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  Early life and career

Ninoy Aquino was born in Concepcion, Tarlac to a prosperous family of hacienderos (landlords). His grandfather, Servillano Aquino was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo while his father, Benigno Aquino Sr. was a prominent official in the World War II Japanese-organized government of Jose P. Laurel. His father died while Ninoy was in his teens amid rumor of alleged collaboration with the Japanese during the occupation. He was educated in private schools--elementary at St. Joseph's College, and high school at San Beda College. He took his tertiary education at Ateneo De Manila with a degree in Liberal Arts but he did not graduate. At age 17, he was the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War for the newspaper The Manila Times of Joaquin "Chino" Roces. Because of his journalistic feats, he received a Philippine Legion of Honor award from President Elpidio Quirino at age 18. At 21, he became a close adviser to then defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Ninoy took law at the University of the Philippines, where he became a member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi. He interrupted his studies however to pursue a career in journalism. In early 1954, he was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he claimed credit for Taruc's unconditional surrender. He became mayor of Concepción in 1955 at the age of 22. In the same year he married Corazón Cojuangco, and they had 5 children; Maria Elena, Aurora Corazon, Benigno Aquino III, Victoria Elisa and TV host Kris Aquino.

 Political career

He was no stranger to Philippine politics. Ninoy was a third-generation Aquino, a family who had been involved with some of the country's political heavyweights. His grandfather served under President Aguinaldo while his father held office under Presidents Manuel Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. He became the youngest municipal mayor at age 22, and the nation's youngest vice-governor at 27. He became governor of Tarlac in 1961 at age 29, then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966. In 1967 he made history by becoming the youngest elected senator in the country's history at age 34. He was the only "survivor" of the Liberal Party who made it to the senate, where he was inevitably singled out by Marcos and his allies as their greatest nemesis. In 1968, his first year in the Upper House, he warned that Marcos was on the road to establishing "a Garrison State" by "ballooning the armed forces budget", saddling the defense establishment with "overstaying generals" and "militarizing our civilian government offices"--all these caveats uttered almost four years before martial law.

In many ways, Aquino bedeviled the Marcos regime, chipping away at its monolithic facade. His most celebrated speech, insolently entitled "A Pantheon for Imelda", was delivered on February 10, 1969, and assailed the first lady's first extravagant project, the P50 million Cultural Center, which he dubbed "a monument to shame". President Marcos, outraged, called Aquino "a congenital liar". The First Lady's friends angrily accused Aquino of being "ungallant". This so-called "fiscalization" tactics of Aquino quickly became his signature trademark at the senate. During his tenure as senator, he was selected by the Philippine Free Press magazine as one of the nation's most outstanding senators. His achievements at a very young age earned him the moniker "Wonder Boy" of Philippine politics.

Aquino was considering the highest office in the land, the presidency. Surveys during those times showed that he was the number one choice among Filipinos, since President Marcos by law was prohibited to serve another term.

 Martial law, hunger strike

It was not until the Plaza Miranda bombing however--on August 21, 1971 (12 years to the day before Ninoy Aquino's own assassination)--that the pattern of direct confrontation between Marcos and Aquino emerged. At 9:15 p.m., at the kick-off rally of the Liberal Party, the candidates had formed a line on the makeshift platform and raised their hands as the crowd applauded. The band played, a fireworks display drew all eyes, when suddenly there were two loud explosions that obviously were not part of the show. In an instant the stage became a scene of wild carnage. The police later discovered two fragmentation grenades that had been thrown at the stage by "persons unknown". Nine people died, 85 others were wounded, many critically.

Although suspicions pointed to the Nacionalistas (the political party of Marcos), Marcos allies sought to deflect this by insinuating that, perhaps, Aquino might have had a hand in the blast in a bid to eliminate his potential rivals within the party. Later, the Marcos government presented "evidence" of the bombings as well as an alleged threat of a communist insurgency, suggesting that the bombings were the handiwork of the growing New People's Army. Marcos made this a pretext to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, vowed that the killers would be apprehended within 48 hours (they never were), and arrested a score of known "Maoists" on general principle. Ironically, the police captured one of the bombers, who was identified as a sergeant of the firearms and explosive section of the Philippine Constabulary, a military arm of the government. According to Aquino, this man was later snatched from police custody by military personnel and the public never heard from him again.

President Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972,and he went on air to broadcast his declaration the midnight of September 23. Aquino was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. [1] On April 4, 1975, Aquino announced that he was going on a hunger strike, a fast to the death to protest the injustices of his military trial. Ten days through his hunger strike, he instructed his lawyers to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he subsisted solely on salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, amino acids and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, suffering from chills and cramps, the soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunal's session. His family and hundreds of friends and supporters heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, San Juan, praying for his survival. Near the end, Aquino's weight had dropped from 180 to 120 pounds. Ninoy nonetheless could walk throughout this ordeal. On May 13, 1975, on the 40th day, his family and several priests and friends, begged him to end his fast, pointing out that even Christ Himself fasted only for 40 days. He acquiesced, confident that he had made a symbolic gesture. But at 10:25 p.m. on November 25, 1977, the government-controlled Military Commission found Aquino guilty of all charges and was sentenced to death by firing squad. However, Ninoy and many others believed that Marcos, ever the shrewd strategist, would not want him to suffer death that would surely mark him (Ninoy) for martyrdom. Whatever the end may be, Aquino was convinced, it will be by devious and dastardly means.

 1978 elections, bypass surgery, exile

In 1978, from his prison cell, he was allowed to take part in the elections for Interim Batasang Pambansa (Parliament). Although his friends, former Senators Gerry Roxas and Jovito Salonga preferred to boycott the elections, Aquino urged his supporters to organize and run 21 candidates in Metro Manila. Thus his political party, dubbed Lakas ng Bayan (People's Power), was born. The party's acronym was "LABAN" (the word laban means "fight"). He was allowed one television interview on Face the Nation (hosted by the infamous Ronnie Nathanielsz) 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 what would happen to the LABAN ticket. People agreed with him that his party would win overwhelmingly in an honest election. Not surprisingly, all his candidates lost due to widespread election fraud.

In mid-March 1980, Aquino suffered a heart attack, possibly the result of seven years in prison, mostly in a solitary cell which must have placed a heavy toll on a gregarious personality such as his. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center where he suffered a second heart attack. The doctors administered ECG and other tests and found that he had a blocked artery. The surgeons were reluctant to do a coronary bypass because of their unwillingness to be involved in a controversy. Additionally, Aquino refused to submit himself to the hands of local doctors, for fear of a possible Marcos "duplicity", preferring to either go to the United States for the procedure or return to his cell at Fort Bonifacio and die.

On May 8, 1980, Imelda Marcos made an unannounced visit to Aquino at his hospital room. She asked him if he would like to leave that evening for the U.S., but not before agreeing on two covenants: 1.) That if he leaves, he will return; 2.) While in America, he should not speak out against the Marcos regime. She then ordered General Fabian Ver and Mel Mathay to make necessary arrangements for passports and plane tickets for the Aquino family. Ninoy was shoved in a closed van, rushed to his home on Times Street to pack, hustled to the airport and put on a plane bound for the U.S. that same day accompanied by his family.

Aquino was operated on at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. He made a quick recovery, was walking within two weeks and making plans to fly to Damascus, Syria to contact Muslim leaders, which he did five weeks after. When he reiterated that he was returning to the Philippines, he received a surreptitious message from the Marcos government saying that he was now granted an extension of his "medical furlough". Eventually, Aquino decided to renounce his two covenants with Malacañang "because of the dictates of higher national interest". After all, Ninoy added, "a pact with the devil is no pact at all".

Aquino spent three years in self-exile, setting up house with Cory and their kids in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. On fellowship grants from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked on the manuscripts of two books and gave a series of lectures in school halls, classrooms and auditoriums. He traveled extensively in the U.S. delivering speeches critical of the Marcos government.

Marcos and his officials, aware of Aquino's growing popularity even in his absence, in turn accused Ninoy of being the "Mad Bomber", allegedly masterminding a rash of bombings that had erupted in Metro Manila in 1981 and 1982. Aquino denied that he was advocating a bloody revolution, but warned that radicalized oppositionists were threatening to use violence soon. He urged Marcos to "heed the voice of conscience and moderation", and declared that he (Aquino) was willing to lay his own life on the line.

"I have returned"

Throughout his years of expatriation, Aquino was always aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual return even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family in American soil.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino was receiving news about the deteriorating political situation in his country combined with the rumored declining health (due to lupus) of President Marcos. He believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country's return to democracy, before extremists took over and make such a change impossible. Moreover, his years of absence made his allies worry that the Filipinos may have resigned themselves to Marcos' strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.

Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he will either be imprisoned or killed, he answered, "if it's my fate to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it". [2] His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consulate official that there were orders from Manila not to issue any passports for them. At that time, their visas had expired and their renewal had been denied. They therefore formulated a plan for Ninoy to fly alone--to attract less attention--and the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Even with government restriction, he had acquired a passport through the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. It carried an alias, Marcial Bonifacio--Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison. [3] He eventually obtained a legitimate passport from a sympathizer working in a Philippine consulate. The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Ninoy to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and no government can prevent him from doing so. He left Logan International Airport on August 13, 1983, took a circuitous route home from Boston, via Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taipei, before heading towards Manila. He had chosen Taipei as the final stopover when he learned the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they were not aware of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends accompanying him.

It would have been perfectly convenient for the Marcos government if Aquino had stayed out of the local political arena, however Ninoy asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, "the Filipino is worth dying for." [4] He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down and seek a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, during a pre-return interview, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that "it's only good for the body, but for the head there's nothing else we can do". Sensing his own doom, he quoted during the interview that they (the journalists) "have to be ready with your camera because events will happen very a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over...and I may not be able to talk to you again after this..." In his last formal statement he said, "I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation."


On August 21, 1983, while on his way to Manila, Ninoy was accompanied by several foreign journalists to ensure his safety or, in the least, record events for posterity in case rumors of a planned assassination proved to be true. Despite a convoy of security guards (all assigned to him by the Marcos government) and a contingent of 2,000 military and police personnel on the tarmac, he was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane. Government investigators claimed that he was gunned down by Rolando Galman, who was immediately shot dead by the aviation security. No one actually saw who pulled the trigger. Post-mortem analyses disclosed he was shot on the back of the head in close range with the bullet exiting at the chin. Even more suspicions arose on who ordered the execution.

Everyone from the CIA to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of conspiracy. President Marcos was reportedly gravely ill, recovering from kidney transplant when the incident occured. Theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the execution. Some hypothesized that Marcos had a long-standing order for Aquino's murder upon the latter's return.

The Marcos government then ordered an independent body, the Agrava Commission, to investigate. The men on the tarmac, the rank and file of the military, were found guilty and are currently serving life sentences at National Bilibid Prison. They have recently filed an appeal to have their sentences reduced after 22 years, claiming the assassination was ordered by a Marcos crony and business partner (and Corazon Aquino's estranged cousin), Eduardo Cojuangco Jr., who was eventually cleared by the Aquino family.

Aquino's funeral procession on August 31 lasted from 9 a.m.--with a funeral mass officiated by the Catholic archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and held at Santo Domingo Church--to 9 p.m., when his body was interred at the Manila Memorial Park. Two million people lined the streets during the procession which was aired by the Church-sponsored Radio Veritas, the only station that covered the procession. The procession reached Rizal Park, where the Philippine flag was brought to half-mast.


The death of Ninoy transformed the opposition from a small isolated movement to a massive unified crusade, incorporating people from all walks of Filipino life. The middle class got involved, the impoverished majority participated, and business leaders whom Marcos irked during martial law endorsed the campaign--all with the crucial support of the military and the Catholic Church hierarchy. The assassination showed the increasing incapacity of the Marcos regime—Ferdinand was mortally ill when the crime occurred while his cronies mismanaged the country in his absence. It outraged Aquino's supporters that he, if not masterminding it, allowed the assassination to happen and engineered its cover-up. The mass revolt caused by Ninoy's demise attracted worldwide media attention and Marcos' American contacts, as well as the Reagan Administration, began distancing themselves. There was global media spotlight to the Philippine crisis, and exposés on Imelda's extravagant lifestyle (most infamously, her thousands of pairs of shoes) and "mining operations", as well as Ferdinand's dictatorial excesses, came into focus.

The assassination thrust Ninoy's widow, Cory, willingly or unwilling, into the public eye. Convinced by leaders of the opposition that she was the person to best Marcos, Cory Aquino went on to campaign tirelessly in the 1986 snap elections which were called by Marcos to pacify rampant public discontent. In 57 days of trying to win people's votes before the February 7, 1986 election, her United Nationalists Democratic Organizations|UNIDO party took to the streets, visiting all but a few of the Philippine provinces. On the campaign trail, Mrs. Aquino was greeted by throngs of people throwing confetti and cheering "Cory! Cory! Cory!". Despite the Marcos-controlled Commission on Election's declaration of a Marcos' victory, the majority of the Filipino people refused to accept the allegedly fraudulent outcome, prompting the People Power revolution that drove Marcos into exile and placed Cory at the seat of power.

While no Filipino president has ever been assassinated, Ninoy Aquino is one of three presidential spouses who have been murdered. Aurora Quezon was killed along with her daughter and son-in-law in a Hukbalahap ambush in 1949, while Alicia Syquia-Quirino was murdered by the Japanese along with three of her children during the Battle of Manila in 1945.


In Ninoy's honor, the Manila International Airport where he was assassinated has been renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and his image is printed on the 500-peso bill. The Philippine Congress enacted Republic Act (R.A.) 9256, declaring August 21st, the anniversary of his death, as Ninoy Aquino Day, an annual public holiday in the Philippines. Several monuments were built in his honor. Most renowned is the bronze memorial in Makati City near the Philippine Stock Exchange, which today is a venue of endless anti-government rallies and demonstrations.

Although Ninoy Aquino was recognized as the most prominent and most outspoken critic of the Marcos dictatorship, he was regarded by many, in the years prior to martial law, having descended from political families, as representative of the entrenched familial bureaucracy which, to this day, still predominates Philippine politics. While atypically telegenic and uncommonly articulate, he had his share of detractors and was not known to be immune to ambitions and excesses of the ruling political class. However, his years in prison which included lengthy periods of solitary confinement, had a profound effect on his spirit and in his character. In his moments of despair he renewed devotion to his traditional Catholic faith, drawing strength from it. He also voraciously perused the writings and speeches of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., deriving inspiration.

As result, the remainder of his personal and political life would undertake a distinct spiritual sheen. He emerged as a contemporary analogy to the great Rizal, who was among the world's earliest proponents of non-violence as the instrumentation to combat a repressive regime. Many remained skeptical as to Aquino's redirected spiritual focus, nonetheless it ultimately had an apparent effect on his wife's political career. Some doubt the prominence given him, yet it was his assassination that was pivotal to the downfall of a despotic ruler and the eventual restoration of democracy in the Philippines. His greatness still being measured, Ninoy Aquino's death somehow destined him to be a modern-day martyr in the ranks of Jose Rizal and other Philippine heroes.





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