by Joel Pablo Salud
“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these,
‘It might have been’.”—John Greenleaf Whittier
On August 21, 1983, on a flight back to the Philippines, your beloved father, Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr., was mercilessly shot by an unknown assailant at the back of the head, killing him instantly. An act of cowardice at best, but one that, in the minds of the perpetrators, had accomplished its mission: to silence the truth.
I was a month away from being 20—a snooty, barely out of college young man neck deep in youthful indifference. News came by a phone call from my mother at a time when my friends and I had little to do but the usual alcohol-inspired merrymaking at the CorinthianGardens. Politics to me then was no more a crack at adult entertainment as mahjong or the pene films of the time.
My knowledge of your father, Ninoy, was limited to what I had seen and heard on television. I like him for no other reason but that he was the only personality with gumption enough to go against Ferdinand Marcos toe to toe, word for word. He moved and spoke within that air of daring no other did during his time.
I recalled Ninoy’s assassination for one reason: to relive a case of murder with impunity your whole family is all too familiar with. It was and, still is, bad enough that you had to go through the pain of loss. You share in the same torment as the families of victims of summary executions.
But more than anything, your father, too, was a member of the press, a correspondent for The Manila Times prior to his running for senator. The other message behind Ninoy’s assassination was clear: between a fiery pen and the cold barrel of a gun, power rests on the trigger finger, or so the culprits thought.
Mr. President, the Maguindanao Massacre was the result of an age-old war between the pen and the sword. Of all the things that compel a tyrant to face his or her fears, it is trough the pen by which weakness is exposed. And to expose is to, nevertheless, declare war. Voltaire couldn’t have said it better: “To hold a pen is to be at war.”
Your father, Ninoy, in the same token as those waylaid in Shariff Aguak on the morning of November 23, 2009, was at war with tyranny, with power unmitigated in its execution. They were warriors of a different kind, whose pen was their tongue and mind their canon. As Georg C. Lichtenberg had written, they have, with pen in hand, “successfully stormed bulwarks from which others armed with sword… have been repulsed.”
The public hardly expected Gloria Arroyo to understand the plight of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, let alone the issue of human rights. But from you, sir, the people expect more—as a victim of impunity, of intense political strife, of personal anguish because of the murder of your father.
With due respect, sir, I believe Ninoy Aquino would say the same.
Past two years and it seems little has been accomplished in terms of prosecuting the culprits. The Ampatuans are doing whatever they can to delay the proceedings. That the trials are going neither here nor there speaks a lot about the state of justice in this country. But even this is old hat. As you are well aware you were voted into office to make a difference.
You have shown yourself passionate against those who robbed the country of its wealth. What about those who robbed us of life and loved ones? Sir, you suffered five bullet wounds during a coup attempt against your mother, former President Corazon Aquino. One bullet is still lodged in your neck, reminding you, I guess, of the pained existence of those targeted for execution. The victims of the Maguindanao massacre hardly had the same chance as you did.
Mr. President, even as you read this (which I hope you will) those left behind by the brutally murdered—wives, husbands, daughters, sons, mothers, fathers—cry out for justice. But for how long? You, among all who sit in power today, know the suffering from which no passing day or night could ever be free.
Think about it, Mr. President: what good would a straight road serve if it is splattered with the blood of the innocent? We will wait for your answer.
JOEL PABLO SALUD is the editor-in-chief of the Philippines Graphic magazine, the country’s top newsweekly publication under the ALC Group of Publications (sister publication to the BusinessMirror). He is a member of the Unyon ng Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) and the Manila Critics Circle. He regularly writes reviews for the Philippines Graphic Review of Literature.