FilAms remember Ninoy Aquino’s martyrdom 40 years ago

The cast of ‘Here Lies Love’ led by Jose Llana (second from left) and creator David Byrne. Photo: Chelcie Parry

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

On August 20th, at the Benigno Aquino Triangle Park located at 184th Place and Hillside Avenue in Queens, NY,  Filipino-Americans remembered Ninoy Aquino’s assassination on the tarmac of Manila International Airport 40 years ago.

Antero Martinez, president of the Benigno Aquino Triangle Foundation (BATF), organized the special gathering to coincide with the August 21st commemorative event in Manila. 

Members of the cast and production team of “Here Lies Love,” the Broadway musical about the rise and fall of Imelda Marcos and the People Power Revolution, were also present to pay their respects, including the show’s creator, David Byrne. He came to honor Aquino, saying, “History is being re-written. His legacy should always be remembered.”

Photo: Lara Gregory

Most of the attendees came in yellow, to commemorate how 40 years ago, friends waited for Ninoy Aquino at the airport with yellow ribbons, inspired by the popular song, “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” by Tony Orlando. Yellow has since become the color of the peaceful revolution that ousted the Marcos family out of the Philippines in 1986.

Community leaders were present like Potri Ranka Manis, founder of Kinding Sindaw; Nonong Aquino, 2023 Parade Chair of PIDCI; Julie Jamora of Malaya Movement NY; a representative from the Philippine Consulate General NY, Maria Annette Aquino-Herrera; and Jose Fuentecilla, author of  “Fighting From A Distance – How Filipino Exiles Helped Topple A Dictator.”

Martinez called on the cast of “Here Lies Love”, led by Jose Llana (“The King and I,” “Flower Drum Song”), who plays Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the musical, to lay down their beautiful wreath of yellow, white and pink flowers from the Broadway production. Angela Aquino, founder of Equal Rights for Children, and Cynthia Esquivel-Ilagan of the Ateneo Alumni in the Northeast Inc., also placed their vases of yellow flowers.

Dr. Connie Quiambao, who founded the BATF, spoke of the help of former Cong. Gary Ackerman, the New York City Parks department, and the Filipino community’s donations that enabled her to establish the memorial triangle in Jamaica, Queens decades ago. Dr. Connie and her husband, Rudy Quiambao, who was also present at the ceremony, were close friends of the Aquinos.

Loida Nicolas Lewis, as the final speaker, reminds President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. that the country’s natural resources belong to the Filipino people. Photo: Lara Gregory

The first Filipino American elected to the NY State Assembly, Steven Raga, took pride that the FilAms carved a bit of our history in the small Queens park.

A Tagalog poem, written by Edgardo Esquivel, high school classmate of Martinez, was read by Nonong Aquino, a distant relative of the slain hero.

Atty. Lara Meneses Gregory (FilAms for Racial Action), who had brought a dozen yellow balloons to spread around the memorial, eloquently remarked that “the bullet that snuffed his life reverberated around the world” giving the Filipinos the courage to topple the Marcos dictatorship without violence in 1986. 

Eric Lachica, a board member of U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, presented a gift to Dr. Quiambao, a 10 lb. bust of Ninoy Aquino carved from the volcanic ashes of Mt. Pinatubo. Lachica recalled his visit to Aquino on the latter’s last week in the U.S. Aquino said he wanted to show the Filipino people that he was not afraid to come back to the Philippines to talk to President Marcos about how democracy and peace could be achieved. He knew, having been warned by no less than the First Lady Imelda Marcos, that he may face certain death if he returned. The photo Eric took that day was displayed on the memorial and shows Ninoy Aquino, who was usually ebullient, with a serious face. 

Finally, I was called as the last speaker to conclude the reminiscences. Instead, I challenged President Marcos Jr. to reverse his recent decision to grant 15 more years to billionaire Ricky Razon to operate the billion dollar rig in Malampaya’s $1 million a day income. That is $365 million a year! That income from our natural resources should belong to the Filipino people, not the pocket of the Philippines’ multi-billionaire–as printed in Forbes Magazine.

To end the program, classical guitarist and conductor of Children’s Orchestra Society, Maestro Michael Dadap explained how his composition “Huling Pagsamo” (Final Plea) became the theme song of the Ninoy Aquino Movement (NAM), one of the opposition organizations during his three-year exile in the U.S.

Actor, activist and “Here Lies Love” co-producer, Lora Nicolas Olaes, who also sang the Philippine National Anthem “Lupang Hinirang” at the beginning of the program, explained how at 2 years old, her father brought her to the rallies in the campaign of Aquino’s widow, Cory Aquino for President, during the snap elections of 1986. Her admonition is for President Marcos Jr. to eliminate the corruption in government, the kleptocracy of politicians, the inadequacy and the inefficiency of governing which cause the extreme poverty of the Filipino people. With the accompaniment in the guitar by Maestro Dadap, she sang the battle cry of the People Power Revolution, “Bayan Ko.”

There were tears in my eyes, as we sang about the fractured democracy in our motherland.

© The FilAm 2023

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