Philippines: Ninoy assassination a distant memory 30 years onBy Edwin Espejo Aug 21, 2013 7:24PM UTC
One of the most enduring photographs of the 1980s is a blurred and grainy picture of a man in white Safari jacket lying face down in a pool of his own blood.
It was Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr, gunned down while being led to the airport tarmac. Although the identity of the real gunman will never be publicly known, it was believed that one of the security escorts who fetched him inside the China Airlines plane was the triggerman. Not Rolando Galman, the alleged hired assassin, who was also killed after he reportedly shot Aquino.
Somewhere, somehow the truth is still waiting to be told.
Former Philippine senator Wigberto ‘Bobby’ Tañada gave one of the more poignant reactions to the incident that changed the course of Philippine history. He said despite the passage of time, identifying the mastermind who plotted the assassination will bring closure to one of the dastardly crimes in the history of Philippine politics.
The Tañadas were close family friends of the murdered senator.
Despite the significance of Ninoy’s death, today’s generation has little memory of and identification with the event of August 21, 1983.
One college student who was not yet born when Ninoy was killed can only venture to say he is the father of the current Philippine president, who is his namesake. Another knew that he was killed at the airport.
For a generation which does not know what it is like to live under a dictatorship, very few will find value in his martyrdom. To a new generation of activists, Ninoy is just but one of those who died fighting for freedom and democracy and resisting the dictatorship.
The country stood in stunned silence one Sunday afternoon when the news of his assassination emerged – first as muted outrage and then burning anger all over the country in the days that followed.
Despite efforts of the propaganda machine of the then President Ferdinand Marcos to downplay the event, there was no stopping the news from spreading across the land.
In the provinces, it was not until the following day when they read the papers and saw the iconic photo of the man who said before he made his final journey home from US exile that “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
I myself got hold of the August 22, 1983 copy of the Manila Bulletin the following day as Philippine Airlines Manila-Gensan flights then came only thrice a week.
Those were the days when the Philippine press was muzzled by the dictator who still held tight control despite the cosmetic lifting of Martial Law in 1981. Again, who among today’s young generation understands what is it to live under military rule?
“Ninoy, ‘Di na Nag-iisa” (Ninoy, you are not alone) became a rallying cry for the people outraged and scandalized by the brazenness of the crime.
That slogan was immortalized into a huge mural that became a symbol to the anti-dictatorship movement. Ninoy’s face was painted in a Papo de Asis orchestrated masterpiece alongside Dr. Bobby de la Paz, Johnny Escandor, Macli-ing Dulag and Edgar Jopson, all anti-Marcos activists who were also killed by elements of the dictatorship machinery. Held aloft on a flat-bed ten-wheeler truck during Ninoy’s funeral march, the mural became one of the enduring images of the post-Ninoy assassination events.
Lost in memory
Thirty years after his death, however, even his children no longer seem interested in finding the truth behind their father’s death.
Three decades after, though, the people are still protesting. But instead of remembering his death, they are organizing a million protesters on Monday, August 26, against legalized corruption called the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
How little has changed even if his wife, the late Corazon Aquino eventually succeeded Marcos as president via a popular revolt. Even if his son is now also president.
Nobody can blame them for the comfort of Malacañang that the presidency gives. Maybe that is the satisfaction they wanted for Ninoy’s death. Perhaps those now in power want Ninoy’s memory to be left at it is lest the wounds of the past are again re-opened.
But there is the greater segment of the victims of Martial Law and the Marcos dictatorship still longing for justice. The more than 10,000 families who had their loved ones killed, tortured, imprisoned and forcibly disappeared.
One day, when history will be rewritten, it will be in the blood and tears of those who suffered most. Ninoy’s memory will be just among those who perished under the dictatorship to defend freedom and democracy.