Press Release
November 27, 2008

Message of Sen. Nene Pimentel to the Students of City Malabon University on the celebration of the National Heroes Day on November 27, 2008

The great French dramatist Jean Anouilh (1910-87) incisively categorized human beings into two classes.

He said:

"There are two races of beings. The masses teeming and happy -- common clay, if you like -- eating, breeding, working, counting their pennies; people who just live; ordinary people; xxx. And then there are the others -- the noble ones, the heroes. The ones you can quite well imagine lying shot, pale and tragic; one minute triumphant with a guard of honor, and the next being marched away between two gendarmes."

The late Benigno S. Aquino, Jr., belonged to the "noble ones", a hero among our people.

Under house arrest

When Ninoy was shot dead on the afternoon of August 21, 1983 at the Tarmac of the Manila International Airport, I was in my study in my house in Cagayan de Oro where at the time I was under house arrest on charges of rebellion against the martial law administration.

The phone rang and the voice at the other end said that my friend, Ninoy, had just been shot dead at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport.

Although I had previously warned Ninoy about that tragic possibility should he come home from Boston where we met in 1982, now that it happened, the incident left me completely shattered and shocked beyond belief.

What a waste of talent, I told myself. I knew that Ninoy did not have to come home at the time or at all while martial law ruled the land.

Solitary confinement

He was among the first to have been arrested upon the proclamation of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos in September of 1972. In fact, five years after its proclamation, a kangaroo military court convicted and sentenced him to death by firing squad in 1977.

The martial law regime, however, did not or to put it, perhaps, more accurately, could not, execute Ninoy. Executing him would have had the effect of tempting the fates against the martial law ruler. And so in lieu of executing him, his solitary confinement was continued for more than seven years - the duration of his detention under martial law - in an attempt to break his spirit.

But Ninoy's spirit would not simply cave in to the coercive repressions imposed on him by the martial law regime.

Hunger strike

In fact, before the military kangaroo court sentenced him to death, Ninoy did a hunger strike in 1975 that lasted for 40 days - some people say longer than the immortal Mahatma Gandhi ever did in his hunger strikes against the British Raj. In any case, the hunger strike weakened him to the point of death. Only the pleadings of his wife, Cory, their children, and Jaime Cardinal Sin convinced him to end the hunger strike so that he could fight again another day for the people.

The hunger strike did not dull his fighting spirit but it led to a heart attack that he suffered in March 1980.

Fearing that he might die in prison, the martial law authorities allowed him to go to the US for a heart by-pass operation that was successfully done in May 1980.

Enemy of the regime

Soon after the operation, Ninoy was once again visible in the anti-martial law forums in the US. He had marked himself as an implacable enemy of the martial law administration. It was, thus, too risky for him to go home then.

Extra mile

But in 1983, three years after his heart surgery, he made public his decision to go home. His family and his friends advised him not to do so. Even the wife of President Marcos said in the media that it was not advisable for Ninoy to come home because as she had put it bluntly he might be killed upon arrival.

The advice of his family and friends, notwithstanding, Ninoy came home. He said he wanted to walk the extra mile for peace in the land and convince President Marcos that it was time to end martial law and restore the country to its democratic moorings.

Freedom shot

But upon landing at the Manila International Airport, burly men, brusquely hustled him down the steps of the plane's ladder. A shot rang out and seconds later, Ninoy was seen by his co-passengers lying down on the tarmac bruised and mortally wounded.

At Ninoy's wake, thousands of people from all segments of society - the rich, the poor, men, women, and children - paid him their last respects. And 10 days later, more two million people walked 12 hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. beside his bier to escort him to his final resting place or watched from the sidewalks more in anger than in sadness at what they thought was a senseless sacrifice of the life of a man who was destined for greatness.

These are matters of fact that in my mind make Ninoy truly a hero, an instrument of God, of the fates if you like, whose death purchased for the nation the rights and liberties that we now enjoy in this country.

A hero

It is the sum of his selfless deeds of Ninoy that makes him a hero. That is why August 21 of every year is a celebratory occasion for us to remind ourselves of the meaning of his life of service and of his epic death.

If we honor Ninoy today as a hero, it is because he has shown in life that he worked for it and in death that he deserved it.

In the '50s, when Ninoy was 17 years old - the age when many teenagers would rather do the boogie on the dance floor than work out on things of national interest - another great Filipino, Chino Roces, provided Ninoy with a platform to show to the nation what he could do as a journalist.

Chino who ran the Manila Times, arguably the most widely read daily in pre-martial law days, sent him to Korea to cover the war between North and South sides of the nation in 1950.

The war created a venue for Ninoy to show his courage and grace to live literally under fire even as he was still in his teens.

Presidents, too

At 18, when Ninoy came home, his reportage of the Korean War earned him the Philippine Legion of Honor medal that was bestowed on him by President Elpidio Quirino.

And, before he was 20, President Ramon Magsaysay created another arena for him to prove his mettle. This time he was asked by the President to act as his negotiator with Luis Taruc, the Supremo of the Huks, the rebel band that upset the peace of the land for so many years since the end of the Japanese War in 1944.

Concepcion townsfolk

Two years later, in 1956, it was the turn of the people of the town of Concepcion, Tarlac to propel Ninoy, the boy-wonder, into national prominence even as he had actually only run for a local elective office, that of town mayor.

The electorate of Concepcion voted for him as mayor even if he was 19 days short of the age required by the law for that position. For that reason, he was disqualified by the courts.


But, three years later, in 1959, Ninoy won the vice governorship of Tarlac. And in 1961, he assumed the governorship of the province when the governor resigned to accept a position in the national government.


In 1967, Ninoy ran for senator and won as the only Liberal Party senatorial survivor of the Nacionalista Party rout of the opposition senatorial candidates.

Prelude to greatness

The marvellous mundane achievements of Ninoy in his multifaceted career were but preludes to the greatest performance of his life. And that was when he met his fate on August 21, 1983 at the hands of assassins alluded to earlier.

No reason

If one were to look for reasons for Ninoy's coming home, I would say that he had more reasons for not doing so. He was enjoying the comforts, the safety and the freedoms of people who lived in that the bastion of democracy, the United States of America.

He could have opted to stay in exile. And he could have justified it with a thousand and one excuses as to why he could not yet come home.

He did not offer any alibis. He came home.

He had to come home and meet his fate. "If it is my fate to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it," he said shortly before a gun in August (1983) felled him.

A hero for our times

Although a gun in August shot him dead, it also shot him up onto a secure place in the pantheon of our national heroes.

In 1986, three years after his death, our people led by his widow, Corazon Aquino, recovered the liberties we lost under martial law through what is now internationally known as people power.

Heroic dimension

The supreme sacrifice of Ninoy presented Philippine society with a heroic dimension that it sorely needed and at the time when we needed it most.

For months before his assassination, foreign wags had aired scurrilous statements that the Philippines was "a nation of 40 million cowards" who did not have the courage to stand up to one-man rule.

That observation, it must be said, was not true at all. There were people who fought the martial law regime in various ways - some peaceful, others violent. But it was the assassination of Ninoy that gave a nationally recognizable face to the heroic dimension of our society.

Worth dying for

Despite its inherently evil connotations, Ninoy's assassination was, thus, a good thing for the Philippine society as a whole.

For as the philosopher Jean Baudrillard asked, "What is a society without a heroic dimension?"

The question had been answered in generations past by our national heroes. But in our times, it was Ninoy's offering of his life that replied to the philosopher's question.

Ninoy also showed that he was right along with those of us who believed in our people: that indeed, the Filipino was worth dying for.

Ninoy's selfless sacrifices for the nation from the days of his youth until he laid down his life for our people beckon to our young men and women as grand ideals to emulate.

They need not die as dramatic a death as Ninoy's to show their love of country. They can do that by working with honesty and living with the faith that the salvation of our land is in our hands, not in the hands of other peoples.

For indeed, as Rizal said the youth is the hope of the Fatherland.

To the youth of the land, then, I would like to give this little advice: Do not waste your time in idle pursuits. Spend it well in the service of your people. Be like Ninoy, a hero in the strife.

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