Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo (1914-1998) was a media personality and Senator who served in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th Congresses. Later on, Rodrigo became a leading voice in the opposition to the Marcos regime, shared a cell with Ninoy in Fort Bonifacio, and was part of the Lakas ng Bayan (LABAN) Metro Manila ticket for the 1978 Interim Batasang Pambansa elections. Following the EDSA Revolution, he was appointed by President Corazon C. Aquino to the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.
The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: What were your earliest memories of Ninoy?
A: I don’t remember exactly, but I remember he was a young politician from Tarlac. He was Vice Governor when I first met him, and if I’m not mistaken, I was then a Senator and he was a young man, brilliant, very articulate, eloquent and I was impressed with this young man and even then, I said, this young man is going places… My first impression of course was his brilliance, very alert including his memory, very analytical mind and very articulate. And he has charisma. What he needed then was seasoning.
Q: What about when he was Senator?
A: You know I was Senator for two terms. I was elected in 1955, I ran for re-election in 1961. I was re-elected and I ran for re-election in 1967. Ninoy was not yet a Senator then. In 1967, he was in our ticket… Then Marcos was already president, he was elected in 1965… You see, before that Marcos was with the Liberal Party, but when he knew he had no chance of being nominated as presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, because then, incumbent President Macapagal was candidate for the Liberal Party, so, Marcos moved over to the Nacionalista Party. So in 1967 Marcos was already the President, so in our ticket, well, Ninoy, headed our ticket. He was the only one elected. All of us lost, and then Ninoy did not top the list of winners. Can you imagine that Roy defeated Ninoy? So you can see that they tried to manipulate it in such a way, that they even tried to make Ninoy lose. They just found out that it was impossible. People simply would not believe that Ninoy could lose, so what they did was to see to it that Ninoy was not the topnotcher…
Q: That was as early as…
A: 1967, that was when he became a Senator. And so answering your question, I had no chance of being a member of the Senate when he was already in the Senate…
Q: What then brought you rather close to Ninoy?
A: Well, first of all, I am very close to the family of Ninoy. He used to call me “Monsignor” because I was identified with the Catholic Action. Before I became a Senator I was president of National Catholic Action of the Philippines. I was very active in the Cursillo Movement, Knights of Columbus and I was very close to his mother, Tita Aurora, we call her because she was also very very active in Catholic action. And so, he (Ninoy) started calling me “Monsignor.” It’s not ordinary for young politicians to be identified with religion, now, but it was when he got to Fort Bonifacio that I think I exerted some influence on him, but unintentionally.
You know, there were nine of us in Fort Bonifacio, we were together in a small place about twice the size of this room, there were three incumbent Senators, Ninoy, Pepe Diokno and Mitra. I was “in” not as a Senator. I was “in” as a media man. They caught me because I had a daily column in the Taliba and I had a television radio broadcast. So, the media men were myself, Chino Roces, publisher of the Manila Times, Teddy Locsin the publisher of the Free Press, Nap Rama, Jose Mari Velez and Max Soliven. Well, we were in there and our windows were boarded up. We could not even see the clouds… however, the place was airconditioned… and they used that as propaganda against us. They said, “Well, they lived in airconditioned quarters in Fort Bonifacio.” Yes, there was an airconditioner otherwise we would suffocate because they boarded up the windows. Well anyway, we were allowed to go out from five o’clock to six o’clock. That was the only time we could go and get some fresh air and sunshine, if the sun was still shining. So five o’clock, we’d go out. There’s a basketball court there and we’d run around, play a little volleyball and at six o’clock back. After about two days I said, “How about us saying the Rosary together?”, that was after our off outside, after we take our shower, and so I said ‘Let’s say the rosary together’ and all of them agreed. And so I asked my wife, you know for effect, to bring a crucifix and to bring two vigil lights and so the altar was set up.
The first two or three days, I led the rosary. Then after that I said, “Let’s take turns in leading the rosary” and I told Ninoy, “Next time it will be you.” “Monsignor,” he said, “I already forgot the mysteries.” And so, I briefed him on the Glorious Mysteries. And so his turn came and he led the Rosary very fast. The second Glorious Mystery, he stopped, and I was across the room and he looked at me and so I pointed my finger up meaning Ascension…third Glorious Mystery again he looked at me and then I pointed my finger down, Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles, and then fourth Glorious Mystery again, I pointed up, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Coronation, I did this halo sign with my finger… and you know, I did not know that this had a tremendous effect on him. But even before we were released – I mean to say because there were nine of us, and seven were released ahead, I was released on December 4th after two and a half months, and left behind were Ninoy and Pepe Diokno. Pepe Diokno was released after less than two years and Ninoy stayed there for more than seven a half years until he was allowed to go to the States for surgery – Well, even at that time, Ninoy celebrated his 40th birthday, when he was still ‘inside,’ that was November 27, I think, and that was the first time I composed a Tagalog poem dedicated to Ninoy, but then I had a talk with Tita Aurora and she was in tears but tears of mixed grief and happiness. She was telling me, “Monsignor,” she also called me that, “ang kunsuwelo ko lang dito, I think this was God’s way of calling Ninoy back, and if only for that all this suffering, all this pain are worth it.” Tita Aurora is deeply religious, because you know before, while Ninoy had all the brilliance and all that, he did not have that spiritual sensitiveness. But then there was that change in Fort Bonifacio. And that is why people could not believe me after I was released. They said, “Ah, Ninoy, he’s just another smart politician” and all that… I said, “No, he has been changed.” They said people do not easily change, I said, “Sinasabi niyo lang yan sapagkat hindi pa kayo nakukulong, pag nakulong kayo, you’d realize you’d start discarding so many unessential things in life and you go down to basics… and there you are so helpless and you feel no man could help you so you have to depend on God.” When we were already released we heard that Ninoy and Diokno were already taken to Laur, one month of solitary confinement. They were not physically tortured but the conditions there were terrible. They could not even talk to each other. They were stripped of everything, and after that, getting back from Laur, after a month, I received from Ninoy that ‘Dear Monsignor’ letter. And he said that he was beginning to complain to God, he said, “Monsignor, I remember what you used to tell me na hindi natutulog ang Diyos. I told God that, You are awfully taking a long siesta.” But then, he said “I was getting desperate, I was beginning to doubt the mercy of God, and I remember the Rosaries we used to say, and especially the Sorrowful Mysteries… I realized how God who is the all-powerful, all-knowing, came down to earth, humbled himself and became a man to save man who did not want to be saved, who even crucified Him.” And he said, “I remembered this and I went down on my knees, ‘God forgive me, I’m a spoiled brat maybe this is your way of telling me you know I’ve given you everything, you know you were the youngest vice-mayor, I made you the youngest foreign correspondent I made you the youngest mayor, the youngest vice governor, and the youngest Senator, then here I give you a little spanking and you start whining…'”
And so, to answer your question I’d say God writes straight in crooked lines. It was just a grace given to me that they say I converted Ninoy which I did, but unintentionally… It was God really and I was just a simple instrument by just that simple suggestion that let us say the rosary together.
Q: Very much later, did you advise him to stay in the United States when he planned to come back?
A: No, as a matter of fact, I was one of those whose advice he sought just about a little over a month before he came. It was through a good friend of his, whom he requested to contact a list of persons in the Philippines and to report to him. And I was in that list. And this person was a businessman, I will not mention his name. I met him, just the two of us, and he sought my opinion. He said, “What Ninoy wants to know from his friends is whether he should come home or not?” Well I told this friend of mine, “You tell Ninoy I was with him for more than a year,” that was when he was there only for about two years, and at that time, my advise to him was, “Teka muna, don’t go home yet.” After all, he still had his fellowship in Harvard and at MIT. But I said that this time you tell him that I had changed my stand. Not because I’ve changed my mind but the circumstances have changed. And I said, “Tell him that I have two reasons for advising him to come home this time. One, is personal and number two is the cause we are fighting for. One, personal, you tell him that I noticed he is being forgotten. People are no longer talking about him and not only are people no longer talking about him, for the first time I’ve been hearing a few nasty remarks against him. You know this propaganda of Malacañang that they are the ‘steak commandos’ in the States and that they are having a good time… rugs in their houses and all that was beginning to tell, and so, since we are having an economic crisis here, people are beginning to resent the fact that we are practically starving here and people in the States are eating steak and having a good time. I said that was one of the reasons.
And the other reason, I said, is our cause. The cause of the moderate democratic opposition. We are fast becoming irrelevant, because people are beginning to lose confidence in the ballot. And as a democratic opposition, that is what we want to sell to the people. We use the ballot. But people are beginning to lose confidence in the ballot and at the same time we are not ready to advocate the bullet. So we are in that Hamlet stage, “to be or not to be,” and so, the hotheads are beginning to think “What am I here for”, so, some of them fall by the wayside and say, “Wala pala tayong magagawa” and many of them gravitate either to the extreme left or the extreme right. And so I said, before our country becomes polarized, before the moderate opposition disappears completely, please come back. We need you. We need your charisma. And that was why he was coming back. He was going to strengthen the Liberal Party and he was suggesting reconciliation…
Q: During his days in the States, how did Ninoy interact with the members of the Liberal Party ?
A: Very well. No feuds. As a matter of fact there was a healthy rivalry beginning to crop up between Gerry Roxas and Ninoy as to who was going to be the Liberal Party candidate in 1973 when Marcos could no longer run because he would have completed the eight consecutive years. And so there was a sort of a rivalry and they were jockeying for position, Ninoy and Gerry. But they were the best of friends. They’d be together speaking about problems of the party, they’d be joking, we’d have meetings and they’d be in the best of terms but both of them knew that… well, Gerry knew that Ninoy had his eye on being nominated as the Liberal Party standard-bearer… I don’t remember any quarrel.
Q: What do you think made Ninoy different from other Filipino politicians?
A: Well, before his conversion, he had charisma… others have that charisma too, but it is an extraordinary charisma because I know of people who’ve had charisma when they are on the stage. You just are entranced, you listen to them. There are people who are not good on the stage but during conversations, he can keep you entranced. Ninoy has both. On the stage he can stay there for hours and people will just listen. Conversation, you know I am not very patient when listening, but during the Laban campaign I used to visit Ninoy everyday. And we were allowed only an hour. During that one hour, he would speak for 55 minutes and I would speak for only 5 minutes but you’d listen to him because he talks sense, very logically, very articulate. He is the kind of a man that you can make him stand at the corner of Avenida Rizal and Azcarraga with five people, and before you know it, there are fifty people, a hundred people, listening to him. And then, he has a very analytical mind. And he has appeal both to the intelligentsia and to the masses. I think it was one of the reasons he started as a vice-mayor, and you know he can get along with all of them. Ngayon, ang pintas nila ay natatakot sila na ito’y another Marcos. Kamukha ni Marcos, yan, matalino rin. Well, mahirap sagutin noong araw yon pero after I saw how he was converted, when I was with him for two and a half months in Fort Bonifacio, and especially alter I learned what happened to him in Laur, and then after he sent me that letter, I know he is sincere. I know when somebody’s just play acting and when somebody’s sincere. I visited him everyday when he fasted for forty days until he was just a bag of bones. Then I said, “He is a changed man.” Sayang, I thought God was preparing him. He had all the wordly attributes and kulang na lang yung spiritual strength, and he was given that. And all of a sudden nawala.
But now that I analyze it, well, God writes straight in crooked lines. Because if Ninoy were not shot, sabi ko nga kay Tita Aurora, that night when we trying to console her in the house of Ninoy, I said, “Let your consolation be this, that God knows what He is doing.” And do you know my analysis? Ninoy could not have accomplished in a thousand years what he accomplished by dying at the tarmac at the airport.
Q: Where were you when you heard he was shot?
A: I was at the airport with Tita Aurora. We did not know. We were at the VIP room and we all thought that he was coming by Japan Air Lines which was arriving I think at one or one thirty… Malapit na daw dumating so sabi ni Doy, “Tayo na Tita Aurora”, so we left the VIP room and we went towards this sliding door na papasok kami doon sa Customs area so we would wait near the tube. Ayaw na kaming papasukin. Nagmumura na si Doy, sabi niya, “Tawagin mo si Tabuena, nag-usap kami niyan eh ito’y ina, ito lang papasukin mo, kahit ako’y hindi mo papasukin…” Tapos sabi nila, “Doon po sa isang pinto,” di lakad na naman kami doon. Hirap na hirap na si Tita. Aurora. And you know how it is, the newsmen with the T.V. cameras were jostling and… punta na naman kami doon sa isang door, nakasara din yung door na yan, wala daw silang instructions na papasukin, wala daw makakapasok. Tapos ang sabi ay nandoon na, tapos lakad na naman kami.
Pagkatapos ay nakita nga namin si Ken Kashiwara. He was running towards the VIP, balik na naman kami sa VIP, ng dumating kami doon, ako na ang lumapit kay Ken, he was surrounded, nagmumura na si Ken, “Bastards, they shot him.” Ken saw Ninoy was bleeding. Ako ang nagsabi kay Tita Aurora. The way I said it was, I talked to Tañada to be overheard by Tita Aurora because she was in deep prayer, tangan yung kanyang Rosary. Sinabi ko kay Tañada, “Nandoon na si Ken,” ilinalakas ko, para marinig ni Tita Aurora, medyo bingi si Tañada, eh. “Binaril si Ninoy at nakita niya na dumudugo, eh pagdasal natin na huwag sanang patay,”… tapos, narinig namin nagsigawan sa labas, palakpakan pa. We thought it was Ninoy, yun pala they found out na lumabas si Doy Laurel kasama si Butz, nung nakita ng mga tao they thought it was Ninoy. There were about 18,000 people there, yun pala si Butz… well, Doy had to announce to them na iyon nga, nabaril si Ninoy…