From a Green perspective, there’s something wrong with all the yellow ribbons tied all over Metro Manila. You can only imagine how many strips of plastic and yards of rope will circulate through the metropolis (who says garbage is thrown away here?) come tomorrow, when August 21 will be – yet again – forgotten.
Today happens to be the 25th death anniversary death of a rather controversial figure in Philippine history: Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino III. Today, I suppose, begs a time to reflect.
When I was younger, my perspective on the man who graces a coveted P500 bill was an exercise in humanizing a hero. You would respect Jose Rizal for being the national hero, and you would not question why Sergio Osmeña is on the P50 bill if you don’t know a lot about his contributions to Filipino independence. My parents – my dad, most especially – had this critical view of Ninoy, who apparently became “heroic” not for what he did, but for what happened to him. I think it’s a sorry feeling to be immortalized in bronze where you don’t look like you died from a gunshot, but because you slipped.
Back in college, the discussion was even more critical; for a person who was perceived by many to be a saint of democracy, Ninoy pretty much personified the antithesis. He was the archetypal trapo. Ninoy was the scion of an affluent clan, born into privilege, with very little bonds and commonalities with the common Filipino. Ninoy was pretty much the grand-scale version of what Ferdinand Marcos wanted to be: powerful, rich, landed, and carried a name that literally reeked of prestige and wealth. Four years ago, at an immersion trip to Hacienda Luisita in San Miguel, Tarlac, the older tenant farmers I talked to did not hold Ninoy in a very high regard. He was, like the clan his wife and future President Cory Aquino belonged to, the Oppressor.
Yet Ninoy was the enemy Marcos cannot defeat. His eloquent passion was drumming up patriotic feelings, if not feelings of unbridled resentment, against the Marcos dictatorship. Ninoy told the Philippines and the world of the excesses of the Marcos regime, from corruption to political manipulation to extrajudicial policy-making, and even the P50-million Cultural Center of the Philippines commissioned by Imelda, which he called a “Pantheon” of the regime and a “monument of shame.” From the hallowed halls of the Senate, Ninoy’s words resonated with the anger of a people who were sick, tired, and disgusted with the rule of Marcos.
Twenty-five years ago, Ninoy announced that after three years of self-exile, he was coming back home. Eighty-two seconds after he alighted from the plane, he got shot. Three years later, the indignation of the Filipino people reached the critical point. People started that long march to EDSA, and that long march to freedom. The man who made the “willing sacrifice of the innocent” became the icon of the freedom of a people who stood against tanks and armed soldiers. Ninoy, the inspiration and the reminder of the People Power Revolution, did not get to live to see that moment.
Yet at that very moment when he got shot, the Filipino was – and still is – worth dying for.
* * *
I was planning to write today about some personal stuff, some self-promoting personal epiphany, a mundane realization that I don’t have a girlfriend yet, or some odd memory brought about by quarter-life crisis. At least for today, I arrived at one of them; something bigger than myself.
I realized that many people today tend to forget the lessons of history; that yellow ribbons might as well be breaks in the pink-and-blue color scheme of Manila’s major roads. Or a bad reference to bad karaoke hits that feature Perry Como singles.
Come to think of it, we who grew up after Ninoy’s era tend to forget the lessons of a man who, no matter how imperfect a hero or a money décor he made, made a selfless sacrifice in the name of something bigger and far more important than himself. We have but vague memories of Ninoy, save for those social studies lessons where we learned that this man was more than what you can buy with a P500 bill. Or the semiotics of Ninoy’s dour, perhaps even depressed, demeanor.
Mainly because it’s one thing to reap the fruits of one man’s sacrifice; it’s another thing to help till the soil and sow the seeds of democracy.
Maybe this generation needs a Ninoy; a person to look up to. We who will inherit the shaky (if not broken) foundations of this country’s democracy need a role model, someone who will lead us to what is right and show us what is wrong. Yet we need not look to other people more than ourselves, from the lessons we learned from one man’s sacrifice. We need not rely on what other people think of a hero, or on the minute details of something so extraordinary, something bigger than the inane things we exchange amongst ourselves in moments of angst and self-loathing.
There are a lot of things to loathe about today: the escalating conflict down south, the sorry state of the economy, the legitimacy of the President, the quality of education, a lost sense of nationalism… so much so that it sometimes – just sometimes – a Filipino is worth killing more than worth dying for. Those are the same things that years before we were born, Ninoy Aquino fought against, and made the ultimate sacrifice for.
There is – and should be – a Ninoy in all of us, no matter how imperfect we are as people. We are part of things bigger than ourselves. Our ideals, our principles, our sovereignty, our right to a quality life, our Constitutionally guaranteed rights, our identity, our country… those are all things that are worth more than us, and as such we should be prepared make sacrifices for.
Twenty-five years after one of Philippine history’s most controversial heroes was killed, it still holds true:
The Filipino is worth dying for.