A Tribute to Heroes: Re-Awakening Democracy

Photography by Manuel Generoso

MANILA, Philippines - The memory and ideals of Ninoy and Cory Aquino live on within the pristine walls of the Aquino Center at the Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac. Here, hundreds upon hundreds of pictures hang on the walls, and memorabilia fill every corner, shedding light on the life and death of the two icons of Philippine democracy.

Viel Aquino-Dee, the most softspoken of the four Aquino sisters, leads the intimate group of media men around the modest Aquino exhibit, pointing to poignant pictures on the wall — This was my father in his best shape just after he went on hunger strike and See the blood which has started to fade on my father’s jacket collar. (The blood-stained, safari jacket was the jacket Ninoy was wearing when he was assassinated.) The group passes through many salas and as we approach the life-size reproduction of the Fort Bonifacio detention cell where Ninoy stayed for seven years, Viel points to the rough grooves on the wall — These are the tally marks he left on the wall to help him count the days he spent inside. 

At the corner near the door of the cell, Viel picks up a medium-sized plastic thermos and pops out the bottom. Our family would roll letters and place them here (in the space) so that we could communicate secretly with (Dad).

The class is mesmerized and emotions fill the air as Viel shares her family stories before and after her father’s assassination. It was a unique experience to have no less than Ninoy’s daughter reveal the most intimate of moments in their life. Hopefully, future guests will get to experience this same intimate and in-depth tour into the lives of the late President Cory Aquino and martyred opposition leader Sen. Benigno Ninoy Aquino Jr. as the Aquino Museum is set for a revamp in 2012 with the help of La Farge Cement (Philippines) Inc.

The existing Aquino museum, originally curated by Cory, showcases only the life of her late husband and the early years of her presidency. Before, Mom was the type to throw away all the kalat (clutter), says Ballsy Aquino-Cruz, the eldest daughter of Ninoy and Cory and the chairperson of NCAF. But after a while, she felt guilty especially after Dad was assassinated. She was throwing away so many pictures and negatives while we were in Boston. But thanks to her, we have this immense archive. Even when she was sick, she devoted much of her time to doing archive work, Ballsy says.

Cory had dedicated many hours to gathering clips and photos, archiving her family’s growth and success. And so when she succumbed to colon cancer in 2009, NCAF, La Farge and Cory’s faithful followers knew that they had to pay tribute to the woman who championed democracy in the Philippines.

La Farge spearheaded the Aquino Museum redesign competition, entitled Reawakening Democracy, as a step towards integrating Cory’s life into the Aquino museum. After much debate and after considering 15 other entries, the design by Nazareno and Guerrero Design Consultancy, led by architects Antonio Nazareno and Christian Guerrero, was chosen as the best design that captured the full impact of Ninoy and Cory in Philippine history. (The two other finalists were MANA Architecture + Interior Design, helmed by architect Jose Carlo S. Mateo and Palafox Associates, guided by architect Felino Palafox, Jr.)

 I’m not much of a historian but I felt that their design was concise. (It seemed that) they could impart to the younger generation that feeling, what (Ninoy and Cory’s lives) meant, says Ballsy, who also belonged to the competition’s board of judges. Ballsy was not only impressed with the group’s interactive use of multimedia, but more so on the group’s ability to focus on the significant events in Ninoy and Cory’s lives and tell them beautifully.

The revamped museum will be divided into 10 salas or halls, which will focus on the different periods and events leading to People Power while at the same time, interweaving the history of Ninoy and Cory’s lives.

 This is what we want people to feel when they walk through the museum, says Ballsy. The tagline for NCAF is ‘I am Ninoy, I am Cory.’ I hope people can come out (of the museum) knowing that everyone can be heroes, knowing how you can show love of country and how you can help. If that’s what this museum can do, we are happy.

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