Aug. 21, 1983: One moment in time
When the late former senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. made the decision to return to the Philippines 28 years ago yesterday ending his life of exile in the United States, did he stop to find out what significant events happened in the eighth month of the year?
Filipinos celebrate Buwan Ng Wika (Language Month) in August. On August 30, we will observe National Heroes Day. The liturgical calendar has a number of important celebrations. August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ. Likewise, two important Marian feasts stand out: the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (August 15) and the Solemnity of the Queenship of Mary which is celebrated today, August 22.
Ninoy’s return in August 21, 1983 according to former Assemblyman and Manila Mayor Mel Lopez (“Grand Yellow Welcome Turns Grim: They Shot Him,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 21, 2011), had been finalized two months ahead of that fateful day by the senator himself who was in constant touch with members of the opposition Liberal Party.
Feeling that the despotic and ailing Ferdinand Marcos was losing his grip in the military cabal that ruled the country, Ninoy bid Boston goodbye.
Lopez narrated the opposition leader secretly passed on the message of his arrival to supporters but since he was already on the radar of the Marcos military long before he took the China Airlines flight from Taipei to Manila, Ninoy had a premonition of what was going to happen. Previous narratives say that on his way to Manila, he prayed the rosary and entrusted his life to the Mother of God.
Ninoy’s assassination happened so swiftly that even his sisters who were at the airport didn’t know until it was over. Like the rest of the welcome delegation, Mel Lopez who waited in the terminal ramp was clueless until a wailing Lupita Kashiwaraha told him that the grim scenario had taken place.
Journalism, according to Howie Severino of GMA 7, is history in a hurry, while history is journalism in slow motion. I’d like to freeze that moment in August 21, 1983 at the airport tarmac, when the senator’s bloodied dead body lay face down. Outside the airport terminal, the joy of anticipation quickly turned into grief. People who waited all day were too stunned to think until someone cried, “To Baclaran, to Baclaran!”
At that point, the people’s revolution could have taken a bloody turn. Martial law brought them suffering and shame for more than a decade and the seething social volcano could erupt right there and then. What if they staged a demonstration in the airport area? What if they took a detour on their way to the shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help? Had our people not turned to God, I think our country would have been swallowed by a bloody uprising.
The rhetorical point about significant dates in August is significant because Ninoy has good company in the eighth month of the year. It was in August 14, 1941, when Maximilian Kolbe was martyred in Auschwitz, Poland.
His story is well known.
Kolbe was a Polish priest, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi German concentration camp of Auschwitz, located in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Canonized in October 10, 1982 by Pope John Paul II, he is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement. Pope John Paul II declared him “The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century”. (Wikipedia).
Fr. Raymond J. De Souza, a Canadian who writes for various publications worldwide and one of my favourite columnists, went on a pilgrimage to Auschwitz in 1998 in preparation for the jubilee year declared by the pontifical council for migrants.
The council had suggested that the faithful visit pilgrimage sites, among them, “those places desecrated by people’s sin,” but consecrated by pilgrimages because of “the people’s instinct of reparation.”
An “emblematic place of torture of the Jewish people in Europe”, where six million died, three million of whom were Polish, Auschwitz is one such place. In an article that insightfully blends history with his writing style, de Souza described Auschwitz as “a place of great evil,” but where “it is possible to speak of Jesus Christ”. Even if the place was built for destruction and the extermination of His people, “God was there in His saints,” according to Souza.
I’m not about to call Ninoy a saint, but the same maybe said about the spot where our hero fell.
Twenty eight years after the death of Ninoy, it would seem that stories of his life have become almost repetitive and boring. The challenge is to continually vivify his martyrdom especially for our young people because Ninoy is an authentic hero who did not spare his life to win back our freedom and our dignity as a nation.
The Manila International Airport of Ninoy’s epic struggle is now the world class and mega facility that is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). I have been in and out of the Centennial Terminal and Terminal 4, and it’s been 3 years since I exited in Terminal 1.
The NAIA is hardly the place to linger after a long journey but I just wonder if there’s a sign there or a memorial stone that would help travellers understand that after Jose Rizal, our genetic instruction as a nation and as a people come from Ninoy Aquino.
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