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					Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
(1932–1983)
Early Life to Pre–Martial Law Period


Benigno Severino Aquino Jr., the man Filipinos remember fondly as “Ninoy,” was born
in Concepcion, Tarlac, on November 27, 1932, to a land-owning and political family.
His grandfather Servillano Aquino was a renowned general in Emilio Aguinaldo’s army.
Ninoy’s father, Benigno Aquino Sr., served as secretary of Agriculture during the
Philippine Commonwealth, became part of the National Assembly in 1935, and
became speaker of the National Assembly during President Jose P. Laurel’s term.

Ninoy was the second child among six siblings. As a child, he was described to be an
intelligent and extremely sociable boy. Ninoy then went on to study at St. Joseph’s
College and De La Salle College. After receiving his high school diploma from San Beda
College in 1948, Ninoy enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila for his tertiary studies. Then
just 17 years old, he took a job as a reporter at The Manila Times under Don Joaquin
“Chino” Roces. Soon he chose to drop out of college and enter journalism full time.

At 18 years old, Ninoy was the youngest war correspondent during the Korean War in
1950. His reportage on the Philippine combat team’s efforts alongside those of the
United Nations’ forces, as well as his eye-opening reports on the brutalities committed
by the Korean communist forces against innocent civilians, frequently landed his
articles on the front page of the Times. For his work as a journalist, he received a
Philippine Legion of Honor Award from President Elpidio Quirino.

By the time he was 21, he became a close adviser to then defense secretary Ramon
Magsaysay. He also went back to school, pursuing law at the University of the
Philippines. But once again, his studies were interrupted by his return to journalism.

When Ramon Magsaysay became president of the Philippines, he chose Ninoy as his
personal emissary to the Hukbalahap rebel group’s leader, Luis Taruc. After four
months of negotiations, Ninoy was able to convince Taruc to return to civilian life. For
this, Ninoy—only 22 years old—received another Legion of Honor Award in 1954.

That same year, Ninoy married Corazon Cojuangco. Corazon Cojuangco, who would
later become the first woman president of the Philippines, was the shy daughter of
wealthy landowners from Tarlac. She and Ninoy had known each other since
childhood, and their union was a happy one. They were eventually blessed with five
children.

The following year, Ninoy ran as mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac. When he won, he
became, at age 23, the youngest mayor in the Philippines.

When President Magsaysay died in a plane crash in 1957, Ninoy thought he was
through with politics. He spent the next two years managing his father-in-law’s
plantation, the Hacienda Luisita, and developed the plantation into a bustling barrio
with schools, vegetable farms, cattle ranches, orchards, and parks. But politics
continued to call. In 1959, he ran as vice governor of Tarlac. He set another record
when he won the election—at age 27, he became the youngest vice governor in the
country.

Ninoy’s political career continued to rise. In 1961, he became governor of Tarlac; in
1966, he became secretary-general of the Liberal Party. The following year, he was the
only Liberal Party member to win the senatorial race—becoming the youngest person
to be elected to the Senate.

The late 1960s was also the time when another great name ruled Philippine politics—
Ferdinand Marcos. At the time rumors of Marcos’s plan to keep himself in power were
already going around, and Ninoy was an impassioned critic of the administration,
earning for him the moniker “Wonder Boy” of Philippine politics.

With Ninoy’s growing popularity, political observers and even the public started
seeing him as the strongest contender for the presidential election of 1973.

The Marcos–Aquino rivalry came to a head in August 1971, after the Plaza Miranda
bombing. The bombing occurred during the kick-off rally of the Liberal Party—Ninoy’s
own party. The blast killed nine people and seriously injured 85 others, which included
a number of Ninoy’s party-mates.

There was speculation that the bombing had been initiated by the Nacionalista Party
(Marcos’s party), and to deflect this, they insinuated that it was backed by Ninoy,
whom they claimed had wanted to eliminate his rivals within the party. The police
soon captured one of the bombers who turned out to be a sergeant of the firearms
and explosives section of the Philippine Constabulary, a military arm of the
government. According to Ninoy, this man was taken from police custody by the
military and was never seen by the public again.

Ninoy continued his crusade to expose the corruption of the Marcos government. He
railed against Marcos’s desire to build a “garrison state,” as shown by the fact that the
military budget just kept “ballooning.” On September 21, 1972, this prophecy had
come true. Marcos signed Proclamation 1081, declaring martial law in the Philippines.
The following night, Ninoy was arrested at the Manila Hilton Hotel and detained at
Fort Bonifacio, where he remained for the next seven years.

				
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