This Wednesday, August 21, marks the 30th year of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in this country: the assassination of the late Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr.
To a group of people, mostly grandstanding politicians, the day is celebrated as a hero’s day; to some, it is considered as the antithesis of that heroism; and to others, it is a political malaise that must be given full and factual explanation to reverse the consequential cycle of hatred and vengeance.
Whatever or whichever you are in the political spectrum, there is incontrovertible evidence that the Aquino assassination on Aug. 21, 1983 polarized the whole nation, triggered the 1986 EDSA military-led civilian uprising and catapulted to the presidency his wife, Corazon Aquino, the naif icon of the Catholic hierarchy in this country.
Strangely, in her time, Mrs. Aquino, who wielded tremendous investigative and prosecutory powers during her six years and four months in office, failed to put in jail or even identify the mastermind or masterminds despite convincing leads that the 16 soldiers, convicted in the murder of her husband, could or “would not have acted on their own without a motive or without someone or some people masterminding or directing the killing.”
Neither is her son, Benigno Aquino 3rd , now the President, is showing interest to solve the murder of his own father.
What happened was that some people, instead of helping unmask the masterminds, merely turned the Aquino assassination into a propaganda hyperbole to endlessly destroy the Marcos Regime and promote their own political and economic interests.
Asked why then President Aquino did not pursue the probe and prosecute the masterminds, Raul Gonzalez, the uncompromising investigator and prosecutor of the Aquino assassination who was suspended by the Supreme Court for his courageous move to investigate some of its members for corruption, said: “That’s the 64 dollar question Mrs. Aquino [should have] or must have answered to the Filipino people.”
“Maybe, just maybe,” added Gonzalez, “she avoided a situation where her own family might have been dragged into the killing.”
Just before his Supreme Court suspension, Gonzalez had been working on positive information that bitter partisan politics in Central Luzon, particularly in the province of Tarlac, in the 1960s and the 1970s may have had something to do with the murder of her husband.
Gonzalez had in his custody a vital witness, a former mistress of a Constabulary general, who, he said, was privy to the assassination plot of Senator Aquino.
Gonzalez revealed to this writer in a series of interviews for his bestselling book, Greed & Betrayal, that the woman was present in several meetings when the masterminds plotted the Aquino murder.
Earlier, Gonzalez had traced to a shallow grave near a military camp in Tarlac the decomposing and bullet-riddled bodies of the Oliva sisters, two of the witnesses who last saw Rolando Galman, the fall guy, who was killed with Aquino at the airport.
Without authority and office to pursue the probe as a result of the Supreme Court suspension and the abolition of his office, Gonzalez turned over the probe of the Aquino murder to his successor, Manila City Fiscal Jesus Guerrero, and faded into obscurity until he got elected later as member of Congress representing the Lone District of Iloilo City.
At the time of his suspension, the late President Marcos had created a succession of fact-finding bodies, patterned after the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination in 1963 of President John F. Kennedy, to probe deeper into the Aquino murder.
The first that lasted only for a few hearings was the Fernando Commission headed by Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, a respected jurist and constitutionalist. It was disbanded in the midst of public outcry and undeserved accusations that Justice Fernando was a Marcos man.
The second was the Tolentino Commission headed by Senator Arturo Tolentino, a respected lawmaker and known for his independent mind. This commission, however, did not even last for one day as Senator Tolentino immediately turned down Marcos’s offer to head the commission.
The third was the Presidential Fact-Finding Board or the Agrava Commission composed of four members and headed by retired Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Juliano-Agrava.
Lawyer Andres Narvasa, now a retired Supreme Court chief justice, was appointed general counsel. With him, also appointed by Marcos, were two deputies, Mario Ongkiko and Paquito Villa; Bienvenido Tan Jr. acted as public relations officer.
After months of continuous hearings, the Agrava Commission agreed that Rolando Galman was just a fall guy and not the killer of Aquino as claimed by government investigators.
Curiously, the Agrava Commission subsequently came out with two different versions as to who were the mastermind or the highest ranking officers involved in the murder.
One report submitted by Chairperson Agrava herself pointed only to Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, the Aviation Security Command chief, as the highest officer involved in the murder.
The other, submitted by the four members, pointed to Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver as the highest officer involved.
Former Vice President Salvador Laurel, in his critical summation of the Aquino regime, said that the Agrava finding was incomplete because it deliberately stopped short of identifying the prime mover—the person who masterminded the evil plot—and did not dig deep enough to expose the cover-up of the murder.
“No one would ever believe that the military escorts, including General Custodio and even General Ver, would decide on their own to liquidate Senator Aquino. Someone they could not refuse, someone who had the strongest motive, must have given the order to kill,” Laurel said, adding that “by limiting the responsibility to Custodio or Ver, the Agrava Commission implied that Mr. Marcos was no longer in command.”
“Neither would anyone believe that Marcos was stupid to order the killing of Aquino at the tarmac when he could have easily affirmed the death sentence for rebellion imposed earlier on Aquino by Military Commission No. 2 and thus legalize the killing thereafter,” said a military officer who commented on Laurel’s statement.
Finally, only the 16 soldiers were tried and convicted by the Sandiganbayan, thus drawing endless speculations that neither the Marcos Administration nor the Aquino Regime really wanted to solve the riddle once and for all.