In 1983, when Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated, we were there—not at the Manila International Airport where thousands of supporters waited to welcome their hero back from exile in the United States, but at our home in Manila, watching the sad spectacle over and over and over again on TV.
We saw soldiers enter Aquino’s plane and escort him out the door and down the stairs. We heard repeated gunshots. And then we saw two bodies lying dead on the tarmac. The crucial minute of the shooting itself was absent. Here’s the chilling video.
Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino was a charismatic senator, the leader of the opposition party, the one best hope of a country suffering under the ailing dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. It was widely supposed but never proven that Marcos was behind the assassination.
Watching the television coverage of Aquino’s assassination and the nationwide sense of anger and mourning brought me back to the sadness and shock I felt when President John F. Kennedy was shot. As with Kennedy’s assassination, there tears and disbelief, and there were commissions that spent months studying everything surrounding the assassination of Senator Aquino.
When you’re in the middle of an earth-shattering event, you don’t look away. Still, I can’t pretend that the experience was the same for us as it was for Filipinos. Ninoy Aquino was not our countryman; he was not our hero and our hope. We were expats, visitors in his country.
So, I wondered, how did the story of Aquino’s assassination look and feel from inside the heart of a Filipino? As a reader and writer, I believe that if you want to put yourself inside the skin of another person, the best way is to read a great work of fiction.
Luckily for me, after Christmas this year my daughter left a book she’d just finished at my house: In the Country by Mia Alvar. The short stories in Alvar’s magnificent collection give voice to Filipinos living at home and abroad. One of my favorite stories was “Old Girl.”
Within the thirty-nine pages of the story, the reader lives inside the mind of Corazon Aquino, who was the wife of Senator Benigno Aquino and the person who knew him best.
Here’s how the story begins:
The old girl’s husband—fifty-one years old, the 165-pound champion (as he likes to put it) of a triple-bypass surgery—tells her on March 1, 1983: “I had an idea, Mommy.”
Mommy is what the old girl’s husband calls her. And idea is a generous word for whim or flight of fancy, the kind of ill-considered impulse he’ll have often and won’t quit till he’s pulled it off (he almost always does, if barely) or failed (more rarely, but with flying colors). Not scheme or plan—God knows the old girl’s husband can’t be bothered with anything like a plan.
“It just came to me,” he says. “I thought I’d run the marathon this year!”
If this small taste intrigues you, look for In the Country by Mia Alvar in your favorite bookstore or on amazon. I think you’ll find it well worth reading.
Next week in Part 2 of An Assassination, Martial Law, and a Revolution, I’ll compare my experiences with martial law and a revolution with that of another character in Mia Alvar’s stories.