The Final Days of Ninoy Aquino

“Even if Ninoy were to live a hundred years, he could never accomplish what he accomplished with his dying.”

– Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo (Poet, Senator, Freedom fighter)

Ninoy speaks before Military Commission No. 2 at Fort Bonifacio on August 27, 1973, declaring his refusal to lend credibility to the proceedings of a ‘kangaroo court

August 21, 2020 marks the 37th anniversary of the assassination of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino, Jr., a special non-working day in the Philippines. The holiday is one of two days which commemorates the death anniversaries of our national heroes, the other being Dr. Jose Rizal’s. As both Filipinos have played crucial roles in our nation’s history, many have made comparisons and drawn parallels between their lives. The most significant of which being their last few years of life, their return home, and their deaths.

During the last few years of their lives, both Rizal and Aquino were very busy in exile. After returning to the Philippines from Hong Kong, Rizal was deported to Dapitan following the establishment of the La Liga Filipina. During his four years in exile from 1892-1896, he was very much engaged with the affairs of the community. He set up his clinic, established a water supply system, made a relief map of Mindanao, taught young boys, and engaged in farming.

Meanwhile, Senator Aquino found himself exiled to the United States after suffering a heart attack in prison. As he was in need of a triple heart bypass surgery, President Marcos allowed Ninoy to seek medical furlough in the U.S. This was after the latter promised the former to return to the country after seeking treatment and to not speak out against the regime. Upon his recovery, Sen. Aquino discovered that his date of return to the Philippines became indefinite.He then accepted fellowship grants from Harvard’s Center for International Affairs and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, settling in Boston with his family in the process.

During his three years of exile, Sen. Aquino broke his second promise and devoted himself to speaking out against the Marcos regime and for the restoration of democracy in the country.He was obsessed with the question of how freedom could be restored in the Philippines. During this time, Aquino became the symbol of the opposition movement abroad.He met with various groups and individuals, travelled to various countries, and contemplated various strategies in freeing the Philippines. For a time, Aquino wrestled with the idea of using violence as a means to liberate the country. However, after visiting Saudi Arabia and observing the Sandinista government of Nicaragua, he realized that violence was not the answer, as the killers of today become the leaders of tomorrow. This led him all the more to advocate non-violence for the restoration of freedom, as voiced out by Gandhi.


Sen. Aquino and his family enjoying their first Christmas in Boston

Though both men enjoyed many liberties abroad, their consciences were troubled by the situation at home, and both vowed to return. Though discouraged by their family and loved ones, they proceeded with their plans, ultimately sealing their fate. Rizal, prior to his exile in Dapitan, was living in Hong Kong with his family. Though his clinic kept him busy, he was also looking for possible alternatives to alleviate the situation in the country. Against his family’s wishes, he returned to Manila on June 26, 1892, where he was arrested and deported several days after. Four years later en route to Cuba, he was once again arrested by Spanish authorities for allegedly conspiring during the breakout of the Philippine Revolution. Though he was given many chances to escape, he decided to face his eventual execution.

As for Senator Aquino, the comfortable life he enjoyed in the U.S. did nothing for him to forget the plight of Filipinos. With the upcoming Batasang Pambansa elections and reports on the deteriorating health of President Marcos, Aquino became fearful of the situation of the country. Because Pres. Marcos had no clear successor, Aquino was afraid of a violent power struggle breaking out.He wanted to return home in order to try and convince the President to restore democracy and normalcy while he still can. Many, if not most of his friends and family, were fearful of his situation. His political rivals expressed concern about him being killed. First Lady Imelda Marcos was said to have remarked to Sen. Aquino, “You’d better not come home because some of our boys may kill you just because they believe that it will make us happy, although we will never order it.”

Aquino then met many roadblocks which complicated his return home. His passport was never returned to him after surrendering it to Mrs. Marcos to expedite its renewal. With the help of a friend in Saudi Arabia, he obtained a fake passport with the name, Marcial Bonifacio. Marcial was a reference to Martial Law, while Bonifacio alluded to his prison, Fort Bonifacio. There were worries as to whether he would be allowed return home with this travel document. Sen. Aquino also had to deal with the problem of his date of arrival. Initially scheduled for early August, he received a report to postpone it for a month to “liquidate threats against him.” Aquino decided to postpone his arrival to August 21, a Sunday.

With these details set, he began his journey home on August 13, leaving Boston for Los Angeles. Fearful that he might be followed, Aquino took on a circuitous route home to confuse any pursuers. On August 15, he left Los Angeles and arrived at Singapore. On the same day, he was brought to Malaysia where he met an old friend of his, the Sultan of Johore. There, he met with leaders from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand about his plans returning home. The Sultan offered Aquino entry to the Philippines via Mindanao, which the latter refused. Though there was hardly any documentation about what transpired in these meetings, a report was released stating that the Senator was said to have dropped the Sabah claims in place of Malaysian support in ousting Marcos in the event that he seizes power. However, this conflicts with his last interview, saying that he does not have any plans to assume power.

After his stay in Malaysia, he returned to Singapore, boarding a plane to Hong Kong on August 19. That same day, he travelled from Hong Kong to Taipei. Here, he began using his ‘Marcial Bonifacio’ passport. Though questioned in Immigration, he was eventually released. While in Taipei, he gave interviews left and right, and many journalists from the international media accompanied him on his journey home. These host of journalists travelled with him as a security measure, with Aquino even joking that his journey “may be even over in a minute.” Rumors circulated that he wouldn’t be allowed passage home by the Taiwanese government. However, he found himself aboard China Airlines Flight 811 bound for arrival in Manila at approximately 1:00 in the afternoon. In the plane, he continued giving interviews on his plans to attempt a dialogue with President Marcos, speculations whether he would be arrested upon arrival, and the changes he wanted to see in the country. After the plane landed, he was escorted by the military, and the rest is history.

The execution of Dr. Jose Rizal and the assassination of Sen. Benigno Aquino, Jr. have drawn parallelisms which have led some to remark that “no two national heroes were as similar in how they lived and how they died.” Their deaths occurred both at the twilight years of the regimes under which they died. Following the change of government after their deaths, they were recognized for their service to the nation and posthumously honored.

Quoted from An Eyewitness History People Power: “The Philippine Revolution of 1986: More than just a funeral, the procession of mourners for Ninoy Aquino was a political demonstration, the biggest within memory…”

With the assassination of Sen. Aquino, the public recognized his sacrifice for the country, and displayed an outpour of grief and indignation during his wake and funeral. Support for the Marcos regime eroded alarmingly as protests occurred more often. Eventually, democracy was restored with Marcos ousted from power following a peaceful revolution in February 1986. In looking back at the last leg of their lives, we see that Dr. Rizal and Sen. Aquino spent much of it pondering about the state of their country. Little did they know that their deaths would accomplish so much more than they did alive.


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