(Argyll Geducos, 25, MB reporter covering Malacanang, writes about meeting the hero in class, books, and while at work.)
Large, thick glasses.
Aside from the color yellow, this is one of the things Filipinos will remember whenever Ninoy Aquino is mentioned—his large thick glasses.
How did we come to know the man with the glasses?
When I was in elementary school, Benigno Aquino Jr. was introduced to us as an icon of democracy. More popularly known as Ninoy, Aquino was the husband of the late President Corazon Aquino.
Our teachers told us Ninoy, a former senator, was assassinated upon his return to Manila from the United States on August 21, 1983, at the age of 50, after exiting the plane which had brought him home, while he was being escorted by two airforce men.
Ninoy’s death ignited the flame in the heart of Filipinos and moved them to topple a dictatorship through the EDSA People Power Revolution three years after his demise. This paved the way for the return of democracy in the country.
Ninoy was born on November 27, 1932, in Concepcion, Tarlac, to a prominent family. Despite getting his education from prestigious institutions in the country, Aquino considered himself an “average” student with grades falling around the 80s mark.
Ninoy married Cory in 1954 and they raised five kids, including former President Benigno Aquino III and media personality Kris Aquino.
He was known to be the youngest in a number of positions in the country’s history –the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War for the Manila Times at the age of 17, the youngest mayor of Concepcion at the age of 22, and the youngest senator at the age of 34.
In his first year as a senator in 1968, Aquino raised many charges against then President Ferdinand Marcos, among them the “ballooning of the armed forces budget,” overstaying generals, and militarizing civilian government offices. Four years later, when Marcos placed the country under martial law, 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 allowed to run in the 1978 elections for Batasan member but he did not win, of course.
Ninoy suffered two heart attacks in 1980, one in his solitary cell and another at the Philippine Heart Center. Tests showed that he had a blocked artery and he was allowed to go to the United States for the procedure.
His surgery went well and he recovered very quickly, and he, Cory, and their children started a new life in Massachusetts. However, Ninoy returned to the Philippines in 1983. He met his death upon his return.
Ninoy’s assassination awakened the Filipinos’ desire for freedom and democracy. Hundreds of thousands flocked to Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City to see his body which was not made-up or embalmed so people could see what had been done to him.
His funeral procession from Quezon City to Sucat Road in Paranaque lasted 12 hours with more than two million people lining up the funeral route, many of them teary-eyed.
But how do Filipinos now view the bespectacled man?
Ninoy is regarded today as the catalyst that brought back democracy in the country. After President Marcos left the country after the People Power Revolution in 1986, Mrs. Aquino was elected president of the country.
The Aquinos became icons of democracy but it came with a price—public criticism.
When you type his name in the search box of any social media platform, you will see that many users, mostly supporters of the present administration, dismiss the Aquinos’ role in restoring democracy in the country and blame them for the country’s current state.
Those who are biased against the Aquinos even attempt to erase his legacy by suggesting to replace them in the P500 bill. There was recently a move in the House of Representatives to rename the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
How about the Duterte Administration?
President Duterte rarely talks about Ninoy. But when the President talked about him at last year’s Ninoy Aquino Day, he recognized his “important role in restoring our democratic institutions” and said his “sacrifice altered the course of our nation’s history and continues to ignite the spirit of heroism among our people.”
For last year’s commemoration of Aquino’s death, President Duterte said he hoped government workers and the country’s youth will be inspired by the life of the late senator who served with “honor, integrity, and purpose.”
He enjoined the public to be guided by Ninoy’s life as we “strive to uplift and protect the most vulnerable in our society and ensure that all Filipinos will enjoy the blessings of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”
The middle ground
Despite controversies, it is undeniable that Ninoy’s death in 1983 is what started the people’s fight for democracy leading eventually to the People Power Revolution of 1986.
Did it end the Marcoses’ influence over the people? No. Many people still support the family. Imee Marcos is now a senator, her brother Bongbong was a senator but lost to Leni Robredo for the vice presidential seat in 2016.
As a reporter who only met Ninoy Aquino, the hero, in the classroom, books and tales from older people, I think that Ninoy Aquino Day should be celebrated to honor him just like what we do with other heroes but it should not be used to turn him into a superhero. He can be an inspiration to remind us that things can change and we can start that change if we take a stand.
Given this day and age of digital misinformation, historical revisionism, and partisan politics, Ninoy’s fight is far from over. We should channel his patriotism to protect the country’s democracy from forces that may cause Filipinos to divide instead of unite.
When Ninoy said, “The Filipino is worth dying for,” he meant the entire race and not a particular Filipino. This is also true for August 21. Rather than just remembering Ninoy, we should remember his principles.
The man with the glasses should serve as a reminder of the nationalism that is inside every one of us.