I remember that day very well. It was a Sunday afternoon and, as usual, I was at the University of San Carlos (USC) gymnasium to watch the Cebu Amateur Athletic Association basketball tournament.
Midway in the first game of the scheduled quadruple header, somebody behind us shouted excitedly in Bisaya that Aquino was killed, shot in the head at the international airport in Manila. Before we could ask for details, he left, repeating the announcement like a town crier as he went from goalpost to goalpost.
We were all aghast. Why would someone want to kill Aquino? And what was he doing at the Manila International Airport? Didn’t we just see him the Sunday before at the gym?
It was only later that we were told that who was killed was a different Aquino, not the gentle soul, Dodong Aquino, who once coached the USC Warriors and was a permanent presence at the gym on basketball days.
After he left for the United States for medical reasons, Benigno Aquino Jr. had somewhat become a forgotten figure among the ordinary, not politically-inclined Filipinos who have surrendered to the inevitability of Ferdinand Marcos, his cronies, military enablers and martial rule and adjusted their lives according to the parameters set by the dictatorship. That explained our initial reaction to the news of his death.
But men in high places have not forgotten, much less, forgiven him. Unlike us who had access only to information peddled by a controlled and muzzled media, they had monitored his activities in the US, realized how popular and respected he was and considered him a threat to their blessed lives under the dictatorship.
So that Sunday afternoon while we were watching basketball inside the USC gym, they had him killed at the airport.
Big mistake. The ruthless killing woke an entire nation from the lie that they had lived for more than a decade that the dictatorship was okay or even if it was not, we were helpless against it and therefore we had to meekly accept it as our fate.
The rest is history. Ninoy’s death set in motion a reinvigorated struggle for freedom that culminated in a peaceful revolution that deposed an overstaying president three years later. A people united in their yearning to be free succeeded in achieving what once was thought unthinkable.
Postscript. Seventeen years after Aquino was gunned down, I went to the Bilibid Prison with a friend who was visiting a former congressman, who was serving time for rape. Many of those who were convicted of killing Ninoy served as the ex-congressman’s bodyguard inside the jail. I met all of them and even partnered with one in a tennis game against a pair of Chinese drug convicts in the tennis court built by the former solon.
His fellow inmates called him Ninoy. It was not his real name but even in jail, one doesn’t lose his sense or irony or perverse humor, it seems. I looked at his face before we left and somehow felt pity that he was in prison while those who must have given him the order to kill remained free.