Aquino Assassination Inquiry to Be Reopened : Widow's Government to Sift New Evidence

Times Staff Writer

The government of President Corazon Aquino will reopen the investigation into the 1983 assassination of her husband, Benigno S. Aquino Jr., focusing on new evidence in the murder itself and trying to determine whether former President Ferdinand E. Marcos influenced the trial of Aquino's accused killers, a top government official said Friday.

Civil rights lawyer Jose Diokno, chairman of the presidential commission that will conduct the new inquiry, said that his eight-member committee already knows of new evidence in the Aug. 21, 1983, murder, which many Filipinos believe marked the beginning of Marcos' fall from power.

"There is new evidence," Diokno said, citing recent statements by Marcos' handpicked prosecutors in the case. In several recent interviews, the prosecutors have charged that Marcos personally ordered them to ensure acquittals for all of the soldiers who were charged with killing Aquino and the man whom the Marcos government sought to blame for the assassination.,

Diokno said the committee will focus its investigation on Marcos' once-powerful military chief of staff, Gen. Fabian C. Ver, who was charged but later acquitted in the case along with 24 other soldiers and a civilian. The acquittal came late last year after a prolonged trial by a special court of three judges who had been handpicked by Marcos. Ver, once Marcos' chauffeur and his most loyal aide until the regime fell, fled the country with Marcos on Feb. 25 after a military and civilian rebellion against Marcos' rule.

"We intend to concentrate on determining whether the trial of Gen. Ver and company was or was not fair--whether there was or was not any collusion between (the judges) and the government," Diokno told reporters Friday, the day after his committee was sworn in by President Aquino to examine human rights abuses during Marcos' two decades in power.

Was Marcos' Rival

Aquino's husband, a top opposition leader at the time and a man considered the chief political rival of Marcos, was shot in the back of the head as he returned from three years of self-exile in the United States. Aquino, who had spent nearly eight years in a maximum security Manila prison for opposing Marcos, had planned to challenge Marcos in presidential election scheduled for 1987.

The murder took place at Manila International Airport within moments of Aquino's return. He was surrounded by nearly 2,000 soldiers at the time, and, despite last year's acquittal of Ver and his co-defendants, most Filipinos believe that the military and Marcos himself were behind the slaying.

Marcos' former defense minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, a co-leader of the coup that drove Marcos from power and now defense minister in President Aquino's Cabinet, said in a press conference the night he made his stand against the Marcos regime that he believed only Marcos could have ordered Aquino's assassination. But Enrile so far has offered no evidence to support his claim.

Blamed Hit Man

Marcos' government had maintained since the day of the killing that Aquino was gunned down by Rolando Galman, who military investigators said was a professional hit man hired by the Communist Party of the Philippines. Galman was also shot to death by a half dozen soldiers a few feet from Aquino.

After a one-year investigation, however, a civilian fact-finding commission headed by former Justice Corazon Agrava, determined that Aquino had been shot from behind by one of two soldiers who were providing his close-in security as he was being escorted from his plane.

The civilian commission cited thousands of pages of testimony in recommending that Ver and one other top general be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, and Marcos ordered that its findings be turned over to official prosecutors to file formal charges and conduct a trial.

In recent interviews, both senior government prosecutors in the case said that they had been told by Marcos to ensure that none of the defendants was convicted. The leading judge in the case, Manuel Pamaran, has refused on several occasions to comment on the case since his court handed down its acquittal late last year.

Will Review Record

Noting the voluminous testimony from hundreds of witnesses in the case, Diokno said Friday that his committee would review the record of the case but would not recall witnesses who have already testified.

"We certainly will not waste our time hearing evidence that already is known," Diokno said.

Asked whether his committee would make the Aquino case its top priority, Diokno said, "The Aquino assassination is going to be dealt with as though it were any other case."

In the Aquino case and in all other cases that the commission will investigate, Diokno said that the probe would spare no one and "go as high as necessary."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World