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Location: Queenstown, New Zealand

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I will go back to the Philippines"
Throughout his three years and three months in the United States, Ninoy was always aware that their life there was temporary. Ninoy never stopped talking about returning to the Philippines even as he enjoyed living together with his family in the land of the free.
In the first quarter of 1983, Ninoy was receiving information about the deteriorating political situation in the country combined with the rumored poor health (due to lupus) of the dictator. Ninoy believed that it was imperative for him to speak to Marcos so that he could appeal to him to return the country to democracy, before extreme forces were released that would make such a return impossible. Also, the three years Ninoy spent in the U.S. made his allies worry that the Filipino people may have already forgotten about him, thinking that perhaps the people had finally embraced Marcos' iron grip and that the opposition was no more.

Sen. Aquino predicting his doom on this pre-return interview.
Ninoy decided to go back to the Philippines fully aware of the dangers that awaited him; even if it'll cost him to go to jail, "so be it", Ninoy answers. However, the Aquino family learned from the Philippine Consulate official in New York that there were orders from Manila not to issue any passports for them. At that time, all their passports had already expired and they had been denied new passports. So there was a change of plan. Ninoy decided it would be better if he went alone to attract less attention, and the rest of the family were supposed to follow him after two weeks. Ninoy had acquired a passport through the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. The passport carried the name Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio to represent his imprisonment in Fort Bonifacio). Ninoy was able to get a second passport from one of his friends in one of the Philippine consulates in America, and this passport carried his name, Benigno S. Aquino Jr. The Marcos government warned all international airlines who will airlift Aquino that they will be sanctioned and forced to return (if ever they carry Ninoy) to the point of embarkation. Ninoy reiterated that it's his natural right as a Filipino citizen to return to his homeland, and no government can prevent him from doing it. He left Logan International Airport on August 13, 1983 and took several routes home from Boston, to Los Angeles, then to Singapore, next to Malaysia, where he had friends in the ruling family, to Hong Kong, and then to Taipei, his last pitstop before heading towards Manila. Ninoy had chosen Taipei as the final stopover because the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they did not know of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends to take care of him.
Having spent three years in the U.S., Ninoy could've chosen a better life by not to return in order to avoid another possible detention. In fact, it's fine to Marcos that Aquino would stay in the U.S. forever. Yet Ninoy made the biggest sacrifice to suffer all the consequences of returning home and to settle his score with the dictator. He wished to return to suffer alongside his people and to appeal directly to Marcos to step down and seek a peaceful regime change and reformation. Anticipating the worst, during a pre-return interview, he revealed that he'll be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that "it's only good for the body, but in the head there's nothing else we can do". Sensing his own doom, he quoted during the interview that they (the journalists) "have to be very ready with your hand camera because this action can become very fast...in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over you know...and I may not be able to talk to you again after this...so this is the danger, the big danger".

Assassination and Aftermath

Senator Aquino shot dead upon arrival.
On August 21, 1983, while on his way to Manila, Ninoy accompanied himself with several foreign journalists from different agencies to insure safety and to let the people know if the rumors of assassination aborted his mission...he was right. Despite the presence of his own security guards and government troops on the tarmac, he was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane at Manila International Airport. The government claimed, unconvincingly, that he was gunned down by Rolando Galman, who was immediately shot dead by troops. It was never officially established why or even whether Galman had done it, though many suspected that Galman was just a fall guy. Aquino's arrival has been anticipated by the government, and around 2,000 security personnel (both police & military) were scattered at the airport to secure his safety. There are still questions lingering on how Aquino was gunned down despite heavy security at the airport. Many believed that it was one of the soldiers that escorted the senator who pulled the trigger. Even more suspicions arose on who ordered the assassination. Everyone from the CIA to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of having conspired for the hit. It must also be noted that President Marcos was gravely ill and in very poor shape during this time, as he was at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute recovering from his kidney transplant on August 7 when this incident occurred—he was in no shape to run the government. Conspiracy theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the hit when Marcos was in his sickbed recuperating. President Marcos then ordered an independent body, the Agrava Commission, to investigate the assassination. High-ranking military officials were indicted, including Gen. Fabian Ver, the Armed Forces Chief and known as Marcos's enforcer, but were soon acquitted. The military team on the tarmac at the time are currently serving life sentences at Bilibid Prison. They have filed a recent appeal to have the sentences reduced after 22 years, claiming that the assassination was ordered by Eduardo "Danding" Cojuanco, a Marcos crony and Corazon Aquino's cousin.

The late senator's procession passing by Dr. Jose Rizal's monument.
His funeral procession on August 31 lasted 12 hours, from 9 am, when a funeral mass attended by the Catholic Archbishop in the country, Jaime Cardinal Sin, was held in Sto. Domingo Church, to 9 pm, when he was interred in the Manila Memorial Park. Two million people lined the streets during the procession, and millions more listened on the Church-sponsored Veritas radio station, the only station that dared to cover the procession. The funeral itself afforded a rare public expression of anger at the Marcos regime, but was relatively calm and even retained moments of good humor. Famously, when rain started pouring in the midst of the funeral procession, hundreds were dissuaded from opening their umbrellas with the chant, "Only Imelda (Marcos) uses an umbrella!" Another notable moment from the funeral was when the procession reached Rizal Park, and the crowd forcibly brought the Philippine flag down at half-mast.

Senator Aquino has always believed that "The Filipino Is Worth Dying For".
The assassination of Ninoy transformed the opposition movement overnight from a small isolated movement to a mass movement involving people across all classes of society in Metro Manila. The middle class was involved, the lower class was involved, and business leaders whom Marcos irked during martial law supported the movement. The assassination showed the increasing incapacity of the Marcos regime—Ferdinand was mortally ill when the assassination occurred while his cronies mismanaged the country in his absence—and outraged Aquino's supporters that he would allow the assassination of a key figure of the opposition to happen. The mass discord caused by the assassination put the Philippines on the map for the United States. Attention was brought to the Philippine Crisis, and exposes on Imelda's extravagant lifestyle and "mining operations", as well as Ferdinand's dictatorial excesses emerged. US President Ronald Reagan became fearful of a full scale, destabilizing and bloody revolution that could only spell disaster for US interests in the Philippines, as well as the regional stability. Reagan would denounce the assassination—but never renounce his friend Marcos.

The assassination also thrust Ninoy's widow, Cory into the popular eye. Cory Aquino went on to campaign furiously in the 1986 snap elections called by Marcos to satiate public discontent with his regime. On the 57 days of campaigning before the February 7, 1986 election, Aquino’s UNIDO party took to the roads, visiting all but a few of the Philippine provinces. On the campaign trail, Aquino was greeted by throngs of people throwing confetti and cheering her on, "Cory! Cory! Cory!". Despite the Commission on Election's (COMELEC) declaration that Marcos had won the election, Cory and her supporters refused to accept the allegedly fraudulent outcome, prompting the People Power revolution that drove Marcos into exile and placed Cory in power as President.

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