Doing justice to Ninoy Aquino’s memory

Doing justice to Ninoy Aquino’s memory
Former Sen.Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. on his return trip home. —PHOTO FROM

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following message was delivered on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022, by Kiko Aquino Dee, son of Viel and Dodo Dee and one of the eight grandchildren of the late opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., to mark his 90th birth anniversary. 

Ninoy Aquino, then a senator, was one of the first to be arrested by state forces upon the imposition of martial law by then President Ferdinand Marcos in September 1972. Imprisoned for years, sometimes in solitary, he was afflicted by a heart ailment and permitted by the Marcos regime to fly to the United States for treatment. He eventually decided to return to his homeland and was assassinated upon landing in Manila on Aug. 21, 1983, at the airport that now bears his name. 

He was the husband of the late former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and the father of the late former President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.  

Good day, and thank you for joining us to celebrate Lolo Ninoy’s 90th birthday. 

I wish I could share with you some personal story about our Lolo, but sadly, none of us grandchildren ever got to know him personally. Instead, we learn about him from the stories of our parents, of Tito Noy, Lola Cory. And, like most Filipinos, we also learn about him from our school teachers, public historians, and even Google. This is why days like Lolo Ninoy’s birthday and death anniversary can sometimes make me feel insecure: I’m his grandkid, but there’s still so much I don’t know about him.

So when I learned this year that there were boxes upon boxes of Lolo Ninoy’s old things that needed sorting, I leapt at the opportunity to get to know him better. Let me share just one of the things I found. Before his political career, Lolo covered the Korean War as a newspaper correspondent. As the story goes, the older reporters were hesitant to go because they had families to provide for. At 17, Lolo had no such worry. 

Aquino received this letter while he was in his cell in Fort Bonifacio in 1977 inviting him to fly to South Korea to attend a memorial for Korean War correspondents.

Ninoy the teenager probably never imagined, though, that about a quarter century later, in 1977, he would receive an invitation to fly to South Korea to attend a memorial for Korean War correspondents, and he would receive the letter at his then official address: a cell in Fort Bonifacio.

I wondered what the senders of that invitation had thought about one of their honorees being in prison. Then, with some help from Google, I realized that in 1977, South Korea was in the middle of its own struggle against dictatorship. In those days, the Philippines was not alone in its fight for democracy, nor is it alone today. From the grave, Lolo Ninoy still has many lessons to teach.

This past year, people have been asking our family what the plan is to fight the disinformation about Lolo Ninoy, Lola Cory, Tito Noy, and our country’s shared story of democracy. It’s an enormous question, but for me, the first step involves admitting my own ignorance about their stories, about our country’s story, and encountering it through the things that they’ve left behind. The materials that we in the Ninoy and Cory Aquino Foundation are working through are, to be honest, covered in dust from the previous millennium. But when they’re presentable, we’re really, really excited to share them with you, so that we can all learn from them.Today is Lolo Ninoy’s 90th birthday. Next year will be his 40th death anniversary. In the days that follow, may we work to do justice to his memory.

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