PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Maria Elena ‘Ballsy’ Cruz: ‘Thank you for being one with us today even if being seen with the Aquinos is not exactly in fashion during this time.’
STAR/ File

Forty years ago today, Ninoy Aquino lay in repose at the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City. I had never met him, but I did know of him. That he was against the dictatorship, and was very vocal and articulate about his beliefs and principles.

It was a Sunday, we were having lunch, when a family friend called us up and told us Ninoy was shot at the tarmac of the airport. Later, an uncle with connections to the press confirmed it. I remember, we adults (I was fresh out of university), lost our appetite.

The late former Sen. Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr

The first time I saw Ninoy Aquino in the flesh was through the glass of his casket. His swollen face was wounded and bruised. His beige safari suit was dyed maroon by fresh blood that was slowly drying up in the heat. It was a brief glimpse as I was but a molecule in a tsunami of people lining up for the same brief glimpse. If you stopped, you would have been engulfed by the wave. That day of shock and sorrow could have been exactly 40 years ago today, as Ninoy wasn’t buried till Aug. 31, 1983 at the Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque.

Ballsy with her parents in Boston.

I was teaching high school freshmen at the time, and the class teachers were sharing that they were receiving excuse slips from parents, explaining why their daughters were absent, or were going to be absent: They were going to the Sto. Domingo Church for a lesson in history. Of course, the girls were excused.

Fast forward to last Monday. My husband Ed and I drove to Sto. Domingo Church to relive the past. I wasn’t expecting much, the same fervor, or the same dissent. As Ninoy and Cory’s firstborn Ballsy Aquino-Cruz tearfully said in her speech at the end of the Mass, “Thank you Archbishop Soc (Villegas), our dear bishops and priests who concelebrated the Mass, and you, our fellow Filipinos, who joined us today when being seen with the Aquinos is not exactly in fashion during this time.”

I knew that. I had nothing to gain but another steel bar in my character by going to Sto. Domingo last Monday. I wouldn’t say no matter the cost. Alas, I am not Ninoy Aquino. Or Pepe Diokno.

Still, I wouldn’t want to look back and say, I was afraid of being out of fashion that’s why I didn’t attend the 40th anniversary of Ninoy Aquino’s assassination, which spawned the democracy we now enjoy. We have been choosing our leaders since 1987 in elections that are largely free and orderly. No president after 1986 has ever succeeded in extending his or her term, though some have attempted to. The people have remained vigilant — whether it is a fly in their soup (they will rage on social media) or a fat commission pocketed by public servants that they see.

Even President Bongbong Marcos, to his credit, acknowledged Ninoy’s adherence to his beliefs. This, too, is a lesson in history that we must remember. Respect even those who do not share your convictions and you will not be stoking the flames of unrest.

Hopefully, all those who have the means now to do so do not distort history, which belongs to the victors (quoting Sir Winston Churchill) — but also transforms underdogs into victors. Who will write history, then?


To my surprise, the Sto. Domingo Church was bursting at the seams, with some people spilling out into the courtyard and the parking lot. On our pew, we had to sit alternately in and out to fit in.

Fr. Joy Tajonera, one of the priests who concelebrated the Mass, noted that there were many young people who attended the service.

The overwhelming turnout must have touched Ballsy — known for her serenity — that she broke down in public for the first time ever. She must have missed her Dad, who called her “Ate,” her mom Cory and her brother Noynoy. Maybe she was wondering, “Dad, why didn’t we all just stay in Boston where we were all so happy?” “Mom and Noy, why did you run for President instead of choosing the quiet life?”

Actually, I think Ballsy cried because she knew the answer. She remembered the eve of her father’s departure from Boston. “Sinubukan ng marami na pigilan siyang umuwi kasi tahimik na ang buhay namin sa Boston. (Many tried to convince him from returning to the Philippines because we were already leading a quiet life in Boston.) He said he would not be able to live with himself knowing he could have done something (for the country) and he didn’t even try.”  Both Cory and Noynoy would also say this when asked why they ran for President.

“Sinabi ni Ninoy sa huling liham n’ya na wala s’yang maiiwang kayamanan sa amin. Ang maiiwan lang daw n’ya ay iyong pangalang inalagaan n’yang panatilihing malinis. Subalit hindi n’ya naisip na iniwanan din niya kami ng isang bagay na higit pa doon! Ito ay ang pag-asa na nanggagaling sa malalim na pananampalataya at tiwala sa ating Panginoon. Na hindi Niya tayo pababayaan at mananaíg din ang tama — ang katotohanan.” (“Ninoy said in his last letter to us that he had no wealth to bequeath. What he could leave us was a name he endeavored to keep clean and unsullied. However, he did not imagine that he would also be leaving us with one thing more valuable than wealth. This is hope that comes from a deep faith and trust in the Almighty. That He would never forsake us and truth and right will always prevail.”)

Ballsy acknowledged the disinformation that is being spread to dilute and reverse the sacrifices and achievements of her parents and only brother. She has assured friends she has kept the faith.

“I shared with them what keeps me hopeful. St. Matthew wrote that Jesus said: ‘Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed…Nor secret that will not be known...’ He goes on to say, ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body…’”

Finally, she wept: “My heart is full — as well as the hearts of Pinky, Viel, Kris, our spouses and our children — full of love and gratitude.  Thank you Archbishop Soc, our dear bishops and priests who concelebrated the Mass, and you, our fellow Filipinos, who joined us today when being seen with the Aquinos is not exactly in fashion during this time. Thank you for being one with us today in remembering Ninoy Aquino — the man who dreamed the impossible dream, running where the brave dare not go, to fight for the right without question or pause, for the Filipino he believed worth dying for.”

Then she took a look at the huge crowd in front of her, walked down the podium and wiped away her tears amid thunderous applause.

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