Commentary: I still remember

IN THE years following the declaration of martial law, I would attend some of the birthday celebrations for Ninoy Aquino on 25 Times St. Only, he was not around to see the familiar and loyal faces who were there to greet him.

I remember, on one or two occasions, former mayor Jun Feliciano of Concepcion was there, along with the late actor Vic Vargas whose wife, I believe, is the mayor's sister. There were priests from Ateneo. And there was Ninoy’s mother. Naturally, Cory.

Ninoy, of course, was in jail, arrested by the military immediately following the declaration of martial law. If I remember correctly, we were in his Senate office on the fourth floor of what is now the National Museum when word reached us that Ninoy was arrested.

We knew he was at the Manila Hilton at the time, not far away from the Senate, and was attending a committee hearing when the arresting officer -- then Col. Gatan, I think -- came up to him and told him that he was being arrested.

No one was surprised that it did happen because everyone was half-expecting it would. Ninoy himself was sure of its ominous inevitability as if he felt in his bones.

On a certain night in the days before Marcos made the declaration, Ninoy came out of his inner sanctum and casually mingled with the staff. With his head almost touching the ceiling while gazing at it through his eyeglasses, he said with certainty that Marcos would declare martial law anytime.

At some point, he said he might go to the mountains. And then, turning to his photographer, Carding Cabrera of Apalit, asked: Ïka tuki ka?" Before Carding could make up his mind, Ninoy shut him down: "Ali ka, matalote ka." Everyone broke into nervous laughters.

I remember him saying, in admiration of his race, "ang Kapampangan kaya matapang matapang."

On those occasions, what were supposed to have been happy moments became indignant

and subdued, more often sad exchanges of notes and stories about Ninoy's condition in his jail.

One story described Cory's nightmare one day when she learned that Ninoy was transferred somewhere else and she was at loss. It turned out to be Laur, Nueva Ecija where Fort Magsaysay is. Another story was about his guards taking away his eyeglasses from him.

At one time before martial law, I remember then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile saying in media that Ninoy would not be arrested. "As long as I am the defense secretary, Ninoy will not be arrested," he said, or words to that effect.

Of course, history will show Ninoy was arrested despite his assurance.

Following his release from jail via the Philippine Heart Center where he was confined because of a heart issue, he invited his Senate staff to see him at Times. It was the last time I saw him alive. He cut short his interview with journalist Teddy Benigno when he saw us.

Oh, yes, I remember that before we entered the house, we were asked by Metrocom guards to register and be photographed. The guards were courteous, so we didn't mind. So we entered the house of the man who would later die at the airport tarmac from an assassin's bullet.

I'm a lot younger than Manong Johnny who, I understand is 94. And I can vividly remember that at least one person was arrested during martial law.

I'm sure Ninoy Aquino was, a frat brod of his at that.


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