Emil Guillermo: The pro-democracy charge of Ninoy Aquino; Maui candor, and model minority politics

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Broadway loves “Here Lies Love,” the musical about the Marcos dictatorship.

But as audiences leave, I hope they understand what happened forty years ago.

On Aug. 21, 1983, Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, the Philippine political activist in exile in the U.S., went home to win back freedom for Filipinos living under the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.

Aquino never made it out of the airport, assassinated on the tarmac, apparently by a single gunman. After an investigation, his murder was pinned to 16 members of the Philippine Army loyal to Marcos.

Within ten days after the assassination, I was in Manila at Santo Domingo Church, reporting for the San Francisco NBC station from the funeral mass, and then observing the procession to the Manila Memorial Park.

More than two million people were in the streets mourning for Ninoy, their exiled leader, but also angered by a lost chance at real democracy.

The demonstration was the precursor to People Power, which would lift up Ninoy’s wife Cory and ultimately topple Marcos.

It would be nice if the current Broadway musical would inspire people to go to the streets and demand democracy against an autocrat.

Not in the Philippines, but here in the U.S.

That’s the spark missing in American politics. Leaders here aren’t beloved and respected for the same values and ideals in democracy.

In the U.S., there is a personality cult that has a stranglehold on politics. A loyal minority has an irrational love for the twice-impeached former president, indicted four times on 91 criminal counts in two states and federal court.

That person is about to be arrested and arraigned again this week.

And some people, including Asian Americans, still won’t quit him.

The U.S., which colonized the Philippines in 1898 and then showed it how to model and do democracy, has flipped. How is it that in 2023, our country seems less like the America we know and love and more like the Philippines?

Could we even see two million people on the streets for a pro-democracy political leader in the U.S. today?

That’s why it’s worth remembering Benigno Aquino, who spent time in Dallas, Boston, and California, and then went back home to the Philippines to fight for his country in 1983, forty years ago this week.

An inspirational leader is so rare these days, anywhere.

That would be worth a Broadway musical.


President Biden goes to Maui on Monday, as he should.Last week, he announced $700 per household in cash aid to victims of the Maui wildfires. By Friday, FEMA pledged $5.6 million in assistance to nearly 2,000 families in Maui.

But money isn’t everything. This will be the time for Uncle Joe to act like ohana (family). Not like Trump, who threw rolls of paper towels into the crowd after Hurricane Maria hit San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2017.

We need to see some compassion. A lot of it.

One thing we probably won’t hear is candor. We got a bit of it last week when Hawaii Governor Josh Green vowed to not let greedy land speculators exploit the people in the aftermath of the wildfires.

That was the sign that everyone needed a little history lesson about Hawaii.

We need leaders to admit that Hawaii is ground zero for a form of economic imperialism. A reminder about how Hawaii did not come begging for statehood and how it was made a U.S. protectorate via a coup staged against her.

Those are the words of Marianne Williamson from her Substack article, “Hawaii’s Broken Heart.”

“Hawaii is deeply sacred land,” she wrote “And her heart has been wounded by the soulless economic overreach of everyone from Dole to Monsanto.”

Specifically, James Drummond Dole, who was known as “The Pineapple King.” Aided by exploited Filipino labor, he colonized the spiky fruit and sent it around the world.

He was inspired by his cousin Sanford Dole, a Republican appointed by the U.S. imperial president William McKinley as territorial governor. That wasn’t enough for Dole, who then led a coup against Queen Lili’uokalani in 1893 and became the first president of Hawaii.

Corruption, connections, and greed. This is how paradise has been co-opted in the past. In the modern day, it falls victim to the fury of climate change.

We’ve got to help Hawaii and make sure we don’t have another wildfire disaster that kills more than 100 people.

It can’t happen again.

“If this country cannot ramp down the fossil fuel extraction that is exacerbating these weather catastrophes, then the message is loud and clear that we are on the wrong road,” Williamson said last week.

Williamson is one of those candidates for president you don’t hear much about. She’s not a Kennedy. She’s not an anti-vaxxer. She’s the other Democrat who is running, who speaks from the heart about people and government in a way that seems more honest and caring.

If more politicians talked like that, could we end our divides and work together? Or does the loving language of Williamson only deepen the divide?

It’s surely a moral rhetoric from left of center that exposes the right-wing theocracy and all its hypocrisies.

But few people talk about Marianne Williamson.

Maybe because she makes too much sense?


You’re likely not going to hear any candor about Maui from Republicans at this week’s first GOP debate. What, and besmirch the first Hawaiian president Sanford Dole?

But there will be a debate, and Donald Trump won’t be there.

Before his arrest and arraignment for the fourth time, Trump will show his stranglehold on Republicans by refusing to debate the also-rans.

Instead, at the same time, he’ll submit to an interview by the disgraced former Fox host Tucker Carlson, a noted Trump sycophant.

This is how divided the Republicans are. They would rather back a man with four criminal indictments on 91 federal counts than admit Trump is unfit to be president.

I will be watching the debates mostly because Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign has been exposed as adopting an anti-Asian, name-calling approach against Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman who’s quickly catching up to DeSantis.

There’s a reason to go after Ramaswamy, but not on an ad hominem basis.

But what we’re seeing is standard now after the Harvard affirmative action case.

White people going after affirmative action was a no go. The folks who led the Harvard case saw that. White plaintiff, they lost. Asian plaintiff, they won.

So the model for conservative causes will be the Asian. Let the model minority lead.

It’s why DeSantis crying woke is losing ground. But Vivek resonates with white conservatives, who must feel less racist if they see a brown elitist like him, rather than the white elitist DeSantis, say “I am the new Trump!”

Vivek is a congenial panderer who will do anything for attention–even rap like Eminem last week at the Iowa State Fair.

He’s making headway by being the likeable non-white white.

It hasn’t worked that well in this campaign for Nikki Haley. But it may yet work for Tim Scott. It’s still early in the game.

But for now, Vivek is the dynamo among the also-rans and it’s getting to DeSantis. If you hear DeSantis say “Vivek the Fake,” you’ll know he is running out of gas.

I call it model minority politics, acceptable for white consumption.That’s the political future. And after the conservative win over Harvard to defeat affirmative action, expect to see more of that in the future.

It’s fighting race with the non-white face.

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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

I'm in New York City for the opening of the updated "The Conductor," a new play by Ishmael Reed about how woke has broken race relations in America. Indian Americans are on the run in this one, and I play a conservative TV pundit. It's anti-typecasting. Come see the show live in person only at Theater for The New City 155 1st Ave, NY, NY 10003

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Hope to see you there!