Ex-lawmaker recalls Ninoy, day of senator’s return and death-A A +A
By Januar Yap
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
MEMORY refuses to fade for former congressman Antonio Cuenco despite the sweeping length of 29 years.
He brings in a yellowing typewritten letter marked “personal/confidential” dated June 27, 1983. Barely two months after he received the letter, the sender, Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., whose death anniversary we mark today, was shot.
“That was the saddest day of my life, I cried like a child at the (airport) holding room,” says Cuenco. He was then with close friends and key opposition leaders waiting for Ninoy at the airport.
In the letter, Ninoy names a few tasks and promises for the then 47-year-old Cuenco, whose stint as a young assemblyman was cut short when Martial Law shut Congress.
“I’ve taken your advice very seriously and you convinced me that the time has come for me to return. I only hope your instincts are good because spending another seven years and seven months in solitary isn’t really a truly attractive prospect,” the letter said.
Although Cuenco was only one among the legion that asked Ninoy to come home to sate the country’s need for a unifying leadership, he said: “At that time, I felt guilty for advising him to come home.”
In the letter, Aquino tasked Cuenco to help distribute copies of his “arrival statement.”
“Please have at least the oral statement printed in full and have it circulated among our friends. If you have the prepared statement printed, so much the better because it gives the clear perspective to our problems,” the letter read.
Cuenco, however, admitted that he only went as far as distributing copies among friends. It never saw print nor aired on radio.
“Maybe, people were afraid to read it on radio,” he said.
Later, Ninoy’s sister Lupita Kashiwahara would find a copy of the same statement in the bag her brother brought on that fateful day at the airport.
The months leading to August 1983, found Cuenco in the middle of a task to help unite the opposition, most especially in proposing a link between Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP), Ninoy’s Lakas ng Bayan (Laban), and what remained of the Liberal Party.
“It was not only a coalition, but a merger,” he recalled.
In the letter, Ninoy tells Cuenco, “I merely want to leave you people a proper vehicle with which to lead our people to peace and prosperity.”
Ninoy expressed hopes in the letter to meet, upon his return, key leaders of the opposition and eventually form a merger of the three parties. He wrote, “I’ll be doing this for you younger leaders because as I have told you, I intend to retire once democracy has been restored.”
He didn’t live to see the merger, though. The coalition was born and took flight when the unrest grew fiercely after the assassination.
As Cuenco reminisced about Ninoy’s dream of uniting the three parties, he found it “mind-boggling” now to see the PDP-Laban uniting with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and be at odds with the Liberal Party.
“That’s not what Ninoy wanted. LP should merge with PDP-Laban, mao nay gusto ni Ninoy (that is what Ninoy wanted),” he says.
As political realities have changed, Cuenco said the young should “imbibe into their hearts the ideals and heroism of Ninoy. Even if he’s dead, his legacy should live on.”
He finds it frustrating that money should dictate today’s politics. “It’s not what he wanted. It has become a money politics. That wasn’t so in the time of Ninoy,” he said.
Cuenco delivered not a few congressional speeches extolling the heroism of Ninoy. In a 2009 speech in Congress, he said, “He (Ninoy) always travelled with dazzling speed and liberating impact. Amid the political thunderstorms of those days, he was like a flash of lightning on the dark horizon.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 21, 2012.