Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., one of the leading lights in modern Philippine democracy, was assassinated 34 years ago this month.
After martial law was declared in 1972, Aquino became one of the country’s most vocal critics of Ferdinand Marcos, condemning the former president for alleged human rights violations. Aquino was jailed, along with other political dissidents who risked their lives speaking out against the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship.
In 1980, after spending 8 years in prison, Aquino was permitted to go to the United States for a heart bypass operation. During his three-year stay in the U.S., he tried to unite the various opposition groups that have been fighting to restore democracy in the Philippines.
Despite death threats, Aquino decided to return to the Philippines in August 21, 1983 to challenge Marcos in the 1984 elections. Upon landing in Manila International Airport, he was shot in the head by military officers who escorted him from the plane. To this day, many Filipinos believe Marcos ordered the assassination.
Aquino’s death was a significant turning point in the fight against the military regime. It ignited mass protests across the country, culminating in the non-violent People Power Revolution that ultimately overthrew Marcos after 21 years in power. It led to the election of his wife Corazon Aquino to the presidency.
Here in the U.S., Filipino Americans also organized protest actions across the country and called on President Ronald Reagan to cut off ties with the Marcos regime.
Commemorating his death is our way of honoring his fateful stand and the supreme sacrifice of other victims of martial law who gave their life for the Filipino people so they can take back their lost freedoms.
For today’s generation who were not around during the dark years of dictatorship, there are important lessons to learn from a man who said that “the Filipino is worth dying for.” Like love of country, the willingness to pay the price of national freedom, fearless advocacy of human rights and the belief that justice will prevail in the end.