“You have been told, O Man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only this, to act justly, to have mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
This Old Testament verse is prominently positioned at the center of the first page of the book Testament from a Prison Cell. Written by Ninoy Aquino himself, Testament, first published in 1984, is so relevant and timely as we observe on Aug. 21 the 37th anniversary of the execution of Ninoy Aquino at the then Manila International Airport. We observe Ninoy’s death amid a deadly plague and 21 petitions (as of July 29) before the Supreme Court that are questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act 11479. Otherwise known as the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, this law provides that a person can be arrested and detained without charges for several days and that a council, not a judge, can determine whether that person is a terrorist.
The Note to Testament begins with, “After 10:25 p.m. on November 25, 1977, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. and his two co-accused, Bernabe Buscayno and Lt. Victor Corpuz, were sentenced to death by firing squad by the Philippine Military Commission No. 2.”
Immediately after being returned to his maximum-security cell in Camp Bonifacio (now Bonifacio Global City), Ninoy wrote a six-page letter to the justices of the Marcos-controlled Supreme Court in which he detailed what had happened during the 13 hours that had led to the military’s Black Friday night decision. For one, Ninoy, a civilian, had been tried by a military court.
The Note adds that Ninoy had expected and even prepared for the sentence meted him — death by musketry. As he had repeatedly said and as he wrote in his statement, “I would rather die on my feet with honor, than live on bended knees in shame.”
On Aug. 27, 1973, Ninoy informed the Military Commission that he would not defend himself so as to not lend credibility to a “kangaroo court.” But he reserved the right to read that statement.
In his statement, which is what the Testament is all about, Ninoy explained the meaning of his obstinate struggle, his ideology, and his strategy for national survival. He sought to focus the attention of the Filipino people and the world on the wanton violations of human rights by the martial law administrators. Ninoy identified the torture victims and their military torturers. He wrote of how so-called evidence had been tortured out of witnesses to further build up cases against Marcos’ staunchest political adversaries. Ninoy’s close-in security, Ros Cawigan, was one of those tortured.
In her foreword, Corazon Aquino, Ninoy’s widow and Philippine President after Marcos and his family had fled to Hawaii, wrote, “This book is Ninoy’s closing statement.” It is to be noted that we commemorated President Cory’s 11th death anniversary on Saturday, Aug. 1.
President Cory could not help but point out the striking parallel between Ninoy’s closing statement before the tribunal that had condemned him to death on Nov. 25, 1977, and his “arrival statement” for Aug. 31, 1983. In both cases, Ninoy had been stopped from reading them.
The assassination of democracy and the birth of authoritarianism follow a pattern that Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote about in their 2018 book, How Democracies Die: 1.) capture the referees (military commission); 2.) sideline political opponents (Ninoy, Jose W. Diokno, Nene Pimentel); 3.) change the rules (congressional procedures); and 4.) use violence to intimidate all forms of opposition and media. The goal is to undermine the very same democratic institutions that had allowed the leader to assume power in a free set-up. The authors cite numerous examples in Latin America and US President Trump, who is already casting doubt on the integrity of the 2020 US elections.
The prophet Micah prescribed the ingredients of good governance: justice, mercy, and humility (putting the interest of the larger community ahead of one’s interests).
Testament starts with Micah and ends, rightly, with the chapter, “My Duty,” quoting Sirach 2:4-5: “Accept whatever befalls you; in crushing misfortune, be patient; for in fire, gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation.”
Dr. Philip Ella Juico was Dean of the De La Salle University Graduate School of Business from 2002 to 2008. He was Secretary of Agrarian Reform during the administration of Corazon C. Aquino, and Chairman of the Philippine Sports Commission during the administration of Fidel V. Ramos.