Ninoy Aquino

[Newspoint] The Ninoy constituency

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] The Ninoy constituency

David Castuciano

Considering that no trumpets nor drums had heralded the Santo Domingo commemoration, any heart that beats for Ninoy could only have felt especially warmed

On Monday, the Church of Santo Domingo in Quezon City overflowed with commemorators of the murder, 40 years ago to the day, of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He would have been president if Ferdinand E. Marcos had not declared Martial Law and made himself dictator before his term could expire.

Ninoy’s body lay in state in that church to accommodate mourners from among the public at large after an assassin had shot him as he was being led, under arrest, down a secret airstair attached to the plane that had landed him home from exile. The funeral, which followed the weeklong wake, drew crowds in numbers never seen before on any Philippine occasion; more than a million people lined the route of the cortège. Only two instances have shown comparable numbers:

One was the street protest that lasted four straight days on EDSA, Metro Manila’s main highway, in February 1986, and chased Marcos and his family and some cronies off to foreign exile, ending his own 14-year reign of terror. It was the culmination of an outrage whose buildup had been speeded over the two and a half years after the assassination. Copied in other parts, the bloodless revolt has come to be known to the world as “people power.”

The other comparable instance was Leni Robredo’s 2022 run for the presidency. She had crowds that topped a million, which should explain the anger and suspicions that have lingered since Ferdinand Jr., whose own crowds did not come even remotely close, was declared the winner. Sure enough, evidence tending to show a questionable vote has begun to turn up.

Considering that no trumpets nor drums had heralded the Santo Domingo commemoration, any heart that beats for Ninoy could only have felt especially warmed. All 2,000 pew seats were filled with yet a considerable overspill onto the churchyard and the streets outside. I think I’ve kept a constant and close enough account though the years, and I don’t recall a crowd of that size or that quality of cause or that fervor turning out on any Ninoy anniversary. And to think Ninoy’s own generation has come down to its last standing activists – dead at only 51, he’d have been himself 90.

The Santo Domingo crowd was a mix of generations, from us, who actually lived through Ninoy’s persecution and assassination, guiltily, and his resurrection as a cause, down to the under-40, for whom he was merely an instilled memory. He had languished in solitary confinement for seven years and was only let go when Marcos became anxious at the prospect of his highest-profile prisoner dying on him. And so, Ninoy was flown to the United States for life-saving heart surgery. He remained there with his wife, Cory, and their children in the next three years.

Ninoy’s eldest child, Ballsy, tearfully recalled at Mass the events leading to her father’s fatal homecoming, portraying it as a coming to terms with his destiny. Neither the threats on his life – he was alerted to them by, among others, Marcos’ wife, Imelda, no less – nor the endless imploring by his own family could dissuade him, Ballsy said. (WATCH: Ninoy Aquino’s indomitable spirit)

I haven’t seen Mass concelebrated by so many clerics; around sixty of them crowded the chancel. And there could not have been a better choice for lead presider than Bishop Soc Villegas, a mentee of the legendary Jaime Cardinal Sin, the rallying voice himself of people power. Bishop Villegas ended his homily with the old battlecry “Tuloy ang laban!” and held his fighting fist in the air until the last note of the old battle hymn “Bayan Ko” had been sung.

As endless camaraderie proceeded after Mass, I felt like being in the midst of a promising reunion among the core of the Ninoy constituency. And with Leni Robredo’s presence – so quiet and deferential that the mild commotion that greeted her upon arrival was limited to a front crowd that somehow noticed her – I just can’t help postulating a political lineage that goes from Ninoy to Leni, two would-be presidents bookending Ninoy’s wife, Cory, and their son, Noynoy, who themselves made it to the presidency, but whose reformist efforts have been undone by successors in the corrupt Marcos mold.

Never mind if it were an undercount, a vote of 15 million conceded  to Leni, by its sheer size and given those voters’ proper frame of mind, as their choice of Leni itself reflected, should make for a constituency that could work for its common good and also undertake, for the greater good, sociopolitical interventions, people-power-fashion, as prefigured by Leni’s electoral campaign.

I don’t know that Santo Domingo gave enough hints at that prospect or that I simply tended to overread. But the dictator’s heir and now president, Ferdinand Jr., himself appeared bothered. On the very day of the Santo Domingo commemoration, he sent out a call for “transcend[ing] political barriers,” wishing in other words that his father’s dictatorship of torture, murder, and plunder would be forgotten.

His call went deservedly ignored. –

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