9 Life Lessons from Ninoy Aquino's Spectacular Senate Victory

The major-impact triumph of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. in the 1967 elections catapulted him into the greatest adventure of his life, and taught us what it takes to be a real hero – and a true legend.

1) Get a sense of history. Ninoy was supremely tuned to the nuances of the zeitgeist. He can feel the current of destiny tugging at him. Ninoy had correctly foreseen the inevitability of countryside industrialization and the rise of the communist menace.

He also realized that his beloved Tarlac would suffer under the present administration if he continues to be governor. So he sold his Concepcion farm to his loyal farm boys: “Another five hectares I owned, I had already subdivided among the tenants. So, I had no more land. I was really landless.”

2) Defend human rights. Ninoy’s epic battle against Marcos was ignited by the Culatingan Massacre of 1966. A group of PC hitmen posing as Huk bandits sought shelter from some Concepcion farmers – and they killed them. They told Marcos that the farmers were Huk-coddlers, and the President gave them spot promotions – but Ninoy exposed the fraud and lambasted him mercilessly.

3) Defend your honor. Ninoy was being attacked relentlessly. “Boy, this regime is bad; if I run for governor it can crush me but if I run all over the country maybe I could damn it.” He told his fellow LP member Senator Villareal: “I have to be on the Senate ticket. After all, I don’t think we can make more than 3 or 4 of us win. Let me be one of those who’ll lose. I just want the chance to hit back. I’ve been hit so often.”

4) Build a good reputation. Ninoy’s track record speaks for itself. His campaign battlecry was YEH – from the Beatles’ 1967 monster hit “She Loves You Yeh-Yeh-Yeh!”

“Y” is for Youth: Ninoy was the youngest candidate at 34 – also the youngest war correspondent at 18; the youngest mayor at 21, the youngest vice-governor at 25; and the youngest governor at 27 – in Philippine history.

“E” is for Experience: Ninoy was twice awarded the Legion of Honor; the technical assistant to both President Ramon Magsaysay and President Carlos P. Garcia – and the government emissary who brought down Huk founder Luis Taruc from the mountains.

5) Be a visionary. Ninoy was one of the handful of public speakers in world history with the gift of holding an audience spellbound for hours.

“H” is for Hope: Ninoy galvanized millions with his comprehensive platform of governance which emphasizes government accountability and public access to education with his Student Loan Fund, Super Education System – and his flagship Study Now Pay Later projects.

6) Don’t take anything for granted. Ninoy knew he had to be a national figure and a household name to win. His campaign strategy had three phases. Phase 1 was “Who is Aquino?”

His mother Doña Aurora wrote to all her fellow members of the Catholic Women’s League and the Cursillo for Women; “My Deart Sister, I just want to inform you that Ninoy Aquino is my son. He is running for the Senate. Your sister, Aurora.”

His wife Cory went to wet markets and “practically all the factories in the Manila area” everyday from 8 to 4 – “On the quiet. No fanfare. But that thing sewed up the metropolitan vote for me.”

Ninoy switched his already formidable networking skills into high gear: “Everywhere I went, the first thing I did was get to the students. They were my main force, my main support. They made the noise and delivered the votes. I also harnessed my schoolmates, the San Beda and the U.P. alumni. Then I had my coordinator, the Jaycees. I was an Outstanding Jaycees in 1960 and had always attended conferences. When I hit a town I looked for the Jaycees and the provincial correspondents: they kept me informed. So there my troops: students, Jaycees and newsmen.”

7) Reach out to people. Ninoy knew he must get his message across clearly and directly to the people. Phase 2 was “Why vote for Aquino?”

Ninoy was one of the first candidates to see the potential of helicopters. “Arrive from 2000 feet up and people will gather from all over to watch you come down. Right there you have an audience.”

He and Gaudencio Antonino of the administration NP turned these aerial novelties into campaign charms: “Antonino and I exposed ourselves to more people, shook hands with more people. While the average candidate covered only from 200 to 250 towns, Antonino and I reached from 600 to 700 towns.”

Ninoy even won in Marcos’ bailiwick “because so many people there actually saw and heard me; if there had only been free elections I might have been third or fourth in Northern Luzon.”

8) Don’t get intimidated by the opponent. Ninoy was running for the Senate because he knew he was worthy of the office – and he had the guts and the brains to be a very effective legislator and fiscalizer. Phase 3 was “Vote for Aquino!”

Ninoy found himself almost alone in a Leyte plaza because of an LP slip and the impending typhoon Welming. “There I was in Tacloban, holding the fort, in my red jacket with the skulls-and-bones in it, and a Comelec case hanging around my neck, speaking to a crowd of 5 that became 15, then 200, then 300 people.” Ninoy “spoke for an hour and right after my speech the rain came. Jiminy crickets!”

The ’67 race quickly became an electrifying Ninoy vs. Marcos slugfest. Political analysts twit that “Ninoy was baiting Mr. Marcos all the way and the President, alas, kept biting,” wrote Nick Joaquin in The Aquinos of Tarlac -- and “Ninoy became legitimate news in all the media.”

E-Day was November 14. The night before, Ninoy was already in Plaza Miranda. “At two o’clock in the morning I was still hurling bombas, the final bombas of the campaign.”

9) Uphold the rule of law. The legal age in running for senator is 35 but Ninoy would still be 34 if he wins but he’ll be 35 by the time he’s proclaimed. What to do? It was a first in local jurisprudence but Ninoy had a secret weapon: the beautiful mind of Senator Jovito Salonga.

JV Cruz was making okray on national TV: “Well, Ninoy, will you abide by the decision of the Supreme Court, whatever it may be?” Ninoy said: “Gladly, JV. We should never undermine the highest tribunal of the land. I want, if given the chance, to restore the faith of the people in the judiciary.” JV said: “Oh, you mean to say that you don’t have faith in it now?” Just then, a note was passed to Ninoy.
Ninoy read it. He looked at JV and said: “I would like to inform you that I just won the case.”

(Source: “The Aquinos of Tarlac” by Nick Joaquin)

Visit IAmNinoy and tribute site Ninoy Aquino

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