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SPEECHES: PRE-PRESIDENCY
 

Speech delivered at the forum, 'Women for Justice and Freedom'
 

Sponsored by the Concerned Women of the Philippines
October 15, 1983 

I am honored to be with you today and immensely flattered that you have chosen to put me on equal billing with a truly admirable Filipina, Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma.

When I asked some of my friends to suggest a topic for my speech today, they all agreed that I should speak on the subject of courage.  I remember Ninoy would often talk about courage and he would tell his audience:

    “Courage like cowardice is highly infectious.  It only takes a few dedicated and courageous individuals to infect many, many people with the germ of courage.”

I still feel pain whenever I think of the cruel people who are responsible for the assassination of Ninoy.  There are moments when you cannot imagine how much I miss Ninoy.  But I am greatly consoled by the meaningful events which have happened and continue to happen after August 21, 1983.  I am sure most of you, if not all of you here today, have participated in the many Masses, rallies and demonstrations.  I thank you for supporting us in our peaceful endeavors to restore our rights and freedoms.  I congratulate you for being exemplary Filipinos, willing to sacrifice for the good of our beloved country.

I wish I could tell you that in a matter of days, or weeks, or months, our struggle will be over and that peace and freedom will again be ours.  No one can predict when our day of liberation will come.  I hope we shall not have to wait very long before we achieve our goal.  I remember only too well the seven years and seven months of Ninoy’s incarceration when we waited and waited for Ninoy’s day of liberation.  Permit me to relate to you some of my experiences.

The first few months of martial rule were a rude awakening for Ninoy and me.  All of a sudden, we no longer had control of our own lives.  Marcos had now decided to break up our family.  With a single stroke of his pen, Marcos had now decreed that Ninoy should now live in Fort Bonifacio and that Marcos alone could decide who Ninoy should see or not see.

I shed many tears and I had many sleepless nights during those dark and difficult days.  I made sure, however, that Ninoy would hardly ever see me cry.  I knew Ninoy was already suffering so much, I did not want to burden him further with my own fears and anxieties.

My daughters and I were bodily searched by female soldiers before and after each visit with Ninoy.  It was quite a humiliating experience in the beginning, but we soon learned to accept it as just another hazard of martial rule.  Later on, we could even laugh about it as we watched Kris who was barely two years old also being searched by WACS.

Ninoy was brought before the Military Commission No. 2 at Fort Bonifacio, on August 27, 1973, eleven months after he had been arrested and detained.  I remember very well what a frightening experience it was for my children and me.  Earlier, Senator Lorenzo M. Tañada had explained to me that since Ninoy was not participating in this kangaroo court, I should be prepared to expect the worst.  Senator Tañada told me that the Military Commission could very well decide then and there that the case was closed and that Ninoy could be sentenced to death that very day.  I knew there was nothing else I could do but pray.  And so my children and I prayed hard as did our relatives and friends.    

For those of you who have never witnessed military court proceedings, allow me to relate to you my experience on Ninoy’s first day before Military Commission No. 2.  I of course knew beforehand that Ninoy would announce that he did not recognize the authority of the Military Commission and that he would insist that since he was a civilian, he should be tried by the civil courts.  I also knew that from the moment Ninoy declared he was not participating in this Commission, then he would not need the services of his lawyers.  It had been agreed that the minute Ninoy announced his non-participation, then it would be a signal for all of his twelve lawyers to leave the hall.

I tried my best to explain to my four older children what to expect at the Military Commission.  I also tried to reassure them that although things looked bleak, we should continue in our belief that God would take care of us.  We had of course long ago decided that we would all be present at the Military Commission to show Marcos we would always give Ninoy our total support no matter what the situation.  We felt that the least we could do for Ninoy was to be with him at all possible times, no matter how difficult the circumstances.  And so Kris, who was 2 ½ years old at that time, also attended Ninoy’s first encounter with the Military Commission.

With all these grim expectations, you can well imagine the tension and fear that filled my heart.  When the sergeant-at-arms shouted with all his might:  “Tenshun”, it was enough to give any civilian a mild heart attack.  Brig. Gen. Jose Syjuco was the president of the Commission.  He was quite a frightful person as he was forever banging his gavel.  He would shout at Ninoy to sit down whenever Ninoy would try to speak.  And he would also remind the public to keep quiet, otherwise they would be sent out of the hall.  I remember in later proceedings, Gen. Syjuco even threatened to arrest anyone who laughed or even smiled.  I think it was in 1975 that Kris got really scared of Gen. Syjuco and his gavel.  On one occasion when her sister Pinky was whispering to her, Kris said:  “Sigue ka Pinky.  Nag-usap ka.  Baka pukpukin ang ulo mo ni Gen. Syjuco.”

As previously arranged, Ninoy’s twelve lawyers left the hall and immediately thereafter, Ninoy was given two military defense counsel whether he wanted them or not.  And so there we were, seated behind Ninoy who was now without lawyers.  Ninoy had prepared an opening statement and in spite of the opposition of the prosecutor, Ninoy was able to read it.  I would like to read this particular portion of his statement:

“I have therefore decided not to participate in these proceedings:  first, because this ritual is an unconscionable mockery; and second, because every part of my being – my heart and mind and soul – yes, every part of my being is against any form of dictatorship.  I agree we must have public order and national discipline, if this country is to move forward.  But peace and order without freedom is nothing more than slavery.  Discipline without justice is merely another name for oppression.  I believe we can have lasting peace and prosperity only if we build a social order based on freedom and justice.  My non-participation is therefore an act of protest against the structures of injustice that brought us here.  It is also an act of faith in the ultimate victory of right over wrong, of good over evil.  In all humility, I say it is a rare privilege to share with the Motherland her bondage, her anguish, her every pain and suffering.”

Ninoy not only was able to deliver his statement before the Military Commission, but his decision not to participate must have rattled Marcos a bit.  In fact, Marcos ordered the temporary suspension of the hearings and it wasn’t until March 31, 1975 when Ninoy was again brought before the Military Commission. 

August 27, 1973 was a particularly grueling and terrifying experience for us.  One of my daughters cried so much she didn’t realize she had lost both her contact lenses in the process.  I was so pleased with myself to have survived those tortuous hours without shedding a single tear.  It was so important to me to appear brave in front of all those military people.  Some of the military had been cruel to us and had caused us to suffer, and so I was determined that these unkind souls should not get the added satisfaction of seeing me cry.

In Boston, Ninoy and I would often talk about our “Bonifacio experience.”  We both agreed that since the ordeal was over anyway, we could look upon those seven years and seven months as part of our continuing education.  We learned above all to resign ourselves to the will of God.  The weeks before Ninoy left Boston, my constant prayer was that God would help Ninoy and me and our children to accept whatever awaited us on our return to Manila.  At that time, my chief concern was that Ninoy would again be detained in Fort Bonifacio.  I was very worried that it would be more difficult “the second time around.”

I never thought the warnings from the Marcos government about assassination plots were for real.  I honestly believed that the worst thing that could happen to Ninoy would be another long detention at Fort Bonifacio.  What happened on August 21, 1983 I have learned to accept as part of God’s plan.  I sincerely believe that God alone knows what is best for us and it is this belief that has given my children and me the courage to continue what Ninoy had sought to do and that is to work for the restoration of peace and freedom.

One of the more useful lessons we learned in Fort Bonifacio was the art of smuggling letters to and from Ninoy.  In the early months of martial rule, Ninoy wrote an article denouncing Marcos and his dictatorship.  This article was first published in the Bangkok Post in February 1973 and was later on reprinted in other international newspapers.  And because of this, the military authorities in Fort Bonifacio were furious.

To punish is our visiting privileges were cancelled and from February 24 until April 8, 1973 we were not allowed to see Ninoy.  Later on, we learned that Ninoy and Pepe Diokno were blindfolded and handcuffed and they were flown by helicopter to Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija.  I am not sure most of you have read Ninoy’s letter to Soc Rodrigo wherein he describes in detail the sufferings he endured in Laur and his “conversion”.  When our visiting privileges were reinstated, the military authorities imposed stricter measures and we were made to remove all our outer clothing before and after each visit to Ninoy.  Ninoy, with so much time on his hands, thought out new ways of smuggling out his letters.  When the military is no longer so powerful in our country, I will be only too willing to relate the different methods we used to smuggle out Ninoy’s letters.

Four days ago, Ninoy and I would have celebrated our 29th wedding anniversary.  While I would very much want Ninoy to be still around, I cannot really complain about my fate.  God has been generous and kind to have given me Ninoy for more than twenty-eight years.  My own mother-in-law was not as lucky.  She lost her husband after seventeen years.  Other women have been widowed even earlier.  I would like to think having been exposed for more than twenty-eight years to a man of courage as Ninoy, I too have been infected with the germ of courage.  And so I ask you to pray for more courage and strength for all of us, so that we will continue with our efforts to regain our rights and freedoms.   

 

 

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