Fr. Leo Pabayo .
EVERY time we sing our national anthem we come upon the phrases “Lupa ng araw ng lualhati’t pagsinta, buhay ay langit sa piling mo. Aming ligaya na pa’g may mang-aapi, ang mamatay ng dahil sa iyo.” These words remind us of our national heroes who, like Jose Rizal, and others gave their lives for our country.
August 26 is our country’s National Heroes’ Day. Tomorrow, Aug. 21, we will remember in a special way Ninoy Aquino who said , “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
Ninoy Aquino died for his country when he was assassinated at our country’s international airport. This airport would was eventually named after him, “The Ninoy Aquino International Airport.”
The assassination of Ninoy led to the mass movement that would later ignite the Edsa People Power Peaceful Revolution marking the end of of the Marcos dictatorship.
Ninoy is one of our great heroes from whom we can learn so much about love of God and country.
It is good for us to remember and reflect on his spiritual journey that led Ninoy to say that “the Filipino is worth dying for.”
Ninoy’s wife, the late President Cory Aquino whose death anniversary we celebrated recently, had much to tell us about the spiritual journey of Ninoy.
In solitary confinement, Ninoy would realize more deeply that the forces of injustice and oppression that were ranged against him and all freedom loving Filipinos were deeply entrenched and well-organized. No move of his allies could remain undetected. Not even the coup that, later on, would be hatched by Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel Ramos, supposedly in utmost secrecy, could remain undetected. Truly, the dictator was a brilliant man who knew how to protect his sordid gains.
Ninoy’s allies probably did not know where to begin to untangle Marcos’ vicious hold on the whole nation. Ninoy found himself helpless in solitary confinement with little hope of outside help. He must have tried to find refuge in reading and in the thoughts of his fertile mind. But this was not much comfort for a man who was by nature an extraordinarily active extrovert and who thrived on talking with people. With no friends and enjoying but a tiny bit of the visits of his family he could either lose his mind and despair or humbly seek refuge in prayer and try knocking on the gates of heaven for help. This he did.
According to Cory, the solitary confinement that Ninoy suffered for seven years led him to know Christ most intimately. Cory would later refer to Christ as a friend to Ninoy during his solitary confinement during which he had all the time to pray.
In an earlier death anniversary of Cory, Fr. Arevalo, Cory’s spiritual father, quoted some of her own words about Ninoy’s spiritual growth during those years of solitary confinement.
It was then that the truths of his religion that he took for granted, became very real to him and lifted him up from despondency and despair. Memorized catechism lessons and what seemed like irrelevant homilies now became alive and enlightening to him. This totally changed his perspective on his fate as a political leader and the faith that he took for granted. He came to see his imprisonment as a blessing in disguise. From feeling helpless and on the brink of despair, he came to possess boundless hope and indomitable strength. He would say later on that his imprisonment was one of the greatest blessings in his life him because it was in prison that he came to realize what his faith in God really meant. Prayer and solitude opened his mind to the truth that sets people free. He came to discover the pearl of great price of the Gospel. He graduated from being a nominal Christian to a deeply believing one. He even said that he was thankful to the dictator for his imprisonment because otherwise he would not have discovered the spiritual riches of his faith. His discovery gave him renewed courage to keep on with his fight against the dictatorship. One speech he delivered in the US while in exile revealed his firm faith in the saying of Christ not to fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
A few years ago, in one death anniversary of Cory, Fr. Catalino Arevalo, the spiritual father of Cory, quoted in his homily some of the things that Cory said of Ninoy during his several years of solitary confinement in in Laur.
“There, in utmost solitude and the darkness of despair Ninoy saw more vividly than in the full light of the days of freedom, the true face of his friend (Jesus)… Ninoy said of Jesus that “He stood me face to face with myself… He forced me to look at my emptiness and nothingness and then helped me to discover Him who never really left my side, but because pride shielded my eyes, and lust for earthly and temporal power, honor and joys, drugged my mind, I failed to notice Him.”
Cory continued: “In that moment of recognition, friendship turned into the love that never left Ninoy… Ninoy had much to suffer still, greater suffering, even after that crucial Laur confinement… but Ninoy was given by this, his renewed friendship… a strength beyond his own. He was not alone… Ninoy then liked to quote St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians… “for the sake of Christ, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities, for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Cory would continue to say, “Yet Ninoy thought he saw a shortcoming in his friend — for Christ had not revealed to him, despite his pleadings, the way by which he, Ninoy, could save his country…. But there is still a lot of time for them to spend and know more about each other. In the seven or more years of solitary confinement and the three years of exile, the way was shown to Ninoy.”
Fr. Arevalo quoted Cory as saying, “Two thousand years ago, his friend (Christ) had shown the way to lasting peace, reconciliation and salvation, for all men – through his death. For these thing could only be had as gifts that all, save the giver can enjoy. They had to be paid for in blood. As it is written ‘…without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.’”
Cory would then speak of the assassination of Ninoy. “Experts say than when a bullet strikes one at the back of his head, the tendency is for the head to jerk up…. So the last thing that Ninoy saw before his face slammed on the tarmac, and blood began to form in a pool around his head was the sky, and the face of his friend (Christ) who had come to take him.”
In the Gospel, Christ said, “Greater love than this no man has than to give his life for his friend.” In his solitary confinement Ninoy found a friend in Jesus. This made his friendship with his countrymen, the Filipino most real so that he could say, “the Filipino is worth dying for.”
(Fr. Leo Pabayo is a member of the Society of Jesus.)