TODAY is a special non-working holiday, officially “Ninoy Aquino Day” as decreed by Republic Act 9256, signed into law in February 2004 by President Arroyo, when Speaker Jose de Venecia and Senate President Franklin Drilon headed Congress.
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 Corpuz.
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 likely was a forgery, as it surfaced only in 2014, three decades after his death, released on Ninoy Aquino day, and by Malacañang under his son Noynoy, without any explanation how it was discovered. After its publication in 2014 though, not even the Yellows claimed it was his.
A political scientist, the late Howard Wiarda, who shared an office with Aquino at Harvard, wrote in his book Adventures in Research (Volume III: Global Traveler): “[Aquino] wanted to talk constantly, while I was at Harvard to write a book, and in our year together I never saw him read or write anything.”
Aquino, who was supposedly a scholar at Harvard and MIT for three years, didn’t write anything, not even a journal, an essay, or any article for any US publication denouncing Marcos.
The Yellows claim that Aquino galvanized the opposition against Marcos there. I haven’t seen any evidence or any testimony to support this claim, though. It was the Movement for a Free Philippines headed by another former senator in exile, Raul Manglapus, that was more active, who went around the US rousing the Filipino community there to denounce the dictatorship. Aquino rarely left Cambridge.
Data show that Aquino appears to have been militant only a year after his 1980 heart surgery, and then in the months before his return.
The video of Aquino’s philippic against Marcos — which was widely distributed after his killing as proof that it was the dictator who wanted him silenced — was recorded Feb. 15, 1981 before a Filipino community. However, in his June 1981 interview with evangelist Pat Roberson, Aquino talked more about his getting closer to God as a result of his incarceration, and said not a bad word against Marcos.
Another video was sometime in 1981 in Dallas where, rather than ranting against Marcos, he explained his ideas for getting Saudi Arabia to build a gas pipeline in Mindanao. “If I will be able to sell this [idea] to Mr. Marcos, the Philippines will be able to find an end to our insurgency in the South.”
I haven’t found any video or report of Aquino making fiery speeches against Marcos after 1981. Had the anti-Marcos fire in Aquino’s belly gone cold as he and his family enjoyed their stay that lasted three years in a fine house in Newton, Massachusetts, an upper-class district near Boston?
In fact, the CIA report mentioned above implied Aquino’s slide to irrelevancy: “Aquino’s political position has been hurt by his long exile. He probably believes [now] he has to return home if he is to play a role in the post-Marcos era.”
There were two major factors that likely prodded Aquino to leave his tranquil life in the upper-class town of Newton, Massachusetts in 1983.
First, the Philippines’ economic crisis unfolded that any observer could see was a very serious threat to Marcos’ survival, and Aquino knew this. The Latin American debt crisis broke when Mexico defaulted on its foreign loans in August 1982, and would soon hit the Philippines as well, triggering its worst economic crisis ever. It would have been impossible for Aquino, with his wide network, not to have known this.
Second, Aquino was convinced of the certainty that Marcos was dying. He had to rush home to wrench the leadership from others who were active in trying to topple Marcos, especially Salvador Laurel.
This is disclosed in an audio tape of his conversation with Steve Psinakis a few days before his return to the country.
In that conversation, Aquino said: “Marcos is a man now: Terminal… now that he (Marcos) is about to meet his Maker, I am almost confident that I can talk to him and sell him something.” Aquino told Psinakis his information came from Cardinal Jaime Sin. I suspect it came from his American intelligence friends, which is why he was so confident of his information.
But still he decided to risk his life, even after he was told by Imelda herself that there were serious threats to his life. Indeed, that’s been Aquino’s well-known trait: He took huge risks.
Aquino was smart though. He filled his China Airline flight with media men, practically from every continent — with not a single Filipino journalist, not even those from the emerging “mosquito press” at the time.
He obviously thought that they could be his human shields, and that Marcos wouldn’t risk his foremost critic to be killed in front of the world, nor Western media men hurt, or even killed, in the volley of fire or a bomb’s shrapnels intended for him.
Except for his brother-in-law, ABC newsman Ken Kashiwahara, the foreign media turned out to be as meek as sheep, and didn’t question, much less block, the unarmed military men who fetched Aquino to escort him to the tarmac. Nobody tried to be with him as he was brought down. Aquino miscalculated terribly that Western media men had balls.
Did his death trigger Marcos’ fall? It helped, no doubt. It was the last straw that broke the camel’s back of our foreign debt quagmire, leading to our October 1983 debt default. But after his funeral parade in August 1983 that was attended by a million people, the protest crowds dwindled.
By late 1985, the hyperinflation that broke out in 1984 was being tamed, after the central bank gave wealthy Filipinos an irresistible haven for their funds (the so-called “Jobo bills,” with their astronomical interest rates). An orderly rescheduling plan for the country’s foreign debt was also in place.
Marcos became so confident that he was on his way to restoring political and economic stability, that he fell for the US ruse to call for “snap” presidential elections, which had absolutely no constitutional basis.
That Ninoy’s assassination triggered the People Power revolt that overthrew Marcos is merely a romantic tale, exploiting our belief in messiahs and heroes who give up their lives for a nation.
Marcos gave in to the US demand for him to call snap elections to prove his legitimacy. The cabal that planned his overthrow very expertly created the perception that Cory won the elections, by declaring her victory ahead of the official returns, outsmarting Marcos. The strongman’s refusal to recognize Aquino as the winner, and the propaganda that she won despite massive cheating, convinced his defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and his RAM colonels to accelerate their plan to grab power through a classic colonels’ coup.
But Marcos got wind of their conspiracy and ordered the arrest of Enrile and his RAM conspirators. Enrile was desperate, convinced that Marcos would kill him or throw him in jail.
He and his RAM decided to take their last stand at his headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo, and die in the blaze of glorious battle. He managed to convince Fidel Ramos — who most probably had been told by his US contacts that Ronald Reagan was set to dump Marcos — to join him and together they marched to Camp Crame, to make it their redoubt.
Enrile’s genius was to get the anti-Marcos Cardinal Sin to call on his faithful to go to EDSA and surround Camp Crame, to form a human shield.
Fortunately for those in EDSA in February 1986, Marcos wasn’t of the same thinking as the Chinese Communist Party during the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989, which was to let People’s Liberation Army tanks and battalions of riot police disperse the human shields.
Marcos ordered his troops to stand down and, according to his son Ferdinand Jr., told his generals: “I have served my countrymen for most of my life. I am not about to kill them.”
The rest, as the cliché goes, is history — the real one, with Ninoy in the sidelines. Certainly a tragic and an audacious figure, but not a hero.
(More on the Aquino mythology in my book Debunked: Uncovering Hard Truths about. EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino, and a Special Section on the Duterte Presidency. www.rigobertotiglao.com/debunked)