Aquino’s Boston homecoming nostalgic, emotional

Natashya Gutierrez
President Benigno Aquino III returns to Boston for the first time in 31 years and recalls his time in the city during his family's exile

NOSTALGIC. President Benigno Aquino III is nostalgic and filled with emotion during his visit to Boston, his first since his father was assasinated. Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – In his first return to Boston since the death of his father in 1983, President Benigno Aquino III took time to reminisce and share his fond memories of the city, where he spent some of what he calls his formative years.

In an unusually emotional speech delivered in Boston College on Sunday, September 21 (Monday Manila time), Aquino recalled his time in Boston while their family was in exile, and shared how it changed him.

“I normally try to remove emotionalism in my speeches, but it’s the first time I’ve been back in Boston, and I actually had several opportunities to come earlier, and I kept begging off and said, ‘Let me make sure that my emotions are in check before I make a homecoming,’” he said.

“It has been 31 years since I left Boston, and coming here for the first time since then brings back quite a lot of memories.”

Aquino then narrated how he experienced his “first snowfall,” and sleeping in thermal underwear underneath a track suit, sleeping bag, sheets and a comforter. He talked about taking showers “using ice-cold water in the dead of winter,” his craving to return to the Philippines’ tropical weather, the limited serving of the Filipino delicacy kutsinta on special occasions, and a house always brimming with Filipino guests.

As a young man who just graduated from college, Aquino spent days in Boston as the family’s “dog-handler, carpenter, plumber, and baggage-carrier, mechanic, driver.” He told his audience, “You must be thinking, “How things have changed.”

Aquino and his family moved to Boston in 1980, after his father, the late senator and democracy icon Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr, was allowed to leave prison to get a heart bypass in the United States. The senator had been jailed in the Philippines since 1972, shortly after then President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law, for his active opposition to Marcos’ dictatorship.

The older Aquino chose to return to his homeland in 1983 despite threats to his life. He was assassinated in the tarmac upon his plane’s arrival, which triggered the EDSA People Power Revolution that catapulted his wife, Corazon Aquino, to the presidency and the overthrow of Marcos’ 21-year regime.

Ironically, Aquino returned to Boston the same day Martial Law was declared 42 years ago.

In his speech, the President talked about the circumstances that forced him and his family to reside in Boston. He described the leadership of Marcos as a “regime [with] total impunity to abduct, torture, jail, and kill its critics.”

Boston gave “my family a sense of normalcy to be here in what can only be described as very abnormal times back home.”

“Every aspect of life was controlled there by the dictator. And unless you belonged to the favored few, you had very limited rights: a curfew limited the time you could be outside your home; travel abroad required official permission; and there was no such thing as free speech, or freedom of assembly. Accountable to no one but themselves, the dictator, his wife, and their cronies turned the public treasury into their private purse… Is it a wonder then, that even friendships would fall under the dark shadow of the dictator? Out of fear, or an unwillingness to take any risks, many people stopped talking to us. This was the reality of our martial law.”

Aquino said his time in Boston taught him empathy and “introspection.”

“I remember thinking then: here we are in exile, while the dictator is partying in Malacañang, raping the economy and oppressing our people. I consider my time here as amongst my most formative years, fortifying me for the continuation of the struggle, and arming me with relevant experiences,” he said.

Fresh off a 4-nation European tour, Aquino is in Boston for the first stop of his 5-day United States trip. While in the city, Aquino had a private lunch with family friends, attended a special mass and Convocation at Boston College, and met with the Filipino Community.

On Monday, September 22, he is scheduled to visit the former residence of the Aquino family. He will also meet with top executives of 3 big US companies as well as Representative Joseph P Kennedy III, grant a media interview to Jeremy Jobson, the co-host of Boston’s National Public Radio station WBUR, and deliver a policy speech at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government before departing for New York.

Remembering Ninoy

The President paid tribute to his father, recalling his decision to return to Manila.

“I remember the time when dad was deciding whether or not to go back to the Philippines. So many advisers, allies, and even some persons representing the Marcos regime, were giving him conflicting advice. I weighed in with my two cents, and I asked him: ‘Dad, why will you entrust your life and fate to someone who has never done us any kindness? Why put your life in his hands?,’” he said.

“My father replied: “There are no victors in a civil war. How could this, after all, ameliorate our people’s suffering? No one can imagine that any good would come out of violence.” Even after all the injustice he had suffered at the hands of the dictator, dad still hoped to have a dialogue with Marcos; he hoped that at the very least Mr. Marcos would be curious enough to find out why he returned home and submit himself again to incarceration. Perhaps, the curiosity would lead to an opportunity for a dialogue.”

He then shared the moment he found out about his father’s death.

“In the early morning hours of August 21, 1983, I was watching CNN waiting to see if they had any news about dad’s arrival. I will never forget the face of the reporter when he said that, upon the arrival of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, shots were heard, and he was seen lying in a pool of blood,” he said.

EMOTIONAL. President Benigno Aquino III delivers an emotional speech in Boston College. Malacañang Photo Bureau

“This most unexpected news was such a shock that I lost all sensation, and lost track of space and time until the phone rang. I scrambled to get to the phone before any of my sisters or my mother, all of whom were upstairs, could answer it. It was a Filipino-American friend from the West Coast, and by her somber tone, I immediately knew something was wrong, but she wouldn’t tell me anything. When I got upstairs, I found them all awake, and also tuned on to the news, knowing nothing definite, waiting for messages from friends and allies.”

Aquino narrated that the news was broken to them by Takeo Iguchi, the Japanese Consul at the time and a friend of the older Aquino, who heard the news through a Japanese politician, who was informed by a Japanese reporter on the plane with the late senator.

“This was one of our family’s lowest points. As the only son, I felt an overwhelming urge to exact an eye for an eye. Mr. Marcos and his ilk were like rabid dogs who had lost all reason. There was no longer any potential for dialogue; the only solution when confronted by a rabid dog is to put it down,” he said.

“Then Consul Iguchi said to me: Your people will be looking up to your mother and yourself. And it was there that the idea began to take root, that you cannot make decisions just for yourself.”

The President described his father’s death as first extinguishing all hope, but soon “started a new movement for change.”

“For me, the time my family spent in Boston will always be linked to the revolution that reclaimed democracy and our national dignity. The solidarity we felt from Boston College and the community here was a precursor of the solidarity displayed by the millions of Filipinos who massed in EDSA. It is, indeed, an understatement to say that Boston is close to my family’s heart,” he said.

Investment destination

Symbolic of coming full circle, Aquino then cited his administration’s achievements, including the economic growth of the Philippines and its credit rating upgrades, good governance that led to reforms, expansion of healthcare and basic education, decrease in joblessness and the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

He also thanked Filipino-Americans and the international community for their assistance after Typhoon Yolanda (international name Haiyan), which hit the Philippines in November last year – the strongest typhoon to make landfall.

Aquino vowed to continue the progress instituted by his government.

“Our achievements thus far are merely the beginning of a new era of transformation. We are at the threshold of sustained, positive change in our society; we have corrected the inefficiencies in government, stopped the wrong practices, and engendered a shift in the Filipino mindset, from one of indifference and despair, to one where we can dream again, and are increasingly being given the wherewithal to fulfill our dreams,” he said.

HOMECOMING. President Benigno Aquino III is warmly welcomed by Filipino Americans in his first return to Boston after 31 years. Malacañang Photo Bureau

The President’s primary aim in his US trip is to continue his bid to sell the Philippines as an investment destination in Asia, as he did in Europe – a trip which he said, $2.3 billion (P102.3 billion) in investments.

In New York, Aquino will join other world leaders at the United Nations Climate Change Summit, and attend a business roundtable with the US Chamber of Commerce, the US-Asean Business Council, and the US-Philippines Society. He will also meet with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and will ring the NYSE bell, as well as attend a breakfast roundtable with CEOs also at the NYSE.

He will also speak at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University.

From New York, the President will head to San Francisco for more business meetings.

The government allotted P14.8 million ($333,034) for his US visit, which covers expenses for transportation, accommodation, food, equipment and other requirements of the delegation.

With him in the United States are members of his official family, namely, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Trade and Industry Secretary Gregory Domingo, Socio-economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, Presidential Assistant on Climate Change Secretary Mary Ann Lucille Sering, Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Press Secretary Herminio Coloma, Presidential Management Staff Chief Julia Andrea Abad, Presidential Protocol Chief Celia Anna Feria, Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III and Undersecretary Rochelle Ahorro.

Aquino will be back in the Philippines on September 25. –

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