“A shot rang out. A light went out in August, but a conflagration was lit.” —Cory Aquino, Sto. Domingo Church, Aug. 21, 1988
When Ninoy Aquino left Boston for Manila on Aug. 12, 1983 (taking a circuitous route for security reasons), his wife Cory and daughter Ballsy made him promise to call as soon as he could when he touched down in Manila.
Ninoy’s China Airlines flight was estimated to arrive in Manila around noon of Aug. 21, 1983. Thus, Cory was hoping to get a call from Manila at around 1 a.m., Boston time. But the clock was ticking away and the much-awaited call seemed long in coming.
Ninoy and Cory’s eldest child Ballsy left the room she shared with a sister and went to her parents’ room. She lay down on her father’s side of the bed, the side near the telephone, and waited. She found that her mother was still awake, too. And waiting.
In her recollections in the book To Love Another Day, Cory said that Ninoy had told her that it would be ‘foolish’ for the dictatorship to have him killed. But if he were killed, it would be the way he wanted to die — for his country.
Then the phone rang.
Someone from the Kyodo news agency in New York was asking Ballsy for confirmation about her father’s assassination. Just like that.
“Where did you get this story?” Ballsy recalled asking the caller.
Cory, seeing the expression on her daughter’s face, asked Ballsy what the call was all about.
“Parang may nangyari ata,” was all Ballsy could tell her mother.
And the rest is history.
When Ninoy’s death was confirmed to Cory by Congressman Shintaro Ishihara, a member of Japan’s Parliament and Ninoy’s friend, Cory asked her children for a few moments to herself and in her solitude, she wept for the loss of the man she had been married to and loved with all her heart for almost 30 years.
“We just cried. All of us,” the Philippines’ first woman president recalled to me during Ninoy’s 20th death anniversary in 2003. We were in a conference room in her office in Makati, a cheerful room full of family photos and paintings. We were leafing through a stack of albums. Many of those pictures brought a smile to Cory’s face.
“During Ninoy’s incarceration, I prayed often for God to help me accept His will. And when I lost Ninoy, I prayed even harder for God to give me and my children the strength for it,” she told me.
To Love Another Day
Back in Manila, Cory’s sisters and sisters-in-law had confirmation of Ninoy’s death, but none of them had the heart to break the news to Cory.
In her recollections in the book To Love Another Day, Cory said that Ninoy had told her that it would be “foolish” for the dictatorship to have him killed. But if he were killed, it would be the way he wanted to die — for his country.
“I reminded my children of this, that he always wanted to die for the country and so his assassination was really the best thing that could ever happen to him. It sort of lessened the sorrow.”
Fast forward to 2021. During her eulogy for her only brother, former President Noynoy Aquino, Ballsy echoed her late mother’s words: “What gave us comfort when we lost our dad was that our mom kept telling us, ‘God was so generous. Dad was given a hero’s death. The kind of death that would profoundly change our nation.’”
On the flight back home to Manila from Boston (she had their tickets downgraded from First Class to Economy and consistently refused offers from the cabin crew to upgrade them, much to their incredulity), Cory told her children that their father’s body was badly bruised and bloodied.
When I interviewed her in 2003, Cory very calmly recalled to me the moment she saw Ninoy for the first time after his assassination.
When they arrived in Times Street, she asked for a few moments alone with him. Relatives and other mourners who were in the living room where Ninoy’s body lay in repose quietly left the room. Only Dr. Rolly Solis, the cardiologist who operated on Ninoy in 1980, stayed behind.
“I saw Ninoy’s bloodied and bruised body in the coffin and I was telling Ninoy, ‘Ninoy, tell me what I should do.’ When I kissed him, I promised him that I would continue with the struggle, never thinking then that I would become president. I kissed him on the cheek, and it was hard. I did not break down. I held his hand. And it was softer… But I couldn’t even stay long because I saw all the people outside waiting to come in,” Cory told me.
Before she left the room and gave the signal for the mourners to be allowed to file by Ninoy’s coffin anew, Cory made a vow. She promised Ninoy she would continue his mission, the cause he lived and died for.
Then she wiped away her tears.
“From the time my children and I arrived in Manila from Boston on Aug. 24. 1983, we were just amazed at the huge numbers of people who came to pay their last respects to Ninoy in our house on Times Street, in the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City, in the San Sebastian Cathedral in Tarlac and then back to Sto. Domingo Church,” Cory wrote in an article for PeopleAsia magazine in 2003, titled, Hindi Kami Nag-Iisa.
“From Tarlac to Quezon City, we took the longer route, the MacArthur Highway instead of the North Diversion Road. There were more towns we would pass through to give more people a chance to see Ninoy’s hearse. The main streets of these towns were jammed with people and sometimes we could hardly move. It took us nine hours to reach Sto. Domingo Church from the Tarlac Cathedral.
“Finally, on Aug. 31, 1983, it was estimated that around two million people went out to see the funeral procession, which started at around 10 a.m., from Sto. Domingo Church and ended at 9 p.m. at the Manila Memorial Park.
“The pain of losing Ninoy was lessened somewhat by the magnificent presence of millions of Filipinos. Truly, Our Father in heaven had made sure that my children and I would not be alone in our grief. Talagang hindi kami nag-iisa.”