Ninoy’s fatal miscalculation

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DIFFERENT. Ninoy (left) being interviewed by the foreign press Aug. 21, 1983; close friend, the late Steve Psinakis, who had a telephone conversation before he left for Manila, which Psinakis taped and released 25 years later.

An audio file of the taped conversation between Ninoy and his close friend, the late Steve Psinakis, hours before he boarded his place en route to Manila can be downloaded here
or click the audio player below:

MICHAEL Chua in his column in this paper Monday wrote: “It is said that Ninoy Aquino returned to the Philippines to grab power from President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1983. But the primary sources, which include his statements, are very clear that he wanted to talk to the president to negotiate a peaceful transition to democracy by holding honest-to-goodness elections where the opposition could participate.”

I would not have bothered at all to respond to Chua’s fawning claims regarding Aquino’s’ motivations. But he is a professional academic (an assistant professor in history with a PhD in anthropology), which means that he’ll be spreading his erroneous awe of the opposition leader in the academe to be imbibed by young minds.

Chua should read historian Edward Carr’s book, a bible of sorts for historians, “What is History,” where he wrote: “The facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context.”

The “most primary” source of Aquino’s plan when he got back to Manila is his taped conversation with his close friend, the late Steve Psinakis, hours before he boarded his place en route to Manila.

DIFFERENT. Ninoy (left) being interviewed by the foreign press Aug. 21, 1983; close friend, the late Steve Psinakis, who had a telephone conversation before he left for Manila, which Psinakis taped and released 25 years later.

In Ninoy’s interview with foreign correspondents on the plane flying to Manila, he is the humble 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. In his talk with the press, Ninoy is the picture of a reluctant martyr: “I no longer crave for political office. I would like to reiterate: I am not out to overthrow Marcos.” That is, of course, Ninoy speaking to media, which he had been a master of before Marcos closed down the Philippine press.

He does slip, though, and responds thus to a reporter’s question on why he was returning to the Philippines: “I don’t think a general should be ten thousand miles from his troops, even if he’s leading them from prison.” He says what heroes usually say: “I have to suffer with my people; I have to lead them because of the responsibility given to me by my people.”

A different Ninoy

It is a different Ninoy in the Psinakis tape, in which he reveals why he is rushing to return to the Philippines: “Marcos is dying. Imelda’s forces are moving to grab power.”

While Ninoy, of course, doesn’t specifically say he is in the best position to be the next president, one senses from his conversation with Psinakis that he is “convinced 100 percent” that Marcos would allow him to be his successor. “Now that he (Marcos) is about to meet his Maker, I am almost confident that I can talk to him and sell him something,” Ninoy tells Psinakis.

Listening to the Psinakis tape, one would see Ninoy as a political player with nerves of steel, very much aware of the risks of his move to take over from Marcos, even as he cannot let a big opportunity pass him by. Even his tone in the telephone conversation is so different, supremely confident in the way I remember him giving a privilege speech in the Senate.

The tape reveals that Ninoy was rushing home believing Marcos would be dying very soon — he mentioned the time frame of three weeks — and that he could talk to the dictator who, with his “trump cards,” would make him his successor. But he knew there was a risk he could be assassinated, and he took it. Marcos, however, would die only six years later in Hawaii, forcibly exiled there in 1986 by the US.

Ninoy throughout his life was a bold politician. However, he miscalculated in 1983, the second time he did so with the Marcos regime, the first being in September 1972.

Transcript of Aquino’s telephone conversation with Psinakis on Aug. 21, 1983:

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: Our prayers are always with you, and all I can [say] is, remember that a word from you and anything you want is [at] your fingertips from me, OK? There’s no limit to what I will do for you if you need some help. 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 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 operated 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, may be 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 Navarette and Talbot to show the people he is OK. 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.

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 who 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 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.

Psinakis: Ah really, huh?

Aquino: Yes … 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 [from] 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 [MNLF 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. 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.”

“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 hard-headed.

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.

Psinakis: One last question … 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.


The original and longer version of this piece was published on Dec. 5, 2016, titled “Ninoy: Hero or miscalculating ‘throne’ gamer?” and is archived at, and a chapter in my book “Debunked: Uncovering Truths About EDSA, Martial Law, Marcos, Aquino with a Special Section on the Duterte Presidency.

It was Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Amando Doronila, a close family friend of the Lopezes who first wrote about the conversation in his column in August 2008, a copy of the tape of which he said Psinakis gave him.

An audio file of the taped conversation between Ninoy and his close friend, the late Steve Psinakis, hours before he boarded his place en route to Manila can be downloaded here


or click the audio player below:

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Cecille

    My heart does not bleed for any of the crooked, ruling elite in the Philippines (or anywhere else in the world). They are all tyrants. They often have disagreements among themselves; fighting over the reins of power while they continue to keep the Filipinos impoverished and easy to control. Their power, profit, and control will continue for as long as we don’t learn system science thinking.

  2. Dorina S. Rojas

    Miscalculated but too confident and arrogant. If the Filipino is worth dying for, maybe those who did not believe in him believed that God holds our destiny and not some ambitious politician who wanted to be a Philippine president hiding behind the US’ selfish agenda.

  3. Jise

    So if Sin told him Marcos was dying soon, Sin misled him Lol But this shows how Ninoy was salivating to grab power! Fake “hero”

Comments are closed.