Emil Guillermo: My post-Thanksgiving gut punch–remembering Ninoy and Stephen

Image for Emil Guillermo: My post-Thanksgiving gut punch–remembering Ninoy and Stephen

Excuse me. I had to wait a few days. Nov. 27 is both political and personal for me as an American Filipino.

It is the day I celebrate the birth of my cousin, Stephen, a next generation Filipino immigrant in my family, who in 1984 was 27 and about to finally graduate from college.

Image by AALDEF

But then he was gunned down that May, when he entered the wrong apartment in San Francisco. The killer was never prosecuted.

It is also the day any freedom-loving Filipino celebrates the birth of Benigno Aquino Jr. Known as Ninoy, he was the great Filipino hope, the man who would restore democracy to the Philippines after decades of martial law under the repressive iron rule of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

Ninoy was returning from exile in the U.S. to challenge the dictator but never made it back.

He would have been the right man in the right country.

But in 1983, Ninoy was also gunned down–assassinated–as he deboarded his flight home to Manila. He was just 61.

On Nov. 27 this year, Ninoy would have been 90. Stephen would have been 35.

What they both could have done with their lives.

For the Philippines, Ninoy would have been the ultimate president of his country to raise it up from the lows of martial law. Instead, while his wife Cory was catapulted by “People Power” to the presidency, her administration was more transitional than transformative.

Indeed, the road back to democracy in the Philippines has been tarnished by corrupt administrations since and a relapse back into lesser versions of martial law where violent human rights violations became the norm.

Extra-judicial murders? In the Philippines, it’s commonplace.

And now it all has come full circle with the election of the dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

That couldn’t have happened without a full embrace of martial law as a “necessary part of the growth of the Philippines.” Absurd? Of course. Martial law was unnecessary. But there is no other explanation.

Martial law only helped to preserve the power of Marcos and his family while they looted the country and enriched themselves.

Good for them; lousy for the Filipino people. History is not really undecided on this. There is no debate. We can tell who wears the horns and who wears the halo.

But people will try to confuse us to justify the present. And to make it all right, it is necessary to denigrate the memory of Ninoy Aquino.

Instead of freedom fighter, Ninoy is now being painted as a cruel murderer, or a communist sympathizer, according to members of the US Filipinos for Good Governance who met online this week to remember Ninoy.

Their memories don’t jibe with a real disinformation campaign underway in school textbooks, popular culture, and movies to take Aquino off the white horse and make him look worse than the dictator Marcos.

That would seem to be an impossibility. Marcos the self-serving persecutor of political prisoners? Marcos the plunderer? Yeah, that guy. But it’s happening.

Ninoy was no saint. But as a persecuted political prisoner and exile, he was close. A previous generation knows the truth.

A new generation is now left with the dictator’s son, Marcos Jr.

As an American Filipino, I got to know both sides of the Marcos debate. My family is staunchly Ilocano from the home province of Marcos. To them, he could do no wrong. But my American side saw the events. I even reported from the Philippines in the ‘80s.

There was no excuse for Marcos and what he did.

Even Filipinos who could get out wanted out.

And for me, I saw the immigration of a new generation of my family as a way to see the truth.

That’s where my cousin Stephen comes in. His arrival to America after martial law was a way for me to look at the Philippines anew.

He was my hope of a new Filipino-born American Filipino. A new story. Different from me, born in the U.S. Stephen was like the second coming of my dad, the immigrant– not in the depression of 1929, but arriving just before the millennium. He came with a batch of Guillermos, all of whom survived the long wait in the visa line. None of them wanted to talk about the Philippines that they left behind. Too painful. There was no hope in the Philippines. America was the difference in their lives.

And then Stephen was shot and killed at age 27.

The murderer was held for three days and released. The law in California allows you to shoot to kill someone if that person is presumed to be an intruder.

There was nothing to be done.

So after Thanksgiving, when I give thanks, Nov. 27 is always like a punch in the gut.

And then there’s the coincidence. Ninoy, Stephen, hope. Just a coincidence, yes. But also a reminder to fight through all the pain of memory and not dwell.

All one can do is mark the day, remember, learn.

But we keep truth alive, as we follow the spirits higher.

NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

Read Emil's full bio →