The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: How wer your childhood years? Where was it spent?
A: Well, both Ninoy and I were born in Concepcion. I’m older than Ninoy. We have a one year difference. He was born Nov. 27, 1932, I was born Sept. 8, 1931, it’s a fourteen-month difference. Both of us were born in Concepcion, because our parents were living there at that time and we were both born in the house.
Q: No hospital?
A: Well, there was, but I don’t know why we both were born in the house. After a few years, we moved here in Manila.
Q: Your father was then Senator?
A: Yes, he was.
Q: How did you always remember Ninoy? The earliest memories?
A: Since our ages were closest to each other, we were always playmates, though, he leads and I follow even if I’m older. And I get into lot of scraps because of him. Like for example, this is a really funny incident.
We were living then here in Broadway and there were very few houses. I think there were only about five or six houses. And our nearest neighbor then was Felix Manalo, and then after Felix Manalo, it was already Doña Magdalena Hemady’s house. She was actually the owner of that subdivision. And I remember my father and Doña Magdalena, they’re very good friends, she would come and have tea with my father many times, and as I told you, Ninoy always gets me into scraps because he always dares me or something when we were young.
Anyway, my father and Doña Magdalena were having tea in the balcony, and we were fishing in the canal that day. Siguro we were about 7 and 8 years old, anyway, we were fishing in the canal for lack of anything to do, you know tadpoles and all of that, and he had the bright idea of fishing for Doña Magdalena’s wig. Our guard said, “Alam mo, si Doña Magdalena naka peluka yan” True enough, as we were there behind them, my father and Doña Magdalena were having tea and we were there behind them fishing and trying to “fish” out her peluka, and lo and behold, he happened to take it out. Talagang natanggal. And the poor woman probably thought it was some kind of strange wind that passed over her head so she tried to put the peluka in place, but unfortunately, it was inverted, so the knot was here in her forehead. I don’t know how my father was able to get out of that predicament.
Q: Were you disciplined, spanked?
A: No, my father never laid hands on the girls, never as far as I can remember. But Ninoy was whipped by the belt. Me, I was just punished. That’s it, you see, I get into trouble because of him. He would say, “C’mon I dare you do this, or I dare you do that.”
Q: Was he a naughty child?
A: Ya, and he hated to go to school. Our house was on Broadway and St. Joseph’s College was only about a block away. And I remember, when we used to go to school, every morning it was really such as chore because the driver had to carry him bodily to school. We were just walking go to school. It’s no use going by car because it’s only walking distance. Talaga, naku, and he was really struggling. Now the moment he gets to the school they tie him. They close the gate and then they tie his belt to the belt of the nun. You know, she’s till alive, the nun in St. Joseph, you should go there. t’s either the first grade teacher or our piano teacher when we were small. Anyway, the whole time he was crying and I was so embarrassed that my young brother refused to go to school. He was literally tied to the nun’s apron string, because if not, he would escape, and go home.
Q: How old was he then?
A: Oh, we were very young. I think he was only mga four years old or five years old.
Q: When did he begin to like school?
A. After a few years. Let’s say when he was about second grade, third grade, because he was transferred already to Ateneo. Kindergarten, he hated school, really, he hated school with a passion.
Q: What personal anecdotes do you remember about his school days?
A: Well, not too much, because as I said he was younger than me. You know who was a classmate of his in his childhood? It is Zenaida Amador of the Repertory Philippines.
Q: Was there any time when you both quarreled?
A: Oh, we always quarreled. You know how children are. I do not remember any particular issue, but we were always fighting. Like, you know, who will get the bigger piece of the chocolate. Sometimes I won because I’m older, but sometimes he can outsmart me.
Q: What about sibling rivalry?
A: No such thing because the way we were brought up, you know, the girls were brought up as girls, and the boys were brought up as boys. Meaning to say, like in our case, uh we just didn’t go out or anything. We were always in the house because we learned how to cook. We have to learn how to sew, you know, the usual things that young daughters do. The boys are more free. Like for example, every afternoon, Ninoy could go riding with Don Felix Manalo, the old Manalo, because you see, the head of the Iglesia used to be our neighbor. Ninoy was always there in the house of Felix Manalo because Manalo had beautiful horses. Ninoy always went to the stable until Mr. Manalo noticed him. Manalo then took him horseriding every afternoon. I could not do that. That was what I meant by the difference between boys and girls.
Q: What other activities did you have then?
A: Well, when we were in Tarlac, he was always with my dad. And when he was out of the house he was with the drivers chatting. He was super-talkative and during the Japanese time there were no newspapers. But if we wanted to know something, we would ask him to find out what was happening if there was any commotion. Parang it was an unconscious way of training him to be a reporter. Like for example, there was a Japanese gardener living very near our house, and he used to grow tomatoes and. kamote and corn, beautiful corn, and he would, always know when it was harvest time.
Q: Was Ninoy ever scolded by his parents?
A: Oh yes. I’ll remember something which gave me very much trauma. My grandfather, the General, was living with us, and then one day, he was sick, and since Ninoy had a bicycle, my father asked Ninoy to go the drugstore to buy some medicine. I don’t know what happened. Basta he forgot. He didn’t really disobey, maybe he was playing somewhere else and he forgot. And when my father came home my grandfather reported that Ninoy did not pay attention (did not buy his medicine) and wow, that was really very traumatic, because no questions asked, my father made Ninoy lie down on that bench, and he was really horse-whipped. And I remember my father’s belt then was very wide, and for days he could not stand up. He couldn’t sit down, he was really black-and-blue.
Q: You belonged to a prominent family, were there times when Ninoy and you felt neglected or…?
A: No. My father had always time for us, that’s why it amazes me with the politics today that they have no time or anything. Like for example, every Sunday we would always go out. Before the war there was a place in Luneta, which was really the thing to go to, it was called “Legaspi Landing.” It was very near the Manila Hotel, and I remember after mass, my father would take us there and then we would have sugared pop corn. Big deal na yon ah, sugared popcorn and ice-cream. There was a prominade and we would just stay there. See, my father had always time for us. The only time he didn’t have time for us is Thursday, because Thursday he had a poker game with his cronies, they were Don Rafael Alunan, Don Elpidio Quirino, Claro M. Recto, Rafael Zulueta and my Tito Manoling Roxas.
Q: So, paano yung routine ninyo everyday?
Childhood, I cannot recall too much, but Japanese time I could recall already… There was a lot of discipline, like in the table you don’t talk until you’re spoken to.
But I’ll tell you another incident. Ninoy had a bike. During Japanese time, they had beautiful tires, they call them “balloon tires,” and they were big, and I had a very good friend, her name is Norma Rodriguez, she’s the daughter of Eulogio Rodriguez Jr. She was my close friend because we were classmates in school, but she was very very very fat. Really, as a child she was extremely stout. And one day I said, “Never mind Norma, you ride na lang the bike of Ninoy”, and so she rode the bike the two tires burst. But, of course, Ninoy could not hit her back or say anything to her because my father will get angry for sure, because you’re never supposed to hit girls. You’re not even supposed to fight with girls. So Ninoy was just crying and crying out of frustration because he couldn’t to anything. But then we explained the situation to my father and my father changed the tires.
Q: Di you notice that there was something special about Ninoy?
A: Nothing, heavens no. Our childhood was just the common childhood. Like during summertime he would work in my father’s shop because what would he do during summertime? My parents insisted that the boys learn how to work at an early age so that they can fend for themselves, which I am trying to do now with my children.
Q: Did you notice that there was something special about Ninoy during your childhood?
A: Only later on. Well, I won’t say that he was never interested because every time my daddy had visitors he was always there, nakikihalo, but my father was very tolerant of him.
Q: Was he the favorite?
A: Well no, not really, but you see there was a very big gap between Ninoy and Butz; As I told you I’m the eldest, then comes Ninoy, and after Ninoy two girls, and then Butz, so actually Ninoy was the only boy in the house. I’ll say boy, not son, because I have older brothers and they’re much older than us.
Q: What were the childhood problems that you faced?
A: Well, one thing that was very traumatic was when my father died. That is the thing we did not seem to understand. First of all, my father died very suddenly. He was watching this Tirso del Rosario—something fight in the Rizal Stadium, and then he had a heart attack. Maybe he was over excited. They woke us up, I can remember that was about 10 or 11 in the evening, to tell us we have to rush to the hospital because my dad was very ill. And true enough, when we got to the hospital my dad was already gasping, and he was already dying although we did not actually see him die. I was about 14, so Ninoy was about 13.
Q: How did Ninoy react?
A: Well, I didn’t know at that moment because everybody was just stunned. But I remember when we were in the funeral parlor, he kept on asking why everybody was so happy and why when we were all so sad. It was Christmas see, my dad died December 20th, 1945 or 46, something like that. It really took time because there was necrological service here, necrological service there, and then we went by train to Tarlac, and then necrological service there. Later on in life he says that was when he started thinking that in this world you really are by yourself, you only have God.
Q: How did you mother handle it when your father died?
A: My mother was very young. She was only 33 when my father died. My mother brought Ninoy up so that he would not be bitter because that was really very traumatic. Mommy always told him, “Iho, you’re now the head of the family, so you have to be responsible for all your brothers and sisters.” I think he said in one of his interviews, that during the Japanese time, he felt so alone. During that time there were a lot of people ostracizing us because they thought my father collaborated with the Japanese. People don’t seem to understand that my father, Laurel, Vargas, all these people who were left in the Quezon cabinet were used as “buffer,” you know, between the Japanese and the Filipinos. If they just left the Japanese to do as they, pleased, I think it would have been much, much worst. And those days we used to always get death threats.
A: I don’t know. Our parents always shielded us from that. They never told us but many times you’d see my mother, my father very worried. And when we’d go to school, it was always one of them who’d take us to school. Even in school the children can be very mean.
Q: What about your adolescent years?
A: I won’t forget the fact that when I went to school in Europe, Ninoy would always ask my mother why I had to go to Europe when I would only study guitar. He said, “If that’s all she wants to do in Europe, tell her to come home already and I will get all the beggars in Quiapo to teach her how to play the guitar,” I was studying in Spain. I was about 17 or 18.
Q: Did he have any girlfriends then?
A: Oh yes, he had many “crushes.” I don’t remember them now, but they would be his classmates in U.P. When was studying in Holy Spirit and he studied at San Beda, you’d think he was the most solicitous of brothers, because he would go to Holy Spirit and with his gang and they would hang around there and when the nuns who were very strict would ask, he’d say, “I’m waiting for my sister.” But actually they were just girl-watching. And then, whenever I had friends in the house, he would always be there chatting and chatting with them.
Q: Did he court his crushes?
A: Ninoy na yan, puro habla lang yan, madaldal pero when it comes to girls, ligaw-tingin lang yan. I remember there was a girl he had such a tremendous crush on, her name was Violeta Perin, I wonder what happened to her…
Q: What do you think is the difference between Cory and the others?
A: I don’t know. Well, I guess they had both mental rapport, that’s very important. In the case of their family, our parents had always been close friends. So, we would go to their house. They would go to our house. So, you know he started to go after Cory. I guess it was the proximity and the love. And he really like Cory from the beginning.
Q: At what age did he marry?
A: I think he was only 22.
Q: What about when he was war correspondent to Korea?
A: My mommy was very worried often about him. But in my case, I thought it was just a job you know, because at that age you don’t think of death, of worry, and all those. He was only 17, and don’t forget our ages were very close. But then, when he’d come home he’d have plenty of stories and one time he came home and brought me a doll. That’s the only thing I remember. It was one of the Japanese dolls that you’d find at the souvenir shop.
Q: Was he thoughtful as a brother?
A: One thing about Ninoy, you can always depend on him. Like, for example, this is down later years when they were living in Boston, I sent my daughter there for graduate school and then I told him and Cory, “I’m really worried because this is the first time she gets out of the house and at least, you keep an eye on her,” and things like that. Later on, I found out that my daughter’s school is right beside Harvard or MIT. My daughter is studying at Leslie so it’s really very close, it’s really within the compound. And so Ninoy would call her up and say, “Let’s go out for lunch,” and things like that. When my daughter was sick, Ninoy would visit her… And then when he found out that some boys wanted to date my daughter—ay naku! gestapo grilling muna before he will allow her.
Q: What was his family role?
A: Para siyang “father image,” sa akin lang hindi, because matanda nga ako sa kanya. But to my brothers and sisters, yes. And another thing, like when I was young I could not go out without a chaperone so if I tell him, “Sige na, Ninoy, you accompany me naman I want to go out to the party”, he’ll always make it a point to come and bring me.
Q: When was the time you felt he showed extraordinary character?
A: I will give you an anecdote, O.K., that made me very ashamed of myself. We were in Boston. We were having breakfast or lunch, I don’t remember very distinctly, but this was now in 1982, and of course, the topic is always Manila and people and events and things like that. And then I remember saying, “Ay, but me, I have a mental block book,” I said, I don’t even remember the conversation but this really struck me very deeply. I said flippantly, “Ah, basta ako, I have a mental block book. Basta so-and-so I may forgive but I will never forget. And anytime I have chance I will hit back, because I’m really very peeved and I really hate these people with a passion,” I told him. And he was eating. There I was very spiritedly talking about this hatred of mine, and he just kept on eating and after all that hysteria, he just looked at me and said, “Ay naku Maur, and you call yourself a Christian?” And I was really taken aback and I really felt very guilty about that. He didn’t reprimand me. He didn’t give me such a pious sermon. He just looked at me and said, “Ay, Maria”, he didn’t call me Maur, he called me Maria, because my name is really Maria Aurora, “Ay Maria, and you call yourself a Christian?”
Q: What about in his political life, how were you involved?
A: Well, of course, when he was running for office we used to go to the market, to the factories, to campaign. But we don’t go out making speeches and making yourself abrasive, like Imelda.
Q: Was your brother a male chauvinist?
A: Yes, because as far as he’s concerned, the role of the wife and the role of the woman is just to stay home. Of course, he respected some women like for example, I know very well he had very great admiration for Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma. He really admired her very much, and then, he always admired Mrs. Magsaysay for being such a lady. But when it comes to his own womenfolk or his sisters, ay naku, chauvinist talaga, meaning to say: What do you discuss on issues of men and women? It’s usually life, O.K.? like for example, if you get married, well, you’ve made your bed, you lie down on it, meaning to say, you know, you never try to outdo your husband. I won’t say that he is unreasonable, but, he will always tend to be sexist, he would say, “You are a woman, that is your role.” Ay naku, kaya lagi kaming nag-aaway nyan, he’d say, “Naku, ang tatapang ninyong mga babae” meaning to say he always believed that the women should be feminine at all times.
Q: Did he ever criticize your wardrobe?
A: Ay forever: like, for instance, when the mini-skirt was in fashion I remembered what he’d say to my sisters. Not me, because I was older, but he’d say, “Naku ang papangit ng mga pata nyo, gustong-gusto pa nyong dinidisplay,” or “Ang baba-baba ng leeg mo, akala mo naman mayroon kang ipakikita, puro naman raisins, o pimples…” ganyan. “Ano yang pinakikita mo? Yung pasas mo? O yung pimples?… The world feminine is number one, like in the case of Justice Muñoz Palma, she’s very feminine, brave, and strong…” from his way of talking you’ll see alin ang mga priorities nya…
Q: What do you think was his most outstanding character trait?
A: Ah, for me, he was a very thoughtful and affectionate brother. Like for example, if I tell him you do this naman for me, he will always somehow do it. Sometimes you’ll forget you asked him something. But he remembers, even when he was Senator.
Like for example he knows I like antiques very much and he will call me up and tell me “Maria, come here and there’s something I will show you,” because he knows it will give me a lot of pleasure to see beautiful things. And he’s very unselfish. I think it is also a weakness because he goes to the point that even when somebody is putting one over him, O.K. lang. I always thought that thoughtfulness and affection have been his strongest traits, but now when I come and think about it, it is more of unselfishness. He will give you his last shirt if you need it.
Q: What makes Ninoy angry?
A: I think what makes Ninoy angry is insincerity.
Q: Did you ever predict that Ninoy would become president?
A: Before martial law he was talking about his becoming a candidate for president. All of us, kaming magkakapatid, we were thinking, ay naku, kakampanya nanaman. Well, I am the most apolitical in the family. In the case of Lupita she likes these things. My vibrations are not just for politics, I’m not at ease with it and let’s face it, I don’t like the hypocrisy in it or the “plasticity” if there is such a word. My mother always said, ‘‘Ay iho, think it over, pag-ikaw naging presidente titira na lang ako sa Culion, sa leper colony, because if you become president, you will have lot of temptations and you will have to go through a lot of trials, so I will just stay in Culion with the lepers.” So you see, we all had a normal life, except that by some twist of fate, it was all changed because of what happened August 21, 1983.
Q: Are you still apolitical?
A: In fact, when Ninoy was coming home, I was one of them who said, “Huwag na lang, napakaraming hasel.” In fact somebody came here and said that, you know, said, “Sa eroplano pa lang ay papatayin na siya.” But Ninoy kept saying that if anybody will kill you they won’t announce, you know.” That was his reason.
Anyway it happened, least expected, to this day. I’ll tell you this much: it still comes back to me, the trauma of seeing my brother dead, dirty, dropped as if he was a piece of laundry, at the Fort Bonifacio hospital. The sight was just a little too much. At that moment it was not revolting. I’d say it was shock, seeing him so carelessly handled, that is putting it mildly. We were there for five hours, waiting there for the ambulance that never came, because we were supposed to bring out the body and they said, “No, that cannot be,” so we were waiting… But at that point, what was most in my mind was how can man be as cruel to another living soul? Because thinking that we are of a higher strata than animals, how can we go to the level of animals? Does hatred bring you to that level? It gives you food for thought. How cruel can man be? So anyway, that passed and we were there and we brought him to Loyola. And my mother at that point was already too tired so I volunteered. Don’t forget it was only us who were here and Lupita had to take care of something else. I had the least to do, so I said, “I will just stay here at the morgue.” I was there until six o’clock in the morning, six o’clock in the morning.
So you know it’s in that reflection, when you’re all alone, sitting in the chair, waiting for that thing to be over, you start having thoughts, and of course you cannot help being angry and frustrated and bitter. But I tell you as the days passed, it doesn’t get less, it gets worse. I suppose that’s it.
Q: Do you think your brother is the new national hero?
A: I won’t say that, but I will say that what he did was extraordinary.