JOAQUIN “CHINO” ROCES (1913-1988) was publisher of the Manila Times, the country’s leading newspaper throughout the postwar era where Ninoy began his journalism career as a reporter and later on an international correspondent covering the Korean War. Following the declaration of Martial Law, the Times was shutdown and Roces was detained, together with Ninoy and others critical of the Marcos regime, in Fort Bonifacio. In the run up to the 1986 snap elections, Roces spearheaded a movement to collect one million signatures to convince Corazon C. Aquino, Ninoy’s widow, to run against Marcos. She lost but massive indignation led to the EDSA revolution, the toppling of a dictatorship, the return of democracy, and the ascension of Mrs. Aquino to the Presidency.
The following excerpt was taken from “Memories of a Hero” by Cynthia Sycip.
Q: Mr. Roces, can you remember how Ninoy Aquino managed to work for the Manila Times?
A: Usually a member of the staff recommends a future reporter. The editor then took him. Usually this is routine matter. When the editor recommends somebody, that somebody is automatically accepted.
Q: Do you remember the first time you met Ninoy when he was working for the Manila Times? What were those first impressions you had then?
A: He was a person with unusually strong personality. He could get along with anybody. He had charisma and he was a gentlemen.
Q: How old was he when he started to work for your outfit?
A: When he started, I believe he was 17.
Q: Why did the Manila Times assign Ninoy to Korea when he was so young then?
A: Well, that was the recommendation of the editor and I suppose he also wanted to go to Korea to gain more experience which was an opportunity. Going to Korea at that time was not a very glamorous assignment, but he probably took that chance of volunteering to go to Korea.
Q: Why did Ninoy later leave his job at the Manila Times?
A: I think he wanted to concentrate on his studies and he could not work and at the same time study.
Q: When he later became Senator, what do you think distinguished him from all the other politicians?
He ran for mayor, and then governor—in other words, he went through all these experiences. And then, from mayor, he finally made it to Senator. You can only judge the quality of this person by the stand he took and by the consistency of his behavior. The fact that he had stayed in jail for so long is proof enough of his quality as a person. He sacrificed all the years because he believed it was necessary for the sake of the country.
Q: What did you think of him before he was arrested?
A: Without any question, I am with the belief that he would have made a good president. He had qualities exceptionally rare in comparison to the average person.
Q: When he was reporter at the Manila Times, did you notice that his qualities were above average?
A: No, I did not.
Q: I understand you were arrested with Ninoy when martial law was declared in 1972?
A: Yes. We were arrested and there were sad times and happy times of our life in detention. In a way I am glad that I had the opportunity of getting to know those who were with us in detention. I am proud to have known them and proud to have had the opportunity of being with them.
I remember a time when Ninoy was with us in jail and there was some sort of a movie. We were outside, the two of us, and I saw in one corner. He was crying. So, he was by himself a little away from the group. So, I approached him and told him, “Ninoy, what’s the trouble?” He told me that one of his men was taken and was tortured. Ninoy was very sad about it and he said that he would have rather been the one arrested and tortured. That was one particular time when I learned that Ninoy cared for people.
Q: Is it true that there were times when you enjoyed Ninoy’s humor even while you were all detained?
A: Yes, there were many amusing events that happened that I cannot recall… Anyway, one time I was supposed to be in charge of the house-cleaning in jail. Then I assigned each of them their task but when there was work to be done, I could not find them. One time I was looking for Ninoy and was the one assigned that particular day but I could not find him. Then I went to the bathroom and I saw him there. At first, I couldn’t see him because the bathroom was full of bubbles and there was this soap all over the place. I could hardly see him. So I finally got close to him and I saw him sitting on the bowl and I said, “Ninoy, what are you doing there?” He said that he was doing the dishes. That was why our wives were very surprised that we managed to use up the whole box of powdered soap everyday. Well, we really had no experience about things like that.
Sometimes, Ninoy would play mah-jong. But he didn’t want to play with beginners.What was surprising was that he was the one who told us what was happening outside even if it was before they allowed us to have a T.V. and radio.
He had a terrific knowledge of affairs. He also had a terrific memory and he loved to tell stories and jokes. He was a person who was always interesting to talk with because he would be able to carry on a conversation on any subject.
Q: Do you think he was a religious person?
A: Well this happened later… a friend of mine who is an evangelist asked me if Ninoy had a Bible. I asked Cory and she showed us the Bible and it was full of notes and many parts have been underlined by Ninoy. The subject which he most underlined and took note of was about death…
Q: When he was in the States, did you still communicate with each other?
A: Well, during his birthday, I talked with him over the phone… Well, Ninoy knew what was going on here so there was no need to brief him. When they released him from Bonifacio, when they permitted him to stay at his house, I used to visit him everyday.
Q: When as the last time you saw Ninoy?
A: That was when he was permitted to stay in his house at Times Street. Then I think he was allowed to stay home for a week. I remember we were talking then of the Filipino people’s behavior. He even wrote some notes on the subject about it. Unfortunately, I lost the paper. Anyway, I realized then that only two people really know the behavior of the Filipino people – they are Ninoy and Marcos. The people who have matured before martial law. That is considering the media propaganda today… the people have been misinformed, misled, misguided so it will be difficult to bring back the Filipino character that we had before martial law.
Q: Do you think Ninoy correctly calculated the reactions of the Filipino people?
A: As I said there has been a big change after martial law. Unfortunately, not for the better but for the worst. My observation is that people are not yet angry enough nor hungry enough. They do not realize the consequences of this economic crisis. It is not only the economic crisis but we also have the political crisis. I only hope that soon people will realize it and do something about it.
Q: Did you know that Ninoy was going to come back ?
A: Yes, I was one of those who waited for him at the airport. I marched together with the group and I was with the people who were outside. I was very happy when I saw the crowd.
Then one guy who was in a hurry told us that Ninoy was shot. I could not believe it and even the people there could not believe it.
Finally I went inside the VIP room and I saw the family. Esto Lichauco was outside. Then I saw the foreign press rushing out. Then I saw Ken Kashiwara, and he confirmed that Ninoy was shot.
Q: How did Ninoy’s death affect you?
A: Personally, I grieved because he was a friend of mine. But I also feel that we have lost a future leader who could have been an asset to the country, this is what is more tragic…
Q: Do you think he could well be the new national hero?
A: Yes, of course. One proof is the outpouring of the people who went to his funeral. That is something that I don’t think will happen again even if we wait for so many years.
Q: To what extent has his death affected Philippine history?
A: Very much, but I hope people will not forget what happened.
Q: What do you think was Ninoy’s most outstanding qualities which we can emulate?
A: Ninoy gave his life for the sake of his country. I feel that Ninoy knew that by sacrificing his life he could awaken the people – to make them realize the crisis we have today. I hope that the people will understand that Ninoy sacrificed his life to awaken us. What else can you expect from a man? No doubt, he knew that by coming back there was the possibility that he would lose his life. But he took that chance.