Yesterday is one of the most significant dates in our post-war history, when two historic, connected events happened, the consequences of which have made up our messy present.
Two dastardly crimes were committed on the same day, August 21; two Aquino presidents, surprisingly or not, despite their huge resources as the country’s chief executive officers, refused to unearth the real masterminds.
One event on August 21, 1971 triggered events that led to the imposition of martial law and the start of Marcos’ 13-year dictatorship. Another, on the same date 12 years later in 1983 triggered events that led to the fall of that dictatorship.
First: The Plaza Miranda bombing on August 21, 1971. Four grenades were hurled at the stage of the Liberal Party’ grand miting de avance, killing nine and wounding 95 others. Many of the party’s leaders and senatorial candidates were seriously injured.
The bombing was blamed on President Ferdinand Marcos, and public opinion believed so. As a result, most of his senatorial and congressional candidates lost in the elections that year, drastically weakening his political strength.
Kept secret for decades, the bombing was gradually unearthed as having been ordered by the Communist Party of the Philippines chairman then, Jose Ma. Sison, and executed by his most inner circle, called the party’s Executive Committee of the Political Bureau. Only Sison’s inner circle—and the brave, young activists who undertook the operation, believing it was for a just cause—knew it was the Communist Party leadership’s operation. Present Communist Party Chairman Benito Tiamzon, as well as everyone in the top leadership now, didn’t know it was Sison’s secret operation.
The motive: In the words used by communist party documents at that time, “to intensify the split within the ruling class” in order to create another “revolutionary flow.” In ordinary language, the bombing would push the opposition Liberal Party and their ruling-class supporters to strike back, even violently, at Marcos. The country would plunge into civil war, which the Communist Party as a very organized and armed force could take advantage of to capture power.
The Plaza Miranda attack was one of the events that convinced Marcos, and the military establishment, to plan carefully, and eventually impose Martial Law 13 months later.
Marcos, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, the Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino and all other service commanders were convinced that the opposition leader Ninoy Aquino had allied with the communists and their NPA. How else could one explain that he was the only Liberal Party senatorial candidate—and its luminous star even—who was spared from the attack since the grenades were exploded while Ninoy was still far from the Plaza?
Few believed the most commonsensical question then: Why would Marcos, whom even his enemies credited as a brilliant strategist, undertake such an attack that obviously would be blamed on him?
Aquino and the Liberal Party didn’t bother to pursue an investigation into the carnage, and instead roused public opinion against Marcos, as “The Mad Bomber,” even after they took control of the Senate in the elections three months later.
Second, the assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983. Much of martial-law era growth—as well as those of Latin American countries—in that era was due to massive infusions of foreign debt, which Western banks sourced from Middle East countries, which didn’t know what to do with their dollars after they took control of their oil industry, set up the OPEC, and ended the era of cheap oil.
Because of Westerns banks’ greed, as always, they didn’t bother to check if the countries they got addicted to foreign debt could sustain even just their interest payments. They were shocked to wake up one morning in August 1982 that Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Chile could no longer keep up with their interest payments, and stopped paying their debts. The first global debt-crisis broke out, pushing up interest rates, and banks refused to throw good money after bad by stopping their short-term lending.
By the start of 1983, we already were feeling the crunch of the debt-crisis, with the peso gradually depreciating to P8.50 to $1.00 from P7.50 to $1.00, and everyone in business, especially the banking community, felt we couldn’t avoid a Latin American kind of debt crisis that would mean a severe economic downturn for us.
Worse was that Marcos’ disease had worsened during this time, and on August 7 had his kidney transplant operation, with his son Bongbong as the donor. According to Juan Ponce Enrile’s biography, Marcos emerged from his bed-ridden state only on August 15.
For the first time in Marcos’ eleven-year strongman rule, there emerged a major chance that his life could abruptly end. And this happened in a period when political and economic instability were building up, and his party sharply divided between the pro-Enrile and pro-Imelda/Fabian Ver factions.
And it was during this time that Ninoy Aquino made moves for his return to the Philippines, his journey which ended with his assassination on August 21, 1983. The assassination triggered events that led to “People Power I’s” overthrow of Marcos in February 1986.
Few believed the most commonsensical question then: Why would Marcos, whom even his enemies credited as a brilliant strategist, undertake such an assassination that obviously would be blamed on him?
I find it astonishing that Aquino was killed with such precision, by a single bullet to the head. The habit taught to anyone who uses a gun, is to shoot at least three times, to make sure the target is incapacitated. But that’s probably for amateurs.
I find it astonishing that it was done in broad daylight, even risking so many eyewitnesses (there was only one, the so-called “crying woman”). I find it astonishing that the alleged killer, Rolando Galman, was killed even before Aquino’s body slammed on the tarmac. It was an operation of such precision that I don’t think our race is known for.
As astonishing is the fact that despite 12 years Ninoy’s widow Corazon Aquino and his son Benigno Aquino 3rd wielded the tremendous powers of a Philippine president, they did nothing to unmask the murders’ brains.
How difficult would it have been to fund a crack group of investigators to unearth the truth, especially with 16 officers and soldiers just there in jail convicted by the Sandiganbayan for conspiracy over the murder. Why didn’t the Aquino presidents offer them pardon—and maybe even money to live comfortably abroad—in exchange for identifying the brains of the murder that shaped our history? (Compare that to President Kennedy’s assassination, in which the alleged gunman Oswald was killed a few days later, with no other suspects found.)
The only logical explanation I could think of is that the two Aquino presidents, Cory as early as 1986, were informed by unimpeachable sources—maybe even provided indisputable evidence—who, or what group, was the mastermind of Ninoy’s murder.
But if it were Marcos, why did they not disclose this to the nation and provided the body of evidence, in order to absolutely demonize him beyond any historical revision?
Or was Cory told that if she made public the brains of her husband’s murder, she would be so easily toppled by Enrile’s RAM rebels, so that she just had to suffer quietly, the patriotic thing for her to do. After all, she probably could have been told, her entire narrative of the widow going after her husband’s murderer would collapse if she were to disclose the real mastermind.
There is another question that bothers me a lot. Was it just sheer coincidence that two historic events occurred on the same date?
I wonder. In what would be his death voyage, Aquino arrived in Taipei on August 19, 1983. But he booked his flight to Manila August 21. Was the date of his return to the country some secret message to the dictator, one that only he and Marcos would understand?