I vividly remember that day Ninoy Aquino returned home on August 21, 1983. It was a Sunday and the skies were clear. On that day, after lunch, I was playing Russian poker with my brothers in our Kuya Tony's place.
Most of us wondered if Ninoy would really be able to set foot in Manila. The Marcos regime's intention not to allow Ninoy back was evident in the many warnings it had issued. It seemed only logical to wonder if any of those countries that served as connecting point in Ninoy's homeward voyage would eventually turn him back to his point of origin.
If somehow Ninoy made it home and landed in Manila, we also wondered if the regime will allow him to move about freely or incarcerate him again. Most of us thought that another round of imprisonment would have been the worst case scenario.
Then the unthinkable happened. Even before Ninoy got to set foot on Philippine soil, he was shot and killed on the airport stairs, as he was disembarking, by one of the military escorts sent to pick him up from the China Airlines plane from Taipei. It was the Marcos regime's single biggest mistake. That dastardly act was Marcos's undoing, one that would dispense poetic justice in a most uncanny way with Ninoy's own widow, the politically uninitiated Cory Aquino taking over the helm as the new president.
From the time Cory was catapulted to power by a bloodless popular revolt in February 25, 1986 to June 30, 1998, Ninoy's sacrifice looked like it had all been worth it. The newly-restored democracy was thriving just as the economy was also improving.
But just as Filipinos started to think that the path has been cleared for better things, they woke up one day to the beginning of a nightmare on July 1, 1998, the day Joseph Estrada assumed the presidency. Joseph Estrada was followed by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the democracy that Ninoy's sacrifice helped restore is now in tatters. With all the troubles and tribulations that the nation had to endure and continues to do so, Ninoy must have died many times.
On hindsight, the assassin's bullet could have dealt the kinder blow on Ninoy's pain. After all, it now all boils down to situations of lesser and greater evils-Marcos dictatorship or Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's totalitarian hypocrisy? Marcos declared martial law and then ruled as a dictator. Arroyo declares she is legitimate and democratically elected but goes on to rule like a despot in a land of fools.
Were he alive today, Ninoy will have shuddered to see his very own supporters now currying favor with Arroyo and playing her game of pretense and repression. Imagine his shock if he were to see Representatives Teddyboy Locsin, Ed Zialcita, Edcel Lagman-to name a few-now allowing themselves to be party to the scuttling of the truth that would have allowed this country closure leading to healing from the crisis spawned by the 'Hello Garci' tapes.
How would Ninoy react on finding his own younger sister Lupita, my Kumadre, personally assisting the dictator wannabe Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to hide the truth and pull the wool over the people's eyes? Was it not Lupita who was reported to be the director of that pathetic "I'm sorry" Gloria melodrama which neither owned up to anything nor presented the truth about 'Hello Garci'? Was that not Lupita who we saw on television guiding Gloria in Manila's Baywalk only to run away from the camera when she realized that she too was on television?
Why were you running away from the camera Lupita? Was there something in what you were doing there for you to be ashamed of?
Ninoy, were he alive today, would be saddened at the sight of our youth who are more interested to congregate in malls rather than be at the forefront of street rallies and demonstrations that seek to restore credibility in our political leadership, honesty in our bureaucracy, unity in our society and peace in our troubled land. Like National Hero Jose Rizal, Ninoy pinned so much hope on our youth.
Ninoy, were he alive today, would have lectured the inutile opposition on how to fight tyranny and take them to task for being unwilling to step up in their commitment to solve our biggest problem today. When the country needed his life to stir up the nation, Ninoy did not hesitate to offer it. The opposition that we are all stuck with today is only committed to pay lip service and nothing more.
Ninoy, were he alive today, would find it hard to believe that compared to the miserable plight of his countrymen during his time, today's conditions of poverty had deteriorated to levels unthinkable. During his time, poor Filipinos were complaining of eating only twice a day. Today many Filipinos eat only once a day and the nutritional value of that meal is found very much wanting.
Ninoy, were he alive today, will be appalled at the deterioration of Philippine education and the exodus of many of our teachers who now opt to work as domestics abroad in exchange for a better standard of living. When Ninoy first came into the national scene as a senatorial candidate in 1967, he formed the anagram YEH-for Youth, Education and Hope. Education was high on his agenda, knowing fully well that economic emancipation for the Filipino lies in education. His "study now, pay later" program was intended to make quality education available to the lesser privileged.
Ninoy, were he alive today, would have taken to task the corrupt and self-seeking journalists who allow themselves to be the instruments of deceit and the facilitators of cover ups to high crimes against the people and our democracy. He would have exposed those writers who accept positions in government and in government corporations. Ninoy was an outstanding journalist who in his youth covered the Korean War and was instrumental in negotiating the surrender of Huk Supremo Luis Taruc, effectively diffusing the Huk rebellion.
Ninoy, were he alive today, would have felt betrayed on seeing how those he fought-the supporters and main players of the Marcos dictatorship-are now moving about so freely in society as if nothing happened. His feeling of betrayal will not come from those he fought but from those he fought for, the people who cannot even remember their own recent history and who cannot even ostracize those who raped the country and set it on this downward spiral that we continue to suffer from today.
How do you think Ninoy would feel if he saw Imelda Marcos today-uncharged in court, freely mixing with high society and with nary a hint of regret or contrition over her role in the conjugal dictatorship? Not only that, how would Ninoy feel when he realizes that Imelda is not only still around but has passed on the baton. And how would he feel today knowing that even after his own wife had assumed the presidency, justice had not been served on his assassination and his real killers, the masterminds, have not been clearly established.
How would Ninoy feel when he hears about all these push for a settlement with the Marcos family, the trivialization of a nation's 14-year nightmare under a dictatorship and equating it with pesos and centavos?
Ninoy was fond of quoting Edmund Burke, how evil in this world does prosper simply because good men do nothing. How would he feel when he now sees the few good men who, like him, could make a difference but instead opt to stay away from politics or remain as underachievers in politics-people who would make great presidents but prefer not to bother trying.
My heart and my sympathies are with you Ninoy. You are a truly great man, a cut above your generation. If only you had a better nation to die for, a nation that deserves a hero like you.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org