From the Author: This is the blog entry that put The Stand on the WordPress map. One and a half years since I first posted this here, it still receives a generous amount of visits: at least 200 views per year. Especially during the month of August. So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you very much! – 8/20/2010
This post was updated last 8/20/2010, the day before the 27th death anniversary of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.
For more than 25 years, this question remained unanswered. After the release last March 4, 2009 of the last 10 soldiers convicted for the assassination of Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, the answer to this question may very well be Philippine history’s greatest mystery.
I was born 8 years after this incident, with the Philippines then under the rule of Ninoy’s wife, Corazon “Cory” Aquino. Growing up, I always read in history books that his death on August 21, 1983 finally lit the fuse, and inspired Filipinos under Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship to stand up and peacefully fight for their rights. Just like how, 87 years prior, Dr. Jose Rizal’s death provoked Filipinos to stand up in arms and fight for independence.
Honestly, I know little of this incident. All I have read is that on that fateful day, Senator Aquino returned to the Philippines after being sent into exile in the US. As he was escorted out of the plane by military personnel, he was shot down at the tarmac allegedly by one Rolando Galman, who was immediately gunned down by the Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM). Videos after the “shootout” shows AVSECOM personnel hurriedly carrying Aquino’s body into a waiting van.
As I read more articles regarding this incident over the years, I found out that there is more to his death, that until now remains a mystery. According to a Wikipedia article,
… Rebecca Quijano, another passenger [aboard China Airlines Flight 811] , testified that she saw a man behind Aquino (running from the stairs towards Aquino and his escorts) point a gun at the back of his head, then there was the sound of a gunshot.
A post-mortem analysis disclosed that Aquino was shot in the back of the head at close range with the bullet exiting at the chin at an angle which supported Quijano’s testimony. More suspicions were aroused when Quijano described the assassin as wearing a military uniform.
Then, in a Philippine STAR article, Senator Noynoy Aquino (son of Ninoy) cited the testimony of former Senior Police Officer 4 Ruben Cantimbuhan, who indicated that the soldiers were part of the conspiracy.
Cantimbuhan, who was the driver of the van that carried the late senator’s body, said former Air Force Captain Felipe Valerio Jr. was the key to the case because he served as leader of the 10-man Aviation Security Command (Avsecom) unit assigned to secure his father upon his return.
Cantimbuhan said the orders of Valerio puzzled him because he was asked to drive to the Philippine Army hospital that was quite far instead of bringing the late senator’s body to a nearer medical facility so he could be saved.
He said then Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver and other military officials congratulated them for a job well done when the person they were supposed to secure was killed.
Even I cannot help but raise my own questions: First off, with the military securing the area, how in the world did Galman shoot down Aquino on or near the tarmac without the military noticing? Why, after all this, did the AVSECOM personnel hurriedly carry Aquino’s body out of the crime scene? Diba they follow a procedure when this happens? Or is this out of concern for Aquino, hoping that he can still reach the hospital alive? Or, are they covering something up, conspiring with the mastermind of all of this?
Speaking of the “mastermind,” his name, personality and motives are still unknown. Some say it’s Aquino’s greatest archnemesis, President Marcos, who in turn says that the mastermind was a communist hitman. Some still believe the head honcho of this plan was Cory Aquino’s estranged cousin himself, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr.
Two investigations were set up by the government after the assassination, and it both convicted 16 soldiers of the AVSECOM sentences them to reclusion perpetua. Until now, Filipinos are one with the whole Aquino family that the soldiers were part of this conspiracy. However, the soldiers still defend that they all are innocent, and are just made as scapegoats by the Marcos government. Behind bars, their stories were worse: they suffered from numerous diseases, and started to be crippled down by it, together with old age.
In 2007, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez was the first one to be pardoned by the Arroyo administration for humanitarian reasons. Upon being freed, Martines stated, “Kung nakikinig man kayo Madam Cory Aquino patawarin ninyo ako sa nagawa kong pagkakasala noon.”
Cpl. 1st Class Mario Lazaga and two other suspects died behind bars since Martinez’s release. In February 2009, A1C Felizardo Taran and Sgt. Rolando de Guzman were released after they finished their terms, which were commuted by Presidents Ramos and Arroyo. And finally, the last 10 convicts were pardoned by President Arroyo.
With their release, the giant void Ninoy’s assassination made in the country’s post-Martial Law era is still unfilled. Although it paved the way for the historic EDSA Revolution that toppled the Marcos regime, the assassination case is not yet closed. The Aquino family, and maybe the Filipino people, feels that justice is still not yet served. We cannot blame them, because they lost a family member who for his whole life, fought for his country and died for it.
[UPDATE: Ballsy Aquino-Cruz and Pinky Aquino-Abellada says that they have long known who the mastermind is, but both believe that justice has been handed to them already, and “it’s time to move on.”]
And with the soldiers still claiming innocence, and Marcos, General Fabian Ver and other key personalities in this incident now dead, the truth behind Ninoy Aquino’s assassination is slowly being “killed” and silenced.
All we can do now is hope that the answers to our questions would finally be solved. But most importantly, we Filipinos should always remember to put the country first before ourselves, just like what Ninoy did, and remember the words Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino said: “The Filipino is worth dying for.”