Sunday, Bloody Sunday. That was one of the hit songs of U2 in 1983. It was also in 21 August 1983 a single news about the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. shook the country.
I was second year high school then, reviewing for our first quarterly exams in school. I heard the news over the radio. Everyone was in disbelief. And everyone has an opinion on who to suspect.
Before that, there were debates of allowing Ninoy to return to the country. Yes, please return so the Philippines can have a special presidential elections. No, don’t return, you’ll get killed. If he returns, he’ll return to prison. Those were the public opinion prevalent that time.
What was striking was Ninoy’s interview from his room at the Grand Hotel in Taipei. There were some journalists with him on the flight. During an interview, he showed his bullet-proof vest and told them that he could still be shot in the head.
You have to be ready with your hand camera because this action can become very fast. In a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over, and I may not be able to talk to you again after this. – Ninoy Aquino
China Airlines flight 811 landed at the Manila International Airport at 1:04 pm. A video shows that military personnel took Ninoy from his seat and escorted him out of the plane. Security personnel blocked the exit door preventing the journalists to follow him.
Then gunshots were heard. A few witnesses said that someone shouted “Pusila! Pusila!” which was a Visayan term for “fire” or “shoot”. Another set of gunshots followed. But no one saw who pulled the trigger on Ninoy. The journalists could only view what they could from the airplane’s windows.
Two bodies lay on the ground, one was Ninoy, the other was identified as Rolando Galman, the suspected gunman. True enough, Ninoy had predicted his own death.
INVESTIGATION AND UPROAR
President Ferdinand E. Marcos immediately created the Fernando Commission to investigate. Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando headed the commission. One of the members was my granduncle, retired Supreme Court Justice Julio Villamor. Due to intense public criticisms against Marcos and this fact-finding body, Marcos dissolved and created another one.
Former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon J. Agrava headed this independent fact-finding board. It started to convene on November 1983 and started conducting public hearings.
After a year, the Agrava Board submitted two reports to President Marcos. One was the Minority Report of Justice Agrava and the other was the Majority Report by the rest of the team. It concluded a military conspiracy and indicted several members of the Armed Forces. It included General Favian Ver, General Luther Custodio, and General Prospero Olivas. This was what the country would like to hear.
In 1985, the Sandiganbayan tried these military personnel and acquitted them all. The verdict, of course, drew more criticisms from the anti-Marcos’ side.
After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the Cory Aquino administration re-opened the case despite pleas implying the legal principle of double jeopardy. This time, 16 of the 25 persons charged in 1985 were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Ninoy’s death also made the slogan “Hindi Ka Nag-iisa” (You’re not alone) and yellow ribbon (from the song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”) famous. So much so that Filipinos at that time created different versions of the slogan like “Ninoy, hindi ka nag-iisa! Marcos, naka-isa ka! Ramos, naisahan ka! Enrile, isa ka pa.” Funny, but satire became the comedic tone of that era.
His funeral was also one of the longest funeral marches in history. It took twelve hours from the funeral mass at Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City to his final resting place in Manila Memorial Park in Paranaque. Many people lined up the streets, many people followed the funeral procession as their act of support for the Aquino family.
His death was also the start of many street protests that marred the Marcos last years in power.
It also brought up conspiracy theories on who was or who were the mastermind/s. From the US Central Intelligence Agency, to the Communist Party of the Philippines, the list goes on.
After more than three and a half decades, people can’t help but name at least three persons “involved”. They are former First Lady Imelda Marcos, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuanco, Jr. (Cory Aquino’s cousin), and the late AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver. Their names usually come up every time Ninoy’s assassination is in discussion.
One thing is sure: Ninoy’s death had become a catalyst in uniting the opposition against President Marcos and culminated in the 1986 EDSA Revolution.
QUESTIONS UNANSWERED (FOREVER)
Until now, no one can say who Ninoy’s gunman was. It couldn’t be Rolando Galman, as he couldn’t be on the top of the stairs waiting for his chance to shoot. Some say he was a fall guy. Only a few believed he was the gunman.
Also, Rebecca Quijano (a.k.a. the Crying Lady), one of the witnesses, saw a man wearing a military uniform running from the stairs towards Aquino and his escorts and pointed a gun at the back of his head. Based on the testimonies of witnesses, it was Constable Rogelio Moreno who fired the fatal shot that killed Aquino, not Galman.
Master Sergeant Pablo Martinez, upon his release from prison, alleged that his co-conspirators told him that Danding Cojuangco ordered the assassination. He also said that only he and Galman knew of the assassination plot.
Whatever the truth was, reality has time and again have seen a conspiracy. The Aquino family had pardoned the soldiers. But still, the question on who the mastermind/s is/are still floats in the air.