Martial Law and Imprisonment
The declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972 ushered in the defining phase in Ninoy's evolution as a leader. Before then, it was generally assumed that he would ascend to the nation's highest office as the Liberal Party's standard bearer in the 1973 presidential elections. Instead, he wound up the most high-profile political prisoner as Ferdinand Marcos suspended the Constitution, abolished Congress, silenced the opposition and the media, and ruled by decree on the pretext that he needed emergency powers to quell a communist insurgency and a Muslim secessionist rebellion.
While incarcerated in Fort Bonifacio, Ninoy managed to communicate with underground elements of the opposition who eluded arrest and to even have articles critical of martial law published in the foreign press. In an effort to break his spirit, Marcos had Ninoy and Senator Jose "Pepe" Diokno secretly brought to Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, where the two were placed in solitary confinement.
In these trying times, Ninoy began to question his faith as he wondered why God would allow him to suffer such indignity and injustice. Rejecting the authority of the military tribunal tasked to pass judgment on his guilt or innocence in the face of trumped-up charges of murder, subversion, and illegal possession of firearms, he went on a 40-day hunger strike that nearly cost him his life.
But, in the depths of his desolation, he realized that he had in fact been living a charmed life and felt shame at whimpering when his character was placed under its most severe test. There began a spiritual transformation that would see Ninoy evolve from a brilliant and ambitious politician to a selfless servant leader who surrendered himself to the will of God.
As expected, the military tribunal pronounced him guilty and sentenced him to die by musketry in 1977. However, the Marcos government could not carry out death sentence as its human rights record came under intense international scrutiny. Ninoy was even allowed to run for a Metro Manila seat in the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978. With only his family and a ragtag ticket campaigning for him, the imprisoned Aquino still gave the dictatorship a scare as polls showed him a shoo-in for a Batasan seat and as a noise barrage rocked the metropolis on the eve of election day. With the counting of ballots under their control, the administration Kilusang Bagong Lipunan swept the elections.
On his seventh year and seventh month in prison, Ninoy got his divine reprieve in a strange sort of way. He suffered a heart attack and, to his surprise, Marcos allowed him to go to the United States for bypass surgery.
Next: Exile Begins