Many years ago, while I was waiting in line to see the Agatha Christie whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, a moviegoer who was exiting the theater screamed out “They all did it!” spoiling the suspense.
Every year, on the occasion of the anniversary of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, people ask: Who ordered the hit? Was it the Dictator Ferdinand Marcos? First Lady Imelda Marcos? Marcos crony and business mogul Danding Cojuangco? Armed Forces Chief Gen. Fabian Ver? Or, like Murder on the Orient Express, was it all of the above?
The conventional wisdom points to Ferdinand Marcos as the mastermind because the military scope and precision of the assassination could simply not have occurred without the knowledge and involvement of the loyal Gen. Fabian Ver, who would not have undertaken such an enterprise without the dictator's’ knowledge and approval.
But the sheer audacity and brazen gall of assassinating Ninoy Aquino right at the airport, just minutes after his arrival, in full view of the world’s press, with all the predictable dire consequences to the regime that would ensue, bore all the earmarks of the politically unsophisticated and psychologically unstable Imelda Marcos.
So who ordered it? Let’s review what facts are known.
Ninoy Aquino's plane had just landed in Manila on August 21, 1983 on a flight from Taipei when Philippine soldiers entered the plane, approached Ninoy and placed him under their custody and control. The soldiers quickly hustled him through the crowded aisle and out the airport door, which they immediately shut to prevent anyone from following them to a side staircase.
A few seconds later, shots were fired and Ninoy’s lifeless body lay on the concrete tarmac of the Manila International Airport.
About 16 soldiers (no officers) were later charged with conspiring to kill Ninoy. “The forensic evidence submitted to the trial court," columnist Antonio Abaya wrote, "established that the trajectory of the fatal bullet was forward, downward and medially, the bullet entering Aquino’s skull near his left ear and exiting at his chin. This was consistent with the gun being fired at Aquino by someone behind him who was at a higher plane than he was, such as someone who was one or two steps behind him on a downward flight of stairs.”
Rolando Galman, the hapless patsy brought by his military handlers through tight security at the airport, was positioned at the foot of the staircase. After Aquino was shot once from behind, the soldiers pointed their assault rifles at Galman and shot him several times to make sure he was dead.
After a military van appeared on the tarmac, soldiers quickly loaded the bodies of both Aquino and Galman on to the van, which then sped to a military camp. Several hours passed before their cold corpses were delivered to a coroner for examination.
Barely eight hours later, Marcos announced to the world that “communist hit man” Rolando Galman had killed Ninoy Aquino.
Of course no one believed Marcos and a fact-finding commission he formed in response to world public opinion determined that 16 soldiers were responsible for Ninoy’s murder and they were so charged.
After the soldiers were all convicted of conspiracy in the killing of Ninoy and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Muntinglupa penitentiary, one of them, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, later became a born-again Christian and publicly disclosed what the other convicted soldiers refused to do.
In his affidavit, Martinez revealed that he was assigned by Col. Romeo Ochoco, then deputy commander of the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom); Brig. Gen. Romeo Gatan of the Philippine Constabulary (PC); and Herminio Gosuico, a civilian businessman from Nueva Ecija, to escort Galman from a hotel near the airport to the tarmac, to await the arrival of Ninoy from Taipei.
Witnesses who testified at the Agrava Fact-Finding Commission had previously identified Gosuico, a known associate of Marcos crony Danding Cojuangco – along with Air Force Col. Arturo Custodio and two others – as the men who fetched Galman from his home in San Miguel, Bulacan, on August 17, 1983.
Martinez revealed that he was personally recruited for the special assignment by Col. Ochoa, whom he had previously served under. Martinez reported that he and Galman were briefed on the assassination plan at the Carlston Hotel near the domestic airport on the night of August 20, 1983. Briefing them on the details were Gen. Gatan, Col. Ochoco and Gosuico. That evening, Col. Ochoco gave Galman a .357 Magnum revolver, while Martinez was given a Smith & Wesson .38 cal .revolver. Galman had no idea that would be his last evening alive.
On the morning of August 21, 1983, just before Martinez brought Galman to the airport, he said that Galman’s mistress, Anna Oliva, and her sister, Catherine, were brought by soldiers to the Carlston Hotel to have breakfast with Galman. The two women were last seen at their workplace on September 4, 1983 when armed men picked them up. Their corpses were later exhumed from a sugarcane field in Capas, Tarlac in 1988 in a hacienda owned by Danding Cojuangco.
Galman’s wife, Lina Lazaro, was picked up at her home by two men on January 29, 1984 and was never seen again. During the Agrava fact-finding inquiry, Gosuico was identified by Galman’s son and stepdaughter as one of the two men who picked up their mother.
Despite all the testimonies implicating them to Ninoy’s assassination, neither Col. Ochoco, Gen. Gatan nor Gosuico were ever charged with involvement in the conspiracy to kill Ninoy.
Former Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez was a Sandiganbayan prosecutor under President Cory Aquino when he came upon a witness with critical evidence, who was willing to testify under certain conditions. Gonzalez went to President Cory in Malacanang to tell her that the witness demanded protection for herself and her three kids. Before Cory would agree to the terms, she asked Gonzalez who the witness would name as the mastermind.
When Gonzalez answered that she would name her first cousin, Danding Cojuangco, Pres. Cory reportedly responded, “Impossible! It cannot be!” She refused the witness’ request for protection and the witness eventually disappeared.
Gen. Romeo Gatan later died of a heart ailment. Hermie Gosuico died under what would be described as mysterious circumstances, leading Abaya to ask: “Did he die of illness or accident, or was he eliminated because he knew too much?"
Of the original known conspirators named by Martinez, only Col. Ochoco is still breathing, reportedly with his family somewhere in Stockton, California.
But Imelda Marcos and San Miguel Corporation CEO Danding Cojuangco are still very much alive and they know all too well who ordered the hit on Ninoy Aquino 26 years ago this week. They can spoil the suspense.