What makes a hero?
Dictionary.com defines a hero as “a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character” and “a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.”
Though “meeting a tragic or controversial death” isn’t part of the criteria of being a hero, it seems like a fate shared by many men and women who put their lives on the line for the sake of their morals and vlaues.
This Ninoy Aquino Day, My Pope remembers the lives of three local heroes whose deaths, while controversial, were clearly not in vain.
Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino
Shot by an unknown assailant
This August 21 marks the 36th year Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino was shot to death upon his arrival at the Manila International Airport, after spending three years in exile in the United States. To this day, the murder remains an unsolved case.
Initial reports pointed to Rolando Galman, a gunman allegedly hired by the Communist Party of the Philippines to assassinate Ninoy. But irregularities that cropped up during a thorough investigation showed little to no proof that Galman, who was also shot and lying dead next to the senator, could have committed the crime. At the time, the likeliest suspect was the president himself, Ferdinand Marcos, who had reason to silence his staunchest and most vocal critic.
Conspiracy theorists have also linked the following personalities to the murder: General Fabian Ver, head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines during President Marcos’ term; Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, cousin of Ninoy and a known Marcos crony; and even first lady Imelda Marcos.
While the killer, the mastermind, and the motive behind the murder remains a mystery to this day, Ninoy’s death served as catalyst for Filipinos to take to the streets and reclaim their freedom and democracy.
General Antonio Luna
Shot and stabbed numerous times by the men of General Emilio Aguinaldo
That dramatic assassination scene in the movie Heneral Luna is hard to watch, but it’s based on historical accounts. In June 2, 1899, Luna received a telegram from General Emilio Aguinaldo, requesting his presence to help form a new Cabinet. Elated, Luna made the arduous journey from Bayambang, Pangasinan to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija.
Upon his arrival three days later, he chanced upon Kawit Battalion commander (and old foe) Pedro Janolino, who told him that Aguinaldo had left for another town. A heated exchange ensued, whereupon Janolino struck his sword at Luna, the first of 30 wounds endured by the general. Soldiers then fired and stabbed at Luna, who yelled “Traitor!” as he tried to defend himself. Luna’s lifeless body was quickly buried in the churchyard.
It’s natural to assume that Aguinaldo was behind Luna’s assassination—after all, the deed was done by his soldiers. But historians, notably De La Salle University professor Xiao Chua, said there is no concrete proof to back this up. “[Based sa history], hindi natin ma-establish na may kinalaman si Aguinaldo sa pagkamatay ni Luna [dahil walang solid evidence pointing to him],” he said to GMA News Online.
Janolino, however, is a different story. “We have here an account by Antonio Abad when he interviewed Pedro Janolino at sinasabi dito na self-defense lang daw ‘yung ginawa nila,” he said in an interview with ANC. “When Antonio Luna was coming down the stairs, nakita niya galit na galit si Antonio, pinagmumura sila.” Apparently Janolino feared Luna would kill him, so he and the soldiers beat him to it.
In any case, the film Heneral Luna sparked the public’s interest to learn more about this unresolved moment in history.
“Kinikilala natin ang papel at contribution sa himagsikan ni Emilio Aguinaldo pero kung may mali man siya, na nakikita ng tao ngayon…sana matuto tayo dito,” said Chua.
Death by firing squad—or hacked to death?
Emilio Aguinaldo is also reportedly responsible for the death of Andres Bonifacio who was found guilty of treason against the revolutionary government that replaced his Katipunan. A death sentence was meted out to him and his brother Procopio.
There are two versions to how Bonifacio was executed on May 10, 1897. The first is by firing squad, the second is that he was stabbed and hacked to death while on a stretcher, too weak to walk.
Historian Ambeth Ocampo believes in the former, given the handwritten testimony of Lazaro Macapagal, who was behind the execution of the Bonifacio brothers.
From Lazaro’s account (in a handwritten document that went up for auction for P150,000 at the Asian Cultural Council-Leon Gallery Benefit Auction on February 12, 2019), it was Procopio who was shot first, in a forest and away from Andres’ sight. When it was his turn, Andres fell to his knees, wailed for Procopio’s forgiveness then ran into the forest. He was caught and shot at the end of a river. The siblings were buried in shallow graves which the executioners dug using their bayonets.