Where were you on Aug. 21, 1983?
Aug. 21, 1983, Manila International Airport. Photo by Recto Mercene, courtesy of PeopleAsia magazine

Where were you on Aug. 21, 1983?

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Many of those who remember vividly the day former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was shot in cold blood on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport recall also that it was “the shot that rang across the world.” It was arguably the first tile in a row of dominoes that led to the downfall of many dictatorships.

But the sands of time shift, and memories blur through the years. Some have forgotten, some choose not to remember, while many others remember that historical day like it were just yesterday.


Cheche Lazaro, broadcast journalist

There was an air of anticipation that day. Everyone seemed to know something was going to happen but was not sure when or what lay ahead. By early afternoon, there was a buzz about gunshots, the tarmac at the international airport, soldiers, a white van. I was confused. The reports were coming in passed on by word of mouth. Sketchy but alarming.

I was at home. It was a Sunday. There were no classes at the UP College of Mass Communication where I was a faculty member.

By evening, news was all over the place. Ninoy Aquino had been shot as he was descending the stairs to the tarmac escorted by uniformed soldiers. The news sent a chill through me as I thought about what else was to come.

The days that followed were tense. Media, except for the foreign media who accompanied Ninoy from Taipei, was muzzled. Coverage was limited to the crony press.

Back at UP, I organized my class into 10 coverage teams using all the video cameras we could find to cover the funeral route on Aug. 31. It was shoulder-to-shoulder people on the streets, every vacant space taken. I remember the 10-wheeler truck almost unable to move through the thick crowd.

By the end of that long day, we logged more than a hundred hours of material. We spent the next week cutting it down to a few hours.

Our effort, put together by students, was a practical lesson in covering a news event, in real time. While it pumped the adrenaline of these future journalists, it also marked a turning point in our history. Many years later, we remember being witnesses to that moment in time.


BenCab, National Artist

I was still living in London at the time and was on holiday with my children in Mallorca when I heard the news. I was shocked to hear that a murder could be so brazenly committed on such a prominent personality and in broad daylight.

The frighteningly memorable image of Ninoy’s body sprawled on the tarmac haunted me. It changed the lives of all Filipinos and altered our history. It was the catalyst that drove me to come back to the Philippines in late 1985, in time to catch the tail-end of the anti-Marcos street protests and finally the People Power Revolution that ended the dictator’s brutal rule.


Ana Marie Pamintuan, editor-in-chief, The Philippine STAR

I was at home, it was a Sunday. Of course, the reaction was OMG, what’s happening to our country? I was a new reporter covering the Manila police beat. There were already rallies being held at the time in Manila, and I was already used to tear gas and water cannons during coverage. I wondered if Marcos had finally gone too far, but I’m a martial law baby, so I didn’t discount the possibility that he would get away with the twin murders.


Recto Mercene, photojournalist

I was at the Manila International Airport to shoot Ninoy’s arrival for the Times Journal, with a Nikon camera. Fortunately, I was able to “shoot” seconds after Ninoy was shot — the senator lying prostrate on the ground. But I was surprised that another dead man was beside him. Turned out to be Galman.

The following day, four large photos that I had taken were published on the front page, from top to bottom, with the largest font in byline, courtesy of my courageous midnight editor Mr. De Leon.


Joey Concepcion, businessman

My father, Joe Concepcion, fought the dictatorship during martial law. We moved from house to house to avoid arrest and finally they caught up to him one late night and he was detained in Camp Crame. I remember that on the day when Ninoy was shot, it really affected my father and he knew it was time. That was when Namfrel was created, which galvanized the entire country to fight for democracy in a peaceful and honest election. Namfrel prepared Filipinos for the snap elections and the peaceful People Power Revolution three years later.


Lirio Mapa, leadership mentor

In 1983, I was then the training manager at Philphos. When the news that Ninoy Aquino was shot, I was shocked, sad, and apprehensive. Looking back, I realized that eventually, this would affect my job. I prayed and placed my trust in God’s Loving Providence. Through a friend, I was led to apply and get hired as the organization effectiveness manager for Procter & Gamble Philippines. My 10 years at P&G proved to be the summit of my professional development.

I cite this personal experience as evidence that “all things go well for those who seek God.”

Bullit Marquez, photojournalist

I was a photo stringer for the AP and was assigned at the airport for Ninoy’s arrival. I was outside covering Butz Aquino and supporters marching to greet Ninoy. I vividly remember him talking to foreign media and saying: “We’re here to test democracy in our country.”

Minutes later, Ninoy was shot and his assassination has affected my life immensely, including my career. Since then, up until now, I make it a point to pay tribute to Ninoy not only as a journalist but as freedom-loving Filipino!

Today, I plan to visit his grave at the Manila Memorial Park.

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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