MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Today, we paint his legacy in strokes of yellow, the color that brings back memories of a decades-long struggle that ended in the most peaceful revolution in Philippine history in 1986.
Had Benigno Aquino Jr not died on August 21, 1983, would yellow really be his color?
Ateneo professor Lisandro “Leloy” Claudio is convinced so, although a study he recently presented cited Aquino’s extensive collaboration with the Left.
Claudio did extensive research on Aquino’s connection to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), and delivered a lecture on this recently. It was part of “The Aquino Assassination: Thirty Years After” series at the Ateneo de Manila University that will run until Sept 17, 2013.
President Ferdinand Marcos, whose dictatorial government Aquino opposed, “needed to create bogeymen in order to establish Martial Law” in 1972, Claudio said.
On September 13 that year, then-Senator Aquino exposed a top-secret military plan by Marcos to place Metro Manila and outlying areas under the control of the Philippine Constabulary as a prelude to Martial Law.
He said Marcos was going to use recent bombings — notably, the one during the political rally of the Liberal Party (LP) in Plaza Miranda — as an excuse to establish authoritarian rule.
Marcos fired back 3 days after, and accused LP officials of having ties with the CPP.
“For once, the pathological liar, Ferdinand Marcos, was not lying, Because we know that at the very least Aping Yap [of Tarlac] was close with the CPP. This was affirmed by everyone. At most, it was Aquino himself,” he said.
Claudio said Marcos’ accusation served two purposes. Linking the CPP to his greatest critics would be advantageous to him. “Crushing” the communist party would need a military government.
Claudio maintained there was truth to Marcos’ accusation, at least as Aquino’s history suggests.
Ties that bind
It started when young Aquino, as a war correspondent in Korea and Southeast Asia in the early 1950s, saw communism in a different light.
In the book The Aquinos of Tarlac, Nick Joaquin quoted Aquino as saying: “To me, Communism and democracy had been black and white: Communism was bad, democracy was good. But when I saw how the North Korean prisoners were tortured and yet stuck to their own creed, I began to wonder.”
Aquino would later rub elbows with leaders of CPP themselves — first with founder Jose Maria Sison, and later with Rodolfo Salas, CPP chair at the height of Martial Law.
While Aquino’s relationship with Sison was more detached, Claudio said it was different with Salas.
In an interview with Claudio, Salas said not only did he bring wounded New People’s Army (NPA) soldiers to Aquino’s houses, but he received guns and cash from Aquino himself.
He also said Aquino had a significant contribution to the expansion of NPA in the country.
Salas claimed the relationship went beyond these meetings.
He said he was “best friends” with Aquino’s aide Perfecto “Pentong” Masbad, and whenever Pentong would get a “balato” (bonus) from Aquino, Salas would get some too.
Ninoy for President?
But why would Aquino maintain these close relationships with the CPP?
Simple, Claudio said: He needed the support of the communists to become president.
From 1968 to 1986, the CPP-NPA fought the Marcos regime with fire against fire. During these years, they grew from 800 to 20,000 troops.
“He [wasn’t] going to defeat Marcos at that time without the support of the CPP. Just remember, at that time what was the only military resistance [to] a military regime? Very little. You had Marcos who basically had the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) as his own personal private army, [and] there were only really two organized armies fighting that army: the CPP, and the MNLF (Moro National Liberation Front),” Claudio explained.
Declassified US government documents dated September 21, 1972, said Aquino could become “willing at some point in the future to ally himself with the Communists as the leader of a revolution, if he was convinced that this is the best way for him to realize his ultimate political ambition.”
If it was for political ambition that he built ties with the communists, could those same ties have been cut when he lost the appetite for power?
Aquino was arrested shortly after Marcos declared Martial Law on September 23, 1972. In a solitary confinement in Nueva Ecija, Aquino’s character was put to test.
In an article on his seven-year imprisonment, Aquino was described as a “brilliant and ambitious politician” who, in a “spiritual transformation,” evolved to a “selfless servant leader who surrendered himself to the will of God.”
When he left for the United States in 1980, he continued his critical stance toward the Marcos government.
But he also continued connecting with Salas during his 3-year exile. Salas said they discussed, among others, “how to overthrow the dictatorship.”
They last made contact when Aquino informed Salas of his plan to go back to the country. Salas told Aquino to avoid the Philippines, but was not sure if the latter received the message.
‘Never was, never will be’
Had Aquino survived on the day of his return, August 21, 1983, he would’ve answered whether he is a communist or not point-blank.
“I was sentenced to die for allegedly being the leading communist leader. I am not a communist, never was and never will be,” an excerpt of the undelivered speech reads.
But before he was even able to, in his words, “define [his] terms,” he was assassinated.
“Through that death, he was able to achieve in one fell swoop what he was not able to achieve in 20 years of negotiating with the CPP,” Claudio said. – Rappler.com