Ninoy Aquino’s legacy: Democracy is worth fighting for
Broadway loves “There Lies Love,” the musical about the Marcos dictatorship. But as audiences leave, I hope they understand what happened 40 years ago.
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. Later after an investigation, his murder was pinned to 16 members of the Philippine Army loyal to Marcos.
Ten days within 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 that’s missing in American politics. Leaders aren’t beloved and respected here for the same values and ideals in democracy.
In the U.S., we have a personality cult that has a stranglehold on politics with a loyal minority of people following an irrational love for a twice-impeached former president who has now been indicted four times on 91 criminal counts in two states and federal court.
That person, the former president, is about to be arrested and arraigned again this week.
And people, including Asian Americans, still won’t quit him.
The U.S. which colonized the Philippines in 1898, 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 Philippines?
Could we even see two million 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.
Maui disaster a test in leadership
President Biden goes to Maui on Monday, as he should. Last week, he announced $700 in cash aid to fire victims. By Friday, FEMA approved close to $6 million in assistance to nearly 2,000 families.
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 fires.
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. And how Hawaii did not come begging to become a state in the Union; 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.”
But specifically Dole. James Drummond Dole, was known as “The Pineapple King” who aided by exploited Filipino labor, colonized the spiky fruit and sent it around the world.
But 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 do something to make sure the we don’t have a wildfire disaster like we’ve seen that’s killed 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-vaxer. She’s the other Democrat who is running, who speaks from the heart about people and government in a way that when compared to the standard political rhetoric, seems more honest and caring.
If more politicians talked like that, could we end our divides and work together? Possibly. 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?
GOP’s anti-Asian hate and Tucker Trump Show
You’re likely not going to hear any candor about Maui from Republicans this week. What, and besmirch the first Hawaiian president Sanford Dole? But they will be debating 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, going after Vivek Ramaswamy, the businessman whose candidacy is quickly catching up to DeSantis.
There’s 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 fair.
He’s making headway by being the likeable non-white white. I call it model minority politics, acceptable for white consumption. Hasn’t worked that well in this campaign for Nikki Haley. And 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 him say “Vivek the Fake” you’ll know DeSantis is running out of gas.
But take note. It’s the new direction of politics from top to bottom. From national to local politics like recall elections.
They’ll be the face. And effective. I’m calling it Model Minority politics.
It’s the other side of diversity, when the successful Asian, Latino, African American politico knows a Dr. King, but that’s his or her dentist. Or podiatrist.
They don’t have the same commitment to THE Dr. King, the one the broad civil rights coalition knows and loves.
That’s the political future. And after the 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.
Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator.
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 www.amok.com.