Setting the record straight on Ninoy as opposition leader, martyr

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BENIGNO “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., who was supposedly a scholar at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for three years, didn’t write anything, not even a journal, essay or article for any US publication denouncing Ferdinand 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.

All available published records show Aquino as being militant only a year after his 1980 heart surgery, and then in the months before his return in 1983.

Screen grab of a video of Ninoy’s speech sometime in 1981.

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 taken sometime in 1981 in Dallas where, rather than ranting against Marcos, he explained his ideas for getting Saudi Arabia to help solve the Muslim insurgency. Among his ideas, about which he implied he had already talked to that country’s leaders, was to sell Lake Lanao’s fresh waters and 5,000 goats per month to the Saudis. “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,” he said.

I haven’t found any video or report of Aquino making fiery speeches against Marcos after 1981, except for his interview on his way to Manila on Aug. 21, 1983, on board the plane with a phalanx of US and Japanese reporters that he had brought with him.

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 had 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 profoundly 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 the 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, which I reported in my column last Wednesday.

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 US 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 people, 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 people hurt, or even killed, in the volley of fire or a bomb’s shrapnel intended for him.

Meek as sheep
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.

Or did the CIA convince Aquino to return to Manila, promising him its protection, and making the complicated, secret arrangements — the circuitous route from Boston to Los Angeles, to Singapore to Johor in Malaysia, then to Hong Kong and on to Taipei — for his trip? To this day, no one — not Psinakis, not the Lopezes — has disclosed how such a secret journey could have been undertaken, how such a well-known figure the US government provided refuge to, could slip through US and other Asian ports, using a Malaysian passport. But it’s really a no-brainer, isn’t it? Only the US superpower, specifically its CIA, could order its subject nations to let Aquino through their ports — to his death.

Whoever murdered Ninoy on the stairs (or on the tarmac) was such a professional assassin par excellence that he used only one bullet, precisely fired that it tore through the most vital parts of his brain, precisely undertaken that no one in the plane saw it. Your ordinary killer would be trained to fire several shots. What kind of assassin, trained by what entity could undertake such a remarkable feat?

Marcos’ fall
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 a romantic tale, exploiting our belief — an archetype really — 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 Reform the Armed Forces Movement (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 Jaime 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 Incident 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 on the sidelines. Certainly, a tragic and an audacious figure, but not a hero.

Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao
Twitter: @bobitiglao
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