Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino: Cosmic Brothers

If you compare all the Philippine national heroes from Lapu-Lapu to Cory Aquino, it is unlikely that you will find two heroes more uncannily similar, in how they lived and in how they died, than Dr. Jose Rizal and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.

Both came from similar class backgrounds - their families were below hacendero level landed gentry; both studied at the elite Ateneo school; both traveled extensively; wrote prolifically and returned to the Philippines despite warnings that they faced certain death upon setting foot on native soil.

Both were tried for treason on trumped-up charges by kangaroo courts which sentenced them to death. Both were executed by tyrants who feared their return and their deaths sparked revolutions that overthrew the tyrannies that caused their martyrdoms.

More than other heroes, Rizal and Aquino fit the textbook mythological model of a “tragic hero” – one born=2 0of privilege, imbued with heroic qualities, and fated to endure great suffering. In the classic mold, Prof. Ronald Santora relates, “the hero struggles mightily against this fate and this cosmic conflict wins our admiration.”

Why did Dr. Jose Rizal in 1892 and Ninoy Aquino in 1983 return to the Philippines knowing of the certain tragedy that awaited them upon their arrival? Was it Fate or Free Will?

Dr. Jose Rizal lived and studied in Europe for almost a decade, obtaining advanced degrees in fine arts, medicine (ophthalmology) and even a doctorate in languages. Rizal also wrote two novels, Noli Mi Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which exposed Spanish abuses in the Philippines.

Aside from his academic achievements, Rizal immersed himself in the Filipino Ilustrado expatriate movement for reforms, organizing forums and contributing regular editorial essays to the movement’s main journal, La Solidaridad.

On November 20, 1891, Rizal moved to Hongkong and established a private practice in ophthalmology there, drawing patients from throughout the crown colony. Before the end of the year, Rizal made enough money to finance the migration to Hongkong of his parents and siblings.

While Rizal was overjoyed to be finally reunited with his family, he was deeply dismayed by the factionalism and lack of unity that plagued the Filipino movement in Europe. As Jose Baron Fernandez noted in his book, (Jose Rizal: Filipino Doctor and Patriot,1980):

“During the first two month s in 1892, the propaganda campaign was in disarray; (Marcelo) Del Pilar in Madrid, abandoned by all except his brother-in-law, (Graciano) Lopez-Jaena in Barcelona, very skeptical of La Propaganda, with its utter neglect of its obligations, and, finally, the new committee of La Propaganda which proposed to Rizal the launching of a new fortnightly paper, as well as the organization of a new party – the Rizalist party. Meanwhile, from Paris came news of the formation of a revolutionary organization called Katipunan (headed by Andres Bonifacio).”

Ninoy Aquino had been incarcerated in solitary confinement by the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos for almost eight years by May of 1980, when he suffered two severe heart attacks within a week of each other. Because of fear of negative publicity if Aquino died while under military custody, First Lady Imelda Marcos ordered him released and quickly flown to the U.S. on May 9, 1980. Everyone expected him to die on an operating table at a hospital in Dallas, Texas, but Aquino defied the odds and survived.

After recuperating from heart surgery, Aquino spent three years in the U.S., setting up a home in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts with his wife Cory and all their kids. He recei ved fellowship grants from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, worked on the manuscripts of two books, and delivered speeches throughout the U.S. denouncing Marcos and martial law.

Aquino found himself caught in the factional intrigues of=2 0the anti-Marcos opposition in the U.S. On one flank was the Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) under Sen. Raul Manglapus which advocated for the return of parliamentary democracy. On the other was the Katipunan ng mga Demokratikong Pilipino (KDP or Union of Democratic Filipinos) which supported the revolutionary overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino received disquieting news about the deteriorating political situation in the Philippines with the consensus forming that the Philippines was just five years away from a full-scale bloody revolution. Because of the declining health of Marcos, Aquino felt it imperative to return to the Philippines to convince Marcos to restore democracy “before extremists take over and make such a change impossible.”

Like Aquino, Rizal too feared the very revolution his own writings had inspired. “Rizal was opposed to Bonifacio’s revolution,” writer-historian F. Sionil Jose wrote. “To seek his support, Pio Valenzuela visited him in Dapitan where the Spaniards had exiled him. Rizal argued against that revolution, saying that Filipinos were not ready for it, that the cost – and the bloodshed – would be tremendous.”

Seeking to avert a bloody revolution, both freely chose to return back to the Philippines to personally make the case for a non-violent reform alternative. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. Rizal was executed in Luneta (now Rizal Park) on December 30, 1896 by a firing squad20of Filipino soldiers acting on the orders of Malacanang Palace. Ninoy was killed at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (now the Ninoy Aquino International Airport) on August 21, 1983 by an execution squad of Filipino soldiers acting also on the orders of Malacanang Palace.

Rizal’s execution triggered the Katipunan revolution that led to the Filipino people’s overthrow of Spanish rule. Ninoy’s execution sparked the People Power revolution that led to the ouster of the Marcoses from the Philippines.

In their cosmic conflicts against their fates, by their words and by their deeds, Dr. Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino transformed the Philippines and the Filipino people.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who Ordered the Hit on Ninoy Aquino?

Many years ago, while I was waiting in line to see the Agatha Christie whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, a moviegoer who was exiting the theater screamed out “They all did it!” spoiling the suspense.

Every year, on the occasion of the anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, people ask: Who ordered the hit? Was it the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos? First Lady Imelda Marcos? Marcos crony and business mogul Danding Cojuangco? Armed Forces Chief Gen. Fabian Ver? Or, like Murder on the Orient Express, was it all of the above?

The conventional wisdom points to Ferdinand Marcos as the mastermind because the military scope and precision of the assassination could simply not have occurred without the knowledge and involvement of the loyal Gen. Fabian Ver, who would not have undertaken such an enterprise without the dictator's’ knowledge and approval.

But the sheer audacity and brazen gall of assassinating Ninoy Aquino right at the airport, just minutes after his arrival, in full view of the world’s press, with all the predictable dire consequences to the regime that would ensue, bore all the earmarks of the politically unsophisticated and psychologically unstable Imelda Marcos.
So who ordered it? Let’s review what facts are known.

Ninoy Aquino's plane had just landed in Manila on August 21, 1983 on a flight from Taipei when Philippine soldiers entered the plane, approached Ninoy and placed him under their custody and control. The soldiers quickly hustled him through the crowded aisle and out the airport door, which they immediately shut to prevent anyone from following them to a side staircase.

A few seconds later, shots were fired and Ninoy’s lifeless body lay on the concrete tarmac of the Manila International Airport.

About 16 soldiers (no officers) were later charged with conspiring to kill Ninoy. “The forensic evidence submitted to the trial court," columnist Antonio Abaya wrote, "established that the trajectory of the fatal bullet was forward, downward and medially, the bullet entering Aquino’s skull near his left ear and exiting at his chin. This was consistent with the gun being fired at Aquino by someone behind him who was at a higher plane than he was, such as someone who was one or two steps behind him on a downward flight of stairs.”

Rolando Galman, the hapless patsy brought by his military handlers through tight security at the airport, was positioned at the foot of the staircase. After Aquino was shot once from behind, the soldiers pointed their assault rifles at Galman and shot him several times to make sure he was dead.

After a military van appeared on the tarmac, soldiers quickly loaded the bodies of both Aquino and Galman on to the van, which then sped to a military camp. Several hours passed before their cold corpses were delivered to a coroner for examination.

Barely eight hours later, Marcos announced to the world that “communist hit man” Rolando Galman had killed Ninoy Aquino.

Of course no one believed Marcos and a fact-finding commission he formed in response to world public opinion determined that 16 soldiers were responsible for Ninoy’s murder and they were so charged.

After the soldiers were all convicted of conspiracy in the killing of Ninoy and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Muntinglupa penitentiary, one of them, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, later became a born-again Christian and publicly disclosed what the other convicted soldiers refused to do.

In his affidavit, Martinez revealed that he was assigned by Col. Romeo Ochoco, then deputy commander of the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom); Brig. Gen. Romeo Gatan of the Philippine Constabulary (PC); and Herminio Gosuico, a civilian businessman from Nueva Ecija, to escort Galman from a hotel near the airport to the tarmac, to await the arrival of Ninoy from Taipei.

Witnesses who testified at the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission had previously identified Gosuico, a known associate of Marcos crony Danding Cojuangco – along with Air Force Col. Arturo Custodio and two others – as the men who fetched Galman from his home in San Miguel, Bulacan, on August 17, 1983.

Martinez revealed that he was personally recruited for the special assignment by Col. Ochoa, whom he had previously served under. Martinez reported that he and Galman were briefed on the assassination plan at the Carlston Hotel near the domestic airport on the night of August 20, 1983. Briefing them on the details were Gen. Gatan, Col. Ochoco and Gosuico. That evening, Col. Ochoco gave Galman a .357 Magnum revolver, while Martinez was given a Smith & Wesson .38 cal .revolver. Galman had no idea that would be his last evening alive.

On the morning of August 21, 1983, just before Martinez brought Galman to the airport, he said that Galman’s mistress, Anna Oliva, and her sister, Catherine, were brought by soldiers to the Carlston Hotel to have breakfast with Galman. The two women were last seen at their workplace on September 4, 1983 when armed men picked them up. Their corpses were later exhumed from a sugarcane field in Capas, Tarlac in 1988 in a hacienda owned by Danding Cojuangco.

Galman’s wife, Lina Lazaro, was picked up at her home by two men on January 29, 1984 and was never seen again. During the Agrava fact-finding inquiry, Gosuico was identified by Galman’s son and stepdaughter as one of the two men who picked up their mother.
Despite all the testimonies implicating them to Ninoy’s assassination, neither Col. Ochoco, Gen. Gatan nor Gosuico were ever charged with involvement in the conspiracy to kill Ninoy.

Former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez was a Sandiganbayan prosecutor under President Cory Aquino when he came upon a witness with critical evidence, who was willing to testify under certain conditions. Gonzalez went to President Cory in Malacanang to tell her that the witness demanded protection for herself and her three kids. Before Cory would agree to the terms, she asked Gonzalez who the witness would name as the mastermind.

When Gonzalez answered that she would name her first cousin, Danding Cojuangco, Pres. Cory reportedly responded, “Impossible! It cannot be!” She refused the witness’ request for protection and the witness eventually disappeared.

Gen. Romeo Gatan later died of a heart ailment. Hermie Gosuico died under what would be described as mysterious circumstances, leading Abaya to ask: “Did he die of illness or accident, or was he eliminated because he knew too much?"

Of the original known conspirators named by Martinez, only Col. Ochoco is still breathing, reportedly with his family somewhere in Stockton, California.

But Imelda Marcos and San Miguel Corporation CEO Danding Cojuangco are still very much alive and they know all too well who ordered the hit on Ninoy Aquino 26 years ago this week. They can spoil the suspense.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Oust Willie!

The August 1 death of Corazon Aquino produced an unprecedented show of unity in a historically fragmented nation, with hundreds of thousands of people lining up to personally bid her farewell, from marginalized squatters to high society matrons, from leftist revolutionaries to rightist coup plotters. The one discordant note in the otherwise unified sea of harmony came from Wowowee host Willie Revillame, who complained on the air that the Cory funeral cortege was taking the fun out of his hugely popular ABS CBN variety show.

The petty complaint occurred during the noontime telecast of Wowowee on August 3, 2009, when, while a contestant was dancing in the “Willie of Fortune” segment of the show, a window screen showed a live feed of the coffin of Cory Aquino being transported from La Salle Green Hills to the Manila Cathedral. The unwelcome distraction irritated Willie Revillame, the highest paid entertainer in the Philippines (reportedly one million pesos a day), causing him to blurt out on the air in Tagalog:

“If that’s the case, let’s just show it! Because we’re trying to have fun here and then…This hurts me, please. I hope you understand. We’re having fun here and then you’re going to show… It’s not right, OK? It’s ugly! It’s not pretty to me. We’re talking and then you show the coffin of Tita Cory, what? How can we have fun? It’s difficult for us. I’m sorry but for me, it’s true. Don’t get upset because it’s true…After my show, you can show whatever you want to show. Because this Wowowee, what I want…Right? And Tita Cory knows this because my show also made her happy, ok?”

ABS CBN management agreed and ceased showing any further live feeds of the funeral until after Willie’s show.

One “avid viewer of ABS CBN” named Roel C. Saguisag was so enraged by what Willie Revillame said that he drafted an on line petition where he wrote:

“Some may argue that Willie's intention was good, but I rather find these statements rude and arrogant. Wowowee and Revillame are known by millions of Filipino viewers and the show is even watched across several countries through TFC. To react in such way is downright arrogant and disrespectful to former President Corazon Aquino. I know that it was bad taste for ABS-CBN to show a snippet of the funeral on Wowowee, but it was worst for Revillame to react that way…

Was it really hard for him to be humble and human? I believe that this is not the first time that he aired his views and rather arrogant comments on-air. He embarrasses his staff, makes fun of the contestants, and arrogantly acts on TV almost every day. Pres. Aquino taught us humility, and Revillame is showing us the exact opposite: arrogance.”
Saguisag called on the management of ABS-CBN to “stop the arrogant acts of Willie Revillame … and reprimand him because of his actions.” His on line “petition to oust Willie” on has already drawn the signatures of over 45,000 people from all over the world.

The alliance of Filipino journalists (AFIMA) criticized Willie for his on-air remarks. "For him to demand the removal of the little window screen showing the funeral march of the woman who got ABS-CBN back from Marcos is a blasphemy of democracy…He expressed his angst against the Corazon Aquino funeral being shown side by side his Wowowee right before dumbstruck millions of Filipino viewers around the globe.”

Controversy continues to surround the career of Willie Revillame. After starting out in showbiz as a drummer and singer, he starred in a few movies like “Bobocop”, which landed him a job as host of a noontime variety show in 1998 that was later called “Magandang Tanghali Bayan” (“Good Noon, Nation”). In the “Calendar Girl” segment of the show, Willie was suspended by the Movie and Television Review Classification Board (MTRCB) for repeatedly making lewd, crude, and boorish remarks to the contestants. When he returned after his suspension, Willie continued making the same crass offensive remarks causing the TV network to finally replace him.

After his termination, Willie went to the US for several months. Through the intercession of his showbiz buddies like Dolphy and Sharon Cuneta, he was given another chance, hosting a public service TV show called “Willingly Yours” which led to another stint as host of “Masayang Tanghali, Bayan" (“Happy Noon, Nation”). But Willie couldn't stop being Willie. In one segment, he told a birthday celebrant on the air “Sana ma-devirginize ka na” (“I hope you get devirginized already”). The remark caused the MTRCB to order ABS CBN to terminate Willie. Before it could do so, Willie resigned.

After resuming his music career as a singer, Willie was asked by ABS CBN management to return to the network as host of his own noontime game show, one which he helped conceptualize called “Wowowee”. The show, which made its debut on February 4, 2005, was an instant hit in the Philippines and worldwide on The Filipino Channel.

To celebrate its first year, Wowowee offered a chance to win one million pesos to the first 500 entrants at its anniversary show which was set to be held at the 5,000-seat capacity Ultra Sports Arena in Pasig , Rizal. For three days, people camped out by the arena's entrance hoping to be among the first 500 to get in. On February 4, 2006, the gates were opened and a wholly predictable stampede occurred which resulted in the deaths of 73 people and serious injury to hundreds more.

According to network insiders, Willie Revillame urged the management “to go on with the show” despite the tragedy. After hearing this, Dean Jorge Bocobo (“Rizalist”) wrote: “Normally this would be considered a virtue in an entertainer… But NOT after over seventy people were just crushed to death and practically still lying around dead. Maybe he thought he could save the situation with his usual boyish inanity.”

“It comes at a heavy price of human lives lost, but I think noon time shows are going to have to change for the better, if they are to survive at all. These shows seem designed by salacious minds with a genius for commercializing the lowest common denominator in people — lewdness, stupidity, mendacity, opportunism and anything that titillates the seamy underside…I do hope that Willie Revillame is finished for good. And all his ilk. They’re the ones that ought to be stampeded off the face of the earth.”

Wowowee and Willie Revillame appeal to the worst in Pinoys -- racism, chauvinism, disdain towards the feeble, the poor, the mentally inferior, all in the guise of making people laugh. Particularly offensive is the part of his show where balikbayans from all over the world are allowed to waive their dollars at the cameras while the local folks thank them profusely for their generosity. The poor recipients are too poor, too God-forsaken, too humbled by the endemic poverty around them to even recognize that they're being maligned and stripped of any form of human decency.

Willie Revillame may be suspended or may voluntarily take some time off as a result of this latest controversy but he will be back because cockroaches live forever.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Cory's Advice to Fil-Ams

When ABC TV reporter Alan Wong asked me what Filipinos lost with the death of former Pres. Corazon Aquino, my immediate response was “our moral compass, our guiding light.” I thought of Cory as Jawaharlal Nehru once said of Mahatma Gandhi, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.”

But Nehru also added that “the light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts.”

What was this “light” that has gone out of our lives? The August 2, 2009 editorial of the Philippines Daily Inquirer expressed it best:

“It was the light of liberty, the unquenchable flame of democracy, the light of optimism and faith in the Filipino, snuffed out in her husband’s case by an assassin’s bullets, but which lit so many more little flames, so that it dispelled the darkness that had engulfed the country since 1972. It was a light that could not be extinguished by coups and natural disasters, by the mocking of those who saw in her merely a woman, merely a widow, merely a person trying to return power where it belonged—in the people’s hands, to do with as they chose."

When her husband, Ninoy Aquino, was assassinated in 1983, Cory took up the banner of resistance from Ninoy and stood up to the brutal dictator. When she ran for president, Marcos belittled her for being “a common housewife with no experience”. She defiantly replied: "Yes, that's right, I have no experience in stealing, in cheating and in killing political opponents." The battle was joined. In the end, the more experienced candidate fled the country when People Power redeemed the Filipino people’s dignity.

After assuming the presidency of the Philippines , Cory Aquino visited San Francisco on September 23, 1986 and spoke to 4,500 members of the Filipino community at a banquet held at the Moscone Center . As chair of the committee which hosted the largest banquet ever held for a visiting head of state in San Francisco history, I was privileged to sit close to her as she spoke of her fondness for our City:

“San Francisco has a special place in my heart. It was the cool, clear air of a free San Francisco that put the color back in my husband Ninoy Aquino’s cheeks when he arrived here after seven long years of imprisonment. It was here that Ninoy spent much of his convalescence after his triple heart bypass. This is the home of many of Ninoy’s and my most ardent supporters and friends, the home of many of the most vocal and active opponents of the dictatorship.

The Filipino-American community here constitutes one of the largest bases of support for People Power in the Philippines . Even though you are thousands of miles from the Philippines, you took to the streets, you held your own rallies, you let the world know your beliefs and contributed to the groundswell that eventually brought victory to the forces of freedom and democracy in the Philippines.”

President Aquino asked for our Filipino community to help the Philippines not just by sending money remittances and balikbayan boxes to the Philippines but in a more politically sophisticated way:

“You can help by becoming a strong political force in your adopted country and using that force to influence your adopted country’s attitudes towards your mother country. Follow the lead of the Jewish-Americans who, despite being a small minority, form an indispensable pillar of a strong and independent Israel . Surely they are no stronger, no smarter, no more imaginative or dedicated than you are. They may be more organized, more politically oriented, more helpful to each other. And certainly they work hard at keeping America ’s interest in Israel alive at all levels of society - in business, in education, in government, in the arts and sciences.

And so must you with respect to the Philippines . You must guard the image of the Filipino that the February Revolution burnished so brightly. You must guide those joining your ranks so that you enhance the image of Filipinos here. All impressions of you, American though you might be, will hark back to the Philippines .

Strive for political power in this country. Unite. Learn from the new Philippines how people, acting together, have made the difference at home. You too can make a difference here, for your own betterment and that of generations to come.”

Cory also asked us to educate ourselves and our youth about our history and our provenance, our heroes and our pride: “Be proud of your roots. Do not let your children or your grandchildren forget that they came from a land that produced Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini and yes, Ninoy – men who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that this country or the world has produced.”

Not only men but many women too, like Cory Aquino.