I learned of Benigno Aquino's death only two hours after it happened. It was 3 o'clock in the morning when the loud ring of the telephone awakened me. It was a call from a Japanese reporter in Tokyo. I was deeply shocked and saddened, and I felt very indignant.
I met Aquino on only two occasions, during one of my stays in Boston in March. From then on, I felt very close to him because of our similar situations. My impression was that he was a cheerful, courageous and intelligent man. At that time, he expressed his desire to go back to the Philippines in June, and he strongly criticized the U.S. government's support of Ferdinand Marcos and the U.S. administration's disregard of the Filipinos' aspirations for democracy.
My situation is very similar to Aquino's, and so I am in a position and have the responsibility to speak out for him. I feel it is urgent to appeal to the United States on behalf of the many that Aquino and I represent. Let me make several points.
First, the death of Aquino is a result, in part, of U.S. support for a dictatorial regime. Marcos staged a military coup in September 1972 with the excuse of taking countermeasures against social disorder, communist guerrillas and Moslem uprisings. He promised at that time that he would establish a "new society," and the United States did not oppose his moves.
Now, 11 years later, nothing has improved; on the contrary, things have become worse. The people's dissatisfaction has greatly increased. The left has won over new supporters. Moslem opposition is still a serious factor. Dictatorial rule has become more severe, and corruption is rife. Therefore, many have despaired about the future of their country. This is a critical moment in the history of the Philippines, as Aquino knew only too well.
However, the United States has not given this situation appropriate attention; rather, the U.S. administration has gone so far as to praise the Marcos regime. Aquino expressed to me his serious disappointment in the U.S. administration's view of his country and told me of his plan to return to the Philippines. He returned home fully cognizant of the possibility that he might be killed. And he was killed. The United States has lost--as has the Philippines--an outstanding statesman in Aquino, who was a courageous, moder- ate and far-sighted democratic leader.
Second, there may be those who say Aquino should have considered more carefully his return and not risked his life. I cannot agree. I know how disappointed Aquino was with the U.S. attitude and how anxious he was due to his separation from his people. As everybody knows, it was mainly because the U.S. government didn't treat him with the respect due one who represented a great part of the Filipino population. Though there is a diplomatic necessity to recognize the government in power, the United States could have found a way to accord Aquino some form of recognition-- thus allowing him greater leverage adequately and forcefully to represent the views of his people. The U.S. government failed to do this.
Aquino couldn't do much for his people here. Knowing this surely must have made the pain of separation from his people all the greater--realizing, as he did, that he was experiencing personal freedom in the United States while his people were suffering. How could he help thinking that he had to return to his fellow country men?
Third, the American public and media did not pay much attention to the Filipino people's efforts and struggle for the restoration of democracy. Because they continuously paid close attention to the human rights situation in Poland and other communist areas but not to that in the Philippines, Aquino must have lost hope that he could influence American public opinion, and thus he must have felt there was little reason for him to stay here.
Though people may criticize American foreign policy, we know that the United States has from time to time given considerable attention to human rights. However, the United States does not persistently pay enough attention to human rights abuses so as to improve fundamentally the worldwide picture. There is a growing anti-American feeling in countries where the United States supports military dictators. It has been said that the United States has lost the friendship of some 25 countries since World War II. The main reason for this development is a policy that disregards the will of the majority and democratic leaders in those countries. The United States is making the same mistake even now in many countries--including the Philippines.
The death of Aquino should give the United States impetus to reconsider and change its policies. In this sense, the people of the world--especially Filipinos and other Asians--are watching closely to see whether President Reagan will maintain his plans to visit the Philippines in November--a visit that would support Marcos, not the Filipino people and that would show disrespect in the wake of Aquino's death.