Solon recalls talks with Ninoy Aquino during Marcos martial law days
Raul Daza, the only man to have served in the 7th Congress during the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos and to be serving still in the 17th Congress during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, remembers with chagrin his awkward jailhouse meeting with Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. 45 years ago.
It happened in the aftermath of the Sept. 21,1972 proclamation of that placed the Philippines under martial law and allowed the state to detain opposition figures, leaving the resistance movement in shambles and its leaders gripped by hesitation and fear.
Daza, then a neophyte Liberal Party House member representing Northern Samar, had wished to seek advice from the incarcerated Aquino, Marcos’s ferocious critic and moral voice of the opposition.
“Early one morning, I went to Fort Bonifacio where he was detained under heavy guard,” Daza said. “The guards at the gate did not let me in. They referred me to an office in the camp to get a permit. The officer-on-duty, however, denied my request, as only visits by Ninoy’s family and lawyers were allowed.”
“I pleaded to no avail,” recalled the 82-year-old Daza in an unpublished memoir of his life during the dictatorship, a copy of which he allowed the Inquirer to use for this story.
Jogging with Ninoy
He was about to leave the camp when an officer hinted a way out of his predicament: A group of Aquino’s colleagues in the Senate was scheduled that day to visit Aquino. Daza caught up with the senators and caught the eye of one who recognized him, Lorenzo Teves.
“Lorenz, may I join you?” he asked. “Sure,” the “tall and handsome senator” replied, according to Daza. “Here, walk ahead of me.”
Standing by the doorway of the visitor’s area was Aquino, who cheerfully greeted and exchanged pleasantries with each of his friends from the Senate. But he threw a quizzical glance at Daza, the only congressman in the room.
The conversation was safe and meaningless.
“He assured his colleagues that he was physically well and complained of nothing relating to his detention,” Daza recalled in his book. “Their conversation did not touch politics nor mention President Marcos. Until his colleagues left, he maintained his cheerfulness.”
The lone congressman stayed after the senators had gone.
“I sidled up to him and whispered in Tagalog: ‘Ninoy, nagpunta ako rito para komunsulta sa iyo [Ninoy, I came here to consult with you].”
But Aquino interrupted him in a curt tone.
“Come with me outside because I’ll be jogging,” the senator told him, rolling his eyes up toward the ceiling in a warning that the room was wired.
Daza found himself trying to keep up with Aquino as he jogged around the compound.
“When he saw that I could not, he slowed down to a fast walk. I walked beside him,” he wrote.
“Ninoy,” I earnestly asked him, “what should we do?”
“He shot back, somewhat irritated: ‘Kayo ang nasa labas, alam ninyo ang dapat gawin [You are the ones outside, you know what to do]’,” Daza recalled Aquino as saying.
He said Aquino’s eyes turned forlorn.
“Finding no words to say, I shook his hand and bade him goodbye,” Daza said.
Aquino only nodded in response.
Another meeting while in exile in the US
Neither party seemed satisfied with the meeting, and the discouraged Daza thought that was the last he would see of Aquino.
Fortunately, he was wrong.
Daza’s memoir did not touch on his later encounters with the martyred senator after both of them went on self exile under separate circumstances in the United States. But he continued his story in an interview with the Inquirer on Saturday.
In June 1980 Daza met Aquino again about a month after Marcos let the latter leave the country to undergo a heart surgery in Texas. After getting a call from Aquino to inform him that he was in San Francisco, California, Daza, who was staying in Los Angeles, flew to meet him.
“He was in high spirits as usual,” he said of Aquino, describing him as a talkative man. “You’re lucky if he talked 80 percent of the time and you got 20 percent. Usually it’s 90 to 10.”
“I said to him: ‘At least Marcos allowed you to leave’,” Daza recalled.
But Aquino’s response surprised him.
“He told me: ‘Well, he had to. If something happens to me while in detention, the whole world will say he got rid of me’.”
Daza noted that at the time a military commission had already found Aquino guilty of murder, subversion, and illegal possession of weapons charges and had sentenced him to death. But the sentence was never carried out as Aquino was too politically important.
“He was telling me that Marcos let him go not for Ninoy’s interest but to advance his own,” Daza said.
“So, I asked him: ‘What will you do now?’” he recalled. “Ninoy said it would depend on the situation. ‘If I’m needed there, I’ll go back. But if I’m of better use here, then I’ll stay.’ In the end he decided to stay.”
But that decision would change in a matter of three years.
Determined to return to the Philippines
Daza said his last meeting with Aquino came only days before the latter made his tragic homecoming to the Philippines on Aug. 21,1983, when he was shot on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (now the Ninoy Aquino International Airport), shocking the world and setting the stage for the eventual downfall of the Marcos regime.
The meeting was in the old Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with Aquino’s friends – Commo. Ramon Alcaraz, the late World War II hero who fought against the Marcos dictatorship, and businessman Manuel Leelin.
“We booked a room and we had a long talk. As he was leaving the room, we were persuading him not to come back. ‘Why would you return? It’s not safe’,” he recalled.
But the exiled leader said: “No, I’m needed there… I’d like to be there to do something, to prevent a takeover by [First Lady] Imelda [Marcos] and [Armed Forces chief Gen. Fabian] Ver.”
Daza recalled going up to Aquino and whispering: “Ninoy, sama ako sa ‘yo [Let me join you].” Aquino said no. “Just stay here. No harm will happen to me.”
But as though reconsidering his words, the senator added: “If something does happen to me, go back home. Continue the work, continue what we’re doing.”
Aquino’s remark proved prophetic. “When he was killed on the tarmac, I was haunted by his words to me,” Daza said.
Daza returned to the Philippines two years later, on Aug. 12, 1985, a few months before the peaceful Edsa uprising in February 1986, which was led by Aquino’s widow Corazon Aquino, that restored democracy.
“Our motherland is in her darkest hour,” Daza was quoted by a wire report as saying upon landing in Manila.
The next day, Daza was promptly arrested by authorities on charges of subversion, homicide, and arson in connection with his alleged involvement in the anti-Marcos Light-a-Fire Movement.
“But that’s another story,” he said with a laugh.
Today, Daza walks on familiar territory in the 17th Congress. He’s still in the Liberal Party, he’s still in the opposition, and he’s still facing off with an iron-fisted President. /atm
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