The author, the late Teodoro ‘Teddy’ Benigno, was one of the most prominent and principled jounalists in the Philippines. He wrote “Ninoy Aquino: The Heart and Soul” in 1988. He is survived by his wife Luz and son Mark.
This feature story was originally titled as A Hero Remembered, and was published in the September 2006 issue of Tatler Philippines
August 21, 1983. A day forever etched in the memory of Filipinos. The noonday sun beats down a prostrate, blood-splattered figure in safari white. The name: Benigno Aquino Jr, Ninoy for short. His age: 50. Clutched in his right hand: a broken rosary. His mission: reconcile the Filipino people and restore democracy. His assassin or assassins: still legally unknown. The government in power at the time: the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Earlier on, Mr Marcos had proclaimed martial law; then locked him up seven years and seven months in Fort Bonifacio. The name on Ninoy’s passport: Marcial Bonifacio.
Ninoy. No name in Philippine history has ever held the nation in such heroic grip, except that of Jose Rizal. There was another riveting similarity. The fusillade that brought Rizal down at the Luneta triggered the Philippine revolution against Spain. The bullet that snuffed out Ninoy’s life stirred up the bloodless EDSA revolution on February 22–25, 1986.
Each man, dying almost a century apart, brought out the best in the Filipino. Each had the same attributes: a superbly gifted mind, a bottomless passion for liberty, but most of all—courage. Courage to look the enemy in the eye, courage to brave every battlefield, courage to die for one’s convictions.
The greatest punishment fate could inflict on Ninoy was to lock him up in a tiny prison cell. Outside Fort Bonifacio, the whole wide world was Ninoy’s stage. For Ninoy was larger than life; and his every move, his every word, his every gesture held everybody in thrall. And he loved people.
Alone in his cramped cell, unable in seven years and seven months to see the moon and the stars, Ninoy gradually realised he was in for keeps. His close prison-mates were gradually released: Monching Mitra, Chino Roces, Soc Rodrigo, Teodoro Locsin, Max Soliven, Jose Mari Velez, Pepe Diokno, Nap Rama.
Only Pepe Diokno remained to eventually share with Ninoy the terrible Torment of Laur. But Diokno too was subsequently freed after two years in Fort Bonifacio.
And so the prison vise grew tighter and tighter. The man in the palace presumably felt that power; superior, total and unrelenting power would eventually break the man in prison. Ninoy was made to understand that all he needed to be free was to do one thing: Grab his typewriter and scribble a message to Marcos that he was ready for a deal. A deal to cooperate with, to serve as he wished under the Marcos dictatorship.
Ninoy of course refused.