When Ninoy Aquino Backed Martial Law

Beningo ‘Ninoy’ Aquino

(Part of an occasional series on US diplomats and their relationships with the Philippines)

Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino’s death on 21 August 1983 on the apron of what is now the airport named after him, lit the fuse to the overthrow of the notoriously corrupt dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos  in February 1986. It led to the presidency of Corazon Aquino, and the controversial incumbency of Rodrigo Duterte, son of Ferdinand Marco’s former executive secretary, whose mother was a bitter opponent of Marcos.

The striking of the match that lit the fuse may have come as early as 1972 when Marcos made a strategic error – he arrested Ninoy Aquino.

Ambassador Frank E. Maestrone, who died in 2007, served as US Consular Officer from 1971 and was interviewed by the late Hank Zivetz for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Foreign Affairs Oral History Project, in 1989. He had a front-row seat.

He gives us a sense of the complexities underlying the road to Martial Law – violence on the streets, a weak central government unable to bring provincial war-lords to heel.

Among the surprises, perhaps, is that Ninoy Aquino would have supported Martial Law as a temporary measure. However, Marcos’s first step was to arrest the opposition, eliminating the moderate opposition entirely, which strengthened the Communist insurgency and leading to a quintupling of recruitment into the NPA.

Maestrone’s interview is given here without comment. 

Continue reading “When Ninoy Aquino Backed Martial Law”

Balangiga Bells – The Return

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It is rare that the study of history makes a difference, but it did in the case of the Balangiga Bells. The town, and its bells, have been part of my life for a quarter of a century and the work that I and Rolando Borrinaga put into establishing the real history of what happened played a role in the education program launched by US Veterans to get the bells returned.

Although my role was modest it is, nevertheless, one I am quite proud of.

The bells were returned to Balangiga on 15 December 2018. Sadly, I could not be there to greet them but I did get to see and touch them for my birthday two weeks later.

It was, for me, a moving and emotional moment as you can see below.

Continue reading “Balangiga Bells – The Return”

Decoding Mi Ultimo Adios Verses 7-11

Verse 7

Deja a la luna verme con luz tranquila y suave,

Deja que el alba envíe su resplandor fugaz,

Deja gemir al viento con su murmullo grave,

Y si desciende y posa sobre mi cruz un ave,

Deja que el ave entone su cántico de paz.

 

Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,

Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,

Let the wind with sad lament over me keen;

And if on my cross a bird should be seen,

Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.

 

The moon makes its first appearance here and perhaps with more reason than mere romantic imagery. The moon is associated with femininity and feminine deity, she shines by the light of the sun, a male element, yet it is a light that she transforms. Compare earlier verses and the reference to the ‘(friar’s) cowl of gloom’. No stars or moon can be seen through such a cowl, yet here the moon shines brightly, the cowl, ie. The friars have gone and the Patria is free to shine her light.

 

Here also is a repetition of the imagery of the dawn, the dawn of redemption, now shining its light over his grave. Although he refers to the night, ie., the moon, and the dawn, he does not refer to the day, perhaps because the day of liberation is already here.

 

Only the wind, impersonal, will lament over his grave. Again he uses a qualifying ‘si’ – ‘if’ when writing of the bird that may rest on the cross above him. It does not lament him but sings of peace, the peace that comes with liberation and the peace with which he rests below.

 

Verse 8

 

Deja que el sol, ardiendo, las lluvias evapore

Y al cielo tornen puras, con mi clamor en pos;

Deja que un ser amigo mi fin temprano llore

Y en las serenas tardes cuando por mí alguien ore,

¡Ora también, oh Patria, por mi descanso a Dios!

 

Let the sun draw the vapors up to the sky,

And heavenward in purity bear my tardy protest;

Let some kind soul o’er my untimely fate sigh

And in the still evening a prayer be lifted on high

From thee, O my country, that in God, I may rest.

 

Again we have the male principle, the Sun and the female principle, the Earth. The Sun evaporates the water from the Earth, cleansing it, in doing so the water rises, taking with it Rizal’s last cry, itself pure and unsullied, part of his spirit.

 

“Let a friend grieve for my early death” says line three. Here Rizal may be subtly reminding us of why he died – for the redemption of his country, one could hardly grieve over his earl death without giving pause to why he died.

 

The penultimate line reads better as “When someone prays for me in the serene afternoon, which to a modern reader may mean little. There was only one moment each afternoon when stillness and serenity ruled at the time of Rizal’s death – at the ringing of the Angelus when prayers were made, which very devout Catholics still make, to the incarnation of God in Christ. Christ, of course, was executed in his 30s for the redemption of mankind just as Rizal was executed for the redemption of his country.

 

To many Filipinos, Rizal appear as a Christlike figure and it is not far-fetched to suggest that in these lines, Rizal himself drew the same parallel.

 

Rizal’s relationship with God, and he certainly believed in a deity, has been subject to much controversy. From his letters, especially those to his mother, who was much concerned with which neighbourhood her son would end up in the hereafter, he believed God to be humane and rational, a reasoning Almighty who would recognize that Rizal’s intentions were good, even if he upset members of the Catholic church. In other words, he believed he could make peace with God, hence the last line of this stanza.

 

Verse 9

 

Ora por todos cuantos murieron sin ventura,

Por cuantos padecieron tormentos sin igual,

Por nuestras pobres madres que gimen su amargura;

Por huérfanos y viudas, por presos en tortura

Y ora por ti que veas tu redención final.

 

Pray for all those that hapless have died,

For all who have suffered the unmeasur’d pain;

For our mothers that bitterly their woes have cried,

For widows and orphans, for captives by torture tried,

And then for thyself that redemption thou mayst gain.

 

Rizal asks the Patria to pray for various groups of the deceased who have died, it is apparent contextually, in pursuit of the revolution against Spain, leading off with those who have died ‘in ventura’, probably here best interpreted as those who have died with achieving their goal, or at least before that goal can be achieved.

 

The Derbyshire translation uses ‘unmeasur’d pain’ in place of the Spanish ‘tormentos sin igual’ in line two which is probably inadequate. Torment would include the pain of separation from family that is a necessary concomitant of the warrior, the pain of the family itself not knowing whether their loved one is alive or not, the pain of actual injury and disease at a when then, even by contemporary standards, the available medical care among the warriors was at best rudimentary. There is also the torment of living in the field. These are not the torments of actual battle, but the hardships that must be endured.

 

In the mother-orientated culture of the Filipino male it is not surprising that Rizal gives more time to mothers than other family members, a whole line for mothers, a third of a line each for orphan and widows. In the latter case he links them to prisoners being tortured. What we have here is the pain of entire families who fathers, brothers and sons are fighting, dying, being incarcerated and tortured. It isn’t only those whose fight that must withstand suffering, but those at home, too.

 

Lastly, he appeals to the Patria to pray for her own ‘redención final’, her final redemption. Struggle, whether as a violent revolution or the seeking of liberty by other means, is a process of redemption, it is only when that process is complete, and the Patria free, that the redemption is ‘final’.

 

 

Verse 10

 

Y cuando en noche oscura se envuelva el cementerio

Y solos sólo muertos queden velando allí,

No turbes su reposo, no turbes el misterio,

Tal vez acordes oigas de cítara o salterio,

Soy yo, querida Patria, yo que te canto a ti.

 

And when the dark night wraps the graveyard around

With only the dead in their vigil to see,

Break not my repose or the mystery profound,

And perchance thou mayst hear a sad hymn resound;

‘Tis I, O my country, raising a song unto thee.

 

This verse doesn’t really appear to belong here.  It would have been more appropriate one or two verses earlier, or at least before verse 10.  Perhaps  it is a sign of hurried composition, something written without the proper editing that marks a great writer – one French novelist wrote to a friend an apologized about it’s length ‘I didn’t have time to make it shorter’. I would suggest that the present verse 9 is out of place and may have been written later that other verse.

 

Rizal has previously talked about his grave alone and desolate. Now there is a cemetery. Derbyshire’s line ‘Break not my repose’ is wrong, ‘my’ should be ‘their’. In earlier verses Rizal used repetition for emphasis – Salud… Salud – Deja…Deja, and here uses it again with “No turbes su reposos, no tubes el misterio” – do not disturb their repose, no not disturb the mystery”.

 

With a classical education, Rizal would have been familiar with the derivation of ‘mystery’ from the Greek ‘mystērion’ in the sense of a divine secret or divine knowledge known only to initiates and revealed through ritual, it is still used in that sense in the Catholic mass, the Catholic mysteries being ‘Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is born again’. Death is a mystery in itself , now revealed to those in the cemetery.

 

Derbyshire appears to depart almost entirely from Rizal’s Spanish text in the fourth line, where Rizal talks of the Patria hearing the note of a psalter or zither, there is no mention of a sad hymn at all and, indeed, as the final line shows, this is a song sung in praise to Patria so there is no rationale for sadness.

 

The choice of the psalter, a guitar-like stringed instrument played with the bare fingers, is interesting because, apart from being a musical instrument it is also the biblical Book of Psalms. In the Old Testament English translation the term ‘psalter’ is often used instead of harp, which is more correct. Unlike the psalter or the zither, the biblical harp does not have a soundbox.

 

The Psalter, then, has religious connotations. The Patria was Rizal’s religion, her redemption the object of that religion just as the redemption of man from sin is the object of the Catholic religion. The last line of Verse three makes this even more clear.

 

The zither is another stringed instrument, and also confused in the Old Testament with the harp. It has a squarish, flat soundbox and is plucked with fingers or, in some versions, with a mallet or plectrum, again it is mentioned in the bible in place of the harp.

 

In a sense, Rizal is talking of singing a hymn, one of praise to the Patria as is explicit in his last line.

 

Again, Rizal use repetition for emphasis as in the third line, which is better translated as “It is I, beloved Patria, it is I who sing the song to you”.

 

Alone among the dead, then, Rizal praises the Patria as Catholics praise Mary.

 

Verse 11

 

Y cuando ya mi tumba de todos olvidada

No tenga cruz ni piedra que marquen su lugar,

Deja que la are el hombre, la esparza con la azada,

Y mis cenizas, antes que vuelvan a la nada,

El polvo de tu alfombra que vayan a formar.

 

And even my grave is remembered no more,

Unmark’d by never a cross nor a stone,

Let the plow sweep through it, the spade turn it o’er

That my ashes may carpet the earthly floor,

Before into nothingness at last they are blown.

 

Little clarification is needed here. When his grave and the signs that marked it are long gone he wants his ashes spread by the plough and the spade to carpet Filipinas, to become one with it, with his beloved. A second thread here is that the ashes are his physical remains, his thoughts, words and philosophy are his intellectual remains. The symbolic ashes can also be seen as the remains of Rizal’s thoughts being spread across Filipinas, to fertilize the new, free country long after he himself is forgotten.

Independence Day Mysteries

F

orgive me for borrowing your Independence Day. Being British I don’t have one of my own. Colonized by all and sundry over a thousand years, the Brits never won a war of independence so on June 12 I hang out the red, blue, white and yellow and glue myself to the television to watch the ceremonies along Roxas Boulevard to savor a nation’s pride and hear the eternal arguments about which is the ‘real’ independence day for the Philippines.

Of course, what’s important is not the date, but the meaning. After all, Jesus Christ wasn’t born on December 25, or January 6 according to some Christian church traditions, yet these are still celebrated as his birthday. January 1 was not always New Year’s Day, which was once celebrated in March. New Year’s Eve in 1844 vanished entirely in Manila with December 30 followed by January 1 after the Spanish discovered that their ‘Philippine Time’ was whole day out of whack thanks to sloppy navigation in the 16th century.

Nevertheless, this is the time of year when that hoary old argument between the June 12 supporters and the July 4 supporters gets re-aired like an old blanket in storage. July 4 is the ‘real’ independence day say the latter because it’s the day when the United States granted and recognized the Philippines formal, if not full, independence.

In fact, the United States itself does not celebrate the day of recognition of its independence, but the day in 1776 when it was merely declared, July 4. Its status was not formally recognised by Britain until September 3, 1786 at the end of peace talks in Paris, bring the American insurgency to an end.

So, to accept July 4 as the ‘real’ Philippine Independence Day, one should celebrate American independence on September 3. What’s good for the Philippine goose ought to be good for the American gander.

We have the father of former-President Ate Glo, President Diosdado Macapagal, to thank for the fact that today we honour Independence Day on June 12, or possibly John F. Kennedy, or Professor Gabriel Fabella. In the first place, of course, we have to thank Emilio Aguinaldo.

Inevitably, the Declaration of Independence carries it own baggage of myth and mystery. We often imagine Aguinaldo on June 12 proudly waving the Philippine flag as he declared independence from a balcony that didn’t actually exist until the 1930s. No wonder the carved carabao holding it up looks dazed.

Rear Admiral George Dewey, was invited to the affair but, under orders to avoid contact with the revolutionaries, he decided to read his mail instead.

The actual declaration was made not by Aguinaldo but by Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, Auditor of War and Special Commissioner designated to make the proclamation.

The sole paleface in the assembly was the mysterious L. M. Johnson, Colonel of Artillery who signed the Philippine Declaration of Independence on its second to last page. The declaration itself says it was signed by Riazares “as well as by the only foreigner, a North American subject, Mr. L. M. Johnson, Colonel of Artillery, who attended the meeting…”

He is variously described in history textbooks as Dewey’s secretary and the commander of an American artillery unit. He was neither of these – a rear-admiral of the US Navy would hardly have a full US Army colonel as his secretary, and his name does not appear in the roster of the Olympia.

According to American journalist Trumbull White, who attended the celebrations, Johnson was “actually in charge of the ordinance of the insurgent forces”. According to White, Johnson was cheered and born on the shoulders of celebrating Filipinos with enthusiasm.

Who actually was L.M. Johnson? He was a former hotel-keeper from Shanghai who was trying his luck with the Xbox of the time, the cinematograph. He may be the same L. M. Johnson who was a private in the Army of Hawaii in 1894, led by expatriate American businessmen who all seem to be called Dole, which eventually managed to leverage the annexation of Hawaii. L. M. Johnson earned his artillery props at the Battle of Moilili firing a field gun. Apparently a soldier of fortune he also fought in the war between Chile and Peru and elsewhere in South America.

Eventually, Johnson seems to have become a junior partner in an American company that operated a bar called the Alhambra on the Escolta, which was sued for debt in August 1901.

Johnson became volunteer deputy fire chief of Manila and, according to his descendants, went to Japan to learn the pearl fishing industry and eventually died trying to rescue members of his Filipino workforce in a storm.

The next step was the ratification of independence at Malolos on September 29. The description of the fine banquet afterwards is best left to Ambeth Ocampo. There were, fact, two banquets that day, for lunch and dinner and both presenting a minor mystery – how did they freeze the frozen strawberry preserves and Mocha ice-cream and chill the Champagne without ice from an ice-plant? The answer is probably in a long-forgotten bit of simple technology known to the grandparents of our grandparents: The food to be chilled was placed in a wooden pail filled with a chemical that produced and endothermic reaction when mixed with water – it got cold enough to freeze water.

All of which became largely moot with the American occupation of the Philippines and Filipinos would have to wait until October 14, 1943 for its next Independence Day. Okay, so it was issued by the Japanese and wasn’t taken seriously, nevertheless, it was another date on the independence calendar.

Next, of course, came July 4, 1946, with appropriate ceremonies and 21-gun salutes from American, Portuguese and Thai warships in Manila Bay. A qualified independence, yes, but even worse, one to be forever overshadowed by that of the United States itself. Inevitably, that inequity rankled. Philippine embassy parties were rather sparsely attended. As a result, the Philippine ambassador to London decided to hold his shindig a few days earlier and scored a hit.

Historian Gabriel Fabella decided enough was enough and in 1956 first floated the idea of changing Philippine Independence Day to June 12 in the Sunday Times Magazine. Over the next few years he continued to push the idea, but few snapped at the bait. In 1959 the Philippine Historical Society adopted a resolution supporting the change but it remained an idea whose time had yet to come. Significantly, his biggest audience came in 1961 in a radio broadcast from Legaspi City.

Then came a little to-do in 1962 between the Philippines and the United States and Presidents Macapagal and Kennedy respectively. The Philippines refused to allow the importation of American Virginia tobacco and powerful tobacco interests in the US Congress blocked the $73 million War Damage Bill that would fulfill post war promises made to the country. President Kennedy was firmly behind the bill and criticized Congress for its “lack of appreciation of the moral obligation the United States owes to the people of the Philippines”.

At the time, Macapagal was scheduled to visit the US. The visit was cancelled and Macapagal coincidentally remembered that, as a Congressman, he’d thought that Independence Day should be changed to June 12, just like Fabella.

As it happened, there was no law designating July 4 as Independence Day, it was merely a national holiday. As businessmen have become increasingly aware in recent years, Presidents can grant a national holiday at the drop of a hat. Macapagal announced June 12 as a national holiday and sent a bill to the Philippine Congress marked urgent to make the day the statutory independence day.

Emilio Aguinaldo was overjoyed at the change to June 12 and fulsome in his praise for Macapagal. Eyeing the Rizal Monument he wondered aloud to Macapagal whether there would ever be a matching Aguinaldo monument.

Efforts to revive the War Damage Bill were eventually successful, and Macapagal expended a great deal of presidential ink to assure Americans that the whole thing was not done in a fit of pique.

While Filipinos rather enjoyed having their own Independence Day their legislators felt otherwise and wanted to find some celebration for July 4. So it was that July 4 became Republic Day and is today known as Fil-Am Friendship Day, not that many folk take notice. With that bit of horse-trading out of the way, Macapagal could sign Republic Act 4186 on August 4, 1964, a little more than two years after he’d first put the measure to Congress as ‘urgent’.

It was, however, too late for Aguinaldo, who died in February 1964 and let us with an intriguing question:

Why didn’t Aguinaldo sign the Declaration of Independence?

Mi Ultimo Adios decoded

Verse 6

VI

Si sobre mi sepulcro vieres brotar un día

Entre la espesa yerba sencilla, humilde flor,

Acércala a tus labios y besa al alma mía,

Y sienta yo en mi frente bajo la tumba fría,

De tu ternura el soplo, de tu hálito el calor.

If over my grave some day thou seest grow,

In the grassy sod, a humble flower,

Draw it to thy lips and kiss my soul so,

While I may feel on my brow in the cold tomb below

The touch of thy tenderness, thy breath’s warm power.

Here Rizal has transitioned into his afterlife, or lack of it. In Christian mythology the body remains in the grave until the day of resurrection and a physical, not metaphysical arising from the grave, these appear not to be referenced in Rizal’s verse here or elsewhere.

The qualifying ‘Si’ – ‘If’ on the first line is in one sense odd. Since nature is itself an element of the motherland, the spirit of the land, why should a flower not grow there when it is within the power for her to provide one? Yet here the flower seems almost accidental.

In days gone by, visitors noted a generosity among Filipinos. If one expressed admiration for, say, an ornament in a house it was likely to be given to you. Perhaps the small flower represents the recognition that Rizal undoubtedly sought for he was well aware that he was a historical figure.

Why the thick grass, among which the flower might grow? Outside large, formal cemeteries graves in the Philippines receive little attention except at All Souls/All Saints when graves are cleaned and tended and the family of the departed hold a gathering/vigil which, more often than not, includes direct or indirect conversations with the dead.

Rizal had a clear image of his grave. He asked his family for a simple plot, with the option of a fence around it, and a cross, that’s all. That is what he describes here. Today, of course, his grave is what is popularly called the Rizal Monument but should more properly be called the Rizal Tomb since that is where his remains are buried. Not only were his wishes ignored but even his essence has been removed from his grave by dubbing it a monument. His wishes, his words, his ‘Rizalness’ have been effaced and removed from consciousness.

In this verse, the image is of an untended grave, perhaps forgotten by his countrymen. At the same time, the packed grass may also represent the fertility of the motherland, the growth of liberty, those common tao – the grassroots – who also struggled for the Patria. With the redemption of the Patria his task is ended and becomes forgotten, as the real flesh and blood Rizal has largely been forgotten.

He asked little of his country. No monuments, no parades, no streets or schools in his name, just a fond kiss and a warm breathe, a recognition that he existed.

Verse 7

Deja a la luna verme con luz tranquila y suave,

Deja que el alba envíe su resplandor fugaz,

Deja gemir al viento con su murmullo grave,

Y si desciende y posa sobre mi cruz un ave,

Deja que el ave entone su cántico de paz.

Let the moon beam over me soft and serene,

Let the dawn shed over me its radiant flashes,

Let the wind with sad lament over me keen;

And if on my cross a bird should be seen,

Let it trill there its hymn of peace to my ashes.

The moon makes its first appearance here and perhaps with more reason than mere romantic imagery. The moon is associated with femininity and feminine deity, she shines by the light of the sun, a male element, yet it is a light that she transforms. Compare earlier verses and the reference to the ‘(friar’s) cowl of gloom’. No stars or moon can be seen through such a cowl, yet here the moon shines brightly, the cowl, ie. The friars have gone and the Patria is free to shine her light.

Here also is a repetition of the imagery of the dawn, the dawn of redemption, now shining its light over his grave. Although he refers to the night, ie., the moon, and the dawn, he does not refer to the day, perhaps because the day of liberation is already here.

Only the wind, impersonal, will lament over his grave. Again he uses a qualifying ‘si’ – ‘if’ when writing of the bird that may rest on the cross above him. It does not lament him but sings of peace, the peace that comes with liberation and the peace with which he rests below.

Verses 7-11>

Did They Get Their Medals

The first Filipino I ever met was a temporary teacher at West Byfleet Secondary School in Surrey. We were tall, obstreperous teenagers around 15 years old and he was a short, wiry man, probably in his 30s, with whipcord muscles and an easy smile who taught us PE (Physical Exercise). He was the only teacher I can recall who had the courage to mix it with us on the Rugby field. Rugby is a rough game, especially when played by 15 year old Brits, and the opportunity to cause some physical pain to a teacher was ever-present and taken advantage of. He was certainly Rizalian, he gave what he got, and he acted as an equal.

I can’t recall a single racist remark being made against him. In fact, we became rather proud of him as a sort of Local Hero when, spotting the lower floor of a house on fire and realising the occupants were asleep and unaware on the upper floor, had the presence of mind to throw a milk bottle through the upstairs window to wake them up. He undoubtedly saved their lives.

Sadly, like the Rose, I cannot recall his name.

I was reminded of him while flipping through the Rizal issue of the Philippine Republic for December 1925. What caught my eye was a small paragraph that may have been printed at the request of the Bureau of Insular Affairs in Washington possibly at the behest of the British Foreign Office. The British government was searching for five brave Filipinos in order to give them medals.

The Filipinos, identified only as E. Laxinto, R. Valencia, H. Sim, J Demerin and C. Fernandez, were apparently working aboard the President Lines passenger ship SS President Taft when they went to assist the crew of a shipwrecked British merchant vessel, the Mary Horlock. Says the report “Their conduct was of such meritorious character it was reported to the British government, which has awarded each of the five men a medal of gallantry”.

All I can find on the Mary Horlock is that she was a dry cargo carrier of 5,253 tons and served in WW1. She sank in the Western Pacific on January 26, 1924. As of the December 1925 issue those five Filipino heroes had yet to be found.

I wonder if they ever got their medals?