The Filipino is worth dying for, is the declaration most often attributed to Ninoy Aquino. And on this day 35 years ago, he affirmed the truth of these words when, mere minutes after he returned to the homeland he had not seen in three years, his life was ended by an assassin’s bullet.
This sacrifice would pave the way for the People Power Revolution, three years later, with the Filipino nation rising up as one to cast off the shackles of dictatorship and oppression, consign the Marcos Martial Law regime to ignominy, and reclaim the freedom denied it for so long.
Our remembrance of Ninoy tends to focus largely on this martyrdom, when, through his courage in the face of death, he inspired a people to find their own.
The Filipino is worth dying for, however, is a sentiment that speaks not only of the willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for the Filipino people. Of equal significance is the lesson it teaches on faith. Faith that despite years of silence, passivity, and acceptance, ultimately, the Filipino will choose to be truly free.
We must recall that the dark days of the Marcos regime did not last mere days or weeks or months. Long years passed when it seemed that the worst had free reign, while the best languished in prison, or exile. Ninoy himself, like so many others who spoke out against the dictatorship, spent eight years detained in a military camp, charged with capital crimes, with the threat of execution hanging constantly over his head.
And in all those years, while a few kept the fire of resistance alive, many more succumbed to quiet acceptance. The Constitution was eviscerated, democratic institutions were corrupted or destroyed, and thousands were murdered at the behest of a brutal, rapacious regime. For a long time, many simply chose to survive how they could, while navigating the treacherous reefs of Marcos’ tyranny.
But despite prison, hopelessness, and the seeming indifference of so many of the very people whose freedoms he was fighting for, Ninoy never lost faith in his fellow Filipinos and the nation he loved.
The Filipino is worth dying for, in the end, reveals an invincible belief in the dignity and nobility of the Filipino spirit. Filipinos may cower under the fist of oppression, may fall prey to dazzling lies, may succumb to the alluring numbness of indifference. But ultimately, Filipinos will always find the courage to choose, and fight for, what is right.
This is what Ninoy saw in us. And on that day, 35 years ago, he reminded us of who we were, and the life we are capable of living.
Today, as we remember Ninoy Aquino, I pray that we find in ourselves the courage to claim for ourselves the freedoms Ninoy died for, and in that way, live up to the unshakable faith he had in us as a people.