Last in a series of four articles | MANILA, PhilStar, 10/10/08 — Ninoys optimism was a revelation. For the treatment at the hands of his captors had grown worse after most of us had gone, not better. By March 1973, Ninoy himself recounted it in a letter to Monsignor Soc Rodrigo, he was averaging 1,200 Hail Marys a day. On March 12, Ninoy was led to a blue Volkswagen Combi and saw Pepe Diokno already seated inside. The two of them were hustled aboard a blue and white helicopter with a presidential seal, blindfolded and handcuffed. The chopper took off and landed (as they found out weeks later) in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija. When
the blindfold was finally removed, Ninoy recalled, I found myself inside a newly painted room, roughly four by five meters with barred windows, the outside of which was boarded with plywood panels. Only a six-inch gap between the panels provided air and light. A bright neon-tube burned day and night. There were no electric switches, the door room was bare except for a steel bed without mattress. No chairs, tables, nothing.
Ninoy was stripped naked, his wedding ring, watch, eye-glasses, shoes, clothes, taken away. A guard brought in a bedpan and said that he would be allowed to go to the bathroom only once daily in the morning to shower, brush his teeth and wash his clothes. He was issued two jockey briefs and two T-shirts and instructed to wash one set everyday. Diokno apparently occupied the adjoining box but they were warned not to try to communicate with each other.
The cruel part of this punishment (Ninoy was never informed what they were being punished for) was that all his belongings ring, watch, glasses, were given to his wife, Cory, without explanation. For a horrified period of time, his mother and his brothers and sisters, and Cory and the children, could only despair that Ninoy was dead. Eventually they located him, but they were powerless to do anything. Ninoy and Pepe endured 30 days in their stifling boxes during the hottest time of the year. It was a transparent attempt to break Aquinos and Dioknos will.
On Aug. 27, 1973, back in Bonifacio, Ninoy was brought before a Military Tribunal, specifically Military Commission No. 2 chaired by Brigadier Gen. Jose G. Syjuco. Ninoy was charged with alleged violations of Republic Act No. 1700, the Anti-Subversion Law, with four separate charges and a total of nine specifications including murder, subversion, illegal possession of firearms. He refused to take part in such a farce of a trial, asserting that military officers should not be allowed to try him since their commander-in-chief, President Marcos, had already declared him guilty in his public pronouncements. Moreover, sentence by a military tribunal did not permit him an appeal to the Supreme Court. I will not participate, he stated, You can dispose of my flesh, but I cannot yield to you my spirit and conscience.
Aquinos defiance led to the suspensions of hearings for a year and a half, but on March 31, 1975, his objections were brushed aside by the tribunal which proceeded, after a few and starts to reinvestigate witnesses against him Huk Commanders Melody, Ligaya and Pusa, Tarlac politician Max Llorente, and others. Ninoy put up no defense for the trial that was launched in 1973 and finally concluded in 1977. He simply expresses his innocence.
On April 4, 1975, he announced that he was starting a fast to the death to protest the injustice of his military tribunal. Ten days after the fast began, he instructed his lawyer to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he took no food, only salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, and amino acids and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, undergoing chills and cramps, the soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunals session. His family and hundreds of friends heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, praying that he would not die. Near the end, Aquinos weight had dropped from 160 to only 120 pounds, and he could not neither stand nor sit. On March 13, 1975, on the 40th day of his fast, he noted that it was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima. His family and several priests and friends, begged him to stop his fast, pointing out that even our Lord had only fasted 40 days and nights. I want to die today, he prayed to God, but if You do not allow me to die, Ill take it You want me to continue my work. Your will be done.
He survived. He had made his gesture. Offered his sacrifice up to God. But at 10:25 a.m. on Nov. 27,1977, Military Commission No. 2 sentenced Aquino and his two co-accused, Bernabe Buscayno (Commander Dante) and Lt. Victor Corpuz, to death by firing squad.
Ninoy called the act an indecent and immoral rush to judgment. But as he said, a time comes in a mans life when he must take a stand and make a painful decision: to willingly die for his principles or surrender. I have opted to die for my principles because my cause transcends my individual self and freedom.
However, the official firing squad was denied Ninoy Aquino. In 1978, from his prison cell, he was even allowed to take part in the elections for an Interim Batasang Pambansa (Parliament). Although his friends former Sen. Gerry Roxas and Jovito Salonga preferred boycott, Aquino urged his supporters and allies outside to organize to run 21 candidates in Metro Manila. Thus his political party, dubbed Lakas ng Bayan (Peoples Power) was born, with a fighting acronym that was more than appropriate: LABAN. Ninoy was allowed one television interview from his cell on Face the Nation and proved to a startled and impressed populace that imprisonment had neither dulled his rapier-like tongue nor dampened his fighting spirit.
Foreign correspondents and diplomats asked us what would happen to the LABAN ticket. All were agreed that LABAN would win on Friday election day, but lose the next day. On Thursday night, at 9 p.m., a massive noise rally transformed Metro Manila into a festival of jubilant and defiant protest. The noise rally was supposed to last for only 15 minutes, but everybody seemed to be out in the streets, car and jeepney horns honking, banging at pots and pans, blowing whistles and shooting off firecrackers. A few arrests were made, but the police and PC soon gave up and the tumult went on in many areas till midnight. For instance, firetrucks in the end had to be dispatched to Cubao, Quezon City to hose the demonstrators down.
Malacañang was shaken by what had transpired, former Press Secretary Francisco Kit Tatad revealed (after he had quit the Cabinet). He said the military had been placed on red alert. It was feared that a coup might be in progress. But, looking back, the very success of the almost spontaneous noise rally (nobody, even in LABANs top councils, could pinpoint who had first spread the word about it) was the Oppositions undoing. The metropolis-wide phenomenon had alerted the President and his KBL that the Opposition was strong enough to topple their 21-member slate (led by Imelda) in Metro Manila.
Following the emotional upsurge of the LABAN campaign and the letdown of defeat on April 7, 1978, Ninoys life in his Fort Bonifacio cell reverted to drudgery. The sentence of death by musketry remained posed, Damoclesian-style, over Aquinos head, but there seemed to be no move to implement it. Word filtered in to Ninoy that American President Jimmy Carter, in his international campaign for human rights, had warned Mr. Marcos that if anything happened to Aquino, there would be an immediate chill in relations between Washington D.C. and Manila. Was this rumor or fact? Nobody would admit to it. But Ninoy continued to stand pat on the challenge he had hurled at the Military Commission: If Marcos thinks I am guilty, let him shoot me tomorrow. As he had said on April 7, 1975, during his protest hunger strike There comes a time in a mans life when he must prefer a meaningful death to a meaningless life. In his prison routine, aside from daily prayer, Ninoy had taken to reading the Bible. The word of God in both Old and New Testaments, he was to confide to friends, comforted and strengthened him immeasurably. He kept reminding himself over and over again: God is not asleep.
Matters of the heart
In early 1980, about mid-March, he suffered his first heart attack. Being locked up in a cage, in solitary confinement at that (a cruel punishment for an extroverted and naturally gregarious individual), the unremitting test of wills between him and Marcos and the Military Tribunal which had finally condemned him, the rigors of his 40-day fast, had at last exacted their toll on his body. The camp doctor examined him and advised him merely to rest. Its not a heart attack, Senator, the army doctor insisted, youve just had a muscle spasm. Weeks went by and Aquino felt himself growing weaker and weaker. Every three or four days he would send for the doctor and appeal to him but kept on getting assurances, after a brief inspection, that his heart was okay.
At length, the doctor agreed to ask permission to take Aquino to the Heart Center in Quezon City for tests. A couple of days later, Aquino received a letter on official stationery. Aha! he exclaimed on being handed the envelope. This is probably my authorization to go to the hospital. When he read the letter itself, his mouth (he recounted later) dropped open. The letter had been written to regretfully inform him that the camp doctor had died of a massive coronary the afternoon before.
Oh, wow, Ninoy remarked. Here he was reassuring me that there was nothing wrong with my heart and the poor fellow couldnt even diagnose his own heart condition!
At the Heart Center, Ninoy suffered another attack and the doctors were able to take his ECG right there and then. They found out that he had blocked arteries. The director of the Heart Center did not want to operate on Ninoy because he did not want to be involved in such a controversial matter. Besides, Ninoy refused to submit himself to any surgery at the Heart Center, preferring to return to Fort Bonifacio.
Ninoy asked Deputy Minister of Defense Carmelo Barbero to inform President Marcos of his heart ailments and also Ninoys request to go to the Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Barbero instructed Ninoy to write to Marcos and Ninoy did.
On May 8, 1980, Imelda Marcos came to Ninoys hospital room. She asked him if he would like to leave that evening for the US. She then ordered General Ver and Mel Mathay to make the necessary arrangements for passports, visas and plane tickets for the Aquino family. Aquino was rushed to his home on Times Street in a closed van to wash up and was hustled on to the airport to catch a plane for the US that very same day, accompanied by his wife Cory and family.
Ninoy, in his weakened condition, had to rest briefly in California before emplaning anew for Dallas, Texas. When he got there, his friend, the renowned cardiologist, Dr. Rolando Solis (of Romblon) confirmed the Heart Centers original diagnosis. He asked Ninoy when he wanted to go under the knife. If youre superstitious, tomorrows Friday the 13th. Ninoy glanced at the calendar and recalled that Friday was the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the same day eight years previously that he had ended his 40-day fast. Hit me tomorrow! Ninoy told Solis. He said that if God permitted him to survive this second time, it would be an indication that God still had work for him to do.
Ninoy was operated on in Dallas, Texas and not only recuperated speedily, but was jogging within two weeks and making plans to fly to Damascus (Syria) to contact Muslim leaders just five weeks after. When he reiterated that he was returning to the Philippines, he received a message from the Palace saying that it would be all right for him to extend his medical furlough. Eventually, Aquino decided to renounce his two covenants with Malacañang because of the dictates of higher national interest.
Aquino spent three happy years in US exile, setting up house with Cory and the kids in Newton, a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. On fellowship grants from Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked on the manuscripts of two books and gave a series of lectures to packed halls, classrooms and auditoriums. He rocketed all over the US delivering speeches critical of the Marcos government. The President and his officials, in turn, accused Ninoy of being the Mad Bomber behind a rash of bombings which had erupted in Metro Manila in 1970s.