Who is Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr.?
Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. was born on November 27, 1932. His father, Benigno S. Aquino, Sr. was a prominent member of the World War II Japanese collaborationist government of José P. Laurel, as Vice-President. His mother was Doña Aurora Aquino-Aquino who was also his father’s third cousin. His brothers and sisters include: Mila Aquino Albert, Linda Aquino Martinez, Maur Aquino Lichauco, Ditas Aquino Valdez, Lupita Aquino Kashiwahara, Agapito (Butz) Aquino, Paul Aquino, Tessie Aquino Oreta. He married Corazon Cojuanco on October 11, 1954
Education. Aquino was educated in private schools — St. Joseph’s College, Ateneo de Manila, National University, and De La Salle College. He finished high school at San Beda College. Aquino took his tertiary education at the Ateneo de Manila to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, but he interrupted his studies. According to one of his biographies, he considered himself to be an average student; his grade was not in the line of 90’s nor did it fall into the 70’s.
Ninoy took up law at the University of the Philippines, where he became a member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi, the same fraternity of Ferdinand Marcos. He interrupted his studies again however to pursue a career in journalism.
According to Máximo V. Soliven, Aquino “later ‘explained’ that he had decided to go to as many schools as possible, so that he could make as many new friends as possible.” In early 1954, he was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay, his wedding sponsor to his 1953 wedding at the Our Lady of Sorrows church in Pasay with Corazon Cojuangco, to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he was credited for Taruc’s unconditional surrender.
Political Career. Beningo Aquino was no stranger to Philippine politics. He came from a family that had been involved with some of the country’s political heavyweights. His grandfather served under President Aguinaldo, while his father held office under Presidents Quezon and Laurel.
- 1954. Special Assistant to President Ramon Magsaysay. He negotiated the surrender of HUK Supremo Luis Taruc (May 16, 1954).
- 1955. Elected as youngest mayor of his hometown, Concepcion, Tarlac at the age of 22.
- 1956. Press Officer, Philippine-American Military Bases Agreement negotiations.
- 1957. Special Assistant to President Carlos P. Garcia.
- 1959. Elected as the youngest Vice-Governor of Tarlac Province at 26 years old. He was elected Secretary General of the League of Provincial Governors and City Mayors.
- 1961. Became Governor in 1961 after the Governor’s resignation.
- 1963. Elected Governor of Tarlac Province at age 31. He won in all 17 towns of the province, posting the highest majority ever garnered by a gubernatorial candidate in the province.
- 1964. Philippine Delegate, Eastern Regional Organization for Public Administration (EROPA) Conference held in Korea.
- 1965. Special Assistant to President Diosdado Macapagal. He accompanied President Macapagal in State visits to Cambodia and Indonesia. Spokesperson of Philippine Delegation – Afro-Asian conference in Algiers, Africa.
- 1966. Project Director of Tarlac “Project Spread”. A joint understanding of the National Economic Council (Philippine Government) and the U.S.A.I.D., which was designed to increase rural income.
- 1967. Elected as the youngest Senator of the Philippines at 35 years old as the lone opposition (Liberal Party) candidate to survive the election sweep made by President Marcos Nacionalista Party. He was also elected as Secretary-General of the Liberal Party.
- 1968. Author of several speeches, and many articles while serving as a public servant. These are contained in the book “A Garrison State in the Make and other Speeches” by Senator Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr. (BSAF Publication). Senator Aquilino also authored / co-authored several bills filed in approved congress to benefit the masses. He also authored several privilege speeches printed in the “Ninoy Aquino – Speech Series,” 1968 – 1970s.
- 1970. Resource person for the Philippines in the International Institute of Strategic Studies, London.
- 1971. Member of the Philippine Delegation of the Asian Conference on the Cambodian Question, Jakarta, Indonesia.
- 1972. Philippine Delegate to the International Conference on Japan and the Evolving world, sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies of London, at Mount Fuji, Japan. He was also the July 4th guest speaker of Filipino communities in Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco U.S.A.
Early Journalism Years. Journalism remained his particular vocation in spite of his entry into politics and from time to time he wrote “perspective articles” for such publications as “Foreign Affairs Quarterly” and the “Pacific Community.”
- 1950. Manila Times Newspaper reported at age 17; Manila Times War correspondent in Korea.
- 1952. Manila Times Foreign Correspondent in Southeast Asia (assigned to Indo-China, covered the last moment of French colonialism in Asia, at Dien Bien Phu. He was later posted to Malaya to cover the British counter-insurgency efforts under General Templar.
- 1952. He agreed (while already a Senator and in the name of Journalism) to conduct a weekly television news analysis, entitled “Insight” for Channel 5, upon the urging of his former publisher of the Manila Times, Mr. Chino Roces. He kept this up until his arrest in 1972 by the people responsible for the Martial Law regime.
Major Awards. His achievements at such a young age earned him the moniker “Wonder Boy of Philippine politics.” Other awards of Ninoy Aquino are the following:
- 1950. Philippine Legion of Honor, Officer Degree, awarded by President Elpidio Quirino for “Meritorious Service” to the Philippines for his coverage of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to the Korean War.
- 1954. Philippine Legion of Honor, Commander degree, awarded by President Ramon Magsaysay for “exemplary meritorious service” to the Filipino people negotiating the coverage of HUK Supremo Luis Taruc.
- 1957. First Bronze Anahaw Leaf, Philippine Legion of Honor, conferred by President Ramon Magsaysay, for services in the peace and order campaign.
- 1960. Voted one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Philippines (TOYM) in the field of public service.
- 1968-1971. Outstanding Senator, voted yearly by the Philippine Free Press, the Philippine leading political weekly magazine.
- 1971. Man of the Year, voted by the Philippine Free Press, citing him for the leadership he showed when his party’s leadership was bombed in Plaza Miranda, the Philippines’ equivalent to Hyde Park. He led his party’s campaign “with courage, with distinction” despite threats to arrest him, made by then President Marcos. He led the Liberal Party to a 6-2 victory in the Philippine Senate elections, which catapulted him to become the No. 1 presidential contender in the 1973 elections.
Martial Law Years. The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 ushered in the defining phase in Ninoy’s evolution as a leader. Before then, it was generally assumed that he would ascend to the nation’s highest office as the Liberal Party’s standard bearer in the 1973 presidential elections. Instead, he wound up the most high-profile political prisoner as Ferdinand Marcos suspended the Constitution, abolished Congress, silenced the opposition and the media, and ruled by decree on the pretext that he needed emergency powers to quell a communist insurgency and a Muslim secessionist rebellion.
- September 22, 1972. Ninoy was arrested, detained and imprisoned at Fort Bonifacio and in Laur, Nueva Ecija for 7 years and 7 months, mostly in solitary confinement.
- April 4, 1975 – May 13, 1975. He went on a protest hunger strike while in prison.
- May 8, 1980. Released from Fort Bonifacio to undergo a triple heart bypass at Baylor Medical Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.
- May 13, 1980. Operated and successfully given a triple bypass in Dallas, Texas.
- 1980-1982. Fellow at Harvard University’s Center for International Affairs.
- 1982-1983. Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.
- August 21, 1983. Assassinated at the airport seconds after disembarking in China Airlines jet from Taipei.
- August 31, 1983. Ninoy’s funeral march from Sto. Domingo Church, Quezon City to ManilaMemorial Park, Paranaque, was the “longest funeral march in world’s history.” Around two million people joined the funeral.
What Ninoy Has Done?
Although Ninoy Aquino was recognized as the most prominent and most dynamic opposition leader of his generation, in the years prior to martial law he was regarded by many as being a representative of the entrenched familial elite which to this day dominates Philippine politics. While atypically telegenic and uncommonly articulate, he had his share of detractors and was not known to be immune to ambitions and excesses of the ruling political class. However, during his seven years and seven months imprisoned as a political prisoner of Marcos, Aquino read the book Born Again by convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and it inspired him to a religious awakening.
Ninoy: A Hero of Filipino People or Not?
Was it his sheer audacity to come back to the Philippines after more than three years of exile – knowing the dangers that awaited him – that makes him a hero? No. This audacity had been there long before the exile. How he fought for freedom and justice didn’t happen just like that.
His life in politics started early. Very, very early. He was the youngest mayor at 22, the country’s youngest vice-governor at 27, then governor of Tarlac 2 years later. He became the youngest senator in Philippine history at 34. His popularity was greatly due to his daring criticism of the Marcos regime. Ninoy frequently challenged the dictatorship. Ninoy once referred to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, an extravagant P50-million project of the Former First Lady, as “a monument to shame” in his speech, A Pantheon for Imelda. Consequently, he was called a “congenital liar” by an outraged President Marcos, while the Philippine Free Press hailed him as one of the country’s most outstanding senators.
As a result, the remainder of his personal and political life had a distinct spiritual sheen. He emerged as a contemporary counterpart of the great José Rizal, who was among the world’s earliest proponents of the use of non-violence to combat a repressive regime. Some remained skeptical of Aquino’s redirected spiritual focus, but it ultimately had an effect on his wife’s political career.
While some may question the prominence given Aquino in Philippine history, it was his assassination that was pivotal to the downfall of a despotic ruler and the eventual restoration of democracy in the Philippines.
Ninoy Aquino: In My Personal View
I remember when I was younger, when my teacher asks me to enumerate a name of a hero, I always mention the name Ninoy Aquino, after Jose Rizal. Though, I admit I am not that knowledgeable then about him, I always look up to this man whom I believe is the icon of a genuine democracy and a peaceful revolution.
There is no argument about what he did; how he stood up against the Marcos dictatorship, how he fearlessly campaigned for the return of democratic values and ideals to the Filipino people, and how he bravely went home to the Philippines on that fatal August day in 1983 despite repeated warnings that his life was in danger.
We only have to echo Ninoy Aquino’s hauntingly patriotic statement to remember his heroism and love of country: “I have weighed all the virtues and faults of the Filipinos, and I have come to the conclusion that the Filipino is worth dying for.”
I am deeply amazed by the achievements of Ninoy as a young leader and as a young journalist. Sometimes, I tend to compare myself to him and I ended up making him as my inspiration to move forward and continue serving my fellows. I have heard almost all his speeches, and every word he utters really mean a lot to me.
I remember one passage from his speech which really inculcated in my mind, “What can one man do if the Filipino people love their slavery, if the Filipino people have lost their voice and would not say no to a tyrant, what can one man do. I have not army, I have no following, I have no money, I only have my indomitable spirit.” It only bespeaks the significance of oneness and unity, the harmony that should prevail among us Filipinos in order to resolve various societal upheavals that we are experiencing now. Crisis after crisis tend to beset our nation and we ended up blaming the government for these without even asking ourselves, what our contributions to resolve these problems are. Like what Ninoy has said, if we remain callous or indifferent, nothing will happen. Let us cultivate our burning desire for change and our indomitable spirit for progress in order to achieve a transformational society.
Moreover, when I was in Tarlac I have read one quote of Ninoy Aquino painted in a wall and he put it this way, “the meaning of our struggle is to be able to return the freedom. First we must return the freedom so that all segments of our community whether from the left or from the right will have the right to speak and then in that open debate in that clash of debate in the marketplace we will produce the clash between the thesis and the anti-thesis and then we will have the synthesis for the Filipino people.”
Truly, Ninoy is a freedom lover and I am grateful that through his peaceful advocacies, freedom in the Philippines was restored resulting to a unified nation with one vision and one spirit. This freedom paved the way to identify the thesis and anti-thesis of the Filipino people which resulted to the resolution or the synthesis towards a better nation. And I hope what Ninoy has done will be embodied to every Filipino for us to be able to embrace the truest meaning of freedom, solidarity and progress for our beloved country.
Perhaps if Ninoy would have been elected as president of the Philippines, we will be able to have an ideal society where no poor shall live, equality, rule of law and democracy prevails, no graft and corruption and crime occurrences can be counted by the fingers. But then, I believe that there is still hope and every Filipino can be a living Ninoy by our own little way.
While I am writing this piece, I am also preparing for another quest of leadership journey inspired by the ideals of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. This is the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Leadership Journey, a program that invites the youth leaders all over the country to undergo a three-day transformative experience and be living witnesses of leadership. The objectives of the program are to reintroduce models of leadership based from the lives of Ninoy and Cory Aquino; to realize that spirituality, faith and love are values that anchor one’s life; to build communal experiences in spirituality with other youth leaders; to respond to a life of love through the call for action and to appreciate a life of sacrifice that is deeply rooted in one’s faith. I just hope that my application to this will be accepted so that I would be able to know Ninoy and Cory and their ideologies even better.
To end I would like to reiterate what Ninoy Aquino once said and I quote, “we should not depend on one man, we should depend on all of us. All of us is expandable in the cause for freedom and therefore I say stand up now and be a leader, and when all of us are leaders, we will expedite the cause of freedom.”