In March 1973, six months after the declaration of martial law, Ninoy Aquino was taken blindfolded from Fort Bonifacio and brought to a place he did not know. He was stripped naked and thrown into a cell. His only human contact was a jailer. The immediate prospect, in such a place, was a midnight execution in front of a grave dug by himself.
The purpose was as clear as it was diabolical. It was not to kill him yet, but to break him first—and with him break the compelling proof that men can stand up to a dictatorship.
He came close to giving up, he told me; he slipped in and out of despair. But a power that must have been God held him together. He remembered the words of the epistle, God chose the weak to confound the strong.
On the third anniversary of his incarceration in Laur, the recollection of his pain gave birth to a poem of hope. This is the poem he wrote:
I am burning the candle of my life in the dark
with no one to benefit
from the light.
The candle slowly melts away; soon its wick will be burned out and the light is gone.
If someone will only gather the melted wax, re-shape it, give it a new wick —
for another fleeting moment my candle can once again
light the dark,
be of service
one more time,
This is the anguish of good men: that the good they do will come to nothing. That pains suffered in obscurity or sacrifices made away from the sight of men, amount to the same, and mock the man or woman who bears them.
Mr. Senate President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Congress, distinguished guests, my countrymen:
That is not true. None of the good that we do is ever lost; not even the light in an empty room is wasted.
From Ninoy’s burnt-out candle, and thousands like it in cells throughout the garrison state, we gathered the melted wax and made more candles. To burn—not as long in such loneliness—but much more brightly all together, as to banish the darkness, and light us to a new day.
You might ask: When will the president stop invoking Ninoy’s name! My answer is, When a president stands here other than by Ninoy’s grace. And not while gratitude is nourished by memory. Not while we acknowledge that it was his sacrifice that gave us back our freedom. And restored the freely elected office whose incumbent must stand every year in this place.
Five years have passed. My term is ending. And so is yours. As we came, so should we go. With grateful acknowledgement to the man who made it possible for us to be here. A man who discovered hope in the starkest despair, and has something yet to teach a country facing adversity again. . . .
By 1985, the economy has contracted considerably, its rate of growth had been negative for two consecutive years. The country was at a standstill, as if waiting only for the last rites to be performed. By 1986, we had turned the economy around—in less than a year. We improved on that performance the year after.
The rate of unemployment was reduced, the volume of new investments significantly increased. New industrial projects were introduced, hitherto idle industrial capacity was fully utilized. The foundation of new regional industrial zones was laid. Public infrastructure and services strained under the load of expanding economic activity.
I mention this, not to offset the shortcomings of the present with the achievements of the past. I mention it to show what can be done in such a short time, and how much improvement was made from conditions far worse than what we have today—the dictator’s apologists notwithstanding, that the country is worse off now than when he and his wife were stealing the country blind.
This progress was cut off by the August ‘87 coup attempt. But the economy quickly rallied, and in two years recovered a great deal of the ground we had lost. We were on the verge of a second take-off when the December 1989 coup broke out. It drained the last drop of confidence in our future from all but the hardiest spirits, and shattered our image abroad.
Still we persevered, achieving gains that, admittedly, continue to fall short of the galloping needs of a fast growing population, but real gains nonetheless:
Improved health care, increased housing, and—one of the proudest achievements we share with the legislature—free secondary education. 660,000 youth immediately availed themselves of it; another 200,000 private school students received scholarship grants under another recent law. 80,000 new classrooms have been built: the first preparation of the nation for the future of economic competition, which will take place in the highly educated minds of the youth. . . .
You might ask, Having lost so much easily, what was the worth of all that effort?
With such reversals of fortune, is progress for our country a hope in vain?
Paul says that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character; and character hope. The good we do is never lost. Some of it remains, if not in material goods, then in a deeper experience, a more practiced hand, and a spirit made stronger by that which failed to break it—stronger to meet greater challenges ahead.
But in one thing we grew from strength to strength—in the enlargement of our democratic space and the strengthening of our democracy. . . .
Participatory democracy will end the practice of punishing provinces and municipalities for the wrong vote in the last poll. It will separate elections, where the people vote for their favorites, from the provision of public service which every Filipino has a right to expect from the government, regardless how he voted.
This administration has made large steps in that direction. To the disappointment of those who marched with me against the Marcos regime, my administration has plowed resources into regions and provinces where I was cheated in the Snap Elections. The politics of revenge has had its day.
The organized participation of the people in daily government may provide the stabilizing element that government has always lacked. Policies have radically changed with each administration, yet the basic needs of its unchanging constituencies have not been met less bureaucracy for business, more public services and infrastructure support for agriculture and industry, an economic safety net for the common man. The active participation of the people in government will lend proper direction and continuity to policy.
This is what I wish for most. That after me, the continuity of our work is not broken. So that things well done shall be completed, and the same mistakes avoided by succeeding administrations. In this way, nothing done shall go to waste, and the light of a misplaced candle shall still be valued for the light it sheds on the things to avoid.
I am not asking that all my programs be blindly followed by my successor. God knows, we have made mistakes. But surely, our objective is right—the improvement of our people’s lives. And the new way is much better than those before. To give the people greater power over their lives is the essence of democracy that we must strive to bring out completely. . . .
As President, I have never prayed for anything for myself; only for our people. I have been called an international beggar by the military rebels. Begging does not become me, yet—perhaps—it is what I had to do. I could have kept my pride and held aloof, but that would not have helped our people. And it is for them that I was placed in this office.
Someone who will stand in this place next year, may do better for I believe in the inexhaustible giftedness of the Filipino people. I only hope that he will be someone who will sincerely mean you well.
I hope that history will judge me as favorably as our people still regard me, because, as God is my witness, I honestly did the best I could. No more can be asked of any man.
On June 30, 1992, the traditional ceremony of political succession will unfold at the Luneta. The last time it was done that way was in 1965. I shall be there with you to proudly witness the event. This is the glory of democracy, that its most solemn moment should be the peaceful transfer of power.