BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

There was a period in our history when the opposition in the Senate was comprised of men of stature. Even during the presidency of the very popular Ramon Magsaysay, the Senate opposition was led by two intellectual giants, Senators Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Tañada. Their speeches spoke of differences in the political philosophies and national visions from that of the administration at the time. I do not think anybody will attribute their role in history to the committees they chaired or the projects they funded through their pork barrel. 

After Recto’s retirement, Tañada was joined by Jose Diokno . Together with other opposition senators, they showed that it was possible to have brilliant politicians who also possessed personal integrity and would fight for social justice and equal opportunity for all. 

In the 1967 election, with Marcos utilizing all his power and using Machiavellian methods, the young – barely thirty-five years old – Ninoy Aquino was the only opposition candidate elected to the Senate. He later said that his first two years in the Senate were very tough because he was trying very hard to prove that he was worthy of his seat. Nick Joaquin quotes Ninoy talking about those years: 

“My God, I was forced to study to learn every trick in the book. I memorized the rules of the Senate; I burned the midnight oil going over the old Senate Journals, reading up on old debates. I was determined to be a good parliamentarian. I was averaging eighteen hours a day reading, reading. I had a staff lining up things for me to read and I’d come home with a bulging briefcase and sit down and read again . . . and I was trained by a great fiscalizer, Ambrosio Padilla, who was in his seat when the bell rang at five and stayed there until eleven in the evening, who asked no quarter and gave no quarter and went over every bill like a fine-toothed comb . . . . Most of all I learned from Tañada. Before making an attack I’d prepare an outline of it and submit it to Tañada and he’d grade it . . . (he) was an exacting mentor but he gave me the discipline to be a good prosecutor.”

 In these few words, the neophyte senator was already exhibiting certain facets of his future greatness. He understood that greatness did not come from being glamorous, although he was considered to be a celebrity. Nor did it come from simply grabbing power even though he was the scion of a powerful political clan. He was willing to undergo the rigors of intellectual learning and the discipline required to educate himself. At the same time, he had the wisdom to choose the right mentors and the humility to listen to them. 

Ninoy was born on Nov. 27, 1932 to Aurora Aquino and Benigno Aquino Sr. from Tarlac. His grandfather, Servillano Aquino, was a general during the Philippine Revolution. He studied at Saint Joseph College, San Beda High School, then at the  University of the Philippines .

Before entering politics, Ninoy was a journalist and at 17, served as Manila Times correspondent during the Korean War and covered other assignments in Southeast Asia. He also worked for President Ramon Magsaysay and, in 1954, negotiated the surrender of Hukbalahap leader Luis Taruc. 

Ninoy married Maria Corazon “Cory” Cojuangco in 1954. The following year, at 22, he was elected mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, and eventually was elected vice governor (1959) and governor (1961) of Tarlac. In 1967, he became the youngest Filipino to be elected as senator. 

At his young age, Ninoy had already served as special assistant under three Philippine presidents. He was also awarded the Philippine Legion of Honor for his coverage of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to the Korean War and his negotiations for the surrender of Luis Taruc. In 1960, he was also voted as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) in the field of public service. Ninoy was also voted as outstanding senator by the Philippine Free Press and was elected secretary-general of the opposition Liberal Party. 

Ninoy was a well-known opposition leader and critic of the Marcos regime. When Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, Aquino was detained with other political opponents of the regime. For more than seven years, he was imprisoned in Fort Bonifacio as well as in Laur, Nueva Ecija, with much time spent in solitary confinement. In 1977, Ninoy was given a death sentence by a military court. His incarceration, however, did not stop him from challenging the Marcos government from his cell. 

In 1980, he was allowed to go to the U.S. for his triple heart bypass surgery. Despite being warned of the possible consequences, Ninoy decided to go back to the Philippines and continue the struggle for democracy. But on August 21, 1983, he was assassinated after disembarking from the plane at the Manila International Airport. Around two million people attended his funeral march. His death further ignited public sentiment against the Martial Law regime, and eventually put his widow in the political limelight. 

Ninoy once said: “ I have carefully weighed the virtues and faults of the Filipino and I have come to the conclusion that he is worth dying for...”

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on December 7 with Gail Villanueva & December 14  with Rin Chupeco (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.   For details and registration,   email [email protected].

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Email: [email protected]


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