By Neni Sta. Romana Cruz
June 20th, 2015
Philippine Daily Inquirer
I went to the Aquino Center in Tarlac on Independence Day, deciding that this year would be the best time to celebrate the holiday.
On the ride there, I was suddenly filled with regret at the thought of never having had the chance to honor Cory Aquino’s longstanding invitation to tour the place with her as guide. I joined a group of doctors and family members (we were four—my twin brothers Chito and Nelin; Chris, Chito’s son who grew up in Beijing; and myself).
The tour began at the screening room where Ninoy Aquino’s life was shown based on a script of former press secretary Teodoro C. Benigno.
It was an all-too-familiar storyline, but I was stunned all over again at the excesses and the loss of life and liberty during the martial law years, all climaxing on Aug. 21, 1983, when Ninoy was assassinated. When the images of arrests and detention were flashed, I did not want to think of what my brothers seated beside me were feeling for themselves, and for the many friends they lost in the struggle.
Nelin was hauled off to Camp Crame in the dead of night in the first wave of arrests that lamentable day in September 1972. Chito found himself an exile in China for more than two decades: When martial law was imposed, he was on an invited tour there along with other students including Jaime FlorCruz and Ericson Baculinao.
Many times in the course of the tour, Aquino museum director and Tarlac native Karen Lacsamana-Carrera reminded us that it was Cory herself who was the curator of the Ninoy exhibit, deciding what items would be on display. Cory preferred not to focus on Ninoy’s assassination, not wanting the spirit of hatred to prevail. But there is no danger of the killing on the tarmac being glossed over because two display cases carry Ninoy’s bloodied undershirt, bulletproof vest and shirt. On their own, these items speak volumes. (But they need more state-of-the-art preservation.)
The exhibits are divided into several eras, with the last section devoted to mementos of the Cory Aquino presidency. One can see the Cory stamp of humility there; it is still Ninoy’s life and death that dominates the exhibit. As Karen reiterated, it was Cory who decided what would be for public viewing. Many items belonging to the Cory presidential era are in storage. I looked—in vain—for her March 23, 1986, PAX award from St. Scholastica’s College, where she spent her elementary years before the war broke out. I hope I just missed it, because her grade school class photos in uniform with her classmates and their teacher, a German Benedictine nun, were clearly reproduced.
I thought I knew the Ninoy and Cory story well, but apparently there is always something of interest to discover. For example, there was the bright blue Volkswagen Rabbit that the couple and their children used during their three years in Boston. After Ninoy’s assassination, it was sent to Manila and kept in storage all these years in the garage in the Cojuangco ancestral home in Makati. With the opening of the Aquino Center, it was beautifully restored to its gleaming condition today. Ninoy drove it to MIT and Harvard for his lectures and studies. According to the museum caption, the eldest of the children, Ballsy, who drives, did not use it much because she could not drive a station wagon. In the glove compartment are found the immunization receipts of Ninoy’s Akitas.
There was no crowd on the day we visited. The museum staff observed that it was a public holiday and school had just started, which was why the usual field trips of busloads of schoolchildren had yet to begin. Predictably, the crowd is almost unmanageable in August, a painfully significant month for Ninoy and Cory Aquino.
I was happy to hear this especially after a recent conversation with Virgilio Almario, national artist for literature and chair of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino, and Felipe de Leon Jr., chair of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. The two men both lamented how museum visits by today’s generation of students and young professionals are more the exception than the rule. We agreed that it is incumbent upon teachers and other adults who work with students to entice, mandate and lure them to museums, hopefully as regularly as they are drawn to malls. Why should a class trip to a cultural event have to be “sweetened” by a trip to the mall? It was a happy development that the National Museum of the Philippines literally opened its doors this month via the lifting of the admission fees (very minimal, to start with). That scheme for all of us who are on the lookout for bargains is always a crowd-drawer. Thanks, Jeremy Barns!
How best to learn Philippine history and culture in vivid, tangible terms if not through museums? There is so much to discover and appreciate about who and what we are as a people. Only then can we all stand proud to be citizens of this country.
Neni Sta. Romana Cruz ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is chair of the National Book Development Board, a trustee of Teach for the Philippines and a member of the Eggie Apostol Foundation.