Faith and Spirituality

‘Is there really a God?’: Even Ninoy Aquino opened up to Pat Robertson

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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‘Is there really a God?’: Even Ninoy Aquino opened up to Pat Robertson

HEART TO HEART. Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. sits down for an interview with Pat Robertson on 'The 700 Club' in June 1981.

Screenshot from 'The 700 Club'

Pat Robertson of 'The 700 Club,' who died at 93, influenced believers from different parts of the world, including Filipino opposition leader Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. in solitary detention

MANILA, Philippines – Alone in his prison cell, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. would sit in front of a little television set, “one of the great bonuses” he had in solitary confinement, from 3 to 5 pm each day.

It was The 700 Club on Channel 7.

The 700 Club, which airs to this day, is the flagship show of the Christian Broadcasting Network, a 63-year-old media giant founded by American televangelist Pat Robertson. 

The Christian preacher, who helped turn Christian conservatives into a potent force in US politics, died at the age of 93 on Thursday, June 8. Through The 700 Club, Robertson influenced believers from different parts of the world – including Aquino, the nemesis of Philippine dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos. 

In an interview on The 700 Club in June 1981, when Aquino was allowed to fly to the US for heart surgery, the Filipino opposition leader said the Christian program “kept me company in my solitary cell.”

“I was listening to this, and every time you would have a testimony, I would feel sort of an affiliation to it, because I also felt the same thing about the good Lord,” Aquino told Robertson.

Aquino, whose family was devoutly Catholic, then opened up about his spiritual crisis while he was detained. His widow, Corazon Aquino, would later confirm his deep prayer life while in detention, recalling in a 2005 speech that her husband would sometimes “pray as many as 50 rosaries a day.”

‘I began to doubt’

Robertson asked Aquino, “Tell me about your relationship with the Lord in this solitary thing. Something unusual happened spiritually to you.”

PROBING QUESTIONS. Pat Robertson of ‘The 700 Club’ interviews Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. about his life in detention.

Aquino answered: “Well, you know, I’m a Catholic, I was born a Catholic, and 85% of the Filipino people are Christians, as you know. But we never really read the Bible as Catholics, I don’t know why. And we were instinctively Catholic, we believed in God, but as a young man, I had no time for God. I was too busy with my politics.”

Aquino, who became a politician at the age of 23, thought he was “self-contained.” At the time of the interview, Aquino was a 48-year-old opposition leader and former journalist who had occupied the posts of mayor, vice governor, governor, and senator in a span of a decade.

“I thought, on my own steam, I can make it. I only went to God when I needed his help, when the votes were coming in and I’d say, ‘Dear Lord, help me.’ But when the votes are in, I forget the Lord. But when I was placed in deep solitary confinement, with nobody to talk to, I became desperate. And here I started to question the fundamentals of my belief,” he said.

“Firstly,” Aquino asked, “is there really a God?” 

“I began to doubt that. I said, if there is a God, why should I be here? What have I done? Why are the crooks all out? And so I asked the second question: Was there a God when the children were gassed at Auschwitz? At Buchenwald? At Dachau? Where was he? Where is this God?” he said.

“But then I felt,” Aquino continued, “there must be a God because then, all of this suffering will be useless. I mean, if I am suffering like this and there’s no God, who will ever reward me? Who will ever pay me back? So there must be a God. So I felt then – maybe it’s a fool’s consolation – I had to even invent him if there is no God because that’s the only way you can survive.”

“Without him, Pat, you’ll never make it. And as Saint Paul said, ‘I’m strongest when I am weakest.’ And I became strongest when I was down there on the floor, in solitary confinement, alone. And it’s only when he came to me, that I really felt strongest,” Aquino told Robertson.

‘Welcome your suffering’

The televangelist later prompted Aquino to discuss how “the suffering did something” for him.

“Well, Pat, suffering can do two ways. It can break you or make you. In my particular instance, I welcomed it as an opportunity. With this suffering, I knew that God cared for me. ‘Cause if he didn’t care for me, he won’t make me suffer,” Aquino said.

SPIRITUAL CRISIS. Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr. opens up to Pat Robertson in this 1981 interview about his spiritual crisis while in detention.

He then recalled how his children would visit him once a week while in detention, and how his “heart would be broken” whenever they left. “But it’s only then that I really realized the value of my children. God had to take them away, for me to realize that value.”

“So I think the message is, welcome your suffering because God will never give you a suffering that will break you. It’s only a manifestation of his love, I think, that he makes us suffer to really realize him. Because when we’re in glory, we don’t know him. But when we suffer, we remember him,” said Aquino, who was martyred on an airport tarmac two years later.

While Robertson was sympathetic to Aquino during this 1981 interview, however, there was more to Robertson’s politics.

In the same interview, Robertson mentioned the Philippine Heart Center, where Aquino was once confined. Robertson noted that the Philippine Heart Center was one of the projects of then-first lady Imelda Marcos, then said in passing, “We donated some money to it a few years ago, as a matter of fact, here at The 700 Club.”

Pat Robertson’s lasting influence on American politics: 3 essential reads

Pat Robertson’s lasting influence on American politics: 3 essential reads

In 1980, The 700 Club also helped galvanize support among Christian conservatives for Republican Ronald Reagan’s successful campaign for president. 

Reagan at first was one of Marcos’ supporters – until the assassination of Aquino in 1983 led to the dictator’s ouster in 1986. – with reports from Reuters/

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email