Cozy Amnesia

by Juan L. Mercado


”The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from”.  You doubt that?  Today is  “Ninoy Aquino” Day, as mandated by  Republic Act  9492.   What does this holiday mean?  Ask those  below 35 years of age.

Eight out of 10 students in, September 2002 surveys tell us, barely recall Sen. Benigno Aquino. Or why he was gunned down.  Are we a  people of truncated memories?  More important, do we care?

Who remembers the officers, handpicked by Ferdinand Marcos, for Military Commission No. 2?  In November 1977, they sentenced Aquino to die by musketry, after a kangaroo trial in Fort Bonifacio.

No one of you can name the military tribunal members who sentenced Andres Bonifacio, Aquino  told his “judges” then. “But this camp, where you try me, is named after the very man they sentenced to death.”

Indeed, “we have little collective memory of the past,” Ateneo University President Bienvenido Nebres, S.J., told the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship conference. “We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we cannot see well into the future.”

“If they kill me, they’re out in two years.” Ninoy offered that stark “math” to friends spooked by his plan to  meet the ailing Ferdinand Marcos. Perhaps, a direct appeal to the dictator could  stave off turbulent transition, he argued.  Ninoy’s “math” fell short by three years. Only in 1986 did the fuse, lit by Aquino’s assassination, erupt into People Power 1. That toppled a 14-year long dictatorship and re-established constitutional rule.

Tomorrow is the 29th anniversary when a single bullet tore into Aquino, “guarded” by military agents, as he descended an airlines  gangway, to Manila’s International Airport’s tarmac. Death cut Ninoy short before he could publicly lash supine Supreme Court justices’  who  jettisoned  the  ancient   right of habeas corpus into the dictator’s lap. 

“Be ready with your hand cameras because this action can become very fast,” Aquino  told journalists before his  Taipei take off. .“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.”

Military men led Aquino out of the plane into the catwalk. Pusila, pusila, someone screamed.  “Shot him. Shot him.” After the gunfire died down, Aquino’s  bloodied  body sprawled on the tarmac. A man, later identified as Rolando Galman, also lay dead.

A military van sped the two  bodies away. It  would be  hours before  the regime delivered the corpses to a coroner for examination. No one bothered to inform  Dona Auror, .Ninoy’s mother. She picked up the body since Corazon Aquino and children were still  flying in from the US.

Do not  clean up  the wound that disfigured Ninoy’s  face, Dona  Aurora  told  undertakers.  Keep his  blood stained jacket. “I want them to see what they did to my son.”

Two men picked up  Galman’s wife, Lina Lazaro at her home  January 29, 1984. She  was never seen again.  In 1988, corpses of  Galman’s  mistress, Anna Oliva and her sister Catherine were  exhumed from a sugarcane field in  Capas, Tarlac.

That  stark  record confirms the fear expressed by a  China Airline co-passenger of Ninoy who screamed:   “They’ve killed Aquino. Why are you not crying yet?”

Rebecca Quijano later became  known as  “the crying lady”,  Janice Castro of Time wrote: Moments after the shooting, Colonel Vicente Tigas, yanked Quijano away and whispered: “Don’t talk. Or you’ll get in trouble.”

Quijano became the first civilian eyewitness against General Fabian Ver,  24 other soldiers and one civilian.  An  airport mechanic to Galman’s stepdaughter begged off  from testifying.  They were “convinced it would be unhealthy for them to speak out”, wryly noted Agrava probe  counsel Andres Narvasa,  who’d  become  Supreme Court chief  justice.

Eight hours after Ninoy’s killing,  Marcos  announced he’d investigate  the murder . Before details of  the still-to-be-organized probe were  settled,  Marcos  revealed it’s  “conclusion”:  a  hit man acting,  on orders from Philippine Communist Party chairman Rodolfo Salas, was the man who killed Aquino.  No one bought his line, despite insistent peddling by government controlled press.

The credibility crisis  forced Marcos to abandon his plan to name Justice Enrique Fernando, who trotted behind Imelda as parasol bearer, to head the probers.  He named former Justice Corazon Agrava to spearhead the investigation.

People Power  however, saw  the new government trash  the blanket acquittal clamped on by the dictatorship.  An investigation under Corazon Aquino’s administration led to a retrial. Sixteen soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment.

One convict was pardoned. Three died in prison, and rest had sentences commuted.  The last  limped out from Muntinglupa  in 2009. But  the mastermind  hasn’t been called to account.  Laid back amnesia, however, is  comfortable.  Who cares  about justice?

“We are in a state of denial with regard to crimes of the Marcos regime,” sociologist John Carroll writes. That willingness to forget reflects weakness of the ‘common’ conscience, a weak sense of the nation and of the common good.  Unless the nation rises up to vindicate and reaffirm those values, it  may be condemned to wander forever in the wilderness of valueless power plays among the elite.

Many who towered in the detested  dictatorship  are now  dead.  But  “Imelda Marcos and  Eduardo  Cojuangco are still very much alive,” notes  San-Francisco based lawyer-journalist Rodel Rodis.  “They know all too well who ordered the hit on Ninoy”.

Any volunteer?


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