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Ninoy’s assassination revisited

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Thirty-five years ago to the day, the leading political opposition figure of the Philippines, ex-Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the international airport in Pasay City which now bears his name.

It will be recalled that in September 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos placed the entire country under martial law. Being the most rabid critic of the Marcos administration, Aquino was the first politician arrested by operatives of the Philippine Constabulary, headed by then General Fidel Ramos, in the ensuing military-implemented dragnet.

At the time of his arrest, Aquino was at the Manila Hilton attending a bicameral conference committee meeting. He was detained at Fort Bonifacio in a special facility, which had amenities.

Months later, Aquino and another ex-senator, Jose Diokno, were transferred to a military stockade in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Reports indicate that they were treated very badly at that facility, with Ninoy losing a lot of weight because he suspected that his guards were going to poison him. Apparently, the transfer to Laur was not cleared with Marcos because, soon thereafter, the latter ordered Aquino’s and Diokno’s exodus from Laur.

Eventually, Aquino was brought back to Fort Bonifacio. Diokno, however, was released.
While in detention, Aquino faced charges before a military commission based at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. Aquino’s lawyers in those proceedings included ex-Sen. Gerardo Roxas and Joker Arroyo, who later became a senator. High -end lawyer Dakila Castro and his assistant Ramon Maronilla were also part of that defense panel.

During special family occasions, Marcos allowed Aquino to go on furloughs to Aquino’s home in Quezon City. Arroyo disclosed to this writer that on one occasion, Aquino had a secret meeting with Marcos at Malacañang.

In early 1978, Marcos called for an election for the Interim Batasang Pambansa. Withal, Aquino announced his plan to run in that election with 20 other political opposition figures to represent the national capital region. The ticket was called Lakas ng Bayan or Laban for short.

Marcos allowed Aquino to go on furlough for several days in order to campaign. Aquino was also allowed to go on live national television on the government channel to be interviewed by three veteran journalists in the program Face the Nation. He criticized the government in the hour-long, uncensored interview.

Although Aquino and his candidates were clobbered in the polls, a noise barrage organized in the metropolis two days before election day suggests that the canvassing of votes was rigged against the opposition.

In 1980, after Aquino suffered a heart attack while in detention, Marcos granted Aquino’s request to leave for the United States to undergo an emergency triple-heart by-pass surgery.

Aquino remained in America after his recovery and lectured in two universities there.

While he was abroad, Aquino kept abreast of developments in the Philippines through his best friend and fellow political opposition leader, Salvador “Doy” Laurel, who later became Vice President of the Philippines.

In August 1983, Aquino announced his plan to return to the Philippines. When Marcos learned of it, he sent First Lady Imelda Marcos to see Aquino in New York City to urge the latter to postpone his repatriation in view of threats to Aquino’s safety, which the Philippine military intelligence services uncovered. Despite the warning, Aquino was indifferent.

Aquino eventually confided in Laurel that he would return to Manila on 21 August 1983.

Laurel, in turn, organized a mammoth welcome rally at the airport. In the morning of the appointed date, Laurel filled all the open spaces outside the airport with a crowd estimated at around 30,000.

The main welcoming party was composed of Doy Laurel, his brother ex-House Speaker Jose Laurel Jr., Aquino’s mother Mrs. Aurora Aquino, ex-Senators Mamintal Tamano and Lorenzo Tañada, Joker Arroyo, newspaper columnist Salvador Roxas Gonzalez, broadcast journalist Jun Bautista and University of the Philippines law students Louis “Barok” Biraogo and Romero Yu. This writer was also part of that delegation.

Past noon, the China Air Lines airplane with Aquino on board landed at the airport tarmac. Laurel tried to go to the airplane to meet Aquino personally but soldiers at the ground level locked him out. It was at that time when a group of soldiers boarded Aquino’s airplane, searched for Aquino and escorted him out of the aircraft through a side stairway.

Seconds after Aquino got off the airplane with his military escorts, he was shot in the head.

Thereafter, soldiers put Aquino inside a military van and brought him to the military hospital in nearby Fort Bonifacio. Two hours later, Radio Veritas announced that Aquino was dead.

Later that day, the government blamed a certain Rolando Galman, a communist gunman, for Aquino’s death. Opposition leaders, however, pointed to one of Aquino’s military escorts and, indirectly, to Marcos himself.

Years later, when Aquino’s widow Corazon Aquino was already president, the Supreme Court affirmed the finding made by the Sandiganbayan that one of Aquino’s military escorts shot him. No judicial pronouncement, however, was made about any Marcos involvement in the assassination.

In an interview Marcos gave to a leading American publication in 1987, Marcos asserted that he had nothing to do with Aquino’s assassination because he was under the knife at the time Aquino was shot. Even Aquino’s widow, Corazon Aquino, admitted to this writer in an interview that she did not have “the smoking gun” to link Marcos to her husband’s death.

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