DOÑA AURORA A. AQUINO was the mother of Ninoy. She played a vital role in the political battles that followed her son’s assassination. In the 1986 snap elections, she campaigned vigorously for her daughter-in-law Corazon C. Aquino in a bid to unseat President Marcos. Ninoy’s widow succeeded.
The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: What happened the day you gave birth to Ninoy? Was there anything unusual that day or any indication that your son was to be a very important figure?
A: I didn’t see any indication whatsoever because it was a simple birth. It was even done in the house because I wasn’t able to go to the hospital anymore. He was born in Concepcion, Tarlac. There wasn’t anything I remember that was unusual. It was the second childbirth I had. My first child was Mrs. Lichauco (Maur). She was born during the day and Ninoy was born in the morning.
Q: What about when he was growing up, were there any indications that he was going to be extraordinary?
A: Well yes. We could see that from the start. He was just around three or four when we observed that he liked people. He wasn’t afraid of people. You know, Filipino children are so shy but he was not. He loved to be amidst people. At three, his father would display him and he would ask questions. He would not be afraid of the people.
Q: What made him different from your other children?
A: He was always there when there was a crowd. He had leadership since he was small. In fact, when he was about four or five, I remember he had a dog. He loved that dog so much, but it was run over by a car and the dog died. In the evening, by twilight, I saw a procession of young children and I said, “What was that?” They were burying the dog. It was a ‘funeral procession’ and there were many children from all around the neighborhood being led by Ninoy.
Q: What problems did Ninoy bring you when he was a child?
A: Well, he always invited so many children in the house and I had to feed all those children.
Q: Was he a naughty child? Did he need any discipline?
A: Not very much because he was always with kids playing. We let them. At that time we didn’t have any ‘yaya’ for them. They were on their own. He’d be around with the children in the neighborhood playing kites or hide and seek and he’d always have some Cokes for them. I would always find the pantry deprived of soft drinks. That time it was not so costly. You’d just see all the bottles around emptied of their contents.
Q: What about his adolescent years?
A: I think he was too busy. I think he was one of those who was cheated of his youth, of being a teenager. When his father died, he was only fourteen. After his father died, he thought of working.
Q: What was his first job?
A: He was a laborer. His brother Billy had a truck building factory and he worked there. I did not mind it because his brother said, “It’s alright, I’ll look after him.” So, he was really too proud to ask for allowances. Of course, I bought him his clothes, his book. His pocketmoney, he worked for it.
Q: How did his father’s death affect him?
A: It affected him rather emotionally because it was about that time that he started going with his father. His father died December. We had that election in November and he went around with his father at that time. He was a growing child and he was very much impressed, almost like a valet to his father. When he died, suddenly, it was a heat-attack, and Ninoy was very much upset. Yes, he felt it very badly.
Q: Did you approve of Ninoy’s being involved in politics?
A: I had my hard days when my husband used to be away. I needed him most especially when my children would be born. I had seven children, and when I’d deliver them, that’s the time he’d be away. I thought that when Ninoy’s father died, that would be the end of politics… but Ninoy picked it up…
Q: Did you try to discourage him?
A: I tried to in a way. But then, he took his vacation in the province and the old folks there cajoled him into running for mayor. He was only 22 and I did not like it. But when he finally decided, I did not stop him.
In fact, later when I saw that he was wavering I said, “Once you decide, you decide.” That’s the only time, I think, that I really influenced him to go through with it because he had already given his word. Although he was young, and they’d understand him, I thought that since he has given his word he should honor it. I did not realize that was the beginning that would end in his death.
Q: What was the one important thing that you taught him?
A: That service to the country is difficult, hazardous. It is almost like an apostolate.
Q: What about when Ninoy was a foreign correspondent? How did you react? Did it not worry you?
A: Yes, I was. In fact when he told me that he wanted to go to Korea, I did not like him to go. I didn’t give him the permission. He kept telling me, “You think of it mother because this is a chance for me, I’ll see how things are done and I will not go to the front. I will not bring a gun with me. I will bring a pen and I will try to be the conduit of the parents of these boys. I’ll write and tell about what’s happening in the front so that the parents will know…” We sent troops then, at that time and because I thought it was a mother’s opinion, I wanted to know a father’s opinion. My husband was already dead at that time so I went to President Laurel who is a ‘compadre’. I asked him and I said, “Well, this is the opinion of a mother, I don’t like him to go but if you had a son at the age of 17 who would want to go to war, to Korea, like Ninoy, what would you advice him? I want to know the thinking of a father.” And President Laurel said, “Well, if you’re asking me what my feelings, are of course I’d be very glad because that will make a man out of him’. So I let him go. He told me at that time that the arrangement was that he would stay in Tokyo and that the news would be relayed to Tokyo and he would relay it to the Manila Times. But then Chino Roces was most frantic when he heard that he (Ninoy) was already in Korea and was already with the bombers crossing that line to go to North Korea.
Q: What about when he became a senator? How did it affect your family?
A: Well when he was a candidate I was worried in the sense that he was very young, he was the youngest in the group. At that time his brother Billy had a stroke, he was only 47 and this was in 1967. And one thing that worried us was that we were not able to help Ninoy because we were always at the hospital at that time. Ninoy then had to speak but he could not. He was in the Visayas at that time. He said he could not speak, he was so restless. He called up and asked, ‘Is there anything happening?’ He was very restless and could not collect his thoughts for his speech. He was so worried. So when he called up, they told him that Billy was rushed to the hospital. That affected him a little bit but he had to go on…
Q: When he was a senator, what was it that distinguished him from all the other politicians?
A: Well, I heard that the President said, ‘Why don’t you be like Aquino?’… because somebody told the President, “Don’t underestimate that boy”. He really was very studious. He is always in Congress at 7 o’clock in the morning to open the Senate. He is the one who opens it and he has his experts for different subjects. He studies with them. Also he has a photographic memory, that’s one advantage he has. He absorbs what they tell him. And of course, he does not just get what they tell him, he does not just gnaw all they tell him. He evaluates all that he hears and he forms all his ideas from there, there…
Q: Is it true that when he was planning to be a Presidential candidate you said you’d spend your life in a leper colony to pray for him?
A: Well, that was a joke I told him. I said I will just be in a missionary field because I will just pray and pray for him because I know the temptations and the difficulties of being a President.
Q: How did his arrest affect you then in 1972?
A: Well, I was not here when he was arrested. In fact I was conducting a Cursillo because it was during the height of the Cursillo days when martial law was declared. I was in Ozamis City. I was told early morning that there was a long distance telephone call from Manila. I got apprehensive at that time because they never called me unless it was necessary and I had to go to town because the house was four kilometers away and I got the news from my daughter Tessie. But the thing, you know misery loves company, she told me there were hundreds of people who were arrested and she named so many prominent people who were arrested with Ninoy that sort of relieved me a little bit. I thought this was just going to be for a short time. I never thought that martial law would last that long, the most would be six months I thought. So when I came after two days, the Cursillo closed but I could not get any transportation, we found a boat that came to Manila. I went to Fort Bonifacio. To my surprise they didn’t want to admit me because I didn’t belong to the ‘closest family’. It was only at that time that I knew that the closest to a man is his wife and his children, that’s what they told me, the Sergeant there, that a mother is not considered to be the closest. So, I teasingly told the Sergeant, you can have so many wives but you can have only one mother’ and he said, ‘yes ma’am, that’s true, but that’s the order from above’. For one whole week I could not visit him, until I told my ‘balae’ who has some sort of connection with General Ramos and so all of a sudden I was told that I could visit him.
Q: Was there anything you told him when you visited him in prison?
No: I don’t remember advicing him on anything because we were all taken by surprise. That was the first experience that we had. But the thing is I could see that there were many of them in that compound, in that big building, although they were given divisions where two beds could be in that little space… at first they were many, and then later they were 9 left. There were three Senators, Mitra, Diokno, Ninoy. There were 4 media-men, Soliven, Nap Rama, Rodrigo and Velez and there were two publishers, Locsin and Roces.
Q: How did you cope all these years with your son in jail?
A: The Cardinal said something yesterday. Sta. Teresa had this little poem, “Nada te estorba, Nada te espanta, Todos se pasa!”. I had that long ago and I had been following that and absorbed it so much that it had already become an attitude. Everything will pass away. Nada de turba. Nothing should disturb you. Nothing should surprise you. Nada despante. Nothing can frighten you. I held on to that saying of Sta. Teresa and that had given me so much strength in all the crises of my life.
Q: When you look back at Ninoy’s life, is there anything more you wish that could have been? Do you have any regrets? Do you think his life was worth it?
A: Well, you know, you cannot afford to regret anything anymore once it is past. Make the most out of it and look optimistically to the future. I was not in favor of Ninoy’s coming back home. In fact I wrote him that he should not come back because I was informed that… ‘sa eroplano lang yan, patay na ‘yan’, somebody told me that, a higher up said that. And so I wrote him and then he answered me and he said, “They are just trying to scare you. They won’t assassinate me and they won’t make a hero out of me and I want to go home Mommy, there’s no place like home. I want to be home even if that home means jail.” l think he had a premonition… I asked Cory, “do you think that somebody tipped him in America that they would hit him there?”, and Cory said, “well, even if they had tipped him, perhaps he did not tell us anymore.” I am beginning to think that he must have been tipped that they might hit him in the States but that he didn’t like us to worry anymore, so, he didn’t tell us. So I asked Cory if there were some people thinking of having him hit in the States or outside the United States. But then Cory said, “well, he didn’t tell me anything about it. I am conjecturing that if he had those tips he would not tell us… not to frighten us perhaps. But that I have regrets, no, because I believe that anything that happens is always God’s will.
Q: How do you think your son’s death affected history?
A: Well, it has some parrallel to the history of our country in the sense that when Rizal was executed it made the people aware of what he had been trying to get for them. And in the case of Ninoy, when he died, we didn’t expect that crowd in his funeral and I was so amazed when I saw it on Betamax… how the people lined up just to see him just for a few seconds, and they would come back again the next day to see him again. Because during the wake, I was groggy, I was not myself and I didn’t see the people out there. I was always inside the room or nearby the sala, but I did not see the lining outside.
It was when I saw it on Betamax that I was amazed. And then, during the funeral itself I saw how the people were affected. In fact, when there was that heavy rain the people were so drenched.
They were hanging on our van, because our van did not have any air condition, and we kept those windows open. I put out my hand and touched the back of one of those young students. I said, ‘hjjo, umuwi na kayo, basang-basa kayo, baka kayo magkasakit’ and they answered and it touched me to the core, ‘hindi na po bale, si Ninoy po buhay ang ibinigay, kami po ito lamang, hindi na po bale, hindi kami uuwi sasama kami sa sementeryo at ihahatid namin siya’.
And they were young students. People perhaps whom Ninoy didn’t even know or who didn’t know much about Ninoy. Because if they’re just 21 or 18, or 19, that was eleven years ago. That was eleven years ago, they were only 10 or 11 years old before martial law and they did not know Ninoy anymore perhaps. His death has really affected our people.
I have hearing of many young executives who were so touched, who had changed completely because they have been so affected by that death. I know of one, I was told, who could not eat for so many days. His wife had to take him to Baguio and when he was there he said he really was so affected because he felt guilty because we have been so silent these eleven years and now we had to reach this point. There are many people whose lives have chaged.
Q: Do you think the Filipino people is worth dying for?
A: Oh yes. I think so, especially during this last election. As I said in many of the rallies. What Ninoy was saying that the Filipino is worth dying for is true.
Q: Was there ever a time when you doubted that?
A: Yes. When he was in prison and nobody seemed to show any sympathy. There were very few people that showed sympathy and he used to console us, and he said, “No Mommy, the instinct of preservation is very strong. Deep down in their hearts, it might be different from what we see.” But we women we want to see things objectively. Ninoy never lost his appraisal of the Filipino. I was losing hope when I saw and felt that even some of our friends are afraid of us during those times. They would shy away when we’d meet them because they wouldn’t want to be seen with us.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: Well, I do believe that any person who will give his life for another is a hero. Any person who will be willing to meet death in order to get what is good for his countrymen, for his fellowmen, I think, is a hero.