Looking Back

Marcos, Aquino and a CIA report

Three weeks after Ninoy Aquino was shot and killed upon his arrival in Manila on Aug. 21, 1983, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) circulated a secret report titled “Aquino’s Assassination: Implications for Stability in the Philippines.” Summarized from inputs provided by the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and intelligence from the Departments of State and Treasury, as well as intelligence from the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, this declassified document makes for engaging reading despite being heavily redacted and with access to several sensitive pages denied.

There was a lot at stake. Aside from a Manila visit by US President Ronald Reagan scheduled for November 1983, there were US security interests that lay in the Subic Bay Naval Base and the Clark Air Base in Angeles, Pampanga, that were to bring in a $900-million assistance package after US congressional scrutiny in 1984. The Philippine foreign debt at the time was about $22.7 billion, with additional exposure from US commercial banks at $6 billion in loans, and $1.6 billion in US private investment in the country. Ninoy’s death and the rumors of Marcos’ deteriorating health led to the question of Marcos’ successor and dampened enthusiasm for the National Assembly elections scheduled for May 1984.


Despite two fact-finding boards created by Marcos to investigate the assassination and restore public confidence in his government, people had already made up their mind: Ninoy was not killed by the alleged assassin Rolando Galman, he was killed by one of his military escorts. Unfortunately, the report left the issue of who shot Aquino unresolved, stating: “The Intelligence Community cannot make a judgment about who bears ultimate responsibility.” However, it pointed out some possibilities: that Aquino was shot by one or a group of his political or economic rivals, that the assassination was engineered by the Communist New People’s Army knowing that Marcos would be blamed, that Aquino was killed by someone in the military close to Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, perhaps even Gen. Fabian Ver because one did need a very high-security clearance to know when and where Aquino would disembark.

The report even suggested that the mastermind might not have been Marcos but someone who thought he was doing Malacañang a favor by eliminating a nuisance called Ninoy. What concerned the US intelligence community at the time was the question of succession, since Marcos was reported to be seriously ill and the top contenders were identified as: Imelda Marcos, Cesar Virata, Fabian Ver, Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel Ramos and others who are hidden in the restricted pages.


The most important part of the report is an annex analyzing the Marcos-Aquino relationship. It stated: “… They closely resembled each other, and as a result each recognized the danger the other represented. Both took the expedient, if not ruthless, approach to their political and personal relationships throughout their political careers. Both switched parties when they found it advantageous. Both came from provinces with a tradition of political violence, and both took part in it. Before martial law, Aquino wrote in a June 1972 newspaper article that the Philippines needed ‘a man on a white horse’ to provide discipline and guidance, but Marcos had the same vision and acted first. The enmity between the two men was deep, personal and longstanding … Aquino had the best chance of leading a successful presidential campaign. Although technically ineligible for the presidency because he no longer resided in the Philippines … Aquino’s rare ability to attract many different, even rival, interest groups explains his predominance … Aquino consistently miscalculated his ability to outmaneuver Marcos … Nonetheless, next to Marcos, Aquino was the most important man in Philippine politics.”

When all the local and foreign documents are declassified and historians are given access to them, we will have a more nuanced, more complex history than the black-and-white caricatures of Marcos and Aquino found in textbook history and the popular imagination. Marcos and Aquino are fascinating because their personal dynamics played out in, and altered the course of, Philippine history.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: Aquino assassination, cia, marcos, Ninoy Aquino
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