AGAPITO “BUTZ” AQUINO is the younger brother of Ninoy Aquino. In protest against the dictatorship and in honor of his slain brother, he organized the August Twenty One Movement (ATOM) which played a vital role in the mass actions leading up to the EDSA revolution. A year later, Butz was elected to the Senate where he served two consecutive terms. He was later elected Representative of Makati City.
The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: What were your earliest memories of your brother Ninoy?
A: Well, let me see, I was maybe four or five years old. He gave me a model airplane that he made himself. Bumili siya eh, yung mga kit. Ang ginawa ko naman nung nakuha ko yung eroplano, natural pinalipad ko. So, crash ang eroplano, wasak! Sabi nya, “walang kwenta kang binibigyan ng regalo. Sinisira mo yung regalo.” Sabi, “Eh eroplano eh, di ba airplane, yung lumilipad?”
Q: Ilang years ang difference nyo?
A: Seven. So at that time he was maybe twelve or thirteen, ako naman eh five.
Q: Where do you think he got the money to buy you that airplane?
A: Eh from his allowance. Alam mo si Ninoy, resourceful yan. May shineshoe box pa yan, pag walang pera pupunta sa Legarda, mag-shishine muna.
Q: How did your father react to such…
A: Well, my father died when he was fifteen. Ako noon ay eight years old.
Q: What other childhood anecdotes do you remember about Ninoy?
A: Ang alam ko, mga alas-singko ng hapon maghihintay na yan sa Broadway. Hihintayin si “the original” Manalo para makiangkas, siguro nagdedevelop na siya ng mga kaibigan noon. Alam niya ang lahat ng klaseng kotse na nagdadaan… as early as five or six years old… So my recollection of Ninoy was when I was more than eight years old. It all started, I suppose, when my father died.
Q: How did this affect Ninoy?
A: I think that was when he started working at Manila Times. I think he started working as a messenger boy, tapos cub reporter, tapos reporter.
Q: Were there no sibling rivalries?
A: When we were kids, no, because the gap was too big. He was fourth year high school, fourteen or fifteen siya noon, I was eight, I was grade school. So, masyadong malaki ang agwat eh—between Ninoy and me are two girls, Ditas and Lupita—so malayo.
Q: What else do you remember during your early years, when he was in his adolescence?
A: Ninoy kasi, at fifteen, hindi ko na nakikita sa bahay yan eh. When he started working, wala na. You don’t see him anymore and the least he bothered us, the better. Siyempre ayaw mo yung kuya looking over your shoulder.
Q: Why, was he “terror”?
A: Oo ba, siyempre, bulkan pag nagalit yan, parang Mayon volcano. When I used his car without his permission, hindi naman siya pumutok, nagalit lang, “Sa susunod humingi ka ng permiso, at least,” or something like that.
Q: What about feuds/quarrels within the family?
A: Hindi kasi siya ang kaaway ko, ang kaaway ko kasi si Lupita kasi binubugbog ako noon eh. She used to hit me. She used to manhandle me, physical violence.
Q: How’d you react to the fact that your brother was a governor, mayor, senator, etc.?
A: Eh, sikat nga siya, pero ayaw ko naman yung politika.
Q: Why? What differences did you have? Political differences…
A: Yes, I didn’t think the Liberal and Nacionalista Party were relevant to the people.
Q: As early as that time?
A: Well, at that time, I wasn’t interested in politics. I would say my eyes got open in politics maybe in my twenties already, mid-twenties na siguro. So I was content being a civic leader.
Q: How was he as a student? Was he somebody that your mommy would tell you, “O, you imitate your Kuya Ninoy,” or something like that?
A: Ah, hindi, lakwatsero yon eh, “Huwag mong gayahin yang kapatid mong yan!” Eh lakwatsero eh, alam ko binuntal yan. I have another brother who’s older than Ninoy. Nuong naglalakwatsa siya (Ninoy), when he was high school, I think nabalitaan ng older brother ko, binuntal nya. Eh hindi sa copy, “do not copy.”
Q: Then did you have any inkling that he would be the great person he is now?
A: No, I suppose not. You know, we come from two nuptials. The first nuptial apat silang magkakapatid, but we all grew up under my mother or under our mother now. So, parang full brothers and sisters din, there is no real difference. So, ang unang-una kong brother na namatay, iyong Billy, siya ang parang tatay namin. While Tony, our eldest naman ay laging nasa probinsya—hindi available. Yung sumunod si Billy ang available. So, yung parang tatay. But amongst my full brothers and sisters, si Ninoy ang parang tatay.
Q: And how was he as father-figure?
A: Ay naku, eh just like any other father, strict on the children. In that respect strict also with brothers and sisters. Si Ninoy kasi conservative eh, hindi pwede sa kanya yung mga divorce, yung mga separation, yung mga abortion, ah bawal lahat yan, he’s a very conservative guy.
Q: So, what were your differences? Are you also conservative?
A: No. I’m liberal.
Q: Which means pwede sa iyo ang divorce?
A: Ah yes. Definitely pwede ang divorce sa akin. Kung talagang hindi na pwede, huwag nang pahirapan yung dalawa. Let them mutually agree to separate and work out a divorce. Now, I do not believe in impulse divorces, kailangan naman may kaunting record, at saka ano re-marriage within a period of time, dahil kung hihiwalayan mo ang isa para tumalon ka sa kabila, ay naku.
Q: What other differences are there between you and Ninoy?
A: Well, I think si Ninoy is very studious. I’m not. He’s conservative. I’m liberal. He’s very patient with people, I don’t know if I am patient with people. So far, so good, kasi wala namang nang-iinis sa akin. Pero let us say ala sais ng umaga, puno na ang bahay mo ng bisita—ba ewan ko kung pwede ako sa ganyan.
Q: What about your personal philosophy and his personal philosophy?
A: Well, as far as truth is concerned, I don’t think we have any differences there. Our basics are truth, justice, freedom, and democracy. I don’t think truth is relative; truth is truth, no matter what.
Q: But you’re not a politician and he was a politician, this is a difference?
A: Politicians are tempted to be “plastic” ten times more than non-politicians, I will grant that. But don’t forget politicians play a certain role. They have to live within the system. No, I don’t think I’m a politician, I think I’ve been the same all my life.
Q: What do you think of politicians?
A: Depends what kind. Well I think there are two types of politicians. Those who worry about themselves and those who worry about the country. At large, those who worry about the country and its people, those are worthwhile politicians. Those who worry about themselves, those are what we’ve been calling traditional politicians, we should eliminate that breed.
Q: What was Ninoy’s outstanding weakness?
A: Siguro girls. Siguro ha? I do not know. Alam mo masekreto yan sa akin, sabi ko nga conservative. I would just imagine, siguro, bakit naman maiiba pa?
Q: What about his optimism?
A: Ninoy, I think, was always sure of himself. He had confidence, maybe that part he has taught me a lot of confidence. He has a long-term vision.
Q: You have a vision too?
A: I think so. Not as long as his. Alam mo dahil nung kinulong siya, tumatagal siya, di naman nasisira ang ulo, okay pa naman ang disposisyon, okay naman ang outlook niya sa buhay, matatag. Believe ako doon, he had consistency. Number two, when he decided to fast for forty days, ay, talagang believe ako doon! I literally saw him shrink, and forty days talaga. After mga twenty days lang I was already telling him, “You know, I have reports that they will allow you to go on this hunger strike until you are physically damaged and then they will force feed you. What do you say to that? Are you going to allow them that?” Sabi nya, “Hindi, basta desidido akong hindi kakain.” Sila yata ni Father de la Costa ang nagusap tungkol dyan sa forty-days, sabi yata ni Father de la Costa, “Maski naman ang Diyos forty days lang nag-fast, eh di ikaw kung tumagal ka ng forty days ay ibig sabihin noon ay may misyon ka pa,” something like that.
Q: What were his vices?
A: He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t gamble except social gambling and I don’t think gambling in the family “mah-jong” and losing P50 is gambling, hindi naman siguro gambling yon. Social, yung family reunion, after nag-lunch, mag-mamahjong kami. I don’t think that’s gambling, so, ewan ko. Yung mga traditional vices like drinking, gambling, smoking, no, maski women kung meron man, tagong-tago yan, very discreet, dahil he was a public figure, he couldn’t afford any scandal. And then what else?
Q: Don’t you think he was too trusting and all that, isn’t that a weakness also?
A: Yes, if being too trusting is a weakness, then yes. He was very trusting of people. That is probably his weakness.
Q: When he was about to come home, did he expect to be shot?
A: He never discounted the possibility. But of course, it was remote, as far as he was concerned.
Q: Isn’t that a weakness?
A: No, I don’t think so. I think it was very brave for him to come home. I mean, knowing that he would face death. That, for me, was his strength.
Q: What about his most outstanding characteristics?
A: He was a very good storyteller, no matter what story there was na hindi ka interesado, suddenly interesado ka dahil may style siya ng pagkukuwento. Example, I knew he was going to be a guest speaker sa Dental Convention. Anong interes ko naman sa ngipin? Pero anyway, pag-kwento niya ng the latest techniques kung paano binubunot ang ngipin, parang interesting. Yung kaibigan kong naging presidente ng dental association, kinakantswan pa ako. Sabi niya, “Pare, ang galing-galing ng kapatid mo. Biruin mo, guest speaker namin kinuwentuhan kami tungkol sa dentistry, modern trends na kahit kaming mga professional doctors, ngayon lang namin nababalitaan van, siya eh, alam na nya at kinuwento ang mga detalye.” And I heard that not only from a dentist’s point of view but also from a doctor’s point of view, the latest cures naman. He was a voracious reader, that’s why, and he had his own research staff.
Q: What were the most memorable moments you shared together?
A: Most of these were when he was in prison. In his victories when he was Senator, I felt he was one of the front runners then, and so nanalo siya. So ganoon lang ang attitude ko noon. Noong ikinulong siya ay iba nang usapan yon. Ganito, he is charged of all of these crimes. I am sure he is not guilty of all of those crimes.
They accuse him of contributing to, let us say the “underground” eh every time may humihingi ng pera. Can you monitor every time you give somebody a hundred pesos or fifty pesos? If somebody is in need and he has convinced me he is really in need, even I will give a contribution, malay ko kung “underground” yan. Something like that.
Now, when he went to jail, ang bisita namin ay Miyercules at saka Sabado. Now as far as we were concerned, brothers and sisters, usually Wednesday kami, kasi yung Sabado iniiwanan namin sa pamilya niya. Kung minsan mayroon pa yatang Linggo, pero pamilya na nya yon. Sa kapatid, Wednesdays, so, yon ang aming family reunion, hindi na Sundays and most of us basta libre, went to see him. Two hours yon. So in two hours time, first, ikukuwento niya, international news, tapos local news, tapos yan pero balitang-balita nya ang nang-yayari sa buong mundo, that is my impression. And he made it a point to make our visit not only educational but very interesting. And so ikaw, bumibisita ka na, you are contributing your part but you are also entertained na I think he intentionally tried to entertain us so that we will keep on coming back.
Once, I missed visiting him for two weeks, kasi I had my own work, I was busy. Eh the next Wednesday ng bumalik ako ang sabi eh, “O, pare, two weeks mo na ako hindi pinupuntahan.” Ang ibig sabihin noon bilang na bilang. Rather than he will tell you that “I miss you,” he will not say that—he will say, “Nakalimutan mo na ako, ano ba ang ginagawa mo ngayon?” That’s his style of communicating that he missed you. I’m sure he did, especially if you’ve got only two days in a week.
Q: So, what lessons can you learn from him? What traits did he have, which you think are particularly admirable?
A: I suppose perseverance. I think that’s very important. Two is industry. Hindi pwedeng tatamad-tamad sa trabahong ganito, kailangan masipag, on the go, may direction, alam mo kung ano ang gagawin and you have to take care of yourself also, you cannot burn both ends of the candle and then suddenly you’re completely exhausted. Maybe it is the confidence I learned from him, the confidence to accomplish what you set out to do. Si Ninoy, since he was young, he had this drive to lead this country. Siguro at that time the only thing you could picture is being President of the country so he had that ambition, and I think that was very obvious and yet, when he gave up that ambition, that was the time he was rewarded with something more than just being President.
Q: What do you think made him give up that ambition?
A: Aha, this is very interesting, during the time he was incarcerated I think he experienced some spiritual… parang “born-again” according to the Protestants. Personal ambitions for the “born-again” believer become secondary and you are therefore now pulled by higher motivations. Ako, I do not buy this, it only has to do with communication… Si Ninoy, pag tinatanong ko sa kanya, ‘‘O, ano itong balita ko born-again ka?’’ Now normally madaldal yan especially regarding his activity, naku, ang haba na ng kuwento, dito, pigil na pigil, hindi niya pinagyabang na let’s say “born-again,” hindi niya pinagyabang na Kristiyano siya, kaya totoo nga yata. Hindi nya pinagyabang eh. He kept it to himself, sabi niya “Matagal na yan” and then he immediately changed the subject.
Q: Were there times when you needed his advice?
Q: Did you follow them?
A: Not necessarily. At the beginning when I was courting, siyempre Kuya. Hindi agressive lover yon. Si Ninoy when it came to women, I think there was some fear with women.
Q: What about you?
A: Ako: When in doubt, attack. Noong araw yon.
Q: Did you always believe in his capacity as an opposition leader?
A: Yes, I believed in his sincerity. He always wanted to do something for his country… his people… his little one… he always worried about that. I think that it is common to all of us, except that some of us do something about it, some of us just wish it. Siya, he tried to do something about it. Ngayon, I’m trying to do something about it in a concrete way. I think that is inborn in us, it seems. I find that common to all my brothers, even the first one who died… there was always that concern, yung pag-may nasaktan, nangailangan, you could always count on these Aquino boys.
Q: When he died, where were you, how did you take it?
A: When he died I was at the VIP room in the airport. We were not allowed to leave the VIP room, nakakoral kami don. Hindi bale, sanay naman ako ng ganon eh, napipigilan. Ngayon nung balitang binaril siya, hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala, complete disbelieving. So… “Tsismis lang yon,” may nagsasabi baka dobol lang yon, so, inulit-ulit. It was Lupita who was very alarmed about the whole thing. Sabi ko naman, “Exaggerated.” Then we went to Church. From there, I went to my mother’s house. Umalis na daw sila. Balita pumunta sila sa ospital kasi may kapitan daw na tumawag. Tumuloy ako sa bahay ni Ninoy, so, mga five o’clock ng hapon tumawag si Lupita, “Butz, you can now confirm it to everybody, that Ninoy is dead.” I still couldn’t believe it. I said, “Are you sure? Did you see?” “Yes.” Still, disbelieving pa rin ako, I was already serious now and I’d tell the people, “Lupita called, she’s confirming that Ninoy’s dead.” Of course, may mga nagiyakan na, pero ako, disbelieving pa, and so I gathered my remaining sisters and we went to Fort Bonifacio, but even as I was looking at him already, disbelief… when I saw him cut up, I suppose for the embalming… I was just wondering to myself, what happened to all his preparations, to all his sufferings, to all his ambitions, to all his learning… parang sayang. That’s when I concluded that life does not end when you die. When you die, you die physically, you got out of your shell… but you, or kung sino man iyong “you,” lives on. And I am sure, right now, the memory of Ninoy is very much alive.
Q: So, lessons from his death?
A: Well, courage.
Q: How do you feel now that you seem to be taking his place?
A: So, if you’re set to do something, do it, don’t hesitate anymore. Noong araw maraming reasons, excuses—siguro your family, your business friends, maraming excuses para hindi sumali, para hindi makilahok, para hindi makibaka. Ngayon, di—wala nang excuses, tuloy-tuloy na.