DID Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. risk his life to liberate the country from a dictatorship or did he mainly see it as an opportunity to succeed Ferdinand E. Marcos, well worth the risk of returning to Manila?
His candid conversation on Aug. 13, 1983 with his close friend, the late Steve Psinakis — the husband of Presentacion Lopez, the only daughter of the “Don” Eugenio Lopez Sr. — would seem to point to the latter motivation.
In Ninoy’s last interview with foreign correspondents inside the plane in the wee hours of Aug. 21, 1983, he portrays himself as the opposition leader who decided to return to the Philippines, as he put it, “to help the opposition rebuild its grassroots organization” for the 1984 Batasang Pambansa elections. Ninoy says: “I no longer crave for political office. I would like to reiterate: I am not out to overthrow Marcos.”
Aquino responds thus to a reporter’s question on why he was returning to the Philippines: “I don’t think a general should be 10,000 miles from his troops, even if he’s leading them from prison.” He says: “I have to suffer with my people, I have to lead them because of the responsibility given to me by my people.”
Fatal miscalculation? Aquino was assassinated at the tarmac.
It is a different Ninoy, though, in his telephone conversation with Psinakis on Aug. 13, 1983, which the Greek-American taped. Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila — a close friend of the Lopez clan — reported in August 2008 that Psinakis had released a transcript of the tape to him and even played the actual audiotape to him.
In the conversation, Ninoy reveals why he was rushing to return to the Philippines: “Marcos is dying, he’s said his farewells to his generals and he’s got just three weeks to settle his affairs on earth.”
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Transcript of Aquino’s telephone conversation with Psinakis follows:
Ninoy 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.
Steve Psinakis: We are praying for you, for your safety and success and freedom of people, OK?
Aquino: Now, this is the latest, Steve, that I can give you. My source is Cardinal [Jaime] 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 [Gen. Fabian] Ver, defense minister; OD Corpus, possibly foreign minister; and maybe Ayala, I mean Enrique, 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. He was on television in Manila 24 hours ago, commenting on the boxing fight of [Rolando] Navarrete and [Dennis] Talbot to show the people he is OK. But it’s a matter of time, so he wanted three weeks to collect this 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.
Psinakis: I [also] heard some of this yesterday. I got some reports, not of course as authoritative as yours, but pretty much the same that something was wrong and they couldn’t operate and so forth. At any rate, the thought that comes to mind is that is good and bad. Good in that he’s going and he knows it. He might show some compassion for the country and treat your return with more pragmatic thinking. The bad part may be that hardliners like Ver, who are bulldogs without any political savvy, who may think that they’re next in line [of succession]. Obviously, such people would look at your return with uh… That’s what I’m worried about.
Aquino: Well, there are two reports I received along that line. Well, if they pinpoint the plane 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.
The third, and this is the real iffy. 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.
Psinakis: Ah…let’s not think about that.
Aquino: Yeah, that’s the… 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 (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) 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 [as Japan Prime Minister] Nakasone is willing to use his economic clout to tell Imelda that if you treat Aquino nicely, we can dialogue.
Psinakis: Oh, that’s good news, all right. That’s damn good news.
Aquino: 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.
That’s why 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.
I’m picking up a letter from [Moro National Liberation Front Chairman] Nur Misuari, telling them that if the government will trust me as a negotiator, then they can start talks again. But they will not talk to anybody else.
Psinakis: It sounds to me like you have an awful lot of pluses on your side.
Aquino: 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 OK. A 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 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.”
“He’s no longer in that state.” 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 hardheaded.
Psinakis: I hope you are right, but I think the Cardinal is right. I think Marcos … not only because he doesn’t want to, that’s academic at this point in time. But I think he has just… he’s so deep and he has no choice but to stay where he is and leave things as they are. And I certainly hope that that’s wrong because we don’t want that.
Aquino: OK. So, goodbye, Steve.
Psinakis: One last question…
Psinakis: Any whatsoever…any indication from the US side that there might be some help on the cooperative 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.
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Aquino’s last sentences have intrigued me no end. He says the Americans have been following him closely. What entity in this entire world has the capability to assassinate somebody, with a single bullet and in broad daylight, and with so many potential witnesses?
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