(Published on August 21, 2017 from an interview with former President Benigno S. Aquino III at his home at Times Street, Quezon City, for a story on his memories of his father Sen. Benigno Aquino. The story was published to mark Ninoy Aquino Day. )
AUGUST 21, 2017 – Today, August 21, the country remembers a hero.
But to private citizen Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, today he remembers a father.
That father – Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. – had taught him, the former President of the Philippines, many lessons in life. One is to be responsible to right what he sees is wrong.
“If you don’t take responsibility to make things right, then you are part of the problem. You are not part of the solution,” former President Aquino said last week in an exclusive interview with The Manila Bulletin at his house on Times Street, Quezon City.
Aquino was replying to a question if he had asked his father why he had chosen to carry the problems of the people, and why he was going home after being in exile in Boston for three years.
Icons of democracy
Thirty-four years ago today, Ninoy Aquino was fatally shot as he exited the plane at the airport now named after him.
Then followed a series of events in which his wife, Corazon C. Aquino, ran and won in a snap election called by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos, who had been in power for 21 years. President Cory took her oath of office as President in February 1986.
Noy’s parents are both icons of democracy.
Looking relaxed as a private citizen but still carrying the quiet dignity of a leader, Noy shifted from sentimental to philosophical, and much later, to comfortable.
Tragedy of forgetting
How does he want the future generation to remember his father?
“To put his (Ninoy Aquino’s) sacrifice in its context,” he said.
“We should never let an attitude happen that will elicit the repeat of this sacrifice,” he said.
“The tragedy will be that we forget and things happen again. That is what is very tragic that will happen, he said, emphasizing that that all of these should be “put in the proper context.”
‘Why did you go home?’
Back to the fateful days before Aug. 21, 1983, Citizen Noy was asked how he felt about his father going home after three years in exile in Boston where the family lived the routine of a normal family.
His father had hoped that Marcos would be curious enough to want to see him to ask why he went home, he told The Manila Bulletin.
Then perhaps “we can talk and I can advice him that we can work our way out of the abyss,” Aquino said of his father’s explanation on why he had to go home.
Then Aquino, the former President, turns to being Aquino, the son: “I did not expect an assassination,” he said.
What was your last conversation with your dad?
“There were just so many people visiting our house in the last few months before my father left for Manila. I drove him to the airport and I don’t remember a conversation in the car. He said something like “you know what to do,’” he said.
So heavy with memories
His reply also came through a story when Aquino visited their house in Boston sometime after the turn of the millennium. “I only stayed at the ground floor. I looked at the place where we had our TV where we heard the news (of Ninoy Aquino killed in Manila); so heavy with memories. Outside the kitchen, that was the last place where I had my last interaction with my dad. There he said something like “alam mo na ang gagawin mo,’” he related of the pain of loss.
One prophet enough
What other lessons did he learn from a father who dared challenge a strongman and is now remembered for his famous last words – “The Filipino is worth dying for”?
“He (Ninoy) was a living example of faith sustaining you through difficult times,” Aquino said.
Noy had asked his father how he could get his message out with the media controlled and other circumstances not allowing him to reach the people.
Citizen Noy said his father’s answer was: “If the time is not right, a thousand prophets will not make a difference. But if the time is right, only one prophet will be enough.”
‘Do not stop at A’
For those still trying to find the relevance of Ninoy Aquino Day, a thought that is likely to be kept in mind was another lesson Noy said he learned from his father.
“If you know you have to go from A to Z but you don’t know anything about B to Y, don’t stop at A,” the former president said, repeating the line like he wanted everyone to hold that thought.
Private Citizen Noy
Now turning comfortable, and visibly not in a hurry to catch another meeting, Aquino answers a query on what he prefers – being President or Private Citizen Noy.
He gives a big smile. “Masarap ang buhay ng private citizen.”
Writing a book
The former President said he is planning to write a book with Manuel L. Quezon III. It will be a compilation of thoughts at the time things were happening during his presidency.
“We hope that somebody will benefit from the lessons we learned,” he said.