How Ninoy Aquino's assassination made me a Chair Wrecker
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2009-08-20

The recent passing of our beloved Cory C. Aquino stirred up a lot of fond memories. That is but natural, especially when a people has come to regard a particular era in their country’s history as what is romantically called a Camelot.

In the case of your Chair Wrecker, politics was the last place where I imagined I would want to be. As of August 20, 1983, all my career goals focused on self improvement in my advertising career. If there was anything political on my mind then, it was a wish to handle a presidential campaign’s communications program, especially the packaged communications. I felt then that a presidential communications program would have been a gratifying career highlight.

The Ninoy Aquino assassination of August 21, 1983 changed all that. Being a Sunday, I went to my elder brother Tony’s home in Quezon City to have lunch and play cards with family members. Word reached us that Ninoy was killed at the Manila International Airport minutes after his plane landed. We were stunned as we could not believe that the Ferdinand Marcos regime would resort to something as heinous as that. We stopped playing and I decided to drive back home.

Through the 20 or so kilometers driving home, the rage was seething and reverberating all over my soul. Later, when I saw the footage that TV networks were allowed to air — that was the point in my life when I realized that the political course of our country was not just the problem of the professional politicians. It was then when I realized that ordinary citizens like me had to get involved if we are to save our country.

A subsequent meeting in my office with Ninoy prison cellmate Napoleon “Nap” Rama (top Free Press political columnist jailed by the dictatorship and later Manila Bulletin president) led to a discussion of what are the best options for the then Opposition. Nap mentioned that Doy Laurel (later Cory Vice President) seemed to have the best organization and that the Opposition could unite under Doy’s UNIDO (United Democratic Organization).

I expressed surprise - why UNIDO and not Laban as the umbrella organization where all Opposition forces could unite. Laban was the political brand of Ninoy when he led the quixotic 1978 fight that is most remembered for the pre-election noise barrage which shocked the dictatorship.

Nap intimated that during the 1978 Laban adventure, Doy was on the other side and so it is but natural for him to want to downplay Laban. Drawing from my marketing and advertising expertise, I countered that the big reality in selling something is not what you like to think of yourself but what the buyer thinks of you and will want to see in you.

I told Nap: “Do you realize how much Coke and those other big international brands have spent in order to develop a good brand image? Coke, for example, spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get the superior brand image that Coke enjoys now.”

I further drove home the point: “Now, here you are in the Opposition, short on the wherewithal, having just recently lost your best leader (Ninoy), fighting a dictator with a media monopoly — and you want to throw away a big brand like Laban which has captured the Filipino nation’s imagination!”

“Go out; look at the people and how they’re flashing the Laban sign. They were not shouting UNIDO when millions came out to bury Ninoy. They were shouting Laban!” I added.

Nap snapped back: “By golly, Billy! You’re right!” Before I knew it, Nap had me write a paper to explain my point and soon after I found myself in Café Ysabel on Wilson Street in Greenhills presenting it to the original members of Laban in a meeting that was arranged by Cory’s brother, Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. That was how your Chair Wrecker saved Laban from being thrown into political oblivion.

I subsequently got involved in the 1984 Interim Parliament’s election campaign and helped the Opposition win a third of the seats — then considered a major feat. I also helped the candidacies of elected Assemblyman Jaime N. Ferrer and Assemblywoman Cecilia Munoz-Palma.

In November 1985, days after Ferdinand Marcos called for a February 7, 1986 Snap Presidential Election, I received a telephone call from Peping Cojuangco requesting me to join a very important meeting at the Cojuangco Building in Legaspi Village. His phone lines were being tapped then and Peping could not bare the agenda of the meeting but I sensed that it had something to do with the Snap Election.

When I walked into the Cojuangco Board Room, there was Peping and Paul Dominguez, among others, filling up the boxes of a national campaign organizational chart. Paul immediately called my attention to the box titled PROPAGANDA where my name was listed as its assigned head. I subsequently organized the Cory Media Bureau that battled and outwitted the Marcos media monopoly during the Snap campaign and the People Power Revolution.

To me, that was the single most meaningful and exciting undertaking of my life – my small footnote in history. From there, I eventually retired to Chair Wrecking.

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