From a barbed compound surrounded by sawali walls, we literally entered one of the dark chapters in Philippine history. A couple of cells located inside this nondescript bungalow once held two of the country’s brightest mind in total solitary confinement; their windows shut to sunlight, their rooms bare. For thirty days, Senators Ninoy Aquino and Jose W. Diokno were imprisoned here on charges of subversion (Diokno, however, wasn’t charged with anything) by the late president Ferdinand Marcos.
|FORT MAGSAYSAY’S MAN-MADE LAKE APTLY DUBBED AS PAHINGAHAN|
I used to frequent Nueva Ecija when I was still a kid, as my mom hails from Cabanatuan City which we fondly call ‘Tuan. During summer breaks, we’d visit our grandparents and spend two months doing nothing but eat mangos.
But besides the farm fields and the brook at the back of our grandpa’s house, we hardly ever ventured out. It was only decades later, after Microtel Cabanatuan invited me on a tour that I got to see that there’s quite a lot of history behind our dear province.
|INFOGRAPHICS ROOM AT THE AQUINO-DIOKNO MEMORIAL|
From the center of Cabanatuan, it took us about half-an-hour to reach Fort Magsaysay. Our main objective was to visit the Aquino-Diokno Memorial, a small squat building contained within the 35,000-hectare military installation in Nueva Ecija. This is the largest existing military reservation in the Philippines; it’s so large, it covers two towns in the province, Laur and Palayan City.
|THE MODERN MUSEUM ADJACENT THE IMPRISONMENT CELLS|
Once inside the memorial, we were shown a brief documentary about Ninoy, Diokno and Marcos. It was all about martial law, political oppositions and imprisonment. The two senators were Marcos’ bitter opponents and to keep them from further attacking his moves, he incarcerated them here at Laur for exactly thirty days.
|BENIGNO AQUINO’S ROOM|
|JOSE DIOKNO’S ROOM|
One can just imagine the confusion these two lawmakers must have when a helicopter swooped down on them and dropped them in the middle of nowhere.
And we saw exactly how that middle of nowhere looked. Inside the Aquino-Diokno Memorial, two rooms set with life-sized wax figures of the senators show how bleak and bare their surrounding was. I cannot imagine being detained here for a few days, let alone a month. It was indeed a soul-crushing way to defeat a man’s spirit as Ninoy said.
|NINOY, COUNTING OFF THE DAYS|
|DIOKNO’S WAY OF KEEPING TRACK OF THEIR DAYS SPENT IN LAUR|
|SOAP PACKAGING USED AS A SECRET CALENDAR|
To count the days, Ninoy would carve out sticks on the east window of his cell, while Diokno would use a knot on a string and the back of a soap packaging. To pass the time, the latter would compose poems in his mind and perform yoga exercises. It got to a point that even training an ant colony seemed the only thing to do.
|AQUINO AND DIOKNO’S COOK|
Eventually, Ninoy went on a hunger strike, refusing the food given out by the cook in charge of the two. That cook, Basilisa Dilara, was quite upset with this, even gently asking Ninoy if she didn’t like the food she was preparing for him. A picture of her with a few of her effects is on display at the makeshift prison camp.
|NINOY’S WAX FIGURE STANDING NEAR HIS PERMANENTLY CLOSED WINDOW|
|DIOKNO’S HAGGARD WAX FIGURE|
From March 12 to April 11, 1973, the two were left to their own devices at Fort Magsaysay. And as if to add insult to injury, the song White Christmas was kept playing over and over in the background. Ultimately, the two were transferred to Fort Bonifacio where they continued their incarceration.
|CATHOLIC CHAPEL INSIDE FORT MAGSAYSAY|
|PAHINGAHAN LAKE AT FORT MAGSAYSAY|
Visiting the Aquino-Diokno Memorial was quite a heavy way to start our day, and to lighten things up a bit, we went around Fort Magsaysay to see what else the camp has to offer for visitors.
Passing by a helicopter lifting off and a platoon of soldiers in training, we visited their swimming pool (which surprisingly is also open to the public) their chapel and their Pahingahan Complex, a rest and relaxation place right beside a man-made lake for military personnel within the camp. It was the perfect place to end our Fort Magsaysay tour before heading back to Cabanatuan City.
~ A visit to the Aquino-Diokno Memorial at Fort Magsaysay can be arranged with Microtel Cabanatuan (0927) 804-2929.
Address: Fort Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija
Open Hours: Monday to Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Entrance Fee: Donations Only
GPS Coordinates Map: 15.436905, 121.081917i