On August 26, 1983 – five days after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, the Central Intelligence Agency came out with a report on the implications of his death for the Philippines. That report has now been declassified.
The 10-page report looks deep into the political situation of that time, starting with the general mood of the populace as the nation prepared for the 1984 National Assembly elections. It was also a period when the Marcos administration was busy making arrangements for the State Visit of President Ronald Reagan, an event that he hoped would bolster his crumbling grip on power.
It is very rich reading, especially for those who view that era as a clear cut battle between good and evil. Marcos has always been portrayed as the monster, and Ninoy – to borrow his own description – was the “man on a white horse.” But if there is anything the last few days of reading through some of the declassified CIA documents has shown me, it is that politics back then was even more amorphous than I had imagined.
On of the most illustrative examples of this can be found in the appendix to the document where the CIA provides an unvarnished assessment of Marcos and Ninoy as two sides of the same coin. Both of them politicians cut from the same cloth, with Ninoy equally capable of the same kind of ruthlessness that people now generally associate with Marcos.
The report mentions that in the confusion following the assassination, much of Aquino’s personal political history has been obscured. It further goes on to say that “although the press has characterized Aquino as a man committed to democratic processes and integrity in government, his political career shows that (Aquino) was an opportunist <redacted> and was consumed with ambition to run the Philippines as President.”
“Aquino and Marcos each recognized the danger the other represented. Both took an expedient, if not ruthless, approach to their political and personal relationships throughout their political careers…both came from provinces with a tradition of political violence, and both took part in it.”
This last may come as a shock to people who continue to view Ninoy as some sort of political saint second only to his wife, Cory. But as was pointed out to me recently by my friend Orion Perez, Aquino himself is quoted in the book In Our Image by Stanley Karnow, to have said that he has “killed for power, and (he) will kill again…”
Just to be clear, none of this is meant as an excuse for the abuses that happened during Martial Law. The pain of those who lost friends and loved ones during those dark days is something that I can not even begin to fathom. Evil things were done, but it was done by all sides.
The whole point in reading – and writing – about this is for Filipinos to be able to get a picture of our history not in patently divisive the good-versus-evil, black-versus-white, us-against-them narrative that dominates the discussions right now. But a more balanced perspective wherein it would be easier to come to some sort of common ground for reconciliation.