Did Ninoy die for nothing?

August 21, 2008 marked the 25th death anniversary of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. After so many years, it still brings back a lot of memories, having spent most of my teenage years during the martial law days.

Many people don’t know that our family never applied for Canadian residency during those times. While my cousins on both sides of the family left the country, we were left here. We had to deal with a very dangerous environment, since my father was a strong advocate for democracy. My grandfather, Salvador Araneta, was in Canada like many others in exile for fear that they would be sent to jail.

When martial law was declared, my father, who was a con-con delegate, was also one of those who were imprisoned. I remember hiding in my uncle’s house in Batangas and some family friends’ house in the village. One night, our house was surrounded by military men. My mother woke us up and told us that my dad was going to be detained in Camp Crame. On the day that we were allowed to speak to my dad through a wall with a screen, I remember writing a letter and saying bad things about Marcos, being a very young child at that time. Because of that, I was questioned by the military. I didn’t know they would be reading those letters. I was only about 14 years old at that time.

Sundays at Camp Crame was different. It was hot. We stayed in a gym, where there were only electric fans. With my dad in Crame were other political detainees like Max Soliven, Bren Guiao and Sonny Alvarez. I remember people playing badminton. After a while the guards were nicer. When my dad had to visit my lolo who was in the hospital, he had to get special permission from Enrile at that time. My grandparents did not know that he was in jail until much later.

These were the beginnings that I guess motivated my father to fight for justice and see the Philippine democracy succeed. My father started NAMFREL when most people gave up hope. He lit the first candle of hope. Organizing NAMFREL at that time was challenging, having people like Christian and Winnie Monsod, Raul Roco, Ting Jaime, Jaime Ferrer, Ching Escaler, Teresa Nieva and others who were all independent-minded Filipinos and strong in character. My father was able to bring together the best in NAMFREL. From there, so many candles of hope were lit.

NAMFREL was crucial during 1984 elections. Being my father’s sidekick, I was with him even in my teens. I remember going through different barangays with our bodyguards and still being chased by goons.

Filipinos who wanted to be part of change joined NAMFREL and risked their own lives to fight for democracy. At that time, my father’s banner color even during the concon days was already yellow. His eyeglasses matched that of Ninoy Aquino’s big black glasses, which by the way is now back in fashion.

My father’s best interview was that of TV host Ronnie Nathanielz, who was with a Marcos-run station. That interview strengthened NAMFREL’s cause. Later, we saw history unfold. The poll watchers walked out of PICC when they were being asked to adjust the election results. NAMFREL started what was going to be known as the people power revolution. The candle that was lit continued until the Edsa revolution.

Ninoy’s decision to come home was part of his destiny. He knew that something was going to happen once he came back, but he also knew that he had to come back. When his son, Noynoy Aquino, mentioned that since his father’s death, nothing had changed, I felt I had to write this column.

Many things have changed for the better. First we have a democracy, and we have a very much active Congress, both Senate and the House. People can speak out what they want to say. We see investigations happening left and right. Our press is also free. One cannot compare it during those days when we had only government stations. We have a young but working democracy,

People like Ninoy and Joecon taught us the need to give hope and take control of our destiny. They did not lose hope. They lit that candle that gave courage to millions of Filipinos to go and watch the ballots, and eventually, to march for freedom. One is not just entitled to luck; one has to work for it.

Seeing political and economic progress takes generations and lifetimes. While poverty and corruption still exists, we see more people taking action towards improvement. The OFW workers, who leave the Philippines and sacrifice for their families, are taking control of their future. Call center agents, who work at night and sacrifice lifestyle change, also take control of their future. Somehow, in our small way, Go Negosyo is all about continuing what great men and women have started. It is continuing to light the candle of hope.

Economic progress will happen to those who want it and work for it. It is a matter of attitude. It does not necessarily mean one has to have a negosyo to be prosperous. Its is the entrepreneurial attitude that sees opportunities in every crisis, solutions to problems, and those working hard for something and taking better control of their future. Those people who sacrifice living abroad are not waiting for luck. They are creating luck because they work for it. I definitely have to say Ninoy’s death was not a waste. He, for many, is our modern day hero. As my father would say, “it is better to light the candle than curse the darkness”. Let there be more modern day heroes who will bring the correct attitude that will finally bring prosperity to this nation. Success will not be dependent on the next president in 2010, but it will be dependent on more and more Filipinos who are willing to do something about their future.