Ninoy Aquino’s Legacy Is Under Threat in the Philippines

On an August afternoon in 1983, a passenger jet carrying Philippine Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. landed in Manila. Popular politician, who was returning to Manila from self-imposed exile at Boston to challenge Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship, was escorted off the plane by his troops. Then gunshots rang out—at least four. Horrified passengers looked through the windows to see the senator’s lifeless body lying on the tarmac.

Two decades of Marcos’ dictatorship in the Philippines was enough for Filipinos. Its rights violations, corruption rampant, and a tanking economy were all well-known to them. But Aquino’s assassination, in broad daylight, was the last straw. The senator’s widow, Corazon, led a popular uprising three years later, forcing Marcos and his family into exile in Hawaii, where the dictator died in 1989.

Aquino was posthumously honored for his act of sacrifice. The Ninoy Aquino International Airport was named after the site of his assassination in 1987. The date of his assassination on Aug. 21 was designated a national holiday by the government in 2004. But, 39 years after the senator’s slaying, the Marcos family is back in power and Aquino’s place in history is under threat.

Marcos and Historical Revisionism

Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., 64, won a landslide victory in presidential polls held in May, on the back of a campaign characterized by a cynical whitewashing of his father’s brutal legacy.

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While he publicly praises his father, he won’t discuss any of the unresolved issues that arose during the period of martial law. He has also demanded that history textbooks be revised to tone down mention of his family’s unexplained wealth—even though several court rulings affirmed that some of the Marcos millions are ill-gotten.

His decision to observe or ignore the upcoming Ninoy Aquino Day—one of several “hallmarks of the revolution”—will signal the extent of his appetite for further historical revisionism, experts say.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. examines troops as part of a ceremony for the change in command at Camp Aguinaldo (Quez City), suburban Manila, August 8, 2022.


Richard Heydarian, a lecturer of international affairs at the University of the Philippines, warns of the “toxic cocktail of massive disinformation and historical denialism” that can bring authoritarians to power and keep them there. A Philippine lawmaker proposed the naming of Manila Airport after Aquino.

Meanwhile, Maid in Malacañang, a lavish movie dramatizing the Marcos family’s last 72 hours in the presidential palace, is currently on theatrical release in the Philippines. Purporting to reveal the ”untold” story, it depicts them as heroic and tragically misunderstood figures, behaving nobly in the face of the mob at the gates. Marcos Jr.’s sister, Senator Imee Marcos, has hailed the film as “a work of truth.”

Many Filipinos worry about shifting political winds. The dictatorship is being digitized and secured by archivists. Also, there has been an increase in the demand for books that are critical of Marcos’ family. However, historians are constantly under attack by pro-Marcos forces. “There’s no way to actually defend ourselves here,” says Michael “Xiao” Chua, who teaches history at the De La Salle University in Manila. “Their machinery is massive.”

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Holidays pertaining to the revolt are uncertain in the future. For the time being, rebuking these observances looks “distasteful,” says Chua. Marcos Jr. did not mention such events and has not commented on them since his rise to power.

“But I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just the first-year approach of Marcos Jr.,” Heydarian says. A six-year term gives the dictator’s son plenty of time to continue rewriting history, if he chooses.

Filipinos will observe him this Sunday for clues.

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