PRESIDENT Marcos approved Ninoy’s trip to American on May 8, 1980, with the First Lady facilitating it. On May 7, two days after doctors at the Philippine Heart Center for Asia diagnosed his ailment, Ninoy sought the President’s permission to leave for America for medical treatment. At the time, Ninoy’s mother, Doña Aurora, had a petition for habeas corpus pending with the Supreme Court. President Marcos, therefore, had to endorse Ninoy’s request to the High Tribunal. The Court immediately acted on the endorsement, giving the request its imprimatur the following day.
Ninoy departed for America on the same day, May 8. The officials who saw him off were Metro Manila Deputy Governor Ismael Mathay, Deputy Defense Minister Carmelo Z. Barbero, Philippine Airlines (PAL) General Manager Roman A. Cruz, Manila International Airport Manager Luis Tabuena, and Generals Jose Zumel and Josephus Ramas. On the PAL flight to Houston, Mrs. Marcos sent along cardiac specialists to make certain that nothing more ill befell him on the way to the Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas.
Ninoy himself kept President Marcos informed of what lay ahead following his surgery. On May 26, 1980, Ninoy sent a cable to the President. The Sandiganbayan, during the 1985 trial of those charged with the 1983 murder of Ninoy, would refer to this cablegram:
“He was discharged from Baylor Medical Center on that day with pericarditis [inflammation of tissue surrounding the heart] and was proceeding to San Francisco, California, for a four-week convalescence as ordered by his doctors. He was to return to Dallas by the end of June for final checkup and to begin six to eight weeks of physical-rehabilitation therapy. However, he added, if the President felt that he ‘should return to his Fort Bonifacio cell soonest,’ he shall forgo the recommended physical-rehabilitation therapy.”
The Sandiganbayan continued with what Aquino did next, after being given permission to remain a free man:
“In less than two days [May 27 and 28 1980], Gen. Fabian C. Ver, in behalf of the President, called up to say that President Marcos had given Senator Aquino Jr. permission to take his time and go through with his physical-rehabilitation therapy, and that he can stay in America indefinitely.”
“The reply gave Aquino the distinct impression that his return was not desired, so he accepted a fellowship at the Center for International Affairs of Harvard University, where he stayed for two academic years.”
“He punctuated his sojourn in the United States with travels to such countries as Syria, West Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Nicaragua, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.”
Ninoy accepted a teaching fellowship at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after recovering from his heart surgery. This was after Ver informed him in May 1980 that his stay in America had been “extended indefinitely”. Ninoy’s mother, Doña Aurora A. Aquino, also recalled about two weeks after his death:
“The late Minister [Carmelo] Barbero phoned Ninoy three days after his [Ninoy’s] operation, saying that, by order of the President, Ninoy could take his time and could stay in the United States as long as he wanted.” He was, for practical purposes, a free man. The order for his release from detention was never revoked, at least as of June 1983. Laurel quoted then-Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile as having told him at that time: “The order of the President releasing him from Fort Bonifacio still stands.”
Justice Minister Ricardo Puno and Chief Justice Enrique Fernando also scotched rumors that new charges had been filed against Ninoy (those would come later) in answer to Laurel’s query.
Ninoy accepted another fellowship after his one at Harvard ended in June 1981, this time at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.
Ostensibly, there was a deal between President Marcos and Ninoy, that in exchange for his release from detention to go on exile, the latter would not make any critical political statements against the Marcos administration.
A pact with the devil
According to Escalante and de la Paz, Ninoy himself referred to this deal when he announced that he was breaking it in his well-publicized speech before the Asia Society in New York on August 4, 1980. He had justified his action by declaring that “a pact with the devil is no pact at all.”
Steve Psinakis, the anti-Marcos journalist-businessman, wrote of that day in New York:
“In a stinging speech which caused headlines in the Philippines and in other countries, Ninoy warned Marcos of the ‘gathering storm’. He told his audience that he had talked to the leaders of several ‘young, idealistic groups of Filipinos,’ who have been preparing for ‘massive urban guerrilla warfare.’ The guerrillas, Aquino said, had revealed to him their ‘destabilization plan’, which included bombings, assassinations and kidnappings of public officials and military officers…in order to bring the Marcos regime to its knees. Ninoy warned that unless Marcos moved quickly and sincerely toward normalization, the urban guerrillas will start implementing their destabilization plan.”
To be continued
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