CLARK FREEPORT – Stories about the Martial Law years have been told and retold since 1972, but never in the way that a relative of Pres. Aquino knew it as personal witness to the lives of the Aquinos in those years.
As the declaration of Martial Law by the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos on Sept. 21, 1972 is marked, 70-year-old banker Benito Gonzalez, a second cousin of the President on his grandmother’s side and his nephew on his grandfather’s line, recalled here on the eve of the 42nd anniversary.
Gonzalez had helped the family of Ninoy get a home in Boston after the latter’s heart bypass surgery in Texas, chauffeured Ninoy in San Francisco, was the first relative to identify Ninoy’s body after his assassination, was the one to remind former Pres Corazon Aquino to change Ninoy’s smeared clothes into black suit in his coffin after public viewing, among other things most people have not heard about.
Why, Gonzalez was also the one who bought the semi-orthopaedic bed that Cory used at the Arlegui House in Malacanang during the 1986 coup d’etat. “So I am sure she could not have hidden under the bed because there was no space under,” he said during a meeting with the Capampangans In Media, Inc. (CAMI) here.
Gonzalez was a foreign exchange dealer in the US when Marcos declared martial law. “I could not fly home to the Philippines because I was then being accused of buying guns for Ninoy for whom I drove whenever he would visit San Francisco,” he said.
“Once in San Francisco, he hurriedly asked me to drive for him with a sense of urgency. It turned out he wanted to catch the last showing of The Godfather at the Coronet theatre,” he said. Gonzalez debunked reports that businessman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco financially supported Ninoy and his family during their threeyear stay in Boston.
“I am absolutely sure that is not true, because their financial transactions passed through me at that time,” he insisted.
He said that during Ninoy’s first winter in Boston after his heart bypass surgery, he slipped and broke his tendons.
He had to wear cement cast for that, but when the doctor later tore up the cast, his tendon area was found to be almost gangrenous. He recalled Ninoy joking that while he readily survived a heart bypass, his tendons almost cost him his life.
Gonzalez came back to the Philippines only in 1976 on a mission to open offshore banking, and only after then Sen. Jose Roy negotiated with then Defense Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile to issue a clearance for him.
In the Philippines, he would go with Cory to visit jailed Ninoy in Fort Bonifacio. “We would be told to sign documents and get photographed like criminals everytime we visited. We’d see Ninoy in some kind of amphitheatre where monitoring cameras were all around,” he recalled.
Later when Cory was president, she invited Gonzalez for what she said was a surprise. At the Arlegui House, Mrs. Aquino handed him her surprise. In an envelope were pictures taken of him and Cory during their visits to Ninoy at the amphitheatre. “These pictures are now framed and displayed at my home in Concepcion, Tarlac,” Gonzalez said.
“Ninoy kept a dog while he was incarcerated. It was a spitz dog given him by Tingting (Cojuangco). Later, I was one of the recipients of the puppies of that dog,” he noted. Gonzalez was regional manager of the Mitsubishi Bank when Ninoy was assassinated at the Manila airport.
He was also the only Aquino among the welcomers as Ninoy’s China Airlines flight landed. “Initially we were at Gate 11, but this area was cleared by security men and we were told to go to the VIP room. From there, we later heard the commotion,” he recalled. Without knowing what happened, he and his mother drove home.
“Thirty minutes after we arrived at home, there was a Metrocom car which arrived. They brought me to Fort Bonifacio to identify a body. The body was covered with a white sheet and when I lifted it, it was Ninoy,” he related.
Gonzalez also recalled that when he and Ninoy’s sister Maur went to choose a coffin, all were not to their choice as they appeared too shiny. “I don’t know what was done, but they did something so that the shine of one was made to look dull to suit our preference,” he said.
“At about 11 p.m. during the wake attended by tens of thousands of folk at the Sto. Domingo church in Quezon City,
an old woman approached me and another relative also named Benigno Aquino who died two years ago, and asked whether the clothes of Ninoy would not be changed,” he also recalled. Cory had preferred that the white clothes that Ninoy wore when he was assassinated be worn for the wake.
Gonzalez said that he approached Cory to relay the question. On that same night, the attire was changed into a formal black suit. “Not many people know this because public viewing was already stopped after this and only members of the family could view the remains,” he noted.