COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
August 21, 2008. Today marks the 25th death anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and more than Ninoy becoming a hero on that fateful day, the event proved to be a turning point for the majority of the Filipino people. It seemed that a bubble had been burst, and that bubble was the atmosphere of forced silence among the populace. It was the event of the Aquino assassination that broke the shackles of fear among our people and allowed them to express outrage, disgust, and indignation to the world.
Legally, we have regained our freedom of speech since the lifting of Martial Law in 1981 that the student government and school papers were revived allowing a small opening for freedom of expression. Martial Law’s lifting also gave way to the alternative press. But the effect of a decade of martial rule is psychological—fear pervaded; and that while the leftists and the activists can easily gather and shout, the ordinary people still talked in hushed voices or not talk in protest at all.
But Ninoy’s death broke the spell. And the people’s response was generalized and not anymore directed specifically against Marcos and his government but more on the hopelessness of their plight as if crying out: “Sobra Na Ito!” Most of our countrymen were resigned about President Marcos leaving his post and waiting only for his death for him to be replaced. But when the return of Benigno Aquino Jr. to the Philippines showed a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel and the light was snatched, it brought frustration and exasperation among our people.
I was in college then at the University of the Philippines Tacloban and Chuck Crisanto of the DevelopmentAcademy of the Philippines was working with the Local Resource Management office of the Province of Leyte. He’d drop by the college to see friends and would occasionally give a lecture. He was in constant contact with Manila and updated us with the latest events happening at the center. It was the news after the Aquino assassination that told of a telltale sign—a wave of current was running across the country—restrained anger like “kumukulong dugo.”
We still talked in hushed voices but what was not spoken gave me a sense of foreboding as if something impending was to happen, like a civil war or an uprising. There was capital flight, foreign investors pulled out, and the peso devalued a few times from about P7 to a dollar to P23 per dollar in a matter of four months. Protest actions nationwide ensued and that was the beginning of the multi-sector and interfaith rallies that we would witness in the years that followed.
But it was the prayer vigils that unnerved me. Prayer rallies were held with lighted candles and the words of “The Lord’s Prayer” were replaced. It bordered on the fanatical and the atmosphere was like exorcising the devil or waiting for doomsday. It was an invocation for a supernatural power to intervene, be it a god or a devil. Steeped in superstition mixed with religion, our people can turn to the occult if they can’t have it with the knife.
Well then, all of these different expressions were a manifestation of the transformation of our people’s fear into courage. It is still the same strength and energy within each of us, only redirected, not by media or any propaganda but by the natural workings of the spirit of man put to the test. For as long as man is alive, he can free himself from any form of bondage. And even if he is dead, his mind and heart can live on others.
Ninoy did not die in vain, for his death mobilized the people to stand for themselves. Edsa revolt followed. People’s organizations slowly mushroomed. Indeed, mobilizing the people is a continuing process of organization and education; at all sectors, at different social and economic levels, for a working democracy. Ninoy’s death resulted in an empowered Filipino people, getting stronger and stronger, regardless of bad government, time and again.