Ninoy’s legacy: Lessons for a troubled nation

By Herman M. Lagon

FORTY years may seem like a distant past, but for a people often accused of having short memories, it is not too far back to recall that fateful Sunday afternoon of August 21, 1983. I was just a nine-year-old Grade 5 student then. On that day, Manila and the rest of the country, including Iloilo, adorned themselves with yellow ribbons, a tangible expression of the anticipation that gripped the nation. The charismatic opposition leader, Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., was returning from years of exile, and the atmosphere buzzed with hope. In a country submerged in the grip of Ferdinand Marcos’ iron rule, even the controlled media grudgingly broadcasted his arrival. Those who lived through that era remember the seismic shift, the optimism of his return, and the devastation that followed.

Amid the upheaval of martial law in 1972, Aquino was among the first and boldest voices to be silenced. A critic of Marcos, he was imprisoned, yet his charisma and leadership continued to radiate even from solitary confinement. The dictatorship failed to break his spirit with fabricated charges, and he was permitted to leave for medical treatment in the United States after a heart attack. But the yearning to see his homeland and his people once more led him to return, despite all the death threats.

It is worth pondering his words as he stepped back on Philippine soil, “I return from exile and to an uncertain future with only determination and faith to offer—faith in our people and faith in God.” These words, etched in his prepared remarks, were never spoken. In a tragic twist of fate, just moments after his plane touched down at Manila (now Ninoy Aquino) International Airport, he was shot dead.

The shock, confusion, and grief that replaced the initial jubilation are indelible in the nation’s collective memory. The images of his lifeless body sprawled on the tarmac replaced the vibrant anticipation. Yet, his martyrdom became the catalyst for unity among the opposition, galvanizing the masses, igniting street protests, and eventually toppling the dictatorship through the historic EDSA (People Power) Revolution in 1986.

As time marched on, however, memories blurred, and the narrative of history became malleable, molded by the currents of political agendas. The advent of social media provided a breeding ground for revisionism, questioning the heroism of Aquino. Ignorance masquerading as insight filled the digital realm, questioning his motives and character. Critics questioned his heroism, attacked his nationality, and even pondered if he orchestrated his assassination—a notion conveniently ignoring Imelda Marcos’ warning about threats on his life.

Nevertheless, objective historical accounts triumph over such insidious efforts. Eminent writer Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s words, meticulously chronicling that poignant day, resurface to illuminate the truth. She captured the essence of Ninoy’s death not as an end but as a beginning. “Ninoy did not die on that sunny Sunday afternoon… for that was when he began to live forever in the hearts of his countrymen. It was Ferdinand Marcos who died that day, and he knew it.”

Today, as the Philippines grapples with its urgent and severe challenges, Ninoy Aquino’s legacy remains poignant. His journey from a fearless critic to a fallen hero holds timeless lessons. His unwavering faith in the people and in democracy, even amid personal danger, is a beacon of hope in an era of cynicism and despair. The insights gleaned from his life serve as a reminder that the journey towards change is full of unknowns. Yet, when driven by strong principles and unwavering beliefs, it has the power to mold a nation’s fate.

The political climate may change, and the actors may differ, but the essence of Ninoy Aquino’s story resonates anew. His enduring significance serves as a compass for a nation navigating stormy seas. As the Philippines stands at another crossroads, his call for unity, his rejection of tyranny, and his embrace of democratic ideals are not mere echoes from the past but guiding principles for building a decent and progressive nation.

Ninoy Aquino Day is not just a commemoration of a tragic end but a celebration of a beginning—an era of hope, courage, and a commitment to pursuing a just, humane, and genuinely democratic Philippines. It is a reminder that in the heart of darkness, a single light can ignite a revolution again.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.