Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., was shot dead by soldiers sent by Ferdinand Marcos at Manila airport on 21 August 1983, moments after returning from a three-year exile in the US (l. 10268).
All martyrs gain an aura of saintliness, but Ninoy's political statements in life indicate that he shared many of Marcos's concepts about strong leadership (l. 10301). Ninoy once said that, if elected, he would confiscate property and weapons to make society fairer and safer. He also said: “I'll call in the politicians and tell them, 'You guys have plundered for years. Now it's going to change. You follow me – or else' ” (l. 10302). Further, he thought that the people would not object to an authoritarian government, see title quote. As provincial governor, he engaged a private army to dispense crude justice (l. 10429). Looked at in this way, he could be considered not Marcos's antithesis, but rather Marcos's mirror image, opposite in some respects, but nearly the same in others.
Ninoy came from a political family with a history of resistance to US domination. His grandfather was condemned to death (and later pardoned) for shooting American prisoners because, according to Ninoy, “they ate too much” (l. 10340). His father actively collaborated with the occupying Japanese, whom he admired (l. 10343).
Ninoy was an indifferent student (l. 10357). At age 18 (1952), he wangled himself as an appointment as foreign correspondent in Korea for a Manila newspaper. Four years later, he aided in the capture of Huk leader Luis Tarluc, described in the previous post. Like many prominent Filipinos, Ninoy had an idea that the CIA was the secret hand behind all events and often bragged of his CIA connections. Although he was sent by Magsaysay (for whom he also worked) to observe CIA training, several senior agency officials denied that he was ever on the payroll. “We didn't trust him,” one said. “He talked too much” (l. 10380).
Ninoy wed Corazon Cojuangco in October 1954. They were both 21. Ninoy's CIA observation was also his honeymoon (l. 10384). Cory's family were Hakkas who immigrated in the 1890s (l. 10388). Her family fled the Philippines in 1946, where she attended Catholic high schools and universities in Philadelphia and New York (l. 10402). She returned in 1953.
Ninoy was elected mayor of his hometown at age 22. In 1959, at age 28, he became the youngest provincial governor in the Philippines (l. 10425). In 1967, he won a seat in the lower chamber of the Philippine legislature (l. 10430). Ninoy had his eye on the Presidency and said: “I'm going to attack Marcos again and again, and goad him in to denouncing me as much as possible in retaliation. That's the only way I can keep my name in print” (l. 10439).
On the night Marcos declared martial law (22 September 1972), he arrested Ninoy and charged him with subversion, murder, and illegal possession of weapons. He spent seven and a half years in jail, first forgotten, then becoming a symbol of resistance (l. 10448). He was held without trial for three years. When Marcos started a court martial, Ninoy began a hunger strike to demand a civilian trial. He lost 40 pounds. Marcos allowed occasional US congressmen to visit him, but his plight did not interest Presidents Nixon or Ford, or Henry Kissinger (l. 10486) as much as the status of US bases.
In 1980, after long period of diplomatic pressure from the new Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Richard Holbrook and others, Marcos (after ordering the court-martial to sentence Ninoy to death and then changing his mind) allowed Ninoy to leave the country. The precipitating event was Ninoy's heart attack in prison. The Marcoses figured they could make his release look like a humanitarian gesture and save face, and also be spared the bad press which would ensue if Ninoy died during an operation in the Philippine Heart Center, one of Imelda's pet projects (l. 10541).
After recovery, Ninoy engineered, with Karnow's help, a three-year fellowship at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs, during which the entire family lived in Newton, a face-saving away to delay his promised return to the Philippines. In the hospital, he had signed an agreement with Marcos to return as soon as he had recovered and not to criticize the Philippines while abroad. Ninoy denounced an agreement in an August 1980 address to the Asia Society in New York (l. 10554).
In January 1981, Marcos ended martial law, but retained the power to rule by decree (l. 10562). He remained a favorite of Ronald Reagan, who, soon after his election, visited Imelda at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York during one of her shopping sprees. (Ninoy also visited Imelda during this visit.) Vice President Bush visited Manila in June 1981 and praised Marcos's “adherence to democratic principles” (l. 10571). The Marcos met the Reagans during a visit to Washington in September 1982 (l. 10574).
It slowly became apparent that Marcos was gravely ill with kidney disease. He underwent a kidney transplant in 1984 (l. 10593). Ninoy foresaw Imelda seizing power with military backing if Marcos got worse, and felt that he had to go back to the Philippines to assemble a political coalition against her. Imelda warned Ninoy not to return and offered him impressive sums of money to stay in the US. “She told friends that Ninoy would be dead in 'just one hour' if he returned” (l. 10604). A State Department prognosis said: “Assassination is not Marcos's style ... but it is not beyond the capability of some of his operatives” (l. 10607).
After Ninoy left his plane, he was met by three soldiers and steered down a service stairway. There, he was shot in the back of the head. A man in mechanic's clothes, later identified as a member of a anti-Communist paramilitary group called the “Monkees”, died in a hail of bullets at Ninoy's side. The man was blamed for Ninoy's murder (l. 10620). The parody of trials and blue-ribbon panels which followed, convened under a cloud of vague public and private threats by Marcos, did nothing to clarify the identity of the actual murderers.
Ninoy's uncleaned body was displayed in a Manila church in the tropical heat. Ninoy's mother said: “I want people to see what they did to my son” (l. 10672). Women fainted after paying their respects. His funeral was performed by Cardinal Sin and featured an eleven-hour procession of more than a million people (l. 10682). US Ambassador Michael Armacost was “one of the few foreign diplomats to attend the funeral” (l. 10733). Ninoy became the subject of many sermons and vigorous public displays of devotion. Yellow was adopted as the color of the movement.
The ensuing instability caused capital to flee the country, which caused a devaluation in the peso, which caused higher prices, which caused more unrest. “In October 1983, foreign debt had reached nearly $25 billion, up $6 billion over the previous month. Investigating, the bankers found that Marcos had doctored the ledgers to show reserves of $1 billion more than he actually had – and that his regime was nearly bankrupt” (l. 10713). Meanwhile, the US Embassy was reporting an increase in Communist insurgent activity and support (l. 10721). Still, the predictable assortment of American political figures could not bring themselves to change their minds about Marcos, although Reagan was convinced to abandon a scheduled November 1983 stopover in Manila due to security concerns.
Marcos's ceaseless venality eventually chipped away at his Washington support, starting with Secretary of State Schultz, Admiral William J. Crowe (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), and Republican Senators Richard Lugar of Indiana and Paul Laxalt of Nevada (l. 10785).
On 3 November 1985, Marcos, in an interview with George Will on David Brinkley's Sunday morning television show, “said that he would hold an election 'perhaps in three months or less.' American congressmen and the news media, he added lavishly, were 'all invited to come' ” (l. 10802). His US TV announcement was how Filipinos learned of Marcos's intention.
In his Honolulu exile in 1987, Marcos told Karnow that calling the election was the “biggest mistake” he had ever made. He blamed dark forces in the US government and press but did not acknowledge Cory Aquino's role in his downfall (l. 10812).
A quotation from the chapter worth remembering:
“A policy is the blackmail levied on the fool by the unforeseen.” -- Rudyard Kipling (l. 10634)