Biography of Ninoy Aquino, Filipino Opposition Leader

Filipino students protest the assassination of Benigno Aquino

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Benigno Simeon "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. (November 27, 1932–August 21, 1983) was a Filipino political leader who led the opposition against Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator of the Philippines. For his activities, Aquino was imprisoned for seven years. He was assassinated in 1983 after returning from a period of exile in the United States.

Fast Facts: Ninoy Aquino

  • Known For: Aquino led the Filipino opposition party during the reign of Ferdinand Marcos.
  • Also Known As: Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.
  • Born: November 27, 1932 in Concepcion, Tarlac, Philippine Islands
  • Parents: Benigno Aquino Sr. and Aurora Lampa Aquino
  • Died: August 21, 1983 in Manila, Philippines
  • Spouse: Corazon Cojuangco (m. 1954–1983)
  • Children: 5

Early Life

Benigno Simeon Aquino, Jr., nicknamed "Ninoy," was born into a wealthy landowning family in Conception, Tarlac, Philippines, on November 27, 1932. His grandfather Servillano Aquino y Aguilar had been a general in the anti-colonial Philippine Revolution. Ninoy's father Benigno Aquino Sr. was a longtime Filipino politician.

Ninoy attended several excellent private schools in the Philippines as he was growing up. However, his teen years were full of turmoil. Ninoy's father was jailed as a collaborator when the boy was only 12 and died three years later, just after Ninoy's 15th birthday.

A somewhat indifferent student, Ninoy decided to go to Korea to report on the Korean War at the age of 17 rather than going to university. He reported on the war for the Manila Times, earning the Philippine Legion of Honor for his work.

In 1954 when he was 21, Ninoy Aquino began studying law at the University of the Philippines. There, he belonged to the same branch of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity as his future political opponent Ferdinand Marcos.

Political Career

The same year he started law school, Aquino married Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco, a fellow law student from a major Chinese/Filipino banking family. The couple first met at a birthday party when they were both 9 years old and became reacquainted after Corazon returned to the Philippines following her university studies in the United States.

A year after they married, in 1955, Aquino was elected mayor of his hometown of Concepcion, Tarlac. He was only 22 years old. Aquino went on to rack up a string of records for being elected at a young age: he was elected vice-governor of the province at 27, governor at 29, and secretary-general of the Philippines' Liberal Party at 33. Finally, at 34, he became the nation's youngest senator.

From his place in the Senate, Aquino blasted his former fraternity brother, President Ferdinand Marcos, for setting up a militarized government and for corruption and extravagance. Aquino also took on First Lady Imelda Marcos, dubbing her the "Philippines' Eva Peron," although as students the two had briefly dated.

Opposition Leader

Charming and always ready with a good soundbite, Senator Aquino settled into his role as the primary gadfly of the Marcos regime. He consistently blasted Marcos' financial policies and his spending on personal projects and enormous military outlays.

On August 21, 1971, Aquino's Liberal Party staged its political campaign kickoff rally. Aquino himself was not in attendance. Shortly after the candidates took the stage, two huge explosions rocked the rally—the work of fragmentation grenades hurled into the crowd by unknown assailants. The grenades killed eight people and injured about 120 more.

Aquino accused Marcos's Nacionalista Party of being behind the attack. Marcos countered by blaming "communists" and arresting a number of known Maoists.

Martial Law and Imprisonment

On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. Among the people swept up and jailed on fabricated charges was Ninoy Aquino. He faced charges of murder, subversion, and weapons possession, and was tried in a military kangaroo court.

On April 4, 1975, Aquino went on a hunger strike to protest the military tribunal system. Even as his physical condition deteriorated, his trial continued. The slight Aquino refused all nourishment but salt tablets and water for 40 days and dropped from 120 to 80 pounds.

Aquino's friends and family convinced him to begin eating again after 40 days. His trial dragged on, however, and did not conclude until November 25, 1977. On that day, the military commission found him guilty on all counts. Aquino was to be executed by firing squad.

People's Power

From prison, Aquino played a major organizational role in the 1978 parliamentary elections. He founded a new political party, known as the "People's Power" or Lakas ng Bayan party (LABAN for short). Although the LABAN party enjoyed huge public support, every one of its candidates lost in the thoroughly rigged election.

Nonetheless, the election proved that Aquino could act as a powerful political catalyst even from a cell in solitary confinement. Feisty and unbowed, despite the death sentence hanging over his head, he was a serious threat to the Marcos regime.

Heart Problems and Exile

Sometime in March 1980, in an echo of his own father's experience, Aquino suffered a heart attack in his prison cell. A second heart attack at the Philippine Heart Center showed that he had a blocked artery, but Aquino refused to allow surgeons in the Philippines to operate on him for fear of foul play by Marcos.

Imelda Marcos made a surprise visit to Aquino's hospital room on May 8, 1980, offering him a medical furlough to the United States for surgery. She had two stipulations, however: Aquino had to promise to return to the Philippines and he had to swear not to denounce the Marcos regime while he was in the United States. That same night, Aquino and his family got on a plane bound for Dallas, Texas.

The Aquino family decided not to return to the Philippines right after Aquino's recovery from surgery. They moved instead to Newton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. There, Aquino accepted fellowships from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which allowed him the opportunity to give a series of lectures and write two books. Despite his earlier pledge to Imelda, Aquino was highly critical of the Marcos regime during his stay in America.

Death

In 1983, Ferdinand Marcos's health began to deteriorate, and with it his iron grip on the Philippines. Aquino worried that if he died, the country would descend into chaos and an even more extreme government might emerge.

Aquino decided to take the risk of returning to the Philippines, fully aware that he might well be reimprisoned or even killed. The Marcos regime tried to prevent his return by revoking his passport, denying him a visa, and warning international airlines that they would not be allowed landing clearance if they tried to bring Aquino into the country.

On August 13, 1983, Aquino began a meandering, week-long flight that took him from Boston to Los Angeles and through Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Because Marcos had cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the government there was under no obligation to cooperate with his regime's goal of keeping Aquino away from Manila.

As China Airlines Flight 811 descended into Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983, Aquino warned the foreign journalists traveling with him to have their cameras ready. "In a matter of three or four minutes it could all be over," he noted with chilling prescience. Minutes after the plane touched down, he was dead—killed by an assassin's bullet.

Legacy

After a 12-hour funeral procession, in which an estimated two million people took part, Aquino was buried in the Manila Memorial Park. The leader of the Liberal Party famously eulogized Aquino as "the greatest president we never had." Many commentators compared him to the executed anti-Spanish revolutionary leader Jose Rizal.

Inspired by the outpouring of support she received after Aquino's death, the formerly shy Corazon Aquino became a leader of the anti-Marcos movement. In 1985, Ferdinand Marcos called for a snap presidential election in a ploy to reinforce his power. Aquino ran against him, and Marcos was proclaimed the winner in a clearly falsified result.

Mrs. Aquino called for massive demonstrations, and millions of Filipinos rallied to her side. In what became known as the People Power Revolution, Ferdinand Marcos was forced into exile. On February 25, 1986, Corazon Aquino became the 11th President of the Philippine Republic and its first female president.

Ninoy Aquino's legacy did not end with his wife's six-year presidency, which saw democratic principles reintroduced into the nation. In June 2010, his son Benigno Simeon Aquino III, known as "Noy-noy," became president of the Philippines.

Sources

  • MacLean, John. “Philippines Recalls Aquino Killing.” BBC News, BBC, 20 Aug. 2003.
  • Nelson, Anne. "In the Grotto of the Pink Sisters: Cory Aquino's Test of Faith," Mother Jones Magazine, Jan. 1988.
  • Reid, Robert H., and Eileen Guerrero. "Corazon Aquino and the Brushfire Revolution." Louisiana State University Press, 1995.