I met Benigno Aquino only once. The House had passed legislation containing a provision I wrote to cut $5 million in US military aid to the Marcos regime to protest the deteriorating human rights conditions in the Philippines.
Aquino was beginning his three-year, self-imposed exile in the United States and had not yet fully recovered from heart surgery. Yet he had no time to waste in his effort to bring democracy to the Philippines. He was anxious to meet American legislators who shared his dream of freedom for his country.
There was no bitterness or anger in his voice when he talked about the trumped-up charges presented against him during his military tribunal, or the indignities he suffered while in jail.
Aquino emphasized to me the importance to the Filipino people of American efforts to condemn the human rights violations of the Marcos goverment. He told how the democratic opposition felt disheartened and betrayed whenever it seemed that the US was supporting Marcos and ignoring his repression.
He wanted lawmakers in this country to know that he and the other democratic opposition leaders in the Philippines shared the beliefs and values of their counterparts in the US. The struggle for respect for human rights in the Philippines, he said, reaffirmed the universal concepts upon which the US was founded.
The assassination of Aquino provides a new opportunity for the US to respond to the challen'y4 ZOOeyed during his Washington visit. The choice is between business-as-usual with Marcos and a new effort to build an enduring relationship with the Filipino people based upon shared democratic principles. Strategic security is the predominant consideration in the Reagan administration's policy toward the Philippines. Long-term Philippine-American relations in the post-Marcos era are being sacrificed now in the interest of maintaining short-term access to the Clark and Subic Bay military bases. The death of Aquino has created a crisis, but a greater crisis looms if current US thinking about the Philippines remains unchallenged.
The Aquino tragedy provides US policymakers with an opportunity to reassess the present uncritical embrace of Marcos. It is evident that confidence of strong American backing has emboldened Marcos since his red-carpet reception here last year to crack down on labor organizers, religious workers, journalists , and opposition leaders.
Regardless of who is actually responsible for the Aquino murder, President Reagan should postpone his scheduled November trip to the Philippines. Such a visit would insensitively suggest that nothing really serious has happened and that US policy has not been moved even by so heinous a crime.
With attention now finally beginning to focus on a number of critical issues in US-Philippine relations, Congress should rethink the wisdom of providing the Marcos government with a $900 million security assistance package in exchange for the use of the bases. Before the money is appropriated, serious questions should be raised about why so much military aid is required and for what purposes it will be used.
The finest American tribute to Benigno Aquino would be a policy that truly promotes adherence to democratic principle and democratic processes in the Philippines.