MANILA, Philippines – Hardly any government agency commemorated Ninoy Aquino Day on Sunday, August 21, departing from annual celebrations held in observance of the official holiday.
Under Republic Act No. 9256 signed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004, August 21 was declared an annual special non-working holiday to mark the death anniversary of the opposition senator, who was assassinated upon returning to the Philippines on August 21, 1983. (READ: Malacañang posts Ninoy Aquino’s undelivered arrival speech)
Among official accounts that did acknowledge Aquino’s 39th death anniversary, the holiday was used to discredit the opposition figure’s pivotal role in Philippine history.
In particular, at least three social media accounts of police stations, including the Batangas and Quezon maritime police stations, and the Sta. Margarita police station in Samar, instead shared posts that used the anniversary of the Plaza Miranda bombings to falsely tag Aquino as a “communist terrorist.”
The Naval municipal police station in Biliran tweeted posts on Saturday, August 20, that said, “Ninoy Aquino Day and Anniversary of Plaza Miranda bombing” and warned the public against “communist terrorists.”
Hashtags were likewise used to claim that the slain senator is “not a hero” – a phrase associated with the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos whose state burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in November 2016 was contested by Martial Law victims and other concerned groups.
Responding to posts from some of its offices, the Philippine National Police (PNP) distanced itself from messages red-tagging Aquino and said it would probe the incident to determine possible disciplinary sanctions.
“The PNP does not engage in name calling that can malign any person’s reputation. We value respect for human dignity. The posts had been taken down and are now being investigated to determine those responsible for these,” the PNP said in a statement. “If anyone in the organization is found accountable, appropriate disciplinary actions will be imposed.”
In observance of the holiday, government accounts often create commemorative posts while Malacañang shares the president’s message.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator whose regime Aquino fought against, had yet to issue any message as of 4:30 pm on Sunday.
On Twitter, Marcos supporters tried to hijack Ninoy Aquino Day by insisting that the late dictator who plunged the country into its darkest years – well-documented years marked by corruption, plunder, and abuses – is the “real hero” and not Aquino, who was a catalyst in the Philippines’ return to democracy.
Some netizens responded with documented numbers – in the tens of thousands – of people who were detained, tortured, and killed under Marcos’ Martial Law. The Marcoses have never acknowledged or apologized for these.
‘Filipino is worth dying for’
On Sunday, members of the Aquino family held a quiet gathering to commemorate the death of their patriarch.
Opposition senator Risa Hontiveros paid tribute to Aquino, whose death, she said, became part of her “personal history.”
Hontiveros recalled how as a member of student government, she had opposed mobilizing to meet Aquino upon his arrival because he was a traditional politician. “I didn’t know then about his transformation in solitary confinement. Then, one of my CB (central board) mates who had mobilized called from the airport to say, ‘They shot him,’” she said.
“I was stunned, realizing that he had been willing to risk his life and had actually given it up. He had said the Filipino was worth dying for, and he stood true to his words. The rest, as they say, is history. And it became part of my personal history, too,” Hontiveros added. The senator also recalled the famous slogan spread after Aquino’s death, saying “Kababayan, hindi ka nag-iisa” (Countrymen, you are not alone).
Former senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV shared several social media posts commemorating the legacy of his uncle.
Bam Aquino also recalled the words of his cousin, the late former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, who said of his father: “When my father was incarcerated, he sent me a letter. In his letter he said, ‘There is no greater nation on earth than our Motherland. No greater people than our own. Serve them with all your heart, with all your might and with all your strength.’ These are the words that helped me as a public servant and these words will continue to guide me as I lead this country.”
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno said that on this day, “dapat natin gunitain ang dugo, pawis, at luha na kinailangan para mabawi ang ating kalayaan (we should remember the blood, sweat, and tears that had been needed to reclaim our freedom).”
Aquino’s death triggered the EDSA People Power Revolution that ultimately overthrew Marcos after 21 years in power, and led to his wife Corazon Aquino’s ascension to the presidency. The Marcos family was driven into exile in Hawaii until 1991.
In an undelivered speech, Aquino spoke of his decision to return to the Philippines instead of seeking political asylum in America as many close to him had urged.
“I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people especially in time of crisis,” Aquino said. “I never sought nor have I been given assurances or promise of leniency by the regime. I return voluntarily armed only with a clear conscience and fortified in the faith that in the end justice will emerge triumphant.”
Meanwhile, various Philippine media outlets honored Ninoy Aquino’s memory and contribution to the country through social media posts.
Altermidya, a network of independent and progressive media, institutions, and individuals, organized a free screening of Martial Law-themed films, while Project Gunita held a “history fair” at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City to fight efforts to revise the country’s history.
There was also a commemorative activity at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 1, where Aquino was killed – floral wreaths were offered in his memory, alongside a reproduction of the police chalk outline of his body on the tarmac. – Rappler.com