MANILA, Philippines ? In an off-limits compound where only select military officials can enter stands the small, white cottage that served as the detention cell of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. for seven years, a quiet reminder of the Filipino spirit of resilience, and hope.
With the recent passing of the martyred senator?s wife, former President Corazon Aquino, soldiers looking after the historic quarters could not help but also associate it with the woman who toppled a dictator and rose to power through a ?people power? revolt.
?This is not only significant in the life of Ninoy but also (of) our former President Cory, who frequented the quarters to always give her husband morale boosting,? Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. told reporters Thursday.
In a rare move coming on the eve of the 26th anniversary of Ninoy Aquino?s assassination, the Philippine Army opened to the media the steel gates of the Internal Security Group compound at Fort Bonifacio, giving them a glimpse of the 20-square-meter cell.
The former senator was shot in the head at the Manila International Airport on his return from self-exile in the United States.
When he was arrested on Sept. 23, 1972 after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, Aquino was briefly detained in Camp Crame in Quezon City, then transferred to Vista Lodge at Fort Bonifacio in Taguig City.
Six months later, he was secretly taken to Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Then on Aug. 7, 1973 he was moved to the Legaspi Compound inside Fort Bonifacio, where the white cottage shown to reporters is located.
At the time, the compound was occupied by the then military security command.
The last time the Army allowed visitors to enter the compound was 10 years ago when the National Historical Institute unveiled a marker at the entrance to Aquino?s cell.
?Symbol of unconquerable human spirit amid tyranny and hopelessness,? the marker read.
The cell was also exhibited to the public when Cory Aquino visited the place in March 1986, a few weeks after she was installed President.
?This is a very important piece of our history. As much as we want to open this to the public frequently, we can?t because this is a very secured compound,? Burgos told the Inquirer.
Before the journalists were allowed into the compound, military officials warned them against taking pictures of structures inside the restricted area?apart from the detention cell. The area is exclusively for intelligence operatives.
Every day, military employees would come and clean the room?furnished with a relatively spacious bathroom?and check if fixtures still worked. Major repairs and repainting are done once a year, Burgos said.
Aquino?s detention cell still smelled of fresh paint.
His steel bed was covered with a clean, moss-green linen.
Waiting for his return
His lounging chair?where he usually sat when entertaining visitors?was neatly propped up beside the bed, as if still waiting for his return.
A dated Fedders air-conditioning unit, mute testimony to Aquino?s struggle against oppression, purred in one corner. Printed curtains were hung, concealing the windows fitted with iron bars.
Against one wall stood a shelf holding hundreds of old books and novels, ranging from politics, history, science and romance.
Aquino?s collection included a yellowing copy of the ?Manchurian Candidate? by Richard Condon, ?Castro?s Revolution, Myths and Realities? by Theodoro Draper, The New York Times? Election handbook, Pablo Neruda?s ?Memoirs? and Danielle Steele?s ?The Cracker Factory.?
Also on the shelf were books titled ?How to Interpret Your Own Dream? and ?Fasting, the Ultimate Diet.?
Peephole still there
It was the same cell where the former senator went on a 40-day hunger strike to protest his unjust military trial, which ended with him being sentenced to death by firing squad.
The door to the room still bears the peephole that allowed Aquino?s guards to check on him anytime, day or night. Forbidden to communicate with him, the guards brought him newspapers through the hole.
Replicas of the oven toaster and the electric stove that Aquino used lay on a counter on one side of the room. It was the spot where the then housewife Cory made meals for her husband during visits, Burgos said.
Burgos showed reporters eight framed black-and-white photographs hanging along the hall that led to the main room.
One of the snapshots shows Cory, with her back to the camera, busy cooking in the same spot Burgos had pointed to.
The other photos show Ninoy Aquino seated on his lounge chair, a handful of visitors and supporters surrounding him.
Off-limits to public
?This room reflects the democratic ideals he fought for and the resiliency of the Filipino people. Ninoy did not lose hope that one day he will be free,? Burgos said, showing reporters around.
While the compound is off-limits to the public, the Philippine Army can make ?special arrangements? for those who may want to visit the place, especially during Aquino?s death anniversary, Burgos said.
?That?s the only thing we can do, for now,? he said.