I’M sure most of my readers will wonder at the title of this column, and see it as familiar and strange at the same time.
While he has been widely known as “Benigno S. Aquino, Jr.”, “Ninoy’s” official name, going by the Filipino convention, was Benigno Simeon Aquino Aquino. His middle name, or mother’s name, was also “Aquino” as his mother was Aurora L. Aquino, a third cousin of his father Benigno Simeon (“Igno”) Quiambao Aquino. The “S” was Ninoy’s second given name, Simeon.
Ninoy’s father had married into two rich clans. In 1916, he had married Maria Urquico, the youngest daughter of a prosperous rice merchant in Tarlac. Two years after Maria died in 1928, he married Ninoy’s mother Aurora, 16 years younger, and the youngest daughter of the related hacendero clan, the Aquinos of Concepcion, Tarlac.
“Igno” was a professional politician who rose to become a senator during the pre-war Commonwealth, and then especially since he was a high official of the pro-Japanese Kalibapi, Speaker of the Japan’s puppet government’s National Assembly during World War 2.
Ninoy’s son “Noynoy,” the inept President, followed his father’s practice and officially used Benigno S. Aquino 3rd. Although Philippine convention would have him named Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino, since his mother was Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco, scion of two powerful politico-economic clans. Noynoy technically cannot be the “3rd”, as his father’s name was different, Benigno Simeon Aquino Aquino, while his grandfather’s was Benigno Simeon Quiambao Aquino.
I haven’t found any explanation from Ninoy’s family why he chose as his public name Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., which is even engraved on his tombstone. His brothers Agapito and Paul have all followed the Filipino convention of using as their middle name their mother’s maiden name. Since his given name was Benigno, did he simply choose to emulate his father’s name, and be the “junior’?
Having done a stint as a newspaperman, did he think that someday, a headline with “BAA” to refer to him could be made fun of? Was it his way of burying the widespread belief at the time that marriage among cousins, even distant ones, could result in progeny with mental disabilities?
One explanation is that Ninoy followed what President Manuel L. Quezon, one of the most popular leaders of that era, did, which was not to use his mother’s name, Molina, as his middle name but his second given name, Luis.
As senator, did Ninoy already believe he would be the country’s president someday, and that it would be fitting for him to follow the convention of a popular president?
I would think so. In the late 1960s he was a political superstar, and that hands down, with even a student uprising against Marcos and an economic crisis that started in 1970, he would win as president in the 1973 elections. Instead, strongman rule turned his dreams into a nightmare. He was arrested and jailed in 1972, and sentenced to death by musketry in 1980. After Marcos allowed him to go to the US for a life-threatening heart surgery, Aquino had seemed to have decided to settle into a quiet life in Boston.
Until the news of Marcos’ kidney disease in 1982 and indications of an impending economic crisis for debt-ridden countries, that is. All of a sudden, his old dream of being president seemed to be within his grasp , as he had what he described below his “trump card”, so much so that he was as to risk his very life.
The best indication of Aquino’s motivations for returning to his country on August 21, 1983, was his taped conversation of August 13, 1983 with his very close friend and a key member by marriage of the Lopez clan, the late Steve Psinakis, who for some reason I cannot fathom made it public in 2008. The following is an abridged transcript of that conversation*:
The Psinakis conversation:
Aquino: Hi Steve, I’m at the airport and I cannot leave America without saying goodbye to you and expressing to you my deepest gratitude.
Psinakis: Our prayers are always with you and all I can [say]is, remember that a word from you and anything you want is in your fingertips from me, okay?
Aquino: Now this is the latest that I can give you. My source is Cardinal Sin. Number one: Marcos checked in at the Kidney Center. The experts went, saw him, they did a test. He flunked all tests and the conclusion was if they operate on him, it would be fatal.
So, he went back to the Palace. He is no longer responding to medication and he will have to be hooked up to the dialysis machine now more often. How he will last with that machine on, I don’t know. Apparently, they are now moving to put Imelda in effective control. And they are going to revamp the Cabinet, with (Roberto) Ongpin most probably emerging as prime minister and finance minister. Danding Cojuangco or [General Fabian] Ver, defense minister. O. D. Corpus possibly foreign minister, and maybe Ayala, I mean Enrique, maybe agriculture minister, I don’t know.
But there’s a major shake-up. Marcos met with his generals and apparently said goodbye to them last Friday… But it’s a matter of time, so he wanted three weeks to collect his thoughts, write his memoirs, complete his book and most probably craft the final stages of his administration.
He’s a man now: Terminal. He knows he’s going and that’s the background I’m coming in.
The rumor in Manila is that I’m taking the private jet of Enrique (Zobel) from Hong Kong. But all planes are being guarded and they may close the airport on Sunday or turn back the plane if they would be able to pinpoint which one I’m coming in.
They have two guys stationed to know me out at the airport. And they will try them for murder, they’ll convict them, but they have assurances. Those are the things that I’ve been alerted. So, I don’t know what options they will do now. But I am meeting with Asean leaders beginning Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Indonesia — Suharto might receive me. Malaysia is already firm and Thailand is just about firm. Now Japan has sent word that if Imelda is in place [prime minister]Nakasone is willing to use his economic clout. (Nakasone could) tell Imelda that if you treat Aquino nicely, we can dialogue.
Nakasone is willing to send a private envoy, a secret private envoy with a personal letter making a plea for me. If am still alive and in prison, that if they will treat me gently, and come up with some kind of an understanding, Japanese economic assistance will continue. Because they are very uptight that if the woman [Imelda] takes over and there will be chaos, you know, it would be bad. Now the Asean leaders, on the other hand, feel this way: Asean today is already one region. And any instability in one part of Asean will scare investors in the entire region.
They are very, very uptight about the possibility of chaos and instability in the Philippines with Imelda. And that is the background of my conversation with them: That I am not going to upset the apple cart but that we can harmonize our movement.
To what extent they will be able to mitigate the hardliners, I don’t know. That’s the chance we’ll have to take. If I survive Sunday, and I get to prison, I’m there in a week’s time, I can get the works going.
Those are the trump cards I’m bringing home, which of course can be negated if one character gets to throw me out.
If I get into prison, there is no doubt, like 100 percent, I will be brought directly to prison. I may not even get a chance to talk to anybody there on the ground. But it’s okay. As long as I’m alive and in prison, I can start using my trump cards.
I will try to hold out for a meeting with Marcos. Now that’s he’s about to meet his Maker, I am almost confident that I can talk to him and sell him something. Although the Cardinal told me that “if you think you can sell Marcos a bill of goods like return to democracy and electoral processes, forget it. You’re dreaming.” This is the Cardinal’s idea. I don’t buy it. Because I don’t think that a man who is about to die will be, you know, too hard-headed.
Psinakis: Any indication from the US side that there might be some help or absolutely nothing?
Aquino: No. No indication. Except that they are watching me. They are following all my steps. But I am still hopeful that sanity will prevail, and they will know that eventually, they’ll have to come to talk. Because I don’t think they’re very happy with the woman [Imelda] running the show.
*I published a full transcript of this conversation in my December 5, 2016 column , “Ninoy Aquino: Hero or miscalculating ‘throne’ gamer”?