Commentary: Why was Ninoy divulging a lot to the Americans?

SEVERAL writers have looked into declassified US government documents covering the period leading to September 21, 1972 and found intriguing stuff about Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr.

Using those documents, Filipino historian Lisandro Claudio revealed the networking Ninoy did with the communists so he could topple “a morally bankrupt regime” (GMA News Online, “Ninoy networked with everyone, Reds included”). Ninoy needed the communists on his side so he could be president (Rappler, “Ninoy linked up with the Left to aid presidential ambition,” August 25, 2013).

Another Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo combed through those declassified records and found what Ninoy thought about Marcos, martial law, and what he would do if he were president.

In a private conversation between Ninoy and the US Embassy political counselor on September 12, 1972, Ninoy said that he would “support” Marcos if he would declare martial law. Ninoy also revealed his option to ally with the communists to launch an anti-Marcos revolution. (Inquirer, “What Ninoy told the US about Marcos,” January 6, 2017).

In his column in The Manila Times, Rigoberto Tiglao built upon what Ocampo wrote. Arguing against the popular notion that Marcos exaggerated the threat of communist insurgency, Tiglao highlighted how Ninoy “did believe…[that]martial law, while it did allow [Marcos] to continue in power, was necessary to prevent the country from falling into chaos” (“Ninoy believed martial law was necessary and supported it”).

These are astounding. Yet what intrigued me the most was Ninoy’s cavalier attitude as he was confiding to the Americans about his ambition, his plans, and collaboration with the communists.

In an airgram on August 20, 1971, US Ambassador Henry Alfred Byroade reported what Ninoy told Political Counselor Maestrone during their first meeting on August 11. Sensing that the Liberal Party was “in danger of extinction” as Marcos “blocked the traditional avenues of access to political power,” Ninoy mulled out loud his career options.

The airgram enumerated three:
“1) allow himself to be bought off by the Nacionalistas (Nacionalista Sen. Jose Roy, Aquino related, had recently orally invited Aquino on Marcos’ behalf to be the Senate’s representative on the GOP delegation to the UN General Assembly and, upon his return, become the head of the Philippine National Bank. Aquino said he asked for the offer in writing from Marcos, thus effectively declining the probe); 2) ‘hang up my shingle’ and retire from politics; or 3) ‘go to the hills’ and join the revolution.”

Ninoy was seriously considering the third one. As he told Maestrone, his office conducted a poll with this question: “How would you react if a senator went to the hills?” and whether the respondent would approve a “revolutionary change of government.” The result: 34 percent approved of it; and “two years ago,” the airgram mentioned, “the response was only 19 percent.” That the poll was also conducted two years before means that as early as 1969, Ninoy was already contemplating usurping power from Marcos by collaborating with the communists!

Believing that the revolution could occur between 1971 and 1974/1975, Ninoy thought that “a revolutionary leader of sufficient prominence would have little difficulty in gaining support from the peasants and that financial support would come from the urban middle class and some of the wealthy who were disenchanted with the Marcos Administration.”

Not only did Ninoy share his possible plan to lead a violent revolution from the hills, he also divulged what communists were planning! “Starting in September [1971],” Ninoy reported, “radical leaders planned to place their emphasis on increased urban terrorism rather than on terroristic activities in the provinces which they felt were not having the desired impact…the number of students who have received two or three months of guerrilla training in the hills and who have returned to the cities is growing, and their tactics have become more sophisticated.” These tactics would include “fewer direct confrontations with the police and Philippine Constabulary and more use of sniping, arson, bombing and other forms of selective terrorism.”

Why was Ninoy divulging this information to the communist-hating Americans? He surely knew that the Americans would rat it out to Marcos so he could do something to stop it.

The airgram implied that Ninoy was trying to gauge whether the Americans would support a revolutionary government. Ninoy told Maestrone: “One of the key factors that any revolutionary must consider and which at present was unclear was the position the United States would take in a revolutionary situation in the Philippines.”

Surely, Ninoy was not dumb to believe that the Americans would ever support a revolutionary government instituted by a communist uprising. It was the Cold War! U.S. foreign policy was all about containing the advancement of communism. There was no way they would have accepted the government of a country they considered to be a crucial part of their defensive perimeter against communism to be overthrown and be possibly led by communists.

Thus, this is my conjecture:
Ninoy wanted the Americans to tell Marcos about everything so he could be provoked to declare martial law, which was necessary to fully instigate a moment ripe for an anti-Marcos revolution, which he believed could catapult him into the presidency. At the same time, by divulging what communists were up to, Ninoy was trying to get America’s trust. Why?

He wanted America’s backing, which was necessary so his possible revolutionary government would have international legitimacy. But to get that, he must demonstrate to them that he would also throw his communist collaborators under the bus once he became president. That’s most probably why he said that if he were president like Marcos, he would also not hesitate to declare martial law.

(Published in The Manila Times on 21 September 2017)

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  1. Marcos was on his second and last term as president in 1972 and he knew Ninoy would become the next president in the 1973 Presidential elections that is why he declared martial law to preempt Ninoy. Sen. Enrile himself admitted in his memoirs that they even staged a fake ambush so Marcos can justify a martial law declaration.


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