“I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedoms through non-violence.” This was part of the statement Ninoy Aquino wanted to deliver upon his arrival from exile thirty-six years ago. Before he could step on Philippine soil, he was felled by assassins’ bullets. He knew that this would be the consequence of his decision to come home and join the non-violent resistance against the Marcos dictatorship. He was ready to give his life out of love but not to take the life of others. For him this was the most effective way to stop the spiral of violence and bring about freedom.
Three years later, hundreds of thousand Filipinos inspired by his spirit of non-violent resistance peacefully ousted the dictator. The symbol that dwarfed the tanks and guns in EDSA was the cross, besides the images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the rosaries and flowers. The color that dominated was yellow. The EDSA event would inspire those struggling peacefully in other countries and lead to the downfall of dictatorial and totalitarian regimes.
Ninoy Aquino – an apostle of non-violent resistance – can be numbered among the great leaders that transformed their society peacefully – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. He started as an ambitious, traditional politician. He was agnostic. But he experienced personal conversion during his imprisonment as well as his hunger strike. He regained his faith that was deepened through adversity. He could have continued living a comfortable and safe life while on exile but decided to go home knowing the risk to his life.
Like Jesus who set his face to Jerusalem, he believed in the power of the cross – the power of self-giving love to overcome the power of evil and sin. Inspired by the Gospel of Nonviolence, he sacrificed his own life believing that the Filipino is worth dying for. He was not just a patriot – he paid the cost of discipleship by embracing his cross. Ninoy and those countless heroic Filipinos at EDSA proved that it is possible to transform society and bring about freedom peacefully rather than through armed struggle.
Today, our country is once again on a similar situation that Ninoy faced. The best way to remember and honor him is to continue his legacy of non-violent resistance. Let us not be ashamed of being branded as “dilawan.” Yellow is the color of courage and heroism. This was the color of the ribbons and banners that awaited Ninoy for his homecoming. This was also the dominant color of EDSA, and this is the color that is hated by those who are on the side of the evil dictator – both past and present. Below is a poem I wrote after Ninoy’s assassination:
Death on the Tarmac
You sprawled on the tarmac
like a dove in flight
that has been nailed to the ground.
They finally stopped you.
Or so they thought.
The bullet that pierced your skull
pierced our frigid hearts.
The shot that echoed throughout the archipelago
continues to reverberate in our wounded hearts.
No bullet can ever kill a dream.
It will only break the vessel
from which the fragrance is released.
It will only crack the dam
from which the rising waters will break through.
your death has freed us from our fears
and sparked a fire in our hearts
that will continue to rage through the night
until the dawning of the new day.
that we may rise.