The son—the only son—is President Benigno Aquino 3rd. The murder: that of his father Benigno “Ninoy” Jr. on August 21, 1983, an event which changed the course of Philippine history, and led to the invention of “People Power” as a weapon that toppled dictatorships all over the globe.
Mr. Aquino though has done nothing to uncover the masterminds behind his father’s assassination and the all-too-convenient killing by soldiers of the alleged assassin Rolando Galman a few seconds later after he pulled the trigger of his .357 Magnum.
Aquino did nothing in his four years in office, despite his vast powers and political clout with which he has been able to remove the Supreme Court Chief Justice, incarcerate the former president on flimsy grounds, and have the entire Congress under his thumb.
Aquino’s seeming unconcern over his father’s murder convinces me that either there is something deeply wrong in this person’ psyche, or that there is something terribly embarrassing in the assassination that has been kept so secret that even the victim’s powerful family has refused to uncover its mastermind.
I realized these when I read news reports last week that on Thursday, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, was killed when his bicycle was sideswiped along Roxas Boulevard early morning by a sports utility vehicle. An eyewitness claimed that the vehicle run over him after he fell from the bike. The police though concluded that it was purely an unfortunate accident.
Martinez’ death is the last nail in the coffin that could seal forever the secrets behind the assassination. Martinez was the key to uncovering who its masterminds were. He told Public Attorney’s Office chief Persida Acosta (and a Manila Times columnist) and later other media that he was willing to cooperate with government and would tell all.
Aquino and his officials snubbed him.
Born-again Christian and pastor
A professed “born-again” Christian and a pastor of a Protestant sect, Martinez was among 16 officers and soldiers convicted and jailed in 1990 for Ninoy’s and Galman’s killing. In 1995, he admitted his role in the plot, and testified that it was he who had brought Galman, who he said was the gunman who killed Ninoy with a single bullet to head, to a hotel before the assassination took place. (All of his 15 comrades have claimed they are innocent of the charges that they were part of the conspiracy.)
Martinez claimed that former Philippine Constabulary Maj. Romeo Gatan, a businessman named Hermilo Gosuico, former Air Force Col. Romeo Ochoco, and Air Force Capt. Felipe Valerio planned the assassination, with several of the other eleven officers and soldiers making up the team that allowed Galman to shoot Aquino in the head, after which they gunned him down.
Martinez’ earth-shaking testimony though was made in a February 2006 article in the American Time magazine and in an on-camera interview in 2007 by ABS-CBN’s Julius Babao right after his release in prison:
“I didn’t hear any direct order from him. But I asked them [the conspirators in the hotel]who was giving them the orders, and they replied, ‘Danding.’“
He was referring to oligarch Eduardo Cojuangco who had controlled until the last few years the giant San Miguel Corp. Martinez’ claims were put in a formal deposition and submitted to the Supreme Court which had been asked to reopen the case. The Court though ruled that it didn’t qualify as “newly found evidence.”
Mr. Cojuangco has vehemently denied such accusations.
“Valerio is among those who might be able to shed light, but to me, it’s Ochoco whom the government should ask because he was the one who ordered me to bring Galman to the airport,” Martinez said in 2007.
Valerio was the head of the 10-man team of Aviation Security Command who collected Aquino from the China Airlines plane to the tarmac of the then Manila International Airport, where the former senator and then the Galman were shot dead.
Valerio and Ochoco disappeared right after Marcos’ fall in 1986.
Valerio was not included among the 16 convicted or the other 18 accused who were acquitted since he could not be arraigned, as he could not be found and arrested. He was reported to be living in the US. Ochoco, for some reason was also not indicted, and has been reported to be living in Australia.
Former President Arroyo released, upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and using her power of executive clemency, those convicted of the double murder case in 2007 and 2009 on grounds that they had served two decades in good behavior as well as, in Martinez case, having reached 70 years of age. Five of those convicted, including Gen. Luther Custodio, died in prison because of various sicknesses, and one was killed in a jail fight.
When Arroyo granted clemency to the soldiers, Aquino, his mother and sister Kris were livid, claiming it was an insult to their family. Then Senator Aquino 3rd claimed that the release was a “pretense of mercy” that was really an “ act of political vengeance” because of his family’s criticism of her government.
Arroyo orders reopening of case
Arroyo, however, ordered her justice secretary to reopen the case, to find out where exactly Valerio and Ochoco were, who had been reported to living in the US, and to have them extradited. The plan though fizzled out for some reason, partly because the full cooperation of US authorities could not be secured.
Fast forward to Aquino’s ascension to power.
Aquino and his people have done absolutely nothing to get in touch neither with Martinez nor with the other ten officers and soldiers convicted of the crime to convince them that they would be put under his protection if they told everything they knew about the assassination.
Having given everything the Americans want, allowing them to have military forward operating sites here, couldn’t have Aquino asked them for a small favor of looking for Ochoco and Valeria, and extraditing them here to face justice?
One would have thought the only son would use all the resources at his command as President of the Philippines not just to avenge his father, but to shed light on what is arguably one of the most ruthless but pivotal killings in our nation’s history, and to have justice finally prevail after three decades.
Martinez after his release got some job as security manger at the offices of the Air Materiel Wing Loan and Savings Association, and waited in vain.
In the entire government, and even in the entire nation, it seemed it was only Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta who had been interested in the rights and welfare of the soldiers convicted, or who wanted to get to the bottom of the Aquino assassination.
Acosta told a newspaper reporter that Martinez had often told her that he feared for his life, since the senior officials implicated in the Aquino-Galman double murder were still at large.
“He said he was afraid. But he was just fighting his fear,” Acosta said. “Actually, all the Aquino-Galman convicts were afraid for their lives. They have not contacted me since they were released from prison in 2010,” she said. “They went on their separate ways and sought refuge on their own.”
Aquino’s mother Cory also seemed disinterested when she was president in getting to the bottom of her husband’s murder. However, this was mostly viewed as an understandable above-the-fray stance of the Saint of Democracy.
More cynical observers though felt that she was afraid to discover that the mastermind could be Cojuangco, her cousin, or that she even already knew this.
An interpretation kind to her claimed that if she had pursued Cojuangco for the crime, the oligarch could have joined or funded the many coup attempts against her rule, and that she chose to sacrifice her personal wish—to avenge her husband—for the sake of the country ‘s political stability.
BS Aquino cannot justify his total disinterest
The son certainly can’t make such justification now for his total disinterest in finding out and prosecuting his father’s murderers.
Ask six well-informed Filipinos who they think ordered Aquino’s assassination and each will give a different answer: Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda, his trusted military overlord and cousin Gen Fabian Ver, and Cojuangco. The fifth would say he has no idea, and the sixth that he doesn’t care. The reason why anybody could raise doubts that Marcos was the brains is that he was reportedly more often sedated for his lupus disease at that period.
With Martinez’ killing, we would never know the truth, tragically even if his son has been in a position to uncover the truth. A big lacuna in our nation’s history will never be filled, to remain as mysterious as why the son didn’t lift a finger to find out who ordered his father killed.
How can Aquino keep wearing that Yellow Ribbon on his chest, instead of a pin of the Philippine flag, when he has done nothing to resolve the crime against his father and family that that symbol points to?
FB: Rigobero D. Tiglao