Were PFM and IRM complicit in Ninoy’s murder? | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Were PFM and IRM complicit in Ninoy’s murder?

After Ninoy Aquino’s martyrdom at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport was commemorated last Aug. 21, many readers invariably asked, “Were former president Ferdinand Marcos (PFM) and/or former first lady Imelda Romualdez-Marcos (IRM) and/or Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco complicit in the murder of Ninoy?” I have written three times about this sordid killing in 2009 after the convicted felons were pardoned by president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. My answer then was “No,” and my answer now is still “No.” Let me explain.

THREE DAYS AFTER NINOY’S ASSASSINATION, PFM formed a fact-finding committee headed by CJ Enrique Fernando. However, hardly had the committee commenced its work when it was severely criticized for alleged bias.

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Consequently, PFM created on Oct. 22, 1983, a new fact-finding body composed of former Court of Appeals justice Corazon Agrava (chair), lawyer Luciano Salazar, businessman Dante Santos, labor leader Ernesto Herrera, and educator Amado Dizon. Later, the Agrava Board retained UST’s “Gray Dean” (later CJ) Andres Narvasa as general counsel and lawyer (later ambassador) Bienvenido Tan Jr. as public coordinator (with the same rank as Narvasa).

After holding 125 sessions, hearing 194 witnesses, and consuming 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. Despite this, the Sandiganbayan (SBN), in a decision dated Dec. 2, 1985, penned by J Manuel Pamaran, acquitted all the accused.

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THEN CAME THE EDSA REVOLUTION. Finding the SBN trial “to be a sham,” the newly reconstituted Supreme Court nullified the Pamaran verdict. Thereafter, a re-trial in the SBN ensued. In its 177-page decision dated Sept. 28, 1990, written by J Regino Hermosisima Jr. (who was later elevated to the Supreme Court on July 10, 1995), the SBN found 16 soldiers, including Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, guilty of double murder.

However, General Ver was not convicted because the SBN did not acquire jurisdiction over him; he joined PFM in fleeing to Hawaii on Feb. 25, 1986, as an aftermath of the Edsa revolution. Since he could not be served with court processes, the SBN could not pass judgment on his guilt. Since then, until his death in Bangkok on Nov. 21, 1998, he never returned to our country.

After the Supreme Court denied the soldiers’ petition for review on July 25, 1991, the SBN decision became final. Despite this finality, I was still curious why the Agrava Board (and consequently, the SBN) did not identify the mastermind of the sordid plot. So, I asked Ambassador Tan.

In his March 15, 2009 letter to me, he wrote that “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 or any one of them was in the plot, we could not in good conscience come up with that conclusion.” He wrote the same finding in his book titled, “The Public Has the Right to Know.” We have had two Aquino presidents (Cory and PNoy), yet they never raised any objection or reservations on these court rulings, on ambassador Tan’s book, and on my humble Inquirer columns.

WHAT LATER BECAME CONTROVERSIAL WAS: Who pulled the trigger that killed Ninoy? The SBN ruled that CIC Rogelio Moreno, the security escort positioned behind Ninoy, did — while the victim was descending the stairway to the tarmac.

But the convicted soldiers disagreed. Though the SBN’s judgment had become final, they refused to give up. Their new counsel — the head of the Public Attorney’s Office, Persida Acosta — filed in August 2004 a new motion asking for a third trial on the main ground of “newly-discovered evidence” consisting of a forensic study showing that allegedly the bullet that killed Ninoy had an upward trajectory. Thus, it could not have been fired by Moreno who was positioned higher on the stairway than Ninoy.

The new motion also claimed that a new witness, SPO4 Ruben Cantimbuhan, would testify that Rolando Galman, not Moreno, fired the shot. Since Galman, a civilian, had not been shown to be a part of the alleged military conspiracy, ergo, the 16 soldiers could not have been guilty.

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In a unanimous resolution dated March 8, 2005, penned by J (later CJ) Reynato S. Puno, the Supreme Court denied the motion. It agreed with the SBN that “the wound of entrance was at a higher elevation than the wound of exit, [thus,] there can be no other conclusion but that the trajectory was downward … It is unthinkable that the bullet, while projected upwards, would, instead of exiting to the roof of the head, go down to the mandible because it was allegedly deflected by a petrous bone which though hard is, in fact, a mere spongy protuberance, akin to a cartilage.”

The Court had spoken unanimously. And to me, that should definitively settle the matter even if to this day, none of the convicted soldiers — though already pardoned and freed — has admitted any responsibility for the crime.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino Jr., Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos, Ninoy Aquino assassination, With Due Respect
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