Benigno Aquino Jr.

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Benigno Aquino Jr.

Benigno "Ninoy" Simeon Aquino Jr. (November 27, 1932August 21, 1983) was a leading opposition politician in the Philippines during the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos. He was assassinated at the Manila International Airport on returning home from exile, and widow Corazon Aquino became the focus of the opposition and eventually replaced Marcos as president.


Ninoy was born in Concepción, Tarlac to a family of hacienderos (landlords). His grandfather was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo while his father, Benigno Aquino Sr. was a prominent official in the World War II Japanese-organized government of Jose P. Laurel. His father died while Ninoy was in his teens, and amidst a lingering cloud of distrust owing to his alleged collaboration with the Japanese during occupation. Ninoy interrupted his college studies to pursue a career in journalism. In early 1954, he was appointed by president Ramon Magsaysay to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he secured Taruc's unconditional surrender. He became mayor of Concepción in 1955 at the age of only 22. In the same year he married Corazón Cojuangco.

He became governor of Tarlac in 1961, then he became secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966. In 1967 he made history becoming the youngest elected senator in the country's history.

When President Marcos declared martial law in 1972 Aquino was imprisoned on charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. He was found guilty of subversion and sentenced to death in November 1977. This was commuted into exile to allow medical treatment in the United States in 1980, accompanied by his wife.

Even as Senator Aquino was recognized as the most prominent of President Marcos's political opponents, he was regarded by many in the years prior to martial law as a representative member of the entrenched traditional political system. While atypically telegenic, he was not known to be immune to the ambitions, excesses or abuses associated with the ruling political class. However, his years of imprisonment, including periods of solitary confinement, had a profound, life-changing effect on his character. He drew strength from traditional Catholic devotions and renewed inspiration from the writings of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. As a result, the remainder of Aquino's personal and political life would undertake a noticeable evangelical sheen. He became an outspoken proponent of non-violence as a means of combatting the Marcos regime. Some remained skeptical as to Aquino's redirected spiritual focus, yet this aspect of his life has had an apparent effect on his wife's subsequent political career, and somewhat eased the subsequent emergence of Senator Aquino as a modern-day martyr.

In exile, Aquino remained a major leader of the opposition. On August 21, 1983 he returned to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. He wished to return to suffer alongside his people and to appeal directly to Marcos to step down and seek a peaceful regime change and reformation.

Despite the presence of his own security guards and government troops on the tarmac, he was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane at Manila International Airport. The government claimed, unconvincingly, that he was gunned down by Rolando Galman, who was immediately shot dead by troops.

Aftermath of Assassination

It was never officially established why or if Galman had done it, though many suspected that Galman was just a fall guy. Even more suspicions arose on who ordered the assassination. Everyone from the CIA to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of having conspired for the hit. It must also be noted that President Marcos was gravely ill and in very poor shape during this time, as he was at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute recovering from his kidney transplant on August 7 when this incident occurred—he was in no shape to run the government. Conspiracy theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the hit when Marcos was in his sickbed recuperating. President Marcos then ordered an independent body, the Agrava Commission, to investigate the assassination. High-ranking military officials were indicted, including Gen. Fabian Ver, the Armed Forces Chief and known as Marcos's enforcer, but were soon acquitted. The military team on the tarmac at the time are currently serving life sentences at Bilibid Prison. They have filed a recent appeal to have the sentences reduced after 22 years, claiming that the assassination was ordered by Eduardo "Danding" Cojuanco, a Marcos crony and Corazon Aquino's cousin.

His funeral procession on August 31 lasted 12 hours, from 9 am, when a funeral mass attended by the Catholic Archbishop in the country, Jaime Cardinal Sin, was held in Sto. Domingo Church, to 9 pm, when he was interred in the Manila Memorial Park. Two million people lined the streets during the procession, and millions more listened on the Church-sponsored Veritas radio station, the only station that dared to cover the procession. The funeral itself afforded a rare public expression of anger at the Marcos regime, but was relatively calm and even retained moments of good humor. Famously, when rain started pouring in the midst of the funeral procession, hundreds were dissuaded from opening their umbrellas with the chant, "Only Imelda (Marcos) uses an umbrella!" Another notable moment from the funeral was when the procession reached Rizal Park, and the crowd forcibly brought the Philippine flag down at half-mast.

The assassination of Ninoy transformed the opposition movement overnight from a small isolated movement to a mass movement involving people across all classes of society in Metro Manila. The middle class was involved, the lower class was involved, and business leaders whom Marcos irked during martial law supported the movement. The assassination showed the increasing incapacity of the Marcos regime—Ferdinand was mortally ill when the assassination occurred while his cronies mismanaged the country in his absence—and outraged Aquino's supporters that he would allow the assassination of a key figure of the opposition to happen. The mass discord caused by the assassination put the Philippines on the map for the United States. Attention was brought to the Philippine Crisis, and exposes on Imelda's extravagant lifestyle and "mining operations", as well as Ferdinand's dictatorial excesses emerged. US President Ronald Reagan became fearful of a full scale, destabilizing and bloody revolution that could only spell disaster for US interests in the Philippines, as well as the regional stability. Reagan would denounce the assassination—but never to renounce his friend Marcos.

The assassination also thrust Ninoy's widow, Cory into the popular eye. Cory Aquino went on to campaign furiously in the 1986 snap elections called by Marcos to satiate public discontent with his regime. On the 57 days of campaigning before the February 7, 1986 election, Aquino’s UNIDO party took to the roads, visiting all but a few of the Philippine provinces. On the campaign trail, Aquino was greeted by throngs of people throwing confetti and cheering her on, "Cory! Cory! Cory!". Despite the Commission on Election's (COMELEC) declaration that he had won the election, Cory and her supporters refused to accept the allegedly fraudulent outcome, prompting the People Power revolution that drove Marcos into exile and placed Cory in power as President.

Ninoy Aquino is depicted on the 500-peso bill
Ninoy Aquino is depicted on the 500-peso bill

In Ninoy's honor, the Manila International Airport has been renamed as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and his image is printed on the 500-peso bill.

His son, Benigno Aquino III, is a congressman representing the 1st district of Tarlac and his daughter, Kris Aquino, is a TV and movie Aquino pl:Benigno Aquino


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