Recto Mercene, 77: Newsman’s photos of Ninoy slay helped rouse nation | Inquirer News

Recto Mercene, 77: Newsman’s photos of Ninoy slay helped rouse nation

VIRAL Recto Mercene’s photos of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy’’ Aquino Jr.’s body sprawled on the tarmac of Manila’s international airport on Aug. 21, 1983, have been featured in various international publications.

MANILA, Philippines — Veteran photojournalist Recto Mercene, who became known for his iconic photographs of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., moments after he was gunned down on Aug. 21, 1983, at the tarmac of the airport later named after him, died peacefully in his sleep on Oct. 2. He was 77 years old.

Mercene’s photographs of the Aquino assassination, taken while he was working for the Times Journal, were featured in publications around the world. He was even called to testify when the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission investigated the killing of the opposition leader. An Inquirer feature on Mercene five years ago noted that “it can be argued (his photos) helped spark a revolution.’’


Aquino’s murder triggered widespread public protests which eventually led to the first People Power revolution that ousted the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and catapulted the senator’s widow, the late President Corazon Aquino, into power in 1986.


Friend to many

Mercene, a reporter for the BusinessMirror, was a friend to many in the media, having a journalism career that spanned decades.

Having covered the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) in Pasay City as a cub reporter at the same time with Mercene in 1990, he was pure adrenaline, snapping pictures as well as filing stories. But as a former air traffic controller and private pilot, he wrote more eloquently and in greater detail than the rest of the pack, particularly when it came to plane accidents.

This writer recalls rushing to an exclusive Parañaque City subdivision after an airplane crashed into one of the houses there. Mercene was already on the scene—most likely tipped off by his air tower friends—and came up the next day with exclusive shots and details for his paper at that time, the Daily Globe.

It was during this coverage of disasters that he became a good friend and even a mentor as he shared his knowledge about planes in explaining the accidents that aviation reporters were asked to report on.

Mercene also covered other beats: defense, Malacañang, foreign affairs, and the Senate.

BusinessMirror editor-in-chief Lourdes Fernandez described him as a good writer because “he knew his stuff.”


Passionate writer

“He wrote with passion, because he deeply appreciated the life and work of people he covered—be they aviation employees from pilots to technical crew to air control personnel; to diplomats in the line of fire in conflict areas; or soldiers doing rescue; or even ordinary employees doing indispensable stuff in airports but are often overlooked or whose pay or benefits get stalled,” Fernandez said.

Recto Mercene. Photo from his FB account

One incident that sticks out in this writer’s memory happened on July 16, 1990, when a powerful earthquake struck Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Airport reporters were inside the Naia press room when we felt the ground move. This writer and a colleague took cover under a wooden desk as the room shook and the lights went out for what seemed like a long time.

When the shaking stopped, everyone ran out but eventually returned after things had quieted down. As we were recalling the incident, a reporter asked Mercene why he had hidden under a glass table. Apparently, he had no choice because all the wooden desks were taken. Mercene had a hearty laugh at that.

Heartiest laugh

This is how most of his friends would want to remember him. More than his chattiness, persistence in asking questions, and readiness to snap pictures, he always had the heartiest laugh in the room.

In an obituary she wrote for Mercene, Fernandez recalled that he was brought to the hospital on Sept. 7 after he fell at home and bumped his head. A battery of tests, however, showed he had advanced cancer. He was being prepared for discharge so that he could get palliative care at home when he passed away.

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“Fly high, idol, legend, role model for young journalists, friend of thousands, and advocate for ordinary folk—you are Philippine journalism’s irreplaceable treasure,” Fernandez said.

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