Our big clan is justifiably proud of its role in the landmark event we call Edsa People Power, which made history in February 1986. My cousin, the late Butz Aquino, played a key role by making the first call to Filipinos to support those who had withdrawn their allegiance from the dictator. And many of us participated in the series of actions between 1983 and 1986, which culminated in the restoration of democracy in our country.
But for me personally, Edsa was a God-sent miracle in my life.
Aug. 5, 1983 was a double celebration for me. On this day, I became a grandfather for the first time, courtesy of my eldest daughter, Maysie, who gave birth to twin girls. This was also the big day for my company, Hemisphere Advertising, which was celebrating its new partnership with the Leo Burnett Company, a leading US multinational ad agency, with an inaugural cocktail reception.
My cousin, Paul Aquino, who was there as one of my clients, pulled me aside to tell me that his brother, Ninoy, was coming back alone to the Philippines within the next few weeks, but this was still under wraps. I told him I would be in the airport with the rest of the family to meet Ninoy.
Aug. 21, 1983. Upon arrival at the Manila International Airport, Ninoy was taken into custody on the plane and was shot treacherously as he descended the ramp. We, who gathered at the airport lobby to meet him, were never to see him alive. We would only see his lifeless body in his blood-stained clothes that same evening when he was brought in a casket to his family home on Times Street in Quezon City.
1983 to 1985. Ninoy’s death was the final straw, the tipping point which emboldened the heretofore timid Filipino masses to take to the streets and demonstrate openly in defiance of the formerly intimidating regime. The widespread demonstrations and growing defiance of the people forced Marcos to declare the holding of snap elections for the presidency and vice presidency in late 1985.
My personal journey. Between 1983 and 1985, I spent many days marching on the streets with various protest groups, and working with corporate executives and businessmen planning the most effective actions to help end the regime.
When the snap elections were finally announced, I was the incumbent president of the advertising industry’s national association (4A’s-P). Many of my fellow CEOs in advertising supported the Marcos camp, but a few of us worked very hard for Cory Aquino’s candidacy, sometimes being ridiculed by our own colleagues. My own company’s people voluntarily worked into the night, producing alternative advertising materials for the Cory campaign, especially after the regular mass media outlets were denied to us.
My special prayer-request. In the period following Ninoy’s assassination, things were really looking dim, especially for the economy, which was spiraling down rapidly. This significantly impacted my fledgling company and the advertising industry which I headed, where many companies were letting people go or folding up.
So, on many nights before going to sleep, I (probably with millions of our countrymen) prayed fervently for deliverance from our country’s dire situation, hopefully through a victory of Cory Aquino in the snap elections. But more than God’s answering the collective prayers of the Filipino people, I boldly asked God to give me a special sign that He listened to my specific personal prayers, quite apart from everyone else’s. I knew this was very unusual and presumptuous, and I had no idea what form God’s answer would take. But probably in desperation, I kept repeating that prayer anyway.
February 1986. After Marcos got himself declared winner, Cory, in a historic, record-breaking people’s rally at the Luneta, called for a nationwide boycott of the products of all crony-owned or crony-associated companies. This would be the first major step of the people’s protest movement.
The planned boycott was supposed to begin Monday, Feb. 24. I was part of the planning group which met on the morning of Saturday, Feb. 22, two days before the boycott. To my great dismay, when I saw the final list of companies to be boycotted, some of my clients, which were not even local, but multinational, were on the list. But because these companies were supposed to have some Marcos associates as “patrons” or “partners,” they were on the list.
Much disturbed, I thought that if I boycotted some of my own clients, it would be fatal to the reputation of my young company, which had just entered into a promising international partnership. I was very conflicted, and with a sinking feeling I went home that Saturday afternoon, dreading the inevitable boycott and the almost certain demise of my company.
My personal miracle. Mentally, emotionally and physically spent, I went home that Saturday afternoon and fell into a fitful sleep, resigning myself to the inevitable. But at 6:30 that evening, I was jolted awake by an urgent call from my sister, Manette.
“Turn on your TV,” she said excitedly. “Ramos and Enrile have abandoned Marcos! They’re holding a press conference right now!”
My first reaction was, “This is the miracle I have been praying for!” I knew even then that this was God’s answer to the Filipinos’ collective supplications, but at the same time I had no doubt it was the sign that He had also answered my personal prayer, and just in time!
Because of the ensuing Edsa phenomenon, the boycott of crony-associated companies set for that Monday never pushed through. My company was saved! And my US partners never had an inkling how their new partnership in the Philippines had been in serious jeopardy. Within a few years, Hemisphere-Leo Burnett grew to become one of the top companies in its field, and has remained so to this day.
I spent the next few days in Edsa with my people, until Marcos fled the country on Feb. 25. And guess what? My final confirmation that God sometimes answers personal prayers miraculously is this: Edsa Day, a historic date we now celebrate, falls on Feb. 25, my birthday! —CONTRIBUTED