Manila Speeds Retrial in Aquino Death
In the nearly two weeks since the Supreme Court ordered it to move with “deliberate dispatch,” the Philippine judicial system has proceeded quickly with preparations for a retrial in the assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
Defense attorneys’ continued protestations that a retrial would subject their clients to double jeopardy have been overwhelmed by the rapid developments:
--Twenty-five military men and a civilian acquitted in the trial last December have been ordered rearrested. All have surrendered but two, Gen. Fabian C. Ver and Capt. Felipe Valerio, who have both fled the country.
--A three-judge panel has been selected from the Sandiganbayan--the anti-corruption court that heard the initial case in its tiny downtown courtroom last year--to hear the retrial.
--A five-member prosecution investigating panel has subpoenaed new evidence, and its chief said there is probable cause to accuse nine others as defendants, including two Cabinet officers and the air force commander under ousted President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
--A lawyer for the family of Rolando Galman, accused by the military in the original trial as Aquino’s assassin and slain with him at Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, has suggested that prosecution witnesses missing from the first trial will be produced for the new one.
Benigno S. Aquino Jr., Marcos’ foremost political opponent and husband of President Corazon Aquino, was shot and killed as he left a jetliner under military guard after returning from three years of exile in the United States.
Ver, Marcos’ armed forces chief of staff, and the 25 others were accused of a military conspiracy to assassinate Aquino and lay the blame on Galman, a small-time gunman. Their trial, which began in February, 1985, was called “the trial of the century” by the Philippine press.
In declaring a mistrial and ordering new proceedings, the Supreme Court called the acquittal “a sham and a mockery” and “the non-trial of the century.” It ruled that the principle of double jeopardy does not apply in a “dictated, coerced and scripted verdict of acquittal.”
The Supreme Court essentially adopted the view of a court-appointed commission, which heard evidence earlier this summer and declared that Marcos personally intervened in the original trial, making it clear that he wanted an acquittal.
President Aquino has never publicly pushed for a retrial in her husband’s assassination but has told reporters that she ultimately wants “to know the truth.” Marcos, now in exile in Hawaii, “is my No. 1 suspect,” she has said.
There is no indication that Marcos will be charged in the retrial, but Jose Ferrer, head of the prosecution team, said last week that Imelda Marcos, wife of the ousted president, is under investigation regarding her reported statements that Benigno Aquino would be killed if he returned to the Philippines.
Ferrer also said there is probable cause to name as defendants former Information Minister Gregorio Cendana and former Tourism Minister Jose Aspiras, both members of the Marcos Cabinet, and former air force commander Vicente Piccio, all of whom allegedly took part in monitoring Aquino’s return from the United States.
The rearrest of 24 of the original 26 defendants came just four days after the mistrial was declared. Ver’s lawyer, Antonio Coronel, promptly protested the “eager beaver” pace of the proceedings. He said the decision to rearrest the defendants should have been preceded by a legal determination as to whether the court and the prosecutors were unbiased.
No date has been set for arraigning the defendants, and both the prosecution and defense are expected to request a delay if one is set soon.
Meanwhile, the Sandiganbayan has moved to “insulate” the trial court during the proceedings. A senior member of the Sandiganbayan will be assigned to brief the press during the trial.