POSTSCRIPT / June 14, 2016 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Laur seen thru eyes of 13-year-old Noy

IN HIS Independence Day vin d’honneur toast last Sunday, President Noynoy Aquino shared his recollection of that day (no date given) when he and his family were finally allowed to see his father Ninoy locked up in an isolation box in a military camp in Laur, Nueva Ecija.

His personal account adds to the historical documentation of Marcosian martial rule – seen through the eyes of then 13-year-old Noynoy, to whom his mother Cory and sisters Ballsy, Pinky, Viel and Kris were entrusted by the doomed head of family.

There was a widespread belief that if then opposition leader Ninoy Aquino had been given the chance to run in a free election, he would have become president after Marcos. But it was not meant to be.

Noynoy’s recollection (edited to fit space): “My family’s world turned upside down in the early hours of Sept. 23, 1972. While my father was at a bicameral conference in the Manila Hilton (now the Manila Pavilion), he was arrested. This was followed by the arrest of many others, including Sen. Jose Diokno.

“They were taken to Camp Crame and after a few days moved to Fort Bonifacio. After some months, we were banned from visiting him. We had no news of my father. We did not know if he was dead or alive.

“What made matters worse was that there were those who gave our family and the Dioknos wrong information as to where our fathers were. We continued like this until one day, an army truck arrived to return my father’s belongings—even his toothbrush.

“My mother asked: ‘Why are you returning this?’ They simply replied: ‘It’s no longer needed.’ We had to think: When would someone ever stop needing a toothbrush? That was how frightened and worried we were.

“We appealed to the Supreme Court to allow us to visit our father. Every day, we would go to Fort Bonifacio to find out what was happening, in the hope that we would see him. Until one day, the military told us to follow them. We did not know where we were going, and when we asked, the only answer was: ‘Just follow us.’

From Fort Bonifacio, we joined a convoy following a military truck, travelling farther and farther away from Metro Manila. It was night when we arrived at a camp. We were taken to another, far-off, secluded area following a dirt road, until we arrived at another camp within the camp—this one, enclosed by barbed wire and sawali matting.

“We felt as if we were in a concentration camp. The people who met us looked different; we could not even be sure they were soldiers. If in Fort Bonifacio the soldiers looked professional, here in this camp their hair was long and they were dressed like civilians.

The Diokno family was first to be allowed to see their father. The Diokno clan is known for their courage. You can imagine our shock—how much more worried we became—when we saw almost all of them in tears after visiting their father.

“When we were finally allowed to see our father, we were immensely shocked when we came face to face with him. We barely recognized him. Before martial law, my father was a rather portly man, always well-groomed. When we saw him, he was unshaven. He had to hold his pants to keep them from falling, because he had lost so much weight.

“Seeing him, we felt a mix of sadness and happiness—we were sad to see his plight, and happy that we were reunited.

“He narrated to us what had happened. The dictator allegedly became angry because an article written by my father criticizing martial law had been smuggled out and published in the Bangkok Post. Because of this, he and Senator Diokno were moved out of Fort Bonifacio, and into Fort Magsaysay. Handcuffed and blindfolded, with a gun pointed at their sides, they were made to board separate helicopters and taken to this camp.

“In this prison, they took away all his possessions, even removing his glasses. My father was near-sighted and needed to wear his glasses at all times. Otherwise, he became dizzy very quickly and suffered from headaches. They also took his watch so he could not keep track of time. The only things left to him: two undershirts and two pieces of underwear.

“His cell was painted all white: white floors, white ceiling, white walls. It was very hot, with all the windows covered with plywood. I remember: even if it was nighttime when we visited, the wall beside the door leading out of the cell, against which I leaned, was still very hot.

“My father told us he had no one to talk to. He and Senator Diokno would take turns singing ‘Lupang Hinirang’ and ‘Bayan Ko’ to know if the other was still alive. In this cell, my father prayed fervently to God and to the Virgin Mary to once again see his family, even if it would be for the last time.

“It was at that meeting when he told me, his only son at 13 years of age, that I was responsible for my mother and my sisters. I ask you to put yourselves in my situation: Do you understand what was going through the mind of a 13-year-old boy who had no means, no power, and yet was entrusted with this great responsibility by a father who seemed to be saying goodbye?

“After that Laur visit, my father, a civilian, was tried by a military commission. It comes as no surprise that under the commission established by Mr. Marcos—in which he was accuser, judge, defense and prosecution, as well as the final reviewing authority—my father was sentenced to death by musketry.

“Seven years after my father was sentenced, he was assassinated on the tarmac on Aug. 21, 1983.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 14, 2016)

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