By Rigoberto Tiglao
First of Two Series
Republic Act 9256 was signed into law in February 2004 by President Arroyo, when Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Franklin Drilon headed the Congress that named a special non-working holiday after Ninoy Aquino.
Curiously, the proclamation did not call Aquino a “hero,” nor did it explain why a holiday was being declared in his name. The terse six-paragraph text merely said it was a holiday “in order to commemorate the death anniversary of former senator Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino Jr.”
That he is a hero is an interpretation from the fact that only two other persons have holidays declared in their honor, Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, who were declared heroes in the same legislation that enacted their holidays.
Peruse the following facts and decide for yourself if you think Aquino is a national hero.
The superstar of the Liberal Party tipped to win against Marcos in the forthcoming 1973 elections, Ninoy was arrested in the hours after martial law was declared. He was found guilty of subversion and murder by a military court in 1977, together with New People’s Army (NPA) leaders “Kumander Dante” and Victor Corpus.
In May 1980, Ninoy had a life-threatening heart attack. He refused to be put under the knife at the Philippine Heart Center, built by the Marcos regime in 1975, and Asia’s first specialized center for cardiac surgery, endorsed by the best cardiac surgeons in the world.
Aquino claimed that since it was a government hospital, Marcos could easily order its doctors to kill him, under the guise of a botched operation. While that was a slap on the face of the Filipino surgeons at the center, it was a clever move on Aquino’s part, for him to escape the country. Marcos feared that if Aquino died of a heart attack in prison, it would be blamed on him. That would have seriously undermined the semblance of stability that he had built after the 1978 interim Batasan Pambansa elections, in which the opposition leader ran and lost.
However, Marcos extracted from Aquino, in a message relayed personally by his wife, Imelda, two conditions: that he return to the country when he was fully recovered; that he does not publicly speak against Marcos during his stay in the US. Aquino himself said he told Imelda he accepted these terms.
Pact with the devil
A month after his operation in the US though, Aquino told an American reporter in Dallas: “A pact with the devil is no pact at all.”
Aquino got to stay in the US after being given the status of “Visiting Fellow” at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. A Harvard official said at that time that such Fellows “pursued their own research and are expected to present their research findings to the other fellows and interested faculty.”
But Aquino never did these things during his stay at Harvard. He was not an academic and hardly had the kind of stature for Harvard to bend its strict academic rules just to be a refuge for an opposition figure from some Third World country.
It was US President Jimmy Carter himself, however, who asked then Harvard President Derek Bok to find some excuse for Aquino to stay in the US, as a fellow of the university.
Washington’s eagerness to have Aquino as an exile in the US could be partly explained by Carter’s well-known human rights advocacy. But the more likely reason is that, as has been its practice, the US routinely befriends opposition figures that have the potential of succeeding an incumbent one. (To this day of course: Hong Kong protest leader Nathan Law last week left for Yale University to pursue a masters in law.)
In the Philippine case, during that period, there was another more compelling reason: the US military bases in Clark and Subic, the terms for which were scheduled for review in 1983. Marcos had been demanding more concessions from the US for the use of the bases, asking for higher payments that he wanted to call “rent.”
Having Aquino in the US sent the message to Marcos that if he insisted on such high demands, it could help overthrow his regime, in the guise of championing democratic rule, and install the opposition leader whom they were indoctrinating at Harvard.
Harvard had been known at the time to be a locus of the Central Intelligence Agency’s activities, with several of its professors fired in the 1980s after being exposed as having accepted CIA money for their projects.
Aquino, in short, became a US pawn in its geopolitical strategies and, smart as he was, he knew this and played his cards.
Aquino was in continuous contact with US officials, most probably even intelligence officials while he was at Cambridge. Proof of this is a “Top Secret” National Intelligence Daily dated June 27, 1983 issued by the CIA head, which reported: “Moderate opposition leader Benigno Aquino told senior US officials on Thursday he plans to leave the US and return to Manila in August.” At the time, nobody else knew of Aquino’s plans to return home.
Rather than as a scholar, Aquino used his stay at as a cozy refuge to build up his network among anti-Marcos opposition groups and more crucially, with the US officialdom. While the Yellows have claimed that he was writing two books at Harvard, no drafts of these, not a even a single page, were ever found, not even the roughest outline nor an abstract of his possible topic.
Aquino of course was no academic. He left no written work, except his bombastic speeches in his political heyday.
There was, however, a speech he purportedly planned to deliver on his return to Manila, that we are merely accommodating to balance this story:
“Undelivered speech” of Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
Upon his return from the United States of America on August 21, 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.
(To be concluded)