Ninoy Aquino 26th Martyrdom anniversary

Today, the nation marks the 26th year since Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. was assassinated at the tarmac of the then-Manila International Airport. The 1983 assassination is currently regarded as one of the sparks that ignited the last waves of massive public outrage that eventually lead to the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

A few days ago, I appeared (very) briefly in GMA 7’s 24 Oras newscast on a segment about Ninoy Aquino. The segment focused on the relationship between the late senator and the late dictator and strongman Pres. Ferdinand Marcos who both belong to the same fraternity, the Upsilon Sigma Phi. The popular theory, among brods especially, is of course though the rivalry was real, Marcos couldn’t have made a martyr out of his main political rival, and much more so out of his own fraternity brother. Aside form the fact that at that time, Marcos was bedridden and simply too sick to orchestrate and mastermind the assassination, we simply weren’t indoctrinated that way. Marcos also had very little political gain to compensate the great political risk entailed by doing the deed. This may be speculation to some, but for brods who understand the unique personal dynamics existing among fraternity brothers, it is a ‘theory’ worth more than a grain of salt.

Puzzled, the reporter asked me to explain how, in my opinion, the intense political rivalry between Marcos and Aquino, could have existed among two fraternity brothers. I told him (though, all these got cut from the final segment that went on air), it was a natural consequence of putting two ambitious politicians in the same fraternity.

I added, that though we were indoctrinated to strive for a prosperous and progressive country, we were free to choose the means to achieve what we believed was for the good of the Filipino people.

Fraternity history recounts how the brods, especially in the late 60’s and 70’s were found in all sides of the political spectrum, from the side of the dictator and his ‘cronies’, who believed in authoritarian leadership to achieve prosperity, to the mainstream political opposition, who believed in the ideals of “liberal” democracy, to the communist left who believed in the Maoist armed rebellion and national democracy with a socialist perspective.

From my experience, I recounted how even in the university today, brods are encouraged to exercise their beliefs and fight for their principles by being active in their own political parties. In UP for example, while most of my brods were leaning towards conservatism and compromise activism, I was allowed to and encouraged to stay in the militant formation I belonged to even before I joined the frat.

When I was in the University Student Council, the chairman then was a brod who belonged to a rival party, and a fraternity batchmate of mine belonged to the third party, and we had many principled differences and arguments with regard to various campus issues, but at the end of the day, we treated each other with great respect and still shared many fellowships.

[photos from Albert Domingo] Anyway, last night, the brods, me included, were also interviewed on Monster Radio RX 93.1. We were asked how relevant Ninoy is to young people today, most of whom were born after his martyrdom in 1983. From 10 PM to 11, we talked about our opinions with regard to Ninoy Aquino’s heroism and how it is important today. I simply said that for as long as we have not achieved the prosperous and progressive nation that Ninoy, and all of us, aspire for, and for as long as our nation’s development is stunted by corrupt and oppressive leaders like we do today, the ideals and the memory of Ninoy, his martyrdom as well as the martyrdom of the thousands of other freedom fighters through the decades, will always be relevant.

The Last Journey of Ninoy

I went to the premiere of “The Last Journey of Ninoy” at Power Plant Mall in Rockwell last night. The film is a docu-drama that highlights different stages in the life of the martyred senator, form his roots as a brash and talented young man, forward to his long and arduous journey as a politician and a private family man, presented as flashbacks weaved together with the last days of his life as he returned to the Philippines from Boston as the narrative spine. Through known and new records, plus valuable memories and insights from wife and ally, Cory, audiences are shown Ninoy’s truest ideals and deepest struggles, his indomitable spirit and faith, as seen through all his hardships and all the hostilities he faced.

Unlike the many documentaries that have been made and screened about Ninoy Aquino, the EDSA Revolution or the Martial Law era, “The Last Journey of Ninoy” allows audiences to witness the narrative without the intrusion of a third party narrator, hence a more intimate experience, as if we are witness to a conversation between the two revered icons. The film is also punctuated by an inspiring message taken from one of Ninoy’s speeches delivered while on “exile” in the US, addressed to every Filipino.

“So long as each one of us should be willing to take on the struggle, even if I am imprisoned, even if I die in prison, so long as you will continue the struggle and carry the torch, then I think we will have a better Philippines. Rather than one carrying the torch, we will have many.”

The film is produced by Benigno S. Aquino Foundation and Unitel. It will have a one-day regular screening in Power Plant Mall on August 21, 2009. ABS-CBN will also air the docu-drama on free TV on August 23, at around 10:30 PM.

“Ako si Ninoy” musical

Last Friday night, I went with some fraternity brothers to the Ayala Museum in Makati to see a special staging of “Ako si Ninoy,” a musical performed by the Philippine Stagers Foundation. It is, as its title suggests, a stage play about the late Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., and how his heroism is reflected in the lives of several individuals in the present time–a school teacher, a teen actor, a farmer activist, a labor union organizer, and a migrant worker.

It is no secret that I have issues with some I-am-change campaigns for its condonation of simplistic neutral daily activities of individuals as heroic enough to effect change. I was afraid that this stage play might carry the same message.

Fortunately, for the most part, it doesn’t. The very fact that it portrayed individuals who fought and struggled for what was just and right in their school, in the factory, in the streets, overseas, and even in the entertainment industry, is a manifestation that it takes courage, determination, and action to effect change in one’s family, community and society.

The play has catchy song numbers, and romantic subplots, and is thus largely targeted towards an audience of young people. It is hoped that this play would inspire young individuals to realize their potential to effect change in their communities, not simply by doing what is expected, but by, like Ninoy Aquino, being brave enough to take action to fight for what they believe is right.

“Ako si Ninoy” will have a grand gala presentation at the Meralco Theater on August 14, 2009, and will be on tour around schools, universities and malls for the rest of the year.

Brief visit to Aquino museum, Tarlac

A few weeks ago, largely in preparation for the IAMNINOY summit we were helping out in, two of my brods and I went to the Aquino Museum in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac to get some materials and to accomplish other errands. It was just a half-day trip. We left Manila before 7 AM, arrived in Tarlac by 10, did our thing and arrived back in Manila before 2 PM.

It was my first visit to the museum, which apparently has been open for a few years already. They have a very interesting collection of Aquino memorabilia, including photos of Ninoy I’d never seen nor imagine would exist before. On display, too, were the clothes that he was wearing and his other accessories when he was gunned down, and a replica of the room where he was detained for years, with the original furniture and other things. The place is pretty big. The manager graciously accommodated us despite us being the only visitors that time of the day, and they didn’t even make us pay the entrance fee anymore.

The dictator and his brothers

At this time of the year when the country remembers the horrors and the atrocities of the Martial Law years imposed 26 years ago, my fraternity, the Upsilon Sigma Phi, traditionally gets some flak for, well, being the fraternity of the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos and some of his alleged cronies and allies, from Roberto Benedicto to Estelito Mendoza to name some. The standard way of neutralizing the flak is to invoke the memory of the traditional political opposition that fought the dictatorship, from the likes of Salvador “Doy” Laurel, Joker Arroyo to Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. Rarely is it done any other way.

Today, let me take the opportunity to invoke, too, the memory of communist martyrs Merardo Arce and Melito Glor, martyred rebels, fraternity brothers all the same, who integrated with the masses and took the armed means of liberation, and from whose honor the names of the Southern Mindanao Regional Operations and the Southern Tagalog commands of the New People’s Army are named after.

Cliche as it may sound, we must always look at our present conditions without disposing of the lessons of the past. At times when basic conditions of widespread poverty and oppression persist, our remembrance must transcend mere commemoration, to a realization that perhaps the same roots that bore the resistance of the Marcos years, has only entrenched itself further and as such, creates similar tragic conditions and creates the need to sustain the struggle for genuine change.

Ninoy was not alone

August 21, 2008. Some of my brods and I went to Tarlac City in Tarlac to join the provincial government’s commemoration ceremony of Ninoy Aquino’s 25th death anniversary. We left UP pretty early and arrived at the province around nine in the morning. Before proceeding to the provincial capitol, we also passed by the municipal hall in Concepcion, Aquino’s hometown, and where he was once Mayor.

At around ten, we arrived at Tarlac City to meet the governor, Victor Yap, who is another brod. The commemoration ceremony was held and I was even asked to give a spontaneous speech in front of all the elected provincial officials and employees.

We went back to UP a little past lunch time. That night, we held a memorial at the theater of College of Law, also in honor of Ninoy Aquino.

25th death anniversary Ninoy Aquino

Invoking what Conrado de Quiros apparently wrote, a friend of mine, Anton wrote that it is an act of betrayal to remember only Ninoy Aquino as one of a handful of heroes of Martial Law. Indeed, it is. History as we know it may be tilted in favor of some, so many Filipinos like me may not truly know the unblemished truth. But for me, sans his death, Ninoy Aquino may not have been an extraordinary statesman. He was a traditional politician, apparently, in more ways than one. Some may say that his heroism may not really come from his own actions. His death is, obviously, not something he did. But I say the act of returning to the Philippines amidst a real threat of danger and assassination is heroic. He gallantly spoke against the dictatorship, but so did thousands of others, some more than him. But nevertheless his assassination set him apart from the rest of those who went against the dictator. And as many literature say, it was part of what ignited the “peaceful revolution” that toppled the Marcos regime in 1986. His assassination punctuated and sealed his fate as a national hero.

In the same breath, let us also always remember the thousands of political prisoners, and martyrs of the Martial Law regime, most of whom may not have had the same privilege of having the commemoration to the extent this country gives the late Senator but are no less heroic, including two Upsilonians, Melito Glor and Merardo Arce, from whose names the Southern Tagalog and the Southern Mindanao Regional Operations Commands of the New People’s Army are named after.

More than remembering, we must continue to realize that the social conditions that bore fruit to the activism and heroism of thousands of heroes and martrys of Martial Law still exists. And for as long as such conditions persist, we must transcend the mere act of commemoration and remembrance because the struggle for genuine change and liberation ensues.

Valid opposition

Ninoy AquinoBenigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. Today we are celebrating the anniversary of his assassination. I hadn’t been born when he was gunned down at the Manila International Airport, nor had I been born on or before the peaceful revolution three years after. I’m afraid whatever material or stories I have and will continue to absorb now will have already been heavily romanticized. Though some say he was part of a political dynasty from the ruling landlord class, advocating just a moderate revolution through peaceful means to overthrow a dictator, what he espoused was a revolution nonetheless–in a time of injustice and repression. Let us remember that, too.