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The Scholarly Life of a Leader

Berigno S. Aquino Remembered Former Colleagues Reflect

By Mary Humes

That Archibald MacLeish quote, carved on a plaque outside Harvard's Center for International Affairs, was to have closed Filipino opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino's speech on his return to the Philippines after three years of exile in the United States. But Aquino was never able to deliver those remarks: He was assassinated at the airport only minutes after returning to Filipino soil on August 21.

Aquino's death raised international suspicion and fueled dissident activity in the Southeast Asian country, where he had long been considered the primary foe of President Ferdinand Marcos, who has governed the nation with martial law since 1972. At Harvard, the former Filipino senator's slaying has been a source of sober reflection. The leader spent his last three years in exile in Cambridge, where he held fellowships at the CFIA between 1980-82 and at MIT last year. Aquino came to Cambridge following heart surgery in California, an operation that had secured him release from a Filipino prison where he had been jailed since 1972 for "subversive" activities.

The opposition leader's brief tenure here left an indelible mark on area international experts. In a series of interviews last week, several scholars warmly recalled Aquino, describing "Ninoy" as a man so firmly committed to non-violent opposition that he expressed no bitterness toward his foe Marcos, who had repeatedly threatened him.

Former Harvard lecturer on East Asian Studies Dr. Gui Pauker, now with the California-based Rand Corporation, recalled visiting Aquino in the spring of 1979 while he was recovering from his triple bypass operations. "He was very weak, but the first thing he said to me was I've had a lot of time to think in jail and I've realized the only solution is non-violence,'" Pauker recalled.

It was Pauker who suggested that Aquino ignore Marcos's order to return to jail after recovery by accepting a fellowship at Harvard. Aquino agreed, choosing to spend the next two years researching the history of democracy in the Philippines as part of the CFIA fellows program.

"Ninoy was special on two accounts--because he was not a diplomat and because he stayed a second year," said Professor Leonard Unger '39, a former Ambassador to Thailand who teaches at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Diplomacy, where Aquino made appearances.

During his time at Harvard and later as a fellow at MIT, Aquino participated in many study groups and seminars on Southeast Asia. Eloquent and warm even to a student audience, he demonstrated the qualities that made him a distinctive national leader at home, reeling off statistics on demographics and economics without the aid of notes, faculty members recalled.

"He was a lively, dynamic person, full of warmth and vitality," said CFIA Director Samuel P. Huntington. This likable demeanor affected his politics, which were characterized by fairness Recalled Unger: "He was not one to offer a sharp, anti-Marcos diatribe."

Even while he researched solutions to the problems confronting the Philippines, he tired to avoid the political limelight. "He understood the meaning of a university," said Lucian Pye, director of the international fellows program at MIT. "He did not use [his academic position] to denounce the government."

But Aquino in his three years did not confine himself to theoretical politics, Filipino generals, cabinet officers and business leaders reportedly sought him out during visits to the United States. Even Philippines First Lady Imelda Marcos met with Aquino, said Pauker.

These meetings are the source of misunderstanding, according to Pauker, Analysts assume Aquino used his asylum as a springboard for dissident activity, he said. For example, after Aquino predicted in a New York speech that the threat of guerrilla violence was severe, bombing by rebels soon broke out in Manila, and U.S. officials apparently assumed that he was connected with the incident. Pauker denies this, citing the commitment to nonviolence Aquino acquired in prison and during his years in the U.S.

Another subtle irony detected by area friends of Aquino was his frequent contact with the government that apparently feared him. "The perplexing thing was that at the same time as he was being outspoken, he was also in touch with the people in the Philippine government." Unger said Experts describe a peculiar relationship between Aquino and his government whereby Aquino's formidable stables as an opponent made him a near insider in the political establishment. A fraternity brother of Marcos who dated Imelda at University of the Philippines in Manila, Aquino was "an adversary rather than in enemy to Marcos," according to Pauker. Pye says that Marcos himself would call Aquino long distance and hang up after delivering his message

Unger recalls a seminar at the Fletcher School attended by both Aquino and a 'Filipino cabinet member. Unger recalls that he anticipated a meeting marked by acrimony 'Could the two stand being in the same room' "I was surprised to see Aquino get up and greet his former colleague in a great warm embrace," he said. "They did not want to let banishment stand in the way of a permanent friendship."

Experts said it was his concern for the survival of democracy in the Philippines which triggered his decision to return this summer. According to those who knew Aquino here as his third year of exile drew to its close. Aquino rontifnued to sorry about what was reputed to be the failing death of Marcos and its implications a possible takeover by the country's generals or by Imelda Marcos scenarios which Aquino believed could seriously threaten the survival of democracy. With the approach of the parliamentary elections promised for 1984 the first in 12 years. Aquino felt he should help mobilize the opposition, Pye said

Aquino also believed that his return and subsequent arrest would win hum an audience with Marcos and that such an audience would bring about an end to martial law according to scholars. "Aquino became convinced that Marcos done could return the country to democracy Aquino wanted to convince Marcos that it was his page up history to preside over the return to democracy." Pauker says. He added that Aquino felt that if the generals were to take charge they would be less willing than Marcos to give up their power for more democratic rule

For Aquino the opportunity to fall to Marcos was apparently worth the risk of arrest and a return to prison or death sentence "Aquino thought that at the worst he'd be arrested," said Pye, explaining that Aquino's presence was tantamount to "taunting Marcos, challenging Marcos to shoot him."

Aquino's plans for a quiet, nonviolent homecoming illustrates the changes in his approach that took place in recent years, said observers. At the height of his political career. Aquino surrounded himself with "a small private army" and other protection device helicopters guards and an "arsenal," said one former associate. "He was a tough leader, but after jail he became a real philosopher."

Friends and scholars agree that Aquino's death means loss to the Philippines, made all the more tragic because Aquino's new, nonviolent approach to leadership offered promise for leading his country back to democracy. "It was a case of not only years wasted, but a waste of life," says Pye. "The country cannot afford to deny itself the benefit of a man like Ninoy."

Pauker recalls trying to persuade Aquino to put off his return, citing the dangers. He remembers finally giving up, saving, "'That is why I'm a scholar and you are a leader.'"

Aquino instead chose to follow his own instincts. As one expert recalled Aquino saying at a trial for political dissidence 10 years ago when he was asked to answer charges of subversion. "I rather choose to follow my conscience and accept a tyrant's revenge."

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