Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was born to a prosperous, landowning political family in Tarlac province. He was an adventurous and brash young man whose phenomenal career began when he was hired as a reporter at the Manila Times, then the leading Philippine newspaper. At age 18, he was sent to report on the war that was going on in Korea.
He attracted the attention of President Ramon Magsaysay, who then started Aquino on his political career. With the support of Magsaysay, Aquino was elected mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, in 1955; at age 22 he was the youngest to occupy the post. Then in 1962 he was elected governor of Tarlac province at age 28, again the youngest to occupy the post. And in 1969, he was elected senator, leading the victory for the opposition and becoming the youngest (at age 34) to be so elected.
As senator, Aquino (who called himself a “radical rich guy”) took a progressive stand on several issues, He opposed Philippine involvement in the Vietnam War and condemned military and police abuses and the use of terror and violence against civilians.
Ninoy Aquino was a popular politician, with youth and charisma. When he became a clear frontrunner for the presidential elections in 1973, he began to be seen as a threat to Ferdinand Marcos, then on his second and final term as president.
When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he had Aquino arrested and put in solitary confinement, and in 1978 sentenced by military tribunal to die by firing squad. Foreign governments and organizations ﬂooded the regime with letters of concern in behalf of Aquino and other political prisoners. To defuse the situation, Marcos allowed a retrial and called for parliamentary elections (to the Interim Batasang Pambansa), letting Aquino run while still in jail. Marcos’ candidates won and Aquino lost in the rigged elections, further worsening the people’s disgust.
Aquino then launched a 40-day prison hunger strike to focus attention on the regime’s abuses. The sacrifice nearly killed him but it helped strengthened the people’s opposition to martial law.
To rid himself of Aquino, Marcos permitted him to go abroad in 1980 to undergo heart surgery. For the next three years, Aquino stayed in the United States, continuing to denounce martial law and building a network of expatriates actively opposing the regime.
Aquino returned to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, fully aware that what awaited him was another prolonged stay in jail or possibly even death. Upon landing at the airport, soldiers fetched him from the plane and shot him dead as they descended towards the tarmac. He was 48 years old. The regime blamed an unknown gunman for the killing, but most Filipinos believed that it was Marcos and his henchmen who plotted and carried out the assassination.
Three years of protests followed, growing bolder, stronger, and spreading all over the country. Marcos was forced to call a “snap” presidential election in 1986, in which he was boldly challenged by Corazon Aquino, the martyr’s widow. By then the dictator was a very sick man.
The election results were massively manipulated, and many died protecting the election process. This only fueled the people’s growing anger. One month after the election, a military faction revolted, starting a civilian-military uprising that would later be called the People Power Revolution. Multitudes poured into the streets to call openly for the ouster of the regime, and finally after three days Marcos was taken away from Malacanang in a US military helicopter. With his family and several of his closest friends, the ex-dictator was flown to the United States where he later died.
In 1986, Corazon Aquino became the country’s first president after Marcos. She released political prisoners and had a new constitution written and ratified. The couple’s son, Benigno S. Aquino III, was elected president in 2010.