Friday, October 16, 2009

BENIGNO S. AQUINO JR, THE MODERN DAY HERO


Benigno Servillano "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. (November 27, 1932 – August 21, 1983) was a Philippine Senator, Governor of Tarlac, and an opposition leader against President Ferdinand Marcos. He was assassinated at the Manila International Airport (later renamed in his honor) upon returning home from exile in the United States. His death catapulted his widow, Corazon Aquino, to the limelight and subsequently to the presidency, replacing the 20-year Marcos regime. In 2004, the anniversary of his death was proclaimed as a national holiday now known as Ninoy Aquino Day.

Benigno Servillano Aquino was born in Concepcion, Tarlac, to a prosperous family of hacienderos (landlords). His grandfather, Servillano Aquino, was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo while his father, Benigno Aquino, Sr. (1894-1947) was a prominent official in the World War II Japanese-organized government of José P. Laurel. His mother was Doña Aurora Aquino-Aquino (who was also his father's third cousin). His father died while Benigno Aquino was in his teens amid rumors of collaboration with the Japanese during the occupation. Aquino was educated in private schools--St. Joseph's College, Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle College. He finished high school at San Beda College. Aquino took his tertiary education at the Ateneo de Manila to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, but he interrupted his studies.At age 17, he was the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War for the newspaper The Manila Times of Joaquin "Chino" Roces. Because of his journalistic feats, he received a Philippine Legion of Honor award from President Elpidio Quirino at age 18. At 21, he became a close adviser to then defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Ninoy took up law at the University of the Philippines, where he became a member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi. He interrupted his studies again however to pursue a career in journalism. According to Maximo V. Soliven, Aquino "later 'explained' that he had decided to go to as many schools as possible, so that he could make as many new friends as possible."[4] In early 1954, he was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he was credited for Taruc's unconditional surrender. He became mayor of Concepcion in 1955 at the age of 22. In the same year he married Corazon "Cory" Cojuangco, and they had five children; Maria Elena (Ballsy), Aurora Corazon (Pinky), Benigno Simeon III (Noynoy), Victoria Eliza (Viel), and actress and TV host Kristina Bernadette (Kris).

Benigno Aquino was no stranger to Philippine politics. He came from a family that had been involved with some of the country's political heavyweights. His grandfather served under President Aguinaldo while his father held office under Presidents Manuel L. Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. Benigno Aquino became the youngest municipal mayor at age 22, and the nation's youngest vice-governor at 27. He became governor of Tarlac province in 1961 at age 29, then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966. In 1967 he made history by becoming the youngest elected senator in the country's history at age 34. He was the only "survivor" of the Liberal Party who made it to the senate, where he was inevitably singled out by Marcos and his allies as their greatest threat. In 1968, during his first year in the Upper House, Aquino warned that Marcos was on the road to establishing "a garrison state" by "ballooning the armed forces budget", saddling the defense establishment with "overstaying generals" and "militarizing our civilian government offices"--all these caveats were uttered barely four years before martial law.

In myriad ways Aquino bedeviled the Marcos regime, chipping away at its monolithic facade. His most celebrated speech, insolently entitled "A Pantheon for Imelda", was delivered on February 10, 1969, and assailed the first lady's first extravagant project, the P50 million Cultural Center, which he dubbed "a monument to shame". An outraged President Marcos called Aquino "a congenital liar". The First Lady's friends angrily accused Aquino of being "ungallant". These so-called "fiscalization" tactics of Aquino quickly became his trademark in the senate. During his tenure as senator, he was selected by the Philippine Free Press magazine as one of the nation's most outstanding senators. His achievements at such a young age earned him the moniker "Wonder Boy" of Philippine politics.

No chance Aquino was seen as a contender by many for the highest office in the land, the presidency. Surveys during those times showed that he was the number one choice among Filipinos, since President Marcos by law was prohibited to serve another term.

Throughout his years of expatriation, Aquino was always aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual return even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family on American soil. After spending 7 years and 7 months in prison, Aquino's finances were in ruins. Making up for the lost time as the family's breadwinner, he toured America; attending symposiums, lectures, and giving speeches in freedom rallies opposing the Marcos dictatorship, with the most memorable held at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, California on February 15, 1981.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino was receiving news about the deteriorating political situation in his country combined with the rumored declining health (due to lupus) of President Ferdinand Marcos. He believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country's return to democracy, before extremists took over and make such a change impossible. Moreover, his years of absence made his allies worry that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos' strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.

Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, "if it's my fate to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay in the corner..." His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consulate official that there were orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any passports for them. At that time, their visas had expired and their renewal had been denied. They therefore formulated a plan for Ninoy to fly alone—to attract less attention—and the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Despite the government's ban on issuing him a passport, Aquino was able to acquire one with the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. It carried an alias, Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison). He eventually obtained a legitimate passport from a sympathizer working in a Philippine consulate. The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Ninoy to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and that no government could prevent him from doing so. He left Logan International Airport on August 13, 1983, took a circuitous route home from Boston, via Los Angeles, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taipei, before heading towards Manila. He had chosen Taipei as the final stopover when he learned the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they were not aware of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends accompanying him.

It would have been perfectly convenient for the Marcos government if Aquino had stayed out of the local political arena, however Ninoy asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, "the Filipino is worth dying for." He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down and seek a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, during a pre-return interview held in his suite at the Taipei Grand Hotel, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that "it's only good for the body, but for the head there's nothing else we can do". Sensing his own doom, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight that they "have to be ready with your (hand) camera because this action can become very fast... in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over... and I may not be able to talk to you again after this...."In his last formal statement that he wasn't able to deliver, he said, "I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation."

Despite a convoy of security guards (all assigned to him by the Marcos government), a contingent of 1,200 military and police personnel on the tarmac, three armed bodyguards personally escorting him, and a bulletproof vest Aquino was wearing, Aquino was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane. From the airplane, aviation security personnel were seen firing into the body of an unknown man dressed in blue, who was identified as Rolando Galman. Aquino's body was quickly loaded into a van and sped away.

Initially government ran radio and television reported that Benigno Aquino was killed together with an "unknown" assassin. Then the government claimed that Aquino was killed by a Communist hitman named Rolando "Rolly" Galman, who was shot dead at the scene by the aviation security. However, politicians and diplomats found evident contradictions between the claim and the photos and the videotape footage that documented the time before and after the shooting. The footage had circulated throughout the Philippines at that time.

Everyone from the Central Intelligence Agency, to the United Nations, to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of conspiracy. President Marcos was reportedly gravely ill, recovering from a kidney transplant when the incident occurred. Theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the execution. Some hypothesized that Marcos had a long-standing order for Aquino's murder upon the latter's return.

Aquino's body lay in state in a glass coffin. No effort was made to disguise a bullet wound that had disfigured his face. Aquino's funeral procession on August 31 lasted from 9 a.m.--with a funeral mass officiated by the Catholic archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and held at Santo Domingo Church—to 9 p.m., when his body was interred at the Manila Memorial Park. Two million people lined the streets during the procession which was aired by the Church-sponsored Radio Veritas, the only station that covered the procession. The procession reached Rizal Park, where the Philippine flag was brought to half-staff.

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