“If they kill me, they’re out in two years.” Exiled Benigno Aquino offered that stark “math” in Boston, to friends spooked by his plan to fly to Manila in a bid to meet the ailing dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Perhaps, a direct appeal to the isolated Marcos could usher in peaceful change, he argued.
Ninoy’s allies were proved right. Tomorrow is the 28th anniversary when a single bullet tore into Aquino, “guarded” by military agents, as he descended the China Airlines service gangway, to Manila’s International Airport’s tarmac.
A memorial mass and book launching will recall this: ”turning point” Sunday, at the same airport, now renamed in Ninoy’s honor. Similar rites will be held elsewhere on what became a national holiday.
Yet, 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, despite Imelda’s insistent claim: “The Marcos regime was the most democratic period in history.”
“Forethought we may have,” Napoleon Bonaparte once wrote. “But not foresight.” Ninoy didn’t foresee most of the consequences that’d spill over from that bloodied tarmac. Neither did Ferdinand Marcos.
Told that the late publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces and friends mustered one million signatures to prod a reluctant Corazon Aquino to run, Marcos snapped: “Walang alam… What qualification does she have, except that her husband was killed?…She always stands up and asks for pity, making believe that there was no reason for her husband’s arrest.”
“True. I don’t know how to steal, cheat, lie or murder”, a once-self-effacing Cory snapped. She led a fractured opposition to become the 14th and first woman president of the Philippines. She re-established constitutional government, ruled with integrity, spurned re-election and oversaw transition of power to successor Fidel Ramos. And in private life, she become an icon.
Both Aquinos never sought “Libingan Nga Mga Bayani “ burial. .Massive crowds turned up for their funerals. They’re interred in simple graves. Both never anticipated that their unplanned legacy would thrust into hands of their son, Benigno III, the presidency.
“What if this leader fails?”, author Miguel Syjuco fretted in a letter to International Herald Tribune. “Just as Ferdinand won it for Corazon, Gloria (Macapagal Arroyo) has made possible our faith in Noynoy. There’s nothing like a despot to simplify choices. In a country where celebrity trumps ideology… nothing comes that easily. Ninety million people are watching, waiting. Please, Noynoy, don’t let us down.”
“History is a vast early warning system,” Norman Cousins often stressed. Sunday’s rites, we hope, will include Aquino’s arrival address that was aborted by his murder. “I have returned of my own free will to join the ranks of those struggling to recover our rights and freedoms through non-violence,” Aquino planned to say. “I seek no confrontation….”
Death cut Ninoy short before he could publicly lash supine Supreme Court justices’ abdication of the cherished right of habeas corpus to the dictator. That is a point that the Arroyo Supreme Court may wish to keep in mind. Cases piling up against their patron, may end before them. Indeed, “memory is the mother of all wisdom,” wrote Greek playwright Aeschylus.
“Tragedy is the difference between what is and what could have been”, we are told. Is that why our national life seems a never ending cycle of “what ifs?”
What if the Marcos’ regime didn’t deteriorate into a kleptocracy? Suppose Ferdinand ignored Imelda. Imagine he used martial law powers with a Lee Kwan Yew’s austere integrity. This country would be an economic tiger today. There’d be no protests at a: Libingan Ng Mga Bayani burial.
What if Military Commission No. 2 resisted manipulation and refused to sentence Aquino to “death by musketry” for subversion? They’d not have been consigned to history’s dustbin as were the military judges in Andres Bonifacio’s court martial.
What if Ninoy chickened? Assume he opted for a cushy “New Society job? He would have been diminished. An enraged Cory Aquino would not have emerged from a housewife’s concerns. Nor would have People Power erupted, thereafter leap-frogging to Czechoslovakia, Lebanon and Ukraine.
What if Joseph Estrada kept pledges in his “Now Power Is With The People” inaugural speech? People Power II would not have ousted him. He’d have coasted to re-election, instead of becoming the first president ever convicted for plunder.
What if Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo kept her Rizal Day solemn pledge not to run for reelection? There’d would have been no Maguindanao massacre, election frauds, scams from ZTE broadband to overpriced helicopters — let alone a watch list departure slot.
What if Eduardo Cojuangco abided by the “Zacchaeus Principle” in dealing with martial law coconut levy? In Luke’s account, the tax collector pledged four fold amends for those wronged. Would thousands of small farmers, given restitution, not be reward enough?
Those jailed for Ninoy’s murder were lowly soldiers and fall guys. Gen. Fabian Ver went to his grave carrying his secrets. Will our grandchildren know someday the mastermind(s) in Ninoy’s murder?
“Some say that we shall never know, and that to the gods, we are like flies that the boys kill on a summer’s day,” Thornton Wilder writes in “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” And “some say to the contrary, that the sparrows do not lose a finger that has not been brushed away by the finger of God.”