Remembering Ninoy

HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose - The Philippine Star

A full three decades ago this month, Senator Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was killed at the Manila airport. To this day, we don’t know who masterminded the assassination.

In my novel, Viajero, the fictional Ninoy Aquino appears and has a lengthy conversation with the major character in the novel, Salvador dela Raza, a scholar whose roots are in this country. Everything he says in the novel was what he told me in real life, most important of all, about his belief in a nationalist revolution. For journalists – and he was a superb journalist himself, he made very good copy because he always had quotable statements. He was also an avid reader and was a constant visitor in my bookshop. It was also there where he often met writers. He was particularly close to Nick Joaquin who wrote about his family, the late Max Soliven, Nestor Mata, and Greg Brillantes of the Philippines Free Press. I first met Ninoy in 1950 when I was Associate editor of the Manila Times Sunday magazine. He came to see me one early evening. Dave Boguslav, the editor of the Manila Times, told him to see me. He said he was cubbing for the paper and asked to look at his copy? He was then studying at Diliman. His copy was neat – no grammatical errors. I remember us talking about writing and me telling him to think clearly first before putting things down on paper. I think I had three or four sessions with him and this is how our friendship started. When the Korean War broke out that year, the publisher, Chino Roces, sent him to cover it. Chino explained his choice: Ninoy was single and young.

As war correspondent, Ninoy soon became the most popular journalist of that period. Ninoy ran for mayor of his hometown, Concepcion in Tarlac, then congressman, then governor of Tarlac and finally, senator. It was no secret that he was aiming for the presidency. He often took me to Luisita, his wife’s hacienda. We had lunch there, then we would hurry back to Manila for him to attend the Senate sessions. Driving around the hacienda and seeing the miserable hovels of the workers, he said the hacienda wasn’t his; just wait until he became president. Ninoy liked the company of the other writers I mentioned because we were very candid with him. He was a wide reader and he loved good arguments. I remember only one occasion when I really got angry with him. He exposed the Jabidah massacre in the Senate. I’ll not go into the background of this event which concerned the Philippine claim to Sabah. It has already been written about, the killing of the recruits for the infiltration of Sabah led by Eddie Martelino. I told him he was too much an opportunist to use any issue to promote himself and attack Marcos.

Ninoy travelled a lot and got to meet many Asian leaders. At one time, there was a rumor that he got involved with the CIA, and he said, I did not work for the CIA; I worked with them.  The fact that his father collaborated with the Japanese weighed heavily on him for which reason he tried very hard to be in the good graces of the United States and at the same time developing contacts in Japan. Once, in a discussion on global politics, he said, “We are a small nation. We need friends. Take your choice: Russia, China, the United States. I’ll take the United States anytime.”

He was also realistic enough to know that no Filipino revolution can succeed without the tacit knowledge of the United States. When Marcos declared Martial law in 1972, he immediately jailed Ninoy and Pepe Diokno. Cory would come to the shop and I had a box full of books for Ninoy. Cory would return the books he didn’t like. I noted that Ninoy’s reading had changed. Now he wanted more titles on philosophy and anthropology, less on politics and history. Sometime in the late seventies, Marcos granted Ninoy a few weeks furlough and Greg Brillantes, Nestor Mata, Nick Joaquin and I visited him at his house in Times Street, Quezon City. I’ve written about this before, how we were photographed, and listed down. I visited him again, alone this time, for no one wanted to go with me. When his guards were not looking, we went to a small room close to the living room. He said it was not bugged. There, he reaffirmed what we had discussed earlier in the bookshop – the need for a nationalist revolution, but this time, with limited casualties. He said, we cannot afford a million casualties as in Vietnam. Maybe just five hundred. I reminded him of what Pepe Diokno said – why he was against revolution because its violence cannot be controlled. I told him to leave the country if the opportunity comes. He was Marcos’s only rival. Marcos will get him. And that was when he said, he had friends in the Army, that Johnny Enrile will protect him. I was at the East West Center in Honolulu in 1981. An American academic in Honolulu, Randy Parker, must have told him I was there. He said he was going home, I told him not to.

Immediately after EDSA I, Lt. Victor Corpuz saw me; he confirmed that Ninoy was really involved with the New People’s Army.

And so, to this very day we don’t know who really killed Ninoy. It is also inexplicable why Cory as President and her son in the same formidable position have not bothered to resolve the murder. So many of those in the know have died, some under the most suspicious circumstances. Not long ago, retired General Joven Abadia visited me and said that a participant in the conspiracy that killed Ninoy is still around and living in Australia. It should not be difficult to locate him and have him talk.

What is the judgment of history on Ninoy? What had he really achieved? Sure, he did not get to Malacanang, but he embodied the courage of all the Filipinos who opposed Marcos and all the evil that he was. Sure, Ninoy was an opportunist and ruthless, but knowing him, I am sure we will not be in this mess today had he become president.


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