The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
“How did his death affect me? Numb… Well, it’s something that you thought might happen, but you had hoped would not happen, so it makes you numb when it actually happened…” – Mila Aquino Albert.
Q: How was Ninoy as a brother?
A: Well, each of my brothers felt that they were padre de familia, in his case he was padre de familia in the second nuptials because he was the oldest. In our case it was Billy. He was padre de familia because he was older than we were. Now, Ninoy was most outstanding, let us say politically. He really groomed himself for it, he studied, he worked, he had direction, I mean he had determination, about it, and coupled with that was the fact that he really practiced on his memory…
Q: How did he do that, I mean did you notice it even when he was younger?
A: Yes, he’d always give stories that you know you would encounter. When he goes around the neighborhood, he would remember names, he would remember places, he would remember whom he talked to and even later on in his years, he would always remember all of these. Even the hardest names sort of became easy for him to remember. That’s it, for me that’s his outstanding trait as a politician.
Q: What about his outstanding trait as a brother?
A: As I said, in the family we’re very close-knit in the sense that the boys are supposed to protect the girls, that was always a rule, and he did that.
Q: Were there ever any squabbles or sibling rivalries?
A: Not among us, don’t forget we were much older than Ninoy. As I said, Papa always made it a point that some one of the younger ones would be close to someone of the older ones and if there was any squabble, it would be, the olders among themselves and the youngers among themselves, because we were much older than they were.
Q: How did his death affect you? Did it make you more politically inclined?
A; Well, blood is blood. Since it has always been a political family there is a tinge of politics in each of us, all of us… How did his death affect me? Numb… Well, it’s something that you thought might happen, but you had hoped would not happen, so it makes you numb when it actually happened…
Q: You already knew that it would happen…
A: No, I said the possibility that it could happen was there, but the hope, you know, when you think about it intelligently you’d think they’d never do that, you know why make a martyr out of him, etc., etc., so, your bigger hope was that they wouldn’t do it. So when it actually happens, whatever your feeling about your fears come, whatever you feared has become true.
Q: Where were you and how’d you react when you heard he was shot?
A: My assignment was to stay downstairs at the airport, I mean there in the parking lot, because we didn’t know what they were going to do to him. Let us say, for instance, if they took him in a van and then they brought him out of the airport fast, at least he would see a lot of people in the airport downstairs. In the parking lot we were putting these yellow ribbons. If they would fly him in a helicopter he would still see there were a lot of people who came to meet him.
Q: And so, somebody told you he was shot?
A: Yes, at that point I sat down for something like ten or fifteen minutes and I said I want to go home for a while because, you know, we’re a very strange breed in the sense that my father always taught us that emotions shown in public are very unlady-like. Don’t forget that I am so many generations ahead away from this generation. As a matter of fact my sister’s upbringing, my own immediate sisters, was already about one or two generations lost because of the war. Our upbringing before the war was more rigid than the upbringing during the war and after the war. So I knew that I would not have wanted to break down and get hysterical. You don’t do that in public. I just said I wanted to go home for a while, sit down, collect myself, which took me about one hour. And then I went back to the house and I asked, ‘‘Alright, where is he?’’ so we can go. At that time they did not tell us yet where he was, they wouldn’t give him to us, until we found out he was at the hospital and all of us rushed to the hospital… There’s a question here, something about my father.
Q: Were your parents strict or something…
A: Oh terribly so, my father was very dominant and very Victorian.
Q: Was Ninoy a conservative type of a man?
A: Well, for instance he wanted his wife to be a wife, take care of the home, take care of the children. I mean unlike now usually when people get married the husband and the wife work, this Women’s Lib and all of that, male chauvinists, his father was very much like that, too…
Q: Do you think he deserved to get the attention he got?
A: Let me break down his life, from the young boy in a hurry, to the very matured spiritually complete man that he became in jail. You know, as a young boy, I mean until the time he became senator, he was a young man in a hurry. Then, he was put in jail, but even then, he had already faced, at least he had the courage to face no matter whatever the rigors were, to fight it out and stick to what he thought was right. And after he got out of jail, as a sister I would say, he always thought of white as white and black as black, because this is of use, at least, he always tried to choose which one was right and that’s it… After he was in jail, between the second and third year he was incarcerated, the change in him was already very, very obvious, he had matured something like ten years. And for the first time in his life, he had enough time to think, time to pray. He started to see that there was a lot of grey in every man’s life, and then from intelligence and knowledge. I think wisdom started to come in, and he kept that on until he went to the States.
Q: What’s the difference between him and most of the Filipino politicians?
A: I cannot answer for most of the politicians. I don’t know most of them and I’d rather just stay not knowing most of them… That’s direct, you’ll find me very frank.
Q: Some people say that it was kind a stupid for him to have come home, what do you think?
A: That’s what they want to believe in, their values are different.
Q: Do you think his sacrifice was necessary?
A: I don’t think he could have done more. I don’t think I could have stopped him. I tried, but this was his decision and, you know, he went through a long soul-searching, and I’m sure he weighed the pro’s and the con’s and he took his chances, because he said, what he believed in was that they needed somebody to lead them. The family tried to stop him, the entire family asked him not to come home, we begged him not to come home.
Q: What did he say?
A: He will do what he has to do.
Q: Do you think anybody can take the place of Ninoy?
A: Why not, it’s a question of determination… To me he’s just an example of what can be done. Maybe not many of them would like to be examples, well, I can’t blame them, nasa kanila na yon. If there is someone who would like to do it and would like to do it very badly, determined enough, there are many. It’s question of giving them time or looking for them.
Q: Did you visit Ninoy when he was a Fort Bonifacio?
A: Instead of going to Mother of Perpetual Help, we visited “Father of Perpetual Help.” That was our Baclaran every Wednesday. So, we used to tease him before he left sabi ko, “Ninoy, how selfish you are!” Sabi niya, “Bakit?” Ikaw nag-iisa kang nakakulong dyan, kami, sampu kami na every Wednesday we’d go and see you. Ngayon aalis ka na so what are we going to do with the rest of our Wednesday? We made a big joke about all of that because there was nothing we could do.
Q: How do you think Ninoy was affected in prison?
A: As my husband always said, “You must always remember that unless you put steel in fire you will not really know the strength of it.” So I think that was his fire, and his strength came out. Now I am talking both spiritually and humanly. As I said in that second year, as I told you when he started to see a lot of grey, one day he was expounding on the theory of the electric chair, he said, “One of the hardest things in my life, probably outside later on, is if I ever get to be in a position wherein I will have to judge another man—to send him to the chair or not. Because I don’t think I will ever be capable of giving anybody a death sentence. Circumstances have to be studied and I’ll find it very difficult.” And from the little boy who always thought black was black, white was white, to begin to talk like that you can see the workings of his mind and how much deeper his understanding of both God and man had become.
Q: Do you think he’s the new national hero?
A: …more than that and beyond that, we can consider him a hero and forget it. His going down in history books and things like that. That’s good. There’s no objections to things like that and whatever, we’re grateful for it.
But more than that, we hope, that they will go beyond that and look deeper and tell themselves it can be done. Why don’t we do the same thing as a nation. Then to me, that would be a greater reward for his death… Copy that one thing that you like, make the nation great again, that’s for the youth, as I said we’re at the bottom of our years, not just thinking about him as a hero but to really find out which of the qualities you could emulate and stick to and follow through. Not only for yourselves, but more for our country.
Q: Could you pick out Ninoy’s admirable qualities?
A: When in his later years, as I said, he had made it a point to allow knowledge to turn into wisdom. Because many people stick with knowledge and that’s all. At least there was no standstill in his part. He kept pursuing… pursuing… pursuing. Then number two, his dedication, to whatever course he has decided to take. Number three, his determination, whatever it is he’s be determined to do it, study and all that. Perhaps, his love for country and his love of the Filipino people more than his love of himself. That would be something I would like the Filipinos to really try and practice. He was a very unselfish man towards the last years of his life. He had to break time, he lived a few years, but very, very crowded few years.
Q: So, he was different those few years when he was in the Senate from his years at Fort Bonifacio?
A: Yes, not that I’m saying that when he was at the Senate it was all bad or he was selfish… no, no, no, but you know, like all human beings up on the way, there was a lot of… As I said he was a naughty boy which is normal. He was normally like many of them except that he had purpose, he had determination, but in his later years, when he could choose which way he wanted to go, he chose the right path.
Q: What family influences do you think contributed to the kind of life he led?
A: …his father. His father was also dedicated to his country, and there was a lot of misunderstanding that happened during those times, I mean politically, and with the nation. So it’s part of the things that impressed Ninoy in his youth and many of his decisions were based on ‘‘what did father do.’’
Q: Wasn’t he subconsciously rushed by these influences?
A: No. Papa was assemblyman, he was a Senator at thirty, he was also very young when he got into this.
Q: Was he interested in guns?
A: If you lived in Tarlac during the times of the Huk, during the times of the Monkees, you know, you would need something to protect yourself. So, in that sense, since he was governor, naturally there were some guns available and like all normal human beings he would also like to see, well this is a nice gun, how does it work, something like that, not a particular, you know, obsession about guns, no.
Q: I went to Concepsion Tarlac and I heard that people there were given lands by Ninoy.
A: That’s normal, there are good landlords also. Papa was a very good landlord…
Q: That’s it. What made him unusual, I mean after jail the stereotyping of cruel landlords raping the poor landless and all that…
A: That’s Tagalog movies, that’s why I don’t go to Tagalog movies. I don’t go to American movies either. Akalin mo naman noon, yung mga stories na mga paiyaken, rich man versus poor man…
Q: That’s it, what influenced him to be different…
A: Justice. There are many like that…
Q: Considering his social stature…
A: Doesn’t mean that just because you’re going to be rich doesn’t mean that you can’t think justly…
Q: But most of the time being rich does affect your perception of justice…
A: I’ll give you a story of Charlie again that you might think is very strange but, even this can be relative, like for instance during a war, he said that General Patton was leading the war and of course there was this “blackout” because you’re face to face with the enemy and you’re not allowed to light a cigarette or do something. He was reviewing his troops because they were expecting to be attacked at anytime. And one of the soldiers went over, and it was pitched dark, and said, “Have you got a light, I just need a cigarette to calm myself and so.” Patton takes a match, covers it, lights it, and the soldier noticed that it was Patton the General and so he got scared. “Sir, I’m sorry, he said. So Patton said, “Alright, smoke it fast, son, but never ask a lieutenant for a light.”