. Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was 51 years old when he was gunned down at the tarmac in 1983.
He was an articulate and fearless leader of the opposition and our country, and the nemesis of the dictator, the former President Ferdinand Marcos.
Former Senator Jovito Salonga, another brilliant stalwart of the opposition then, described Ninoy Aquino as “the best president that the country never had.”
His death changed the course of Philippine politics and history, with his wife, the late Corazon Aquino, and his son, Benigno Simeon Aquino III, becoming presidents of the Republic of the Philippines in the post-Marcos era.
Senator Ninoy Aquino was among thousands of Filipinos who suffered and languished in detention facilities because of their political views. He and another courageous senator, Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno, underwent solitary confinement in Laur, Nueva Ecija.
That area is now known as the Aquino-Diokno Memorial and the AFP Human Rights Center. Yes, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has a Human Rights Center.
Many young people do not even know he is the hero in whose honor our international airports are named after.
He was one brave and courageous Filipino whose assassination on August 21, 1983, just minutes after he was led away by soldiers from his airplane, sparked an outrage, gave us the collective voice to say “no more to dictatorship” after years of fear and silence, after which we eventually deposed the oppressive regime.
The 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution was a model and our global contribution for a bloodless revolution for political change.
How mournful and grateful we were then as we waited for hours to say goodbye to him, queuing in line at Times Street and in Luneta, where the funeral cortege would pass, in bold defiance of the Martial Law authorities.
The nation accorded him one of the longest funerals ever, twelve hours, where an estimated 3 million thanked him for helping bring us the voice and the dignity we lost under the Martial Law years. This was duplicated in 2009 when his widow was laid to rest.
The days, weeks, months and the years that led to the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 were amazing years of awakening, enlightenment and unity that now seem like blurred memories of a certain period of our modern history where we showed courage and determination to uphold human rights.
The 1987 Constitution was the result of that collective determination to restore the cherished democratic values and institutions and the life of honor and dignity that we lost.
We, as its author, ratified it in a plebiscite held in 1987, with around 17 million voters in favor with only 5 million against it.
The 1987 Constitution was intended to be the antidote for any act or attempt to restore dictatorship in our country and take away our cherished freedom. Its preamble says it all:
“We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, to build a just and humane society, and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity, the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.”
Officials of the land, whether civilian or military, pledge to be loyal to the Constitution. The President has that sacred duty, and this provision in Article VIII is most relevant:
Section 5. “Before they enter on the execution of their office, the President, the Vice-President, or the Acting President shall take the following oath or affirmation:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President (or Vice-President or Acting President) of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So, help me God.”
Talks of a revolutionary government emanating from the President himself and swallowed by naïve supporters are disconcerting.
Violations of human rights that strip our people of their life, honor and dignity must never be tolerated.
Lawyers are duty bound to promote human rights and the rule of law. The Integrated Bar of the Philippines under President Abdiel Fajardo adds to the clamor for the rule of law to prevail, and declares that “Now, more than ever, the legal profession is behooved not only to participate, but to actively intervene in the perceived disregard of the rule of law and seeming attack on democratic institutions.”
The 1987 Constitution is one of the best in the world: pro-people, pro-participation, pro-justice and pro-environment. For environmental advocates, the Constitution is our main anchor in fighting for our rights to life, health, livelihood and a healthy environment, even against government officials themselves.
As citizens, we all have a duty to preserve and defend our Constitution and our democratic institutions. We cannot afford to slide back to the dark era of oppression and abuse.
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