Thirty six years ago, Ninoy Aquino came back from exile to resume the long, often lonely, fight for freedom in his beloved Philippines, which had for over a decade suffered under the rapacious Marcos regime. Moments after his return, his blood would stain the tarmac of the airport that now bears his name, his life taken by an assassin’s bullet.
Every Filipino alive at that time remembers where they were when Ninoy fell. It was the defining moment for an entire generation: a moment that would inspire a movement that would ultimately bring down the dictator three years later, and bring about a restoration of the freedom Ninoy had given up his life and liberty fighting for. As a young probinsiyana at the University of the Philippines, it marked my own political epiphany, opening my eyes to the urgency of the struggle against dictatorship and the imperative for all Filipinos to take a hand in the grand effort to reclaim our freedom.
These days, it has become fashionable among certain quarters to dismiss the significance of Ninoy’s sacrifice, or worse, to question the validity of the movement it inspired. These days, there are those who insist, out of self-interest or ignorance, that the Marcos regime “was not so bad after all,” pushing a revised version of history that is not only dishonest but dangerous.
The simple truth is, Ninoy Aquino was a Filipino who gave his life for his country. His love for his homeland was seen not in easy talk or slick PR stunts, but instead blazed brightly through long years of imprisonment, of exile, and in the end, of martyrdom. Many talk about being willing to die for our country. Ninoy was one of the courageous few who actually did.
Ninoy, of course, was not the only patriot who made the ultimate sacrifice so that our nation could be free again. Thousands of Filipinos fell during the dark years of dictatorship, resisting till their last breath the cruelty and corruption it brought. Thousands more were estranged from their families, were thrown into prison, were subjected to brutality and humiliation. Many of them remain nameless and unheralded in our memorials and history books.
So when we celebrate the 21st of August, it is not just Ninoy Aquino we remember, but all those like him, both the nameless and the heralded, who gave of themselves so that we could be free. In this remembrance, we express both our deepest gratitude for the sacrifices made on our behalf, and, perhaps more significantly, our persistent commitment to defend the freedom they won back for us.