How much do we owe Ninoy Aquino?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-08-21
Speaking after they’ve won the Battle of Britain, British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, said these words that have since been immortalized in the pages of history: “Never had so many owed so much to so few.”

The few, whom Churchill had referred to, were the brave men and women of the RAF (Royal Air Force). The RAF destroyed the air force of Nazi Germany, effectively preventing a German conquest of the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Battle of Britain proved once more the value of the human and individual factor as when terribly outnumbered and less equipped forces managed to defeat their larger and better-armed foes.

History is rich with the heroic sagas of people who became the big difference for their cause or country during a critical period. The Maid, Joan of Arc, became the unexpected rallying point for the French people seeking to drive away the English from French soil. Ruled by a weakling of a Dauphin, demoralized by a string of English victories, the French people rallied behind Joan, won key battles and got their Dauphin crowned King. Joan’s inspiration led to the eventual withdrawal of the English from France after her martyrdom.

Over here, we can paraphrase Churchill to say: Never had so many owed so much to just one man. That one man is former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. whose assassination we mark today.

Most Filipinos were not yet born during that period when we were under the Marcos dictatorship. You had to be there to appreciate the control of the country that Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos wielded. He was unchallenged because he created a servile parliament and practically exercised combined legislative and executive functions. The then Supreme Court Chief Justice was happy to hold the parasol of the First Lady, Imelda Marcos. Marcos held a firm grip on the military and he also controlled media. He and his cronies monopolized the important industries.

In August of 1983, Marcos held all the important levers of power — but he was suffering from a serious renal problem. Sans a succession that could be enforced after Marcos died, there would have been a power struggle and the country could end up in turmoil, even possibly have a civil war.

At that time, when he and his family lived in Boston, Ninoy Aquino was enjoying the protection of the US government. Marcos allowed Ninoy Aquino to go to the US after Ninoy developed a serious heart ailment that needed bypass surgery. Nobody would have faulted Ninoy if he opted not to return home. In fact, most of his closest relatives and friends advised him to stay in Boston because Marcos was said to have threatened to kill him if he ever returns to upset the power equation or attempt to reshape the succession. At that time, it was largely believed that First Lady Imelda Marcos was the preferred Marcos successor but there were rumblings of dissent from within the Marcos inner circle.

The then Opposition that Ninoy led were an unwieldy group. Martial law destroyed the two-party system that operated under the Nacionalista and Liberal Parties. It was even whispered in political circles that Marcos had effectively infiltrated all major Opposition groups with his moles. These moles planted seeds of discord within the party and ensured that Marcos was updated always on Opposition plans and undertakings.

Many were manifesting their objections to the dictatorship in whispers that were usually made only among trusted friends and kin. You had real reasons to fear for your life and fortune if you opposed Marcos. One of the few who dared to openly expose the sins of the Marcos dictatorship before big crowds and in media was Ninoy Aquino.

Marcos had good reason to fear Ninoy Aquino as his single biggest political threat. Nobody in the then Opposition or even in the party of Marcos — the KBL (Kilusang Bagong Lipunan) — could ever match the political savvy and charisma of Ninoy. Imelda Marcos had the charisma but hardly anything else. The other players and successor wannabes were short on both. 

After Ninoy Aquino learned from highly reliable sources that Marcos had undergone a delicate kidney transplant operation and suffered a subsequent kidney rejection — he immediately left Boston and made his historic return to his native land. Ninoy Aquino did not entertain illusions that he would be able to mount anything that will give him the inside track to succeeding Marcos. What Ninoy Aquino sought to achieve in returning home was to ensure a democratic succession after Marcos departs. That naturally placed him at odds with what both Marcos and Imelda wanted. In those days, impede an important Marcos political objective and you’ll likely pay with your life.

Until Marcos became president and subsequently, dictator, bloody incidents in Philippine politics happened only at the local level. Until August 21, 1983, no national politician was ever killed. Ninoy Aquino’s assassination changed all that. The reputedly bloody Marcos regime had exceeded itself.

However, the assassination that was obviously intended to stifle dissent during a crucial period of succession backfired and Ninoy’s death struck deep into the consciousness of the nation. The nation that for so long was afraid to speak out against the dictator suddenly rediscovered its courage, no doubt inspired by the example of Ninoy Aquino. It was Ninoy who once said that courage was infectious and that was what he did — infect the Filipino nation with his courage.

The Makati big businessmen, who would not even want to be seen whispering in coffee shops, suddenly found the courage to raise their voices in dissent and rallied along Ayala Avenue. It sent a signal to the chief sponsors of the Marcos dictatorship ‚ the US — that Marcos was finished. If folks with a lot to lose are suddenly willing to take the ultimate risk, expect those with nothing to lose and everything to gain to be in the thick of the fight.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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