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We need heroes like Ninoy

On August 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino was assassinated upon his return to the Philippines. During those thirty months between that date and February 25, 1986 when Corazon Aquino took her oath as president of the Republic of the Philippines, the nation marched and demonstrated against the forces of the Marcos dictatorship. This is the period historians now recall as the People Power struggle for freedom and democracy.

The creativity of the People Power Movement was a very marked distinction of this struggle as compared to armed revolutions. This creativity was demonstrated not just in apparel and the color yellow but in slogans and songs. Among songs that literally became anthems of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship were “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” the tale of a prisoner coming home; “Impossible Dream,” said to be the Aquinos’ favorite song; and “Bayan Ko,” a patriotic song banned by the American colonizers, the Japanese invaders, and the Marcos forces.

There was one song that seemed to be dedicated to Ninoy. Popularized by Bonnie Tyler, the lyrics were so meaningful for that period. The chorus for “I Need A Hero” goes:

I need a hero, I’m holding out for a hero

Till the morning light, He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon, And he’s gotta be larger than life.

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The country, in 1983, was desperate for a hero. To understand why the martyrdom and heroism of Ninoy Aquino created such a tidal wave of emotional response, it is important to appreciate the condition of the Filipino nation before August 21, 1983.

The only way to describe the “before” period would be to use Dickensian imagery. For the Philippines, it was the worst of times. It was the age of Imeldific extravagances and foolishness. It was the season of Darkness when Marcos abolished human rights and made freedom a crime against the state. It was the winter of Despair when cronyism became the norm and no one seemed to have the courage to speak against the evil that had befallen the country. It seemed that for the Filipino people, there was nothing before us.

After August 21, 1983, there was a dramatic change as the yellow armbands and confetti became visible all over the country. It was now a season of Light as speakers began to publicly denounce human rights violations and the persecutions of those who advocated for democracy. It was now the spring of Hope as the end of the Marcos regime became a possibility. It seemed that, suddenly, we had everything before us.

In her speech on August 21, 1998, during the 15th death anniversary of Ninoy, Cory said:

“I have asked many people – most of whom never knew Ninoy – why they came to the wake. Some said they were ashamed of themselves for being so fearful of the dictator, and were sorry they had not found the courage to stand up and be counted earlier. They felt if they had shown more courage, maybe Ninoy need not have died. Others have said they were outraged and had enough. Still many came, simply to pray and grieve quietly with me and my family. Rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, they kept coming in endless lines to pay tribute to Ninoy, convincing me that hindi ako nag-iisa.”

At that point, I believe that Ninoy’s death triggered a long-awaited transformation in many Filipinos. We finally found the collective courage to rise against a dictatorship after years of shameful and fearful stupor.

No longer were we going to be lulled by the clever machinations of a regime bent on staying in power forever and plundering the nation. The protests started. Telephone directories and yellow fabrics were suddenly in short supply. It was a non-violent protest movement run through photocopiers, Betamax tapes, confetti rallies, and noise barrages in Makati, and the alternative press. Some thought the protests would not last. But as Filipinos have done many times in the past, we proved the skeptics wrong.

Courage, like cowardice, was infectious and the Filipino people rose in defiance. This same courage carried us all through 1986. When rampant cheating and violence marred the snap election of February 7, 1986, we as a people again demonstrated our collective courage.

There were many defining moments in Ninoy’s journey toward martyrdom and heroism. One event no one should forget is in 1973, when Ninoy defied the Military Commission that was appointed by Marcos to try him. Here is part of his opening statement:

“I have therefore decided not to participate in these proceedings: First, because this ritual is an unconscionable mockery and second, because every part of my being – my heart and mind and soul – yes, every part of my being – against any form of dictatorship. I agree we must have public order and national discipline if this country is to move forward. But peace and order without freedom is nothing more than slavery. Discipline without justice is merely another name for oppression.

I believe we can have lasting peace and prosperity only if we build a social order based on freedom and justice. My non-participation is therefore an act of protest against the structures of injustice that brought us here. It is also an act of faith in the ultimate victory of right over wrong, of good over evil. In all humility, I say it is a rare privilege to share with the Motherland her bondage, her anguish, her every pain and suffering.”

When the country needed a hero, Ninoy Aquino came. Some have described the biggest contribution of heroes as “saving the soul of a nation.”

(This article is from the book The AQUINO LEGACY: An Enduring Narrative by Elfren Sicangco Cruz and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Imprint Publishing, 2015)

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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