WHEN Ninoy Aquino was arrested, together with thousands whose only crime was love of truth, justice and liberty, no voice of protest was heard; there were no demonstrations by those still “free”. Traffic flowed smoothly. Business went on as usual. The Church went on in its non-militant way, preaching submission, by its silence, to the brutal rule. Marcos’s Iglesia was all for it, of course. Thus was upheld the judgment of the Communist Prophet: “Religion is the opium of the people.” Politicians went on their, to use Shakespeare’s term, scurvy way. But what else could be expected of them? But what was heart-breaking was the general indifference to the death of liberty. The Filipino people did not give a damn.
Worth dying for?
What a waste—wouldn’t that be?—of spiritual energy, apart from the ultimate cost!
There was, of course, no lack of apologia for venality and cowardice. “A thousand reasons…but not a single excuse!” Who really believed that the bombings that preceded the declaration of martial law were done by the Communists, as Marcos claimed? If not the Father of Lies, he was a Liar Born, everybody knew. As for the fake assassination attempt on his secretary of defense, Juan Ponce Enrile, everybody knew it was a fake—as Enrile has since confessed. But nobody cared.
Except a few. The unhappy few who found their cries against the death of liberty met with indifference if not scorn. Scorn for not being practical, for continuing to dream of freedom. Or boredom—for being so right but ineffectual. Even social hostility, for reminding the submissive or collaborator of virtue. What it means to be human, not a dog, glad for evry scrap that fell from the table of the dictator and his family and partners in robbery and murder. Ninoy and Cory would afterward speak of how those they thought their friends pretended they did not know them!
There was no demonstrations of any consequence for years and years. While the Opposition dwindled into insignificance—except the Communist rebels in the hills—business boomed. With borrowed money much of which the dictatorship stole. National economic growth rose with national foreign debt. The future of the Filipino people was morgaged more and more to foreign banks greedy for interest on their Arab deposits. The children will have to pay, but the parents did not care. The dictatorship was riding high on the back of the Filipino people and they did not feel the weight.
When Ninoy, in ultimate defiance and despair, went on a hunger strike, Masses were held for him in St. Joseph’s Church in Greenhills. A hundred or two showed up. An American Jesuit, Reuter, and a Filipino, Olanguer, said Mass for Ninoy, witnesses to his cause. The currently most conspicuous member of the order busied himself with teaching constitutional law and judicial resignation to Marcos’s “revolutionary” government. A banker showed up. No other demonstration for what Ninoy was slowly, painfully, straving himself to restore: the rule of law, not the rule of one man.
Ninoy had been arrested on the basis of warrant bearing what appeared to be the signature of Marcos’s defense secretary, Enrile—as in the case of the Free Press editor and other prison-mates in Camp Bonifacio. They were taken to Camp Crame. There they were finger-printed, had their pictures taken with numbers on their chests like common criminals (may I have a copy, please!) and then to Camp Bonifacio where they were stripped naked for physical examination for whatever purpose the regime had. Later, they had their picture taken by smiling photographers of the Crony press. They woke up one morning to find the building where they were confined encircled by barbed wires and so waited to be shot….
It was a rich if painful spiritual experience Ninoy and those with him agreed they would not have missed for the world. But all except Ninoy and Diokno were released after 69 or 70 days, leaving the two with only each other for company.
To be a prisoner is to be dehumanized. It is to be no one. Nothing. You have no rights, no control of your life, no existence except what your jailer allows you. You eat, sleep and live at his pleasure. You remain human only by saying No!
From Camp Bonifacio, Ninoy and Diokno were taken to Fort Laur where they were stripped naked and kept incommunicado in separate rooms, singing the best way they could to tell the other that they were still alive. After weeks and weeks in their sweat-boxes, they were taken back to Bonifacio from which Diokno was finally released aftr two years?—leaving Ninoy alone. Thus he lived for five more years. Years during which he would watch the trail of ants on the wall and try to make friends with a mouse and go into frenzy of physical exercise in that windowless room to keep his sanity. But still No! to Marcos and his rule.
Charged with rebellion and other crimes Marcos could concoct, Ninoy went on a hunger strike. Weeks he went without food. Tanada or Arroyo, who offered their legal services, recalled how bad the starving man’s breath was. Nobody smells good while dying. On the 38th day of Ninoy’s hunger strike, his mother said in pity and love to her starving son: “My son, are you trying to outdo our Lord?” Only when he equalled or broke Jesus’ record, after being told that if he went on with his hunger strike, he would suffer irreparable brain damage, then, after being force-fed by Marcos’s doctors, become a vegetable did Ninoy finally take food.
Years more of solitary confinement, then a heart attack, with Imelda showing up the hospital with a rosary (not the one with the inverted cross or the other with the face of an animal that were found in Malacanang after her hurried departure) and permission granted for Ninoy to leave for the United States for heart surgery. Freedom at last—freedom in exile. A death in life for one who misses his people. A sense of total irrelevance. For what is a Filipino like Ninoy—not one who went there to make it his home, to be an American—in that country? No sense of belonging. Neither a Filipino anymore nor an American. What the American people think and do except when it affects his country means nothing to him. Reagan was not his President, apart from Reagan not wanting to have anything to do with him or his cause, instead calling Marcos “a force for moderation and reason in Asia”. Reagan would not touch him with a ten-foot pole, Ninoy would say to the Free Press editor. Exile was a prison, more comfortable, yes, than Bonifacio, but still a prison that held Ninoy’s spirit prisoner. Home he must go.
Against all the warnings: Imelda’s Ver’s…. Against the advice of friends. What did he hope to accomplish by his return? Reconciliation, peace, restoration of Filipino liberties. He would address himself to the “good” he believed was still in Marcos. Did he ask his children what thye thought about his going back? Yes, and his children said they would abide by his decision. Did he ask Cory what she thought?
“You are the one who will suffer, Ninoy,” said that long-suffering woman. “You decide.”
So he went home to death.