Was it his fate or faith that led Ninoy Aquino to return back to the Philippines on August 23, 1983 knowing what awaited him upon arrival?
Even as he wore a bullet-proof vest, Ninoy Aquino told the journalists accompanying him on China Airlines Flight 811 from Taipei that "you have to be ready with your camera because this action can become very fast...in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over...and I may not be able to talk to you again after this.” He was precisely right.
Just a a week before Ninoy left his family in Boston, he received word of a plot to assassinate him upon his arrival in Manila from Ferdinand Marcos’ Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile. First Lady Imelda Marcos warned him months earlier that if he returned to Manila, he will most certainly be killed. But Ninoy ignored the threats.
In a “Letter to Ninoy” which he read to members of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM) on August 21, 2006 at St. Andrew's Chruch in Daly City, California, Ken Kashiwahara (husband of Ninoy’s kid sister, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara), wrote: “A lot of people don’t realize that the preparation for your trip was nerve-wracking: four months on an emotional roller coaster, a battle of nerves, with the other side firing all the salvos. Any ordinary mortal would have succumbed to the enormous20pressures. I for one wouldn’t have blamed you one bit had you cancelled your trip. But then, that’s what made you so special: your commitment to a cause, your daring to dream; which is why, on this day especially, I feel such a sense of loss.”
Ken recalled the last night of Ninoy’s life. ”You were subdued that last night in Taiwan. After what you’d been through, I could understand why. Up to the last minute, rumors were still flying: that you’d be hit at the airport when we landed, that the plane would be turned around. But they were just more rumors, we thought. There was no turning back now,” Kashiwara said.
When martial law was declared, Ninoy Aquino was among the first of more than 10,000 Filipinos to be detained by the Marcos Dictatorship. He was confined to a small cell in Ft. Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija. In a smuggled letter to Sen. Soc Rodrigo on June 19, 1973, Ninoy described his incarceration:
“I was stripped naked. My wedding ring, watch, eyeglasses, shoes, clothes were all taken away. Later, a guard who was in civilian clothes brought in a bedpan and told me that I would be allowed to go to the bathroom once a day in the morning, to shower, brush my teeth and wash my clothes… I was issued only two jockey briefs and two T-shirts which I alternated every other day. The guards held on to our toothbrush and toothpaste and we had to ask for them every morning. Apparently the intention was to make us really feel helpless and dependent for everything on the guards.”
At this point of his desperation and deep desolation, Ninoy questioned the justice of God. Why was God allowing the thieves in Malacanang to enjoy themselves while he was being made to suffer so much in prison? What had he done to offend God?
“Then, as if I heard a voice tell me,” Ninoy wrote: “Why do you cry? I have gifted you with consolations, honors and glory which have been denied to the millions of your countrymen. I made you the youngest war correspondent, presidential assistant, mayor, vice governor, governor, and Senator of the Republic, and I recall you never thanked me for all these gifts. I have given you a full life, a great wife and beautiful lovable children. Now that I visit you with a slight desolation, you cry and whimper like a spoiled brat!”
“With this realization,” Ninoy wrote, “I went down on my knees and begged His forgiveness. I know I was merely undergoing a test, maybe in preparation for another mission. I know everything that happens in this world is with His knowledge and consent. I knew He would not burden me with a load I could not carry. I therefore resigned myself to His will.”
Ninoy’s persecution by Marcos had transformed him from just another ambitious politician to a man who looked beyond material wealth and personal glory.
Ken Kashiwahara recalled that on that fateful Sunday morning of August 21, 1983, Ninoy was up at 5 AM in Taipei praying the rosary, calling up Cory in Boston, speaking to his children one by one and writing each of them a letter. And soon Ninoy and Ken were on the morning plane bound for Manila.
“Your faith in God gave you strength,” Ken wrote in his Letter to Ninoy: ” I understood that when I turned to talk to you on the plane and you were deep in prayer, head bowed, praying the rosary again. You hoped for the best but settled for what God gave you: a “victory” if we just landed, you said. After all you’d been through, I thought, it would be indeed.”
Upon arrival in Manila, Ninoy had prepared a speech but a soldier’s bullet to the back of his skull prevented him from delivering it. He would have said: “According to Gandhi, the willing sacrifice of the innocent is the most powerful answer to insolent tyranny that has yet been conceived by God and man.”
Ninoy’s sacrifice was a “victory” as Ken wrote posthumously to Ninoy of the funeral procession attended by more three million Filipinos. “It was a victory the likes of which the world had never seen. Millions of people visited you at your house, in Santo Domingo Church, and said goodbye as you rode the final leg of your journey to Manila Memorial Park. It took eleven hours to get there, not your speed, I know, but so many people wanted to see you. When we passed Rizal Park, the heavens opened up with a torrent of rain, thunder and lightning. I assumed that was you making your presence known. People became energized, looking to the skies, arms raised, shouting “Laban” and “Ninoy”.
The Filipino people were inspired by Ninoy’s faith that “the Filipino is worth dying for”, resolving that his sacrifice would not be in vain. Less than three years later, the mighty all-powerful Marcos Dictatorship was deposed.
Let us honor Ninoy’s sacrifice by attending the 25th anniversary of his assassination on August 21, 2008 at the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall at 6PM for a Candlelight Vigil and March to the Green Room of the Veterans War Memorial Bldg at 7:30 PM to watch the world premier of the documentary “Beyond Conspiracy: 25 Years After the Aquino Assassination”.