TEODORO “TEDDY” LOCSIN SR. (1914-2000) was publisher of the Philippines Free Press, a widely respected weekly that was shutdown following the imposition of Martial Law. Locsin was detained together with Ninoy and other personalities critical of the Marcos regime. The Free Press resumed publication following the 1986 EDSA revolution.
The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: When was the first time you heard about Ninoy and when was the first time you actually met him?
A: I first heard of Ninoy during his reporting of the Korean War. He was a newspaperman. Later, I did not follow his political career with interest. He was one of many politicians. Then, he became Senator.
He and my son Teddy Boy got to be very well acquianted. Teddy Boy often accompanied him on many of his trips to the provinces reporting on his activities… I never really had a real talk with Ninoy before martial law was declared. Before that time he came to the office and we had a talk.
But my impression of him was that of a young man, very intelligent, very quick witted, but I never thought he would be a future president or a future martyr or hero.
Come to think of i,t he used to come to the house when we had parties. That was when he was already Senator.
At one time, on Teddy Boy’s birthday in 1971 Ninoy came to my house at Dasmarinas Village. Gerry Roxas was there, Sonny Osmeña, and suddenly, Mrs. Marcos showed up.
When they told me she was at the door I came to see her. And as she came out I told her I hope she wouldn’t think I staged the encounter in order to embarrass her. She said, “No, that doesn’t matter, Teddy”. She was very amiable and she went to where Ninoy and the others were, just outside our lanai. They greeted her very politely and it was a very pleasant evening. Ninoy, who had been very critical of her, talked to her. He was very nice and very amiable too, so the talk went on for hours. She did most of the talking and Ninoy listened.
Q: What quality do you think Ninoy had that impressed people the most?
A: Ninoy was never hard up for an answer to any question. He thought on his feet. He hardly paused to search for an answer to questions. He was a very fluent talker. He never got tired of talking. He could get along with anybody except, of course, Marcos and company.
Q: I understand you were detained together with Ninoy?
A: Yes. They picked me up in my home at Dasmarinas Village and took me to Camp Crame and that was where I met Ninoy, Chino Roces and the rest of those who were arrested. It was an honor to be arrested, of course, if we were not arrested, we would look stupid. So, there we were in Camp Crame… then we were fingerprinted and photographed with numbers like the criminals.
After that, later in the day, they took Ninoy and the rest of us to Bonifacio in a truck. There, we were stripped naked. Maybe they wanted to check whether we had scars or not so that we could not say later that they inflicted it on us. I do not know the reason.
For a while we were kept separate. Chino and I were kept in one building. Ninoy and the rest were kept in another building some distance away. We would meet about 5 o’clock in the afternoon when we would have our exercise. We were given one hour.
Later, we were put together in a one-story building.
Because of the difference in our ages, I really belonged to a previous generation, I really thought of him as a young man. Therefore, we got to be so friendly and so close and we formed deep friendships. We talked, we assigned to ourselves certain tasks, I cleaned the bathroom, Chino killed the flies… Ninoy was there, talking, reading, but there was nothing remarkable about him then…
We were all there, nine of us, and we were very independent-minded people with opinions about everything… you would think we’d get into fights but we never did. Instead we became as close, if not closer than brothers. Each one did not think only of his thoughts and feelings but of the others… not one harsh word, not one argument. That is why I told Ninoy and Mari Velez that we were undergoing a rich spiritual experience we would never otherwise had known inspite of the pain of separation from our families and being prisoners. I would not have missed it for the world… Ninoy was there, he tried to sing his favorite song then which was not “Impossible Dream” but “My Way”, but he just couldn’t carry the tune. So one day he told me, “Teddy, will you teach me how to read poetry?” and I tried but he lost interest… We really learned to be very very fond of each other, but still I thought of him as a young man and I had not much to say to him.
Q: What was remarkable about Ninoy in prison?
A: Well, I’ll tell you… The remarkable thing about Ninoy was that, confined as he was with us, he seemed to know what was happening all over the damn country. I think he was more informed than most people outside. He worked out a system of getting messages in, getting messages out… One day, we woke up one morning to find our small building surrounded completely with barb wires. We thought “Ah, this is it, we’re gonna get shot” but nothing happened. But I raised the question, “What if there’s a fire? We’d all get roasted.” So, we took it up with the Commandant and eventually they removed the barb wires. Possibly that was because there were rumors that we were attempting to escape…
Q: Was it true that you were planning to escape?
A: No we could not try to escape. We were there for only 71 days. They released us, except Ninoy and Pepe Diokno… So I was released. The night before my release our warden came to the building where we were being held and said, “Mr. Locsin, you may leave tomorrow to attend the wedding of your son,” which was December 1st, and I said, “What happens if I go out? Am I supposed to come back?”. He said, “Yes, you can come back but you have several days of enjoying yourself outside.” And I said to him, “I don’t want to go out. It has taken me 70 days to get used to this place, to begin to get used to prison, I don’t want to start all over again to begin to get used to living outside. Thank you.”
But the next day three or four Generals came, brought with them Scotch, and I asked then, “Are there any charges against us?” They said there was none. Then I asked, “Why are we being held, give me some reason…” He said, “Well, it is for your own good because we don’t know how your followers will react.”
Anyway we were released… except Ninoy and Pepe. When I was there with Ninoy I said to him, “I do not know if you agree but the demonstrations against Marcos led by leftists who were waving banners of revolution gave Marcos an excuse to declare martial law. That was all he wanted. And afterwards when he declared martial law the leftists disappeared.”
Ninoy said, “I agree that those demonstrations handed martial law to Marcos on a silver platter.”
After I was released he was made to go through the horrible experience at Laur. One Christmas season he was allowed to go out and stay at his home at Times St. and my wife and I went to visit him several times and I told him that I was very shocked, disgusted, and felt so bad that the Filipino people did not seem to care. There were no demonstrations against martial law. Nobody gave a damn. The businessmen were happy. Nobody seemed to value liberties. I said, “What kind of a people are we?” There was even that fellow Senator Mansfield, who is ambassador to Japan now, who was supposed to be a historian and a liberal man but who was reported to have said that the Filipino people consisted of forty million cowards and one son-of-a-bitch. It was very hard not to agree with him.
But Ninoy said, “Teddy, don’t take it like that because you will remember what Rizal said, that a man who would lead his people must learn to forgive them.”
Q: After he was tried by the military court and given a death sentence, how did he react?
I saw him being brought up on the stage–the court was on a kind of an auditorium or something–he was skin and bones, wearing a dark polo shirt… He could not walk anymore, my God! He had not eaten for so long.
And there was that guy “Melody”, that so called Huk Commander, testifying against him and the contradictory thing, the ridiculous, absurd spectacle was how this Melody angrily denounced Ninoy for helping him. Where in the hell would a man be angry because another helped him? So, he was there denouncing Ninoy saying, “He helped me, I was in hiding… he helped me, he fed me, he gave me medicine!” But he was angry… now, what kind of… unbelievable…
Q: Do you remember what happened during his long fast?
A: When he fasted, we attended a mass being held for him at the St. Joseph Church in Greenhills. I was again disgusted at the sight of one or two hundred people. I said, “Here is a man going hungry for us and people did not even bother to attend… there were no demonstrations… nothing… and it was known all over Manila. My God, what kind of a people are we?”
Then I had a talk with Ninoy’s mother and she said, “Yes, Teddy, I told my son to stop fasting. I told him our Lord fasted for 40 days, will he try to outdo our Lord?” This was on the 37th day of his fast.
Then we had dinner at Maur’s place and we held a vote whether he should go on fasting or not. I voted against his fasting but others felt he should go on until he dies. And I said, “Those of us who eat three times a day plus merienda should have no business telling somebody not to eat until he dies. We should be the last person to tell anybody to die that way. Second, the doctors say that if Ninoy goes on fasting the day will come when he will suffer irreparable brain damage. If that occurs they will keep him alive but thereafter he will be unconscious. He’ll become a vegetable. Now, you want him to go on? I vote against it.” The majority voted against the continuance to his fast. The fast was broken…
Q: During his military trial and when he fasted, was there ever a moment when it seemed his faith in the Filipino people wavered?
A: No. Everytime we talked, I’m the guy who was disappointed. He was a man who never wavered in his faith that the Filipino people are worth dying for… fighting for. He held on to that faith as far as I know. He never wavered.
Q: Do you think he miscalculated the Filipino psyche?
A: Well, as he said, “You want to be a leader, you have to learn to accept the shortcomings of your people.” Not necessarily thinking you are better than they, but, that’s the people… people are ignorant, people are poor, they have no time to think of anything, but how to give three meals or two meals a day to their families, so, we have to put up with their limitations and to work within these limitations…
Q: After that, did you ever visit Ninoy again when he was in Boston?
A: Yes… Sometime shortly before he left to go to Manila we got in touch with each other. I was living with my wife and my son in an apartment in New York. When he learned that I was there he said he would come to see us to have a talk. He drove from Boston to New York, picked up Maceda who was living in New York, called up my wife at about 7 in the morning and he asked if he could have breakfast. My wife said, “Of course Ninoy.” So he shows up with Maceda and we talked for five hours. Ninoy did almost all of the talking because he was explaining to me his decision to go home. This was before he received word from Manila that there was an assassination plot.
Ninoy considered the possibility, and I gave him all the arguments I could think of to make him stay. Later on T.V., I saw American officials, one from Rand Corporation, another one from Harvard speaking to Ninoy about how they warned him against going home. The State Department man at the Philippine desk told me that he told Ninoy not to come home. But Ninoy had been receiving pleas from Tañada and company to come home and revitalize the opposition which was dead on its feet…
Q: Was it more of the “nationalist” opposition that wanted him home?
A: Not necessarily. First, even Rodrigo said that he was against Ninoy going home, later, he said he decided that without Ninoy the opposition was nowhere, and Soc is not considered a “nationalist”… One thing, I was told by Joker Arroyo, that when Ninoy’s decision was made to come home they wanted to give him as biggest reception as possible. At a meeting between Olalia and Doña Aurora, Ninoy’s mother asked him to help in organizing the welcome for Ninoy and Olalia said, according to Arroyo, “I cannot do that because I do not know whether he is a CIA man or not.” Then, another “nationalist” leader whom I cannot name because he is a friend of mine who was told to help welcome Ninoy also refused to go. He was a close associate of Ninoy.
Q: What did you tell Ninoy before he left for Manila?
A: This much I’ll tell you. I told him, “I cannot stand the thought that you, my friend, after eight years of solitary confinement will return to our cell… That’s too much. What will you accomplish by going there. What could you expect if you went home? They will take you back to your cell, imprison you, hold you in solitary confinement, and what would you do then for the opposition? Second, what would they do? Put you in house arrest? And then guard you closely so you could not do anything. Third, let you free. If you are going to be effective, whether in your cell or free, then they’ll neutralize you… if you can do nothing whether free or not to challenge the regime, then, what will you gain?… Suppose you are shot?” He said, “Well, you know Teddy the Spaniards made a mistake. If they had not recalled Rizal and shot him he would have ended his life a mere exile. He would be nothing in our history. The Spaniards made a mistake, recalled Rizal who was in his way to Cuba and shot him and made him our hero. If they make a mistake of killing me or shooting me, they will make me a hero and they will lose and I will win.”
I said to him, “My friend, I would rather have a live friend than a dead hero.”
He would not listen. He felt that he could do something somehow. He said he wanted to bring peace because unless we can establish a system of orderly succession we can look forward only to turmoil and revolution. That was a time when I saw that Ninoy had changed. There was a time when he seemed very, very young to me…
Q: Do you think that Ninoy died in vain?
A: That’s a hell of a question to answer… if he had not died I would say we would not be the people we are now. But I think the price is too damn big. I lost my friend. It seems that the people can only be educated by the best of them being killed first… Ultimately, if people were to go on thinking that Ninoy died in vain, then Ninoy died in vain. If there are people who think that Ninoy died in vain then, Ninoy died in vain because that means giving up the cause for which Ninoy died.