Remembering Ninoy: Our Freedom Founded on His Sacrifice
Delivered on the 10th Anniversary of Ninoy's Death, Sto. Domingo Church
August 21, 1993
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Paul to the Galatians. Freedom is its own value and aim. It is not to be subordinated to even the promise of a better life. Live free or die! No life can be good without freedom. It may not have been that way in other countries, it is in ours. Without freedom, this country almost died. It is for freedom that Ninoy died. But the work is not complete nor the sacrifices enough.
“Stand firm then,” Paul tells us, “and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Freedom will never run out of enemies. Let us not forget it.
The struggle of man against power, said a dissident writer, is the struggle of memory against forgetting.
Yesterday we resolved not to forget and to continue the struggle against absolute power.
We resolved not to forget that one man was murdered and none of his killers, especially the ones who got away, has shown remorse.
We resolved not to forget that many more were killed, many were detained and tortured, and careers and lives destroyed. A nation was lied to for 14 years. All in the name of national security. The mindset which approves of such things as a method of governance remains influential, and may return to power some day.
We resolved not to forget the people who robbed this country of nearly all its disposable wealth. And robbed them of a painless transition to progress. This country will go on paying for what those people stole. Therefore they should not be forgiven until they have returned what they stole – to the people, and not to those who offer them a deal.
We resolved not to forget the utter corruption of absolute power. Such power should never be given to anyone again. If it is seized again by force, we will oppose it. I certainly will.
Above all, we resolved to remember that it was only by the power of the people that these things came to an end, and only that force can stop their return.
Yet there are people who make light of that power today.
These are the people who pay lip service to political morality by saying that power without principles is ruthless.
What they really believe is that principle without power is useless, because power is everything to them.
But if the recent history of mankind teaches us anything, it is the irresistible power of principle without anything more.
Principle with power, dressed in loincloth, walked to the shore of the Indian Ocean, scooped a handful of salt, and started the break-up of an empire.
Principle without power put flowers in the barrel of a gun and ended the longest-running dictatorship in Europe.
Here, the height of powerless principle knelt in the path of oncoming tanks and ran the people who sent them out of the country.
Throughout Eastern Europe, principle without power faced down the police, brought down governments, and put artists and ex-prisoners in power. Talk about the power of the powerless.
Principle without power brought down the Berlin Wall and experts believed it would take another world war to do it.
Principle without power saved the young freedom of Russia, and recruited the soldiers sent to destroy it.
In Rio de Janeiro, a crooked, free-spending president was driven from office by the powerless in the streets.
Principle without power has moved mankind farther in four years – from EDSA to the Soviet coup – than power of any other kind had advanced the interests of mankind in 4,000 years. Making democracy the only acceptable form of political organization, and people power the most promising form of action in the political field.
And it is not surprising, when you consider where it all started. For principle without power hung on a cross on a hill in Jerusalem, but in dying gave life to the dead and in rising destroyed the dominion of darkness.
We speak of God’s secret wisdom; a message, Paul said, that is not for the rulers of this age – nor for yesterday’s men who think in the ways of yesterday:
“God chose the simple to confound the wise; the weak to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world, the despised things – the things that are not – to nullify the things that are so that no one may boast before him… His power is made perfect in weakness. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Today we commemorate not just the death of a hero. We mark the rebirth of a nation and the discovery of a form of power inspired by that hero’s life and death.
The ease with which the dictatorship suppressed our liberties and plundered our country moved an American senator to call us “a nation of 40 million cowards and one….” Let’s just say, “and one dictator who abused them without fear.”
Ninoy Aquino returned so there would be one less coward and one more brave Filipino.
Ten days later, two million people braved a storm and defied a despot to take Ninoy to his grave.
Three more years and everything had changed completely. There were millions of brave Filipinos and only a handful of cowards running from a revolution.
And what a revolution it was. A revolution without violence, making changes without pain, and giving justice without retribution.
It pitted a people without arms against a government with nothing but weapons. No morality, no national purpose, no good reason to exist.
Some say that nothing changed for the better. Don’t believe it. Things couldn’t be worse than they were before.
Some say they didn’t get justice; instead they were persecuted. If they had been persecuted, they wouldn’t be rich and they wouldn’t be around to complain. God knows, they gave enough provocation for retribution.
We made a revolution, we changed a country and how we felt about ourselves. No one could call us a nation of cowards. And it all started with the man whose death we commemorate today.
St. Paul said: “Very rarely will anyone die for a worthy man, though for a good man someone might possibly give his life. But God showed his love for us in this: While we were worthless, Christ died for us.”
“The Filipino is worth dying for.” Ninoy’s famous words obscure the full measure of his sacrifice. The words make it seem that he died in the course of an ongoing struggle, when in fact he had to die to get the fight started at all. If the Filipino had truly been worth dying for, Ninoy might still be alive.
Except for the communists in the hills and the penniless opposition, Ninoy returned to a people that had taken martial law lying down for ten years. The country was resigned, the opposition was weary, and it looked like the dictatorship would survive its founder.
It is always hard to die. But, as Paul says, it may be easier to do it for people who are worthwhile. It is easier to die for those who are fighting for their freedom, than for those who seem to be at peace with their oppressors.
It is with such reasoning that the enemies of freedom sap our will to fight.
They tell us, Why rail against corruption, when the people do not complain? You are only making enemies, when you can be silent partners in crime.
They tell us, Why stand up for a country that is anyway taking it lying down?
You are hurting yourself to help those who will not help themselves.
Why oppose dictatorship, when you are alone? Can one person stop it?
These are the people who take down the size of the crowds at rallies for democracy. Constantly calculating what they think is the actual strength of democracy for the moment of its greatest vulnerability.
They forget that when freedom’s best friend was killed by their former master, that was the moment freedom gathered strength.
Many times, when I was in the Snap Election campaign or addressing a million people during the civil disobedience movement, I thought of how Ninoy would have felt. These were Filipinos worth dying for. He gave his life before seeing them.
“Faith,” said Paul, “is being sure of what we can only hope for, and being certain of what we do not see.”
Our religion honors such faith.
By faith, Abraham lived with a barren wife in a strange land promised to his children, By faith, another man sacrificed the luxury of Egypt for the hardship of the desert, to guide his nation to a country he would never reach.
Such people, said Paul, still live by faith when they die. They call themselves exiles to show they are still looking for a country of their own.
When Ninoy said the Filipino is worth dying for, there was nothing to show it. Many oppositionists gave up the fight because of that. But Ninoy gave his life.
I think he was sure the Filipino was worth dying for because he was a Filipino and he was willing to make the sacrifice. What further example, what better proof did he need than the one at hand?
As he fought, so would others, even if he would not live to see it. As he died, so would others be prepared to do it. Because of faith, he did not have to see in order to believe the Filipino would be worth dying for.
Had there ever been such leadership by example? He asked for nothing he did not already give, and demanded no sacrifice he had not already made. He said the Filipino was worth dying for and showed it.
From his example we must take our strength. Mass organization, political action, rallies and demonstrations – these things are needed for the success of our aims. But it is on Ninoy’s example of individual struggle and sacrifice that we must depend for the strength of our struggle to protect freedom, extend its domain and substantiate its promise.
Freedom is only as strong as each of us is determined to be. Just one brave individual began the restoration of democracy, but it was the other individuals who joined the funeral cortege that turned it into a Long March for freedom.
There are those who want to steal the credit for our democracy.
They want to establish the freedom of our country on a foundation other than that on which it rests, the sacrifice of Ninoy.
They propose that we owe our freedom to a failed conspiracy or they offer the worn-out populist slogans of the old regime.
But none of that will serve as the true foundation of our liberty.
“For no one,” said Paul, “can lay the foundation other than the one already laid.”
Too many people saw how it all started, right here in this Church. Too many people saw that they themselves had brought it off, millions of Filipinos infected by the courage of Ninoy.
“Except a grain of wheat fall to the ground, and die, it will remain a single seed. But if it dies, it will bear forth many.”
Perhaps that is why our first democracy succumbed so easily, and why it had so few defenders. It was given and not paid for with the ultimate price. Now it rests securely on the foundation of a sacrifice. The steep price of liberty will not take us by surprise; that will prepare us better to pay it.
We must also be conscious of what we can, and cannot, erect on that foundation.
Whatever is built must express the vision for which the foundation was laid, or it will not stand for long.
It cannot be anything that serves our own interests. For everything that Ninoy did for his country’s interests worked against his own. Paul warns us: that “If any man builds on this foundation using merely gold or silver or straw, his work will be shown for what it is. The day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire; fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”
I thank the ralliers yesterday and the people who have come to this mass.
Your presence sends the message the enemies of democracy need to hear. The people who continue to say that freedom must one day take a backseat to prosperity. What they mean is their prosperity.
Now they know that democracy is far from friendless, and the cause of good government does not lack for champions.
But I hope that I have sent an even stronger message. The message of Ninoy’s sacrifice. Power is more than arithmetic, it is more than guns and conspiracies. I will not define for these people what true power is. They will know it when they see it again.
All it takes is one person to start it. Just one Filipino showing his or her worth, and the rest will follow to finish it.
God bless the cause, God save our country.