The Story Continues at Aquino-Diokno Memorial

Monday, October 16, 2017

diokno cell fort magsaysay

During Microtel's North Luzon Tour in early August, we went around the province of Nueva Ecija. On our first day, we dined at the UMART Cafe and toured around the CLSU in the Science City of Muñoz. The next day, before exiting the province to go to Baguio, we headed for the town of Laur thirty minutes from the provincial center and visited one of Nueva Ecija's historical landmarks: the Aquino-Diokno Memorial inside Fort Magsaysay.

The memorial, located within the 35,000-hectare military reservation, includes a museum as well as the actual cells where senators Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr., and Jose W. Diokno were held captive for exactly thirty days during the days of Martial Law. Considered as Marcos's staunchest critics, the pair was thrown into jail for political reasons – Ninoy being charged with subversion, and Diokno just for the heck of it as I understand.
what to do in nueva ecija

places to visit nueva ecija

Related Adventure: Aquino Center and Museum

The tour began with a short documentary about the events that transpired before, during, and after the two's incarceration. Mostly how Martial Law came about. Then, we proceeded to the "visiting cage" at one of the entrances of the building where the cells were located. The "cage" was tiny and covered with a mesh of steel. It was so narrow, I imagined either Ninoy and Diokno having to squeeze their way in.
fort magsaysay nueva ecija

aquino diokno memorial

aquino diokno memorial

We then proceeded to the other entrance to the building. On the way, I noticed the sawali walls that surrounded the walls. We were told these were to keep out the sunlight and to further isolate the internees.


We were then showed the "rooms". With boarded-up windows and little space to move around, I immediately felt a rush of claustrophobia. It suddenly felt stuffy. In Diokno's room (codenamed Delta) was an old soap packaging that the senator used to secretly keep track of time. Once this was discovered and taken away, he resorted to tying knots in the ropes of his bed's mosquito net to mark the days. Meanwhile, Alpha's (Ninoy's) room felt even more suffocating. Along the frame of one of the boarded-up windows, there were tally marks that Ninoy carved to record the days.
diokno cell fort magsaysay

delta room fort magsaysay

delta room fort magsaysay

jose w diokno fort magsaysay

alpha room fort magsaysay

ninoy aquino incarceration

window tally marks ninoy aquino

As we inspected the cells, Basilisa Ollero – fondly called by everyone as Nanay Cely – related stories about the two detainees. She was here during those days. She actually cooked and served food to the two men. Listening to her first-hand account made the experience even more surreal. She tells us that the two men communicated by singing nationalistic songs as loudly and as out-of-tune as they can. One of them would start singing and as soon as the other chimes in, both would feel relief as that was when they know both of them were still alive.
nanay cely fort magsaysay

nanay cely aquino diokno memorial

Related Adventure: Tarlac Recreational Park

Nanay Cely also shared that Ninoy used to refuse the food she served him. She let this go on for a few days before finally confronting the senator. After that, the senator ate the meals that Nanay Cely prepared.

One particularly heartwarming story Nanay Cely related was when, one day, Ninoy requested the officer-in-charge to send roses to his wife Cory. It was apparently their anniversary. Ninoy knew what date it was because of the tiny tally marks he carved on his window sill.

Related Adventure: Saved by the Game Room

Despite this lighthearted incident, the entire set-up remained grim. Even when what we saw were just vestiges, memories of what transpired here, it remained unpleasant. Just like the tour at Tarlac, it was incredibly insightful to get a glimpse of arguably two of the country's most brilliant minds' dreadful living conditions in those thirty days of incarceration.

It was then ironic, yet somehow only fitting, that adjacent to the cells was the Center for Human Rights Dialogue.
center of human rights dialogue

center of human rights dialogue

This made me pause, mulling over the present – personal and impersonal events. I thought, maybe it really has to get as bad as it's gonna get for things to get better.

Don't you agree?

Aquino-Diokno Memorial 
Address: Fort Magsaysay, Laur, Nueva Ecija 
Contact Number: 
Open Hours: Monday to Friday 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM 
Entrance Fee: Donations Only 

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