Some millennials (those reaching adulthood around the year 2000) revered the late Sen. Begnigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. as a national hero and hated the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos as a villain who, they said, should not have been buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
Actually, the question of whether to treat former Senator Aquino a national hero came in November 1983, barely three months after he was assassinated when the late Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Prize that year, however, went to social activist Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu, of South Africa, for his relentless campaign against apartheid.
Then on August 18, 1984, 59 of the 183 elected Assemblymen in the Batasang Pambansa (Parliament) recommended Ninoy to become officially a national hero. Fortunately, for the future, most of the legislators were either sober or were still adjusting to their seats three months after the elections.
“Had they mindlessly certified him a national hero,” said historians Salvador Escalante and J. Augustius Y. De La Paz of the Truth and Justice Foundation, “the precedent would have made it a lot easier for people to qualify for the same honor—if they had the lineage, the ambition, the cunning, the breaks, the stagecraft, the ego and, of course, some talent. They could get away with a crime or two, with dalliances, with heresy, and still get to become heroes.”
Ninoy was devastatingly irresistible. Many found it effortless to empathize and identify with him, for he was a mirror of what they wanted to be but could not become: casual but powerful, brimming with confidence, more than capable of speaking his mind, and yes, seemingly untouchable. Biographers Dr. Jose Y. Dalisay Jr. and Arnold Molina Azurin explained: “He was a master showman, imbued with dramatic flair, keen to the power of the headline and an expert in the use of media for political positioning.”
That was his magic: the publicity, the posturing, the grandstanding. In more modern terms, a hologram, a three-dimensional projection of the Overwhelming Ego.
The consensus is that all that he accomplished in life on the political stage paled in comparison with his afterlife—which leads one to conclude that he didn’t achieve much in life after all.
Former Assemblyman and Sen. Francisco S. Tatad laconically noted, “Aquino achieved in death what he failed to achieve in life.” A man who accomplished relatively little in life, beyond political entertainment, was glorified so hugely. He was celebrated for the goods he promised, even if he had failed to actually deliver them.
He was hailed as a symbol of the resistance to the Marcos regime, even if, at the end, he had secretly explored collaboration with that regime, for the sake of peace and power.
Escalante and de La paz said he was the personification of the universal promissory note. They said many others opposed the Marcos regime, sacrificed more, talked less, posed less and got less media mileage than Ninoy did. There lay the difference: in the bombast, the posing and the publicity. Ninoy, given his glibness, affinity with the press and stagecraft, was in a class all by himself.
“A bag of hot air, presenting himself as the wind of freedom succeeded in hypnotizing legions into holding him aloft as their messiah. Many among these people, unwilling to admit to gullibility—with some of them profiting handsomely from professing faith in Ninoy—remain impervious to emerging facts that tend to lessen his stature. But the ranks of the bigots are thinning through attrition and time, as the truth assaults their defenses,” the historians said.
The issue of heroism
The issue of heroism is addressed by the book An Undivine Comedy: Ninoy & Cory Aquino as Saints & Heroes? and The Trial of Ninoy Aquino, extracted from Book Two of Lost In Time: The Reestablished Communist Party of the Philippines from Birth to Obsolescence.
These books established that, first, it is premature, and objectionable, to dub Ninoy a national hero. Second, if there ever was lack of due process in his trial for subversion, murder and illegal possession of firearms, he had mostly himself to blame for spurning the generous opportunities given him to defend himself; further, he knew the charges to be factual, and freely admitted having illegally possessed firearms and having given aid and comfort to communist insurgents.
Until his return to the Philippines in 1983, one of the lesser-known segments of Ninoy’s life was his exile in America. His worshippers were of the belief that he came home to “restore democracy” regardless of the risks entailed. Or was it to rebuild his political base, and for the prospect of power?
To be continued
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