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The Death of Ninoy and Why a Rodrigo Duterte Presidency is Very Dangerous

Ninoy Aquino's lifeless body lying on the airport tarmac. Photo: wikipedia.org
Ninoy Aquino's lifeless body lying on the airport tarmac. Photo: wikipedia.org

o back in time to August 21, 1983. Back to what was then called the Manila International Airport. China Airlines Flight 811 from Taipei, sat on the tarmac awaiting instructions from the tower so its passengers could disembark. On board was former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., who had taken a circuitous route back home from the United States. Aquino knew that returning to the Philippines, then ruled by a tyrannical dictator was an extremely dangerous endeavor. Sensing the risks, he wore a bulletproof vest and told the members of the press on the plane with him to "be ready with your camera because this action can become very fast… in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes, it could be all over… and I may not be able to talk to you again after this…" 

Aquino was then escorted off the plane by a contingent of Philippine military personnel and even before he could set foot on Philippine soil, he was dead.

Who ordered his assassination? Thanks to the lying and secretive Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos, the ineptness of Philippine investigators, and the absence of resolve from subsequent administrations, the mastermind has never been unmasked.

For purposes of this editorial it immaterial who ordered Aquino's assassination. As his widow, former President Corazon Aquino put it, Marcos was ultimately to blame for Aquino's death. Marcos set the stage and fostered the atmosphere where the elimination (or "salvaging") of his enemies was the accepted thing for his people to do. There was no need for an explicit order. Loyal Marcos allies knew Aquino was a threat to Marcos, and ultimately a threat to them as well. So someone, somewhere simply took the initiative and had Aquino killed.

Fast forward to today and the possibility of a Rodrigo Duterte presidency. Over the years Duterte has built a reputation as the tough-talking, get-things-done mayor of Davao City. His detractors claim he cleaned out the city of drug pushers and drug dealers by resorting to extra-judicial means. Pushers, some still in their teens were found dead—the handiwork of vigilante groups operating in Davao that Duterte admitted having ties to.

Since his bid for the presidency, Duterte appears to have distanced himself from any connection with vigilante groups. But "old habits die hard" and those groups may not be ready or willing to break their ties to him. And that becomes a very serious problem for the Philippines if he becomes president.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Philstar.com/File photo 

Like Marcos before him, if Duterte becomes president, his henchmen could start deciding who deserves to be "eliminated" and who deserves to be spared. Duterte's tongue-in-cheek prediction that if he becomes president, Manila Bay will be filled with thousands of dead bodies, might seriously come to pass—even without his approval. As many a tyrant who went down that same dark path knows, it is almost impossible to "dial back" that kind of behavior. And as with Marcos, it can only lead to grave injustice and a frightened population stripped of their legal rights.

The Philippines should not be allowed to go through another period where justice and the rule of law do not reign supreme. If Duterte, as mayor of Davao, did indeed give the nod to vigilante groups and supported their illegal acts, he should never be allowed to become president. The dark forces that surrounded him then, will surround him once again when he moves into Malacañang. And a new era of fear and repression will reign over the Philippines once more. Published 3/8/2016

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