WE have to tear apart the mythology of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. as a hero if we are to build our nation. The Ninoy myth has been disseminated quite effectively for 30 years by three Yellow regimes, and by powerful entities that have monopoly power to mold Filipinos’ minds — among them the Catholic Church with its universities, ABS-CBN Broadcasting, as well as the two newspapers Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippine Star.
Any political movement requires a mythology to rationalize its power grab. Swept into power by that fable in 1986, the Yellows and their allies, the communists, will continue to use the Ninoy myth as their narrative to resuscitate their forces and advance their agenda to topple President Duterte and his successor to reverse the gains made in building a strong Republic. It is just too late at this time for the Yellows to find and develop a new narrative.
A key element in this narrative is the portrayal of the United States as the benign big brother that provided Aquino with a refuge in the 1980s and then helped his wife Corazon assume power in many ways — all for the sake of democracy. Two of these of course was first, the shanghaiing of Ferdinand Marcos to Hawaii, fooling him into thinking that he was simply being brought to his Ilocos bastion for his own safety. That aborted any move by the pro-Marcos forces to regroup to counter the Yellow Revolution.
The second crucial US aid to the Yellows was when it deployed its Phantom jets over Manila during the 1989 coup to totally neutralize the rebels’ air superiority, which relied on World War 2 vintage planes that could crash merely because of the F-4s’ air turbulence.
The myth of US benevolence is still believed by most Filipinos so much that it easily fooled Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd into losing Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and prodded his government into filing an arbitration suit against China, which has been damaging to our national interest. The suit’s aim was both to demonize China as the new Evil Empire that the Asean nations should spurn in any way they could and to convert the entire South China Sea into open international waters, which the US Navy would have all the justification to patrol.
What follows, in two parts, is a more factual narrative of Ninoy without the reluctant-hero-comes-home mythical archetype.
Ninoy was Liberal Party’s superstar who was the shoo-in to win against Marcos in the forthcoming November 1973 elections. Instead, Ninoy was arrested in the hours after martial law was declared in September 1972. 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 Corpus.
Ninoy nourished politically and financially Jose Ma. Sison’s Communist Party and its NPA in its fledgling years. His clan’s vast Hacienda Luisita was the base of the new communist insurgents from its founding in 1968 to its near collapse in 1972, which forced it to relocate its forces mainly to Isabela.
Ninoy was no communist but a devious politician. He thought that with the NPA as an ally, he could control Central Luzon, especially against his uncle Edgardo Cojuangco, Jr., the Marcos-allied strongman in the region. He also expected the NPA to grow in a few years to be a major force that would support him and his party on the grassroots level in the 1973 presidential elections.
Ninoy’s dreams were dashed when Marcos imposed one-man rule in September 1972, an audacious, unexpected move. The widespread belief of the political elite at that time, even of the Communist Party, was that this would be political suicide for Marcos, and that there was no way the US would allow it. They forgot that maintenance of the US military bases in the Philippines was of prime importance at that time during the US war against North Vietnam.
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 Batasang 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 and 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 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.
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 was the clear message to Marcos that if he insisted on such high demands, it could move to 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 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 his cozy refuge to strengthen his ties with anti-Marcos opposition groups and, more crucially, with US officialdom. While the Yellows have claimed that he was writing two books at Harvard, no drafts of these, not a single page, not even the roughest outline nor an abstract of his possible topic, were ever found.
Aquino of course was no academic. He left no written work, except his bombastic speeches during 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 as to how it was discovered. After its publication in 2014 though, not even the Yellows claimed it was his. (Philippine Star columnist Elfren Cruz, one of Cory’s trusted officials during her term, published this bogus speech in his column on Aug. 23, 2014.)
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 for three years, didn’t write anything, not even a journal, an essay, or any article for any US publication denouncing Marcos. There is not even any report — which would have been reported in Harvard’s newspaper — of him giving a talk on the Philippine situation to students or faculty at the university.
The Yellows claim that Aquino galvanized the opposition against Marcos there. I haven’t seen any evidence or any testimony to support this claim.
It was the Movement for a Free Philippines headed by another former senator in exile, Raul Manglapus, that was more active, that went around the US rousing the Filipino community there to denounce the dictatorship. Aquino rarely left Boston.