FEATURE: In dad’s jail cell, Aquino recalls sad, happy times

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III admitted that he always finds himself absorbed in the song whenever he hears “The Impossible Dream.” In an earlier exclusive Inquirer interview, he recalled how his father sang this song while in detention during Martial Law. 


Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday made a private visit to the old detention cell of his father, martyred opposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., at  Army headquarters in Fort Bonifacio in what seemed to be a continuation of the outgoing Commander in Chief’s sentimental wrap-up of his six-year term at noon of June 30.

Last week, the President was at the detention cell of his father and fellow inmate, the late human rights lawyer Jose “Pepe” Diokno, at Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, where he also shot the video for his “Never Forget/Never Again” Independence Day speech that was a reminder of the abuses of martial law and how the Filipino people fought to regain their freedoms that the dictator Ferdinand Marcos curtailed.

And even earlier, two weeks after the May 9 elections, he recalled in an exclusive Inquirer interview how his father sang his favorite song, “Impossible Dream (The Quest),” while in detention at Fort Bonifacio.

It was the most popular song from the 1965 Broadway musical “Man of La Mancha,” but for Ninoy Aquino, it was his hymn, his inspiration to rise up against martial law along with many other Filipinos.

But more than taking on a nostalgic journey down memory lane, President Aquino may very well be preparing himself for the continuing battle to preserve the country’s hard-won democracy.

The President admitted that he always finds himself absorbed in the song whenever he hears “The Impossible Dream.”

‘Full of gusto’

“It’s the image of my father singing inside his cell in Fort Bonifacio,” Aquino said. “I don’t know if I had a thin ear but I thought he was singing it correctly. Then my sister said he was singing off tune … But up to this day, I think he sang it well.”

The President said his father sang the song “full of gusto.”

“You can relish the lyrics … ‘Beat the unbeatable foe.’ My father was alone in his cell. He shared his thoughts by writing them … Then we will mimeograph and pass them on wondering how many will be able to read it? ‘Face the Nation’ (a defunct TV show) was the only time he faced the public (while incarcerated). How do people not forget him? All the powers of the state were used against him,” Aquino said.

“‘Reach the unreachable star’… With everything that had happened and he is singing it full of conviction. It was inspiring,” the President said.

But while his detained father sang the song,  Aquino, now 56, said he also asked himself: “Is this our life from the foreseeable future? When will it change?”

The only son of democracy icons Ninoy and Cory Aquino might still not have the answer to that, even 33 years after his father’s assassination at the Manila International Airport (Mia) and 30 years after the bloodless Edsa People Power Revolution that ousted the Marcoses and catapulted his mother to the presidency.

Just as President Aquino is about to step down from office, the son and namesake of the dictator, Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., is finding himself getting special treatment from incoming President, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte, who won the presidential elections with a commanding 16 million votes, is also unequivocal in his promise to impose a curfew on the nation, kill tens of thousands of suspected criminals outside the justice system, and restore the death penalty, saying that he wants public executions by hanging until the heads are severed.

Duterte, 71, had also slammed the country’s long-standing allies like the United Nations, United States and Australia for supposedly meddling in Philippine politics.

Wearing his trademark yellow shirt with black accent, President Aquino stayed for about 15 minutes inside his father’s 4×5-meter room inside Building No. 2 at the Legazpi Compound, which now houses the Army’s Intelligence Support Group.

It was here where Ninoy was incarcerated from Aug. 27, 1973 until 1980, when he was allowed by Marcos to seek medical treatment in the United States where the Aquino family lived in self-exile for three years.

Happy, sad moments

Malacañang said the President “recalled the happy and sad moments” that they shared as a family while visiting his father in detention.

Official photographs showed the cell having a cot, a table and chairs, shelves lined with books, and even a makeshift kitchen, among others. On two walls were enlarged black-and-white photographs of Ninoy taken while he was inside the room.

Another Palace picture showed Aquino pulling away the curtains and looking out the window, revealing how the iron bars became a reminder that despite a seemingly harmless room, his father was in prison.

Vintage photographs

Defence Chief Voltaire Gazmin, who was Ninoy’s former jailguard, Labour Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz, Army chief Lt. Gen. Eduardo Año and other military officials accompanied the President.

Aquino also took a look at some of their family’s black-and-white photographs at the Army camp.

One showed the President’s mother, a young and smiling Cory seated beside her husband who had youngest daughter Kris on his lap, while the older children gathered around the table that was placed in what looked like a gymnasium.

Outside the detention cell, Aquino tried to remember where his father used to jog but a swimming pool had already been constructed in the area.

At Fort Magsaysay on Friday, the President spent three hours at the Aquino-Diokno Shrine.

On Independence Day, in an address to the nation that he made at the traditional reception for the diplomatic corps in Malacañang, Aquino asked everyone to watch the video with the “eyes and mind” of a 13-year-old—his age when martial law was declared and his father had given him the arduous task of taking care of his mother Cory and his four sisters.

As powerful as it was poignant, the video revisited the hardships that his father and Diokno underwent in the hands of the dictator Marcos.

It also showed a photo of Ninoy lying bloodied and dead at the airport’s tarmac.

The video ended with clips showing a jubilant Filipino nation at the Edsa People Power Revolution.

Malacañang officials said the video and the message to preserve democracy were entirely President Aquino’s idea.


No photos has been attached.