It’s been 50 years since Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was elected to the Senate. He was the youngest candidate of the Liberal Party (LP) and the only one in the party to make it to the winning eight in the senatorial race held in November 1967. Aquino placed second in that election.
Ninoy’s Senate victory wasn’t a walk in the park. The 1935 Constitution provided that a candidate for the Senate must be at least 35 years old “at the time of his election.” Ninoy was days short of 35 years on election day, but he would have been 35 by the time of his proclamation. Thus, Ninoy’s lawyers argued that he would have been 35 “at the time of his election,” on the premise that the word “election” means proclamation day, and not election day.
Having won in the election, Ninoy faced a disqualification case before the Senate Electoral Tribunal, lodged by then ex-Labor Secretary Emilio Espinosa Jr., the Nacionalista Party candidate for senator who placed ninth in the derby.
The tribunal voted 5-4 in Aquino’s favor. Two of the three justices of the Supreme Court sitting in the SET voted for Espinosa, while one voted for Aquino. As expected, the three LP senators in the SET sided with Aquino. Fortunately for Aquino, however, only two of the three NP senators in the SET voted for Espinosa. One voted for Aquino. That truant NP vote came from Senator Rodolfo Ganzon of Iloilo.
From the start, Ninoy Aquino was a young politician in a hurry. His first stint at politics was a run for mayor of Concepcion, his hometown in Tarlac. Ninoy won, but he was unseated because he was days short of the minimum age for the post.
Years later, Aquino became vice governor of Tarlac. When the incumbent governor resigned to assume another government posting, Aquino became the provincial governor.
Aquino was originally a member of the NP. He moved to the LP only when then President Diosdado Macapagal of the LP refused to release funds for Tarlac unless Governor Aquino joined the administration party.
A senator at 35, Ninoy Aquino’s ambitions knew no bounds. In his first month in the Senate, he became a staunch critic of the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Ninoy exposed Operation Jabidah, the administration’s attempt to send special forces to seize Sabah from Malaysia and get back territory which, under international law, justly belongs to the Philippines. At that time, Malaysia’s military was not strong enough to resist a pocket invasion in North Borneo. The late 1960s was an opportune time for Manila to move.
Admittedly, the invasion plan backfired because the commandos who were supposed to invade Sabah were not properly compensated and, according to the news reports back then, many of them were killed in Corregidor after they mounted a mutiny. One survivor was able to report the incident to Aquino.
Ninoy’s exposé, however, put Malaysia on alert and compelled Malaysia to establish a military contingent in Sabah to repel any future invasion from the Philippines. His revelation also effectively ended what turned out to be the only feasible chance for the Philippines to get back Sabah once and for all.
Aquino’s early months in the Senate also saw him criticize Marcos’ plans to construct the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) on reclaimed land along Roxas Boulevard in the bay area of Pasay City. He called the project an ostentatious undertaking done to honor the First Lady, Mrs. Imelda Romualdez Marcos.
Despite Aquino’s criticism, the construction of the CCP was completed in 1969. Since then, the CCP has been the venue for many world-class performances by artists from here and abroad.
The big irony came in 1983. Months after Aquino was assassinated at the international airport that now bears his name, a memorial service in his honor was held at the CCP by artists known to be hostile to the Marcos administration.
Another irony came in late 1972. Ninoy exposed on the Senate floor Marcos’ plans to place the country under martial law sometime in the third week of September that year. Aquino was right, and when Marcos did place the nation under martial law, Aquino was one of the first prominent opposition figures arrested and detained at a military stockade.
At the time of his arrest in September 1972, Ninoy Aquino was two months shy of age 40. He was to remain in detention at Fort Bonifacio in Makati until 1980, when he suffered a heart attack and President Marcos allowed him, for humanitarian reasons, to leave for Texas in the United States for a triple-heart by-pass surgery.
Aquino admirers contend that if Marcos did not resort to martial law in 1972 and the presidential elections pushed through in November 1973 as provided in the 1935 Constitution, Aquino would have been the LP standard bearer.
In 1973, President Marcos would have finished his second term, and since the charter prohibited him from seeking a third consecutive term, the NP would have to field somebody else, possibly Mrs. Marcos. That notwithstanding, Aquino admirers were certain Ninoy would have won over anybody fielded by the administration party.
For them, Ninoy would have been president in 1973, had it not been for martial law.
There may be some truth to that statement, but then, what would “President Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.” have done after, say, two terms as president, beginning in 1973 up to 1977, and then from 1977 up to 1981? By November 1981, Aquino would have been only 49 years old. The 1935 Constitution would not allow him a third consecutive term.
Where would the ambitious, always-in-a-hurry Ninoy Aquino go at the peak of his political career in 1981, and at the prime of his political life at age 49? Would he retire, or would he have extended his term like Marcos did? Hmmm...