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The best and worst of times

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 21, 2022 5:00 am

Aug. 21, 1983! The day Ninoy Aquino was shot at the international airport when he came home from the United States. I remember it suddenly as I sit at my computer typing today’s date. What was I doing then? If it was 1983, that was 39 years ago. I was 39 years old. How quickly time has passed!

I met Ninoy at a family dinner at the Cojuangco home in Tarlac. One of my close friends had married Ninoy’s brother-in-law and they had invited us — husband, toddler daughter, and me — for the weekend. Their custom was to serve dinner at the Cojuangco home and any one of the family who happened to be around and who wanted dinner could come and join. 

Twice, Ninoy sat beside me and talked, and talked and talked. He was a great talker, Ninoy was. I was then maybe 21 years old and stupidly shy. Maybe he heard about 20 words from me, either “Really?” or “Yes” or “I don’t think so.” Nevertheless, Ninoy had a way about him that made you believe that if you saw him again you could say “Hi, remember me?” and he would remember. But I didn’t see him anymore after those two dinners.

Aug. 21, 1983! The day Ninoy Aquino was shot at the international airport

Years flew past. I worked at Avellana & Associates, an advertising agency on Roxas Boulevard, where Museo Pambata is now. Once it was the Elks Club Building and I had lunch there with my best friend Buki Richardson, whose father was a member there. Apparently, it belonged to the Cojuangcos then and was under litigation of sorts but it was a good location for an ad agency.

The chairman and president of the agency was Jose “Totoy” Avellana, who was the best friend of Ricardo “Baby” Lopa, who was another brother-in-law of Ninoy. Baby was married to Cory’s sister, Terry. At the ad agency, where I worked in 1969, I made many friends, not the least among them Totoy and Baby, both of whom have passed away. But when Aug. 21 rang a bell with me, I remembered Ninoy’s assassination, how I had gone to the house on Times Street to pay my respects to Ninoy, who I hardly knew, but felt I knew well. It touched me profoundly to see his bloodstained remains. I didn’t know they would be there but I saw Totoy and Baby and could offer my sympathy. It was a terrible time for everyone, for all of us.

Whatever we do, life goes on. Sometimes it is the best of times, other times the worst of times. But look at the onlookers. We are still alive and life goes on.

I also remember my daughter asking for permission to meet Ninoy at the airport with her best friend, who was Ninoy’s niece. Her father, fearing the possibility of some upheaval, didn’t want her to go and even I thought she would be safer at home. So she didn’t go. I remember her rushing into my room telling me Ninoy had been shot at the airport. We turned on the TV and saw his body sprawled on the tarmac. We heard about Rolando Galman who, they said, had shot him. Did we believe it initially? I don’t remember now.

People gathered at Quirino Grandstand for Tagumpay ng Bayan (Victory of the People) rally where Cory Aquino calls for a campaign of civil disobedience. 

The economy here floundered. My daughters were going to college in the US. I couldn’t bear to be separated from them so I, too, went, lived, and worked in San Francisco, which is close enough to Daly City, which then had turned into a Filipino community. 

I remember moving house when the EDSA revolution started in the Philippines, how my son-in-law connected the TV set and the phones in my new home so we could watch the news on what was happening back home.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” The opening line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. That’s how it felt for me, living in exile. There my friends and I joined demonstrations in front of the Philippine consulate picking up a placard from a pile that had been prepared, chanting, and finally ending by singing Bayan Ko, tears streaming down our cheeks. Then moving house and watching TV while my country was going through an amazing peaceful revolution with tanks and soldiers and nuns confronting each other. People walking miles carrying and sharing sandwiches. How could this be happening? How would it end?

Johnny Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos and Cardinal Sin and June Keithley, all of them gone now except for Ponce Enrile, who has once again joined Marcos the Son because Marcos the Father was the one who thrust him into power. First he flipped and now he flops. It’s sad to see that. Sad to watch President Ramos’ burial on TV. He was a good President and Mrs. Amelita Ramos was a wonderful First Lady. Sad to see them all in their 90s. I hope I don’t live that long.

But that is not under my control. Whatever we do, life goes on. Sometimes it is the best of times, other times the worst of times. But look at the onlookers. We are still alive and life goes on.