Who masterminded Ninoy’s murder?
On Aug. 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino was murdered in broad daylight at the tarmac of Manila International Airport. Three days later, on Aug. 24, 1983, President Ferdinand Marcos created a fact-finding committee chaired by then CJ Enrique Fernando to investigate the killing.
To dispel public doubts about the committee’s impartiality, Marcos replaced it on Oct. 22, 1983, with a new fact-finding board composed of former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Agrava (chair), lawyer Luciano Salazar, businessman Dante Santos, labor leader Ernesto Herrera and educator Amado Dizon. They were assisted by “Gray Dean” (later CJ) Andres Narvasa as general counsel.
After holding 125 sessions, listening to 194 witnesses and producing 20,377 pages of transcript, the Agrava Board concluded that several military officers, including then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian Ver, conspired to kill Ninoy. However, the Sandiganbayan (SBN), in a decision on Dec. 2, 1985, penned by then Presiding Justice Manuel Pamaran, disbelieved the conclusion and acquitted all the accused.
Then came the 1986 Edsa Revolution. Finding the SBN proceeding “to be a sham,” the newly reconstituted Supreme Court nullified the Pamaran verdict and ordered a new SBN trial.
In its 177-page decision dated Sept. 28, 1990, penned by Justice Regino Hermosisima Jr. (promoted to the Supreme Court on July 10, 1995), the SBN convicted the soldiers and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua. It ruled that CIC Rogelio Moreno—the security escort behind Ninoy while descending the stairway to the tarmac—pulled the trigger. Thereafter, the Supreme Court denied the appeal of the soldiers.
A new motion praying for a third trial—on the main ground that a forensic study showed that the fatal shot was not fired by Moreno but by a civilian on the tarmac, Rolando Galman—was filed in August 2004 by their new counsel, Persida Acosta, of the Public Attorney’s Office.
A unanimous resolution dated March 8, 2005, penned by Justice (later CJ) Reynato Puno denied the motion. It agreed with the SBN that since the “wound of entrance was at a higher elevation than the wound of
exit, there can be no other conclusion but that the trajectory was downward…”
Thus, the bullet could have come only from a gun on the upper part of the stairway where Moreno was descending behind Ninoy, rather than from the ground level of the tarmac where Galman was walking.
As to who the mastermind was, both the SBN and the high court did not and could not say. The Agrava Board, voting 4-1 (Agrava dissented), pointed to Gen. Fabian Ver as the highest official who actively participated in the military conspiracy to kill Ninoy.
As a consequence, Ver was charged with murder, but was later acquitted (along with the other accused) by the Dec. 2, 1985, SBN decision penned by Pamaran. And after the Supreme Court nullified the Pamaran verdict on Sept. 12, 1986, Ver and the soldiers were again indicted.
While the soldiers were convicted by the Hermosisima decision (affirmed by the Supreme Court), Ver’s guilt could not be passed upon by the SBN, because he joined Marcos in fleeing to Hawaii on Feb. 25, 1986, as an aftermath of the Edsa Revolution.
Given the flight of Ver, the SBN could not pass judgment on him for lack of jurisdiction. Since then and until his death in Bangkok on Nov. 21, 1998, he never returned to the country and was never convicted as a coconspirator or as the mastermind.
Loose talk has linked Marcos, first lady Imelda and former Ambassador Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco to Ninoy’s death. However, they were never indicted, much less held accountable, by the Agrava Board or the SBN or the Supreme Court.
Former Ambassador Bienvenido Tan Jr., the Agrava Board’s “public coordinator” with the same rank as Narvasa, wrote me on March 15, 2009, averring, “there was never any evidence linking President Marcos or Imelda or Danding so that much as we might have wanted to make a finding that they were or any one of them was in the plot, we could not in good conscience come up with that conclusion.”
Who masterminded Ninoy’s murder?
After 35 years and after two Aquino presidencies, the answer remains a legal enigma.
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