Yesterday marked the 34th anniversary of the assassination of ex-Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. at the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, which has been renamed in his honor.
Back then, this writer and a number of his friends in the United Nationalist Democratic Organization or UNIDO, the political party that genuinely opposed the authoritarian government of President Ferdinand Marcos, joined the entourage organized by Batasang Pambansa Assemblyman Salvador “Doy” Laurel to welcome Ninoy Aquino at the airport. Sadly, what began as an earnest preparation for a welcome ended up as a prelude to a funeral.
The rest of the story need not be discussed here. It’s all over the history books and on the Internet.
As expected, the anniversary of the Aquino assassination was referred to in news and feature stories in the print and broadcast media as the incident which awakened the nation from its complacency, and similar words and phrases to that effect.
Expected, too, were the insinuations and accusations that President Marcos ordered the assassination. As in all occasions associated with Aquino’s death and martial law in the Philippines, Marcos is always propped up as the villain. August 21 and its environs are those days of the year when it has become a tradition to blame the late strongman for practically any and all unpleasant events which took place during his tenure.
As an authoritarian and regimented leader, Marcos was easy target for sectors that needed someone to blame for Aquino’s death, despite the absence of an official, categorical finding on who was truly behind what is, undoubtedly, a murder most foul.
It is undisputed that Ninoy was a leader in his own right, and his assassination was a tragic loss to the nation. Sadly, Marcos and Aquino had different ideas on how to run the country, and that’s putting it mildly.
Since it’s that time of the year to recall Ninoy’s assassination, a discussion of some insights on the matter will likewise be in accord with the season.
It’s been more than two decades since the soldiers who were charged with the killing of Ninoy were convicted by the Sandiganbayan and incarcerated. None of them has admitted to the murder. The alleged mastermind, assuming there is one, has never been identified. Perhaps, the quest for the identity of this “mastermind” may give rise to several conspiracy theories similar to those about the assassination of United States President John Kennedy in 1963.
Hours after the shooting at the airport tarmac, Marcos appeared on national television to tell the people that Aquino’s assassin was a communist sympathizer who was shot also at the airport. It was obvious that Marcos was not in great physical shape when he went on the air.
In a post-Edsa Revolution interview he gave to a famous American men’s entertainment magazine, Marcos said that when Aquino was shot at the tarmac, he (Marcos) was very, very sick. For a man who detested admitting illness in public, that was one extra-ordinary revelation from Marcos.
In October 1984, the Agrava Fact-Finding Board which investigated the assassination submitted its reports. Many soldiers were found liable, but no mastermind was identified.
From his deathbed in his Hawaiian exile, Marcos told then Vice President Salvador Laurel, whom he had earlier sought out, that he (Marcos) had nothing to do with the assassination of Ninoy, precisely because of their fraternal ties in UP’s Upsilon Sigma Phi.
In 1984, Mrs. Aquino publicly expressed her disappointment that the Agrava Board did not consider the possible culpability of President Marcos. Strangely, however, during her incumbency as president (1986-1992), Mrs. Aquino never ordered the government intelligence and investigation agencies to conduct further investigations on the assassination, even just to check out whatever matters the Agrava Board may have overlooked. It seemed like Mrs. Aquino was comfortable enough with the public’s suspicion, founded or otherwise, that Marcos had a hand in the death of Ninoy.
In an interview she gave after relinquishing office, Mrs. Aquino admitted to this writer that she did not have the “smoking gun” with which to pin down the mastermind of the assassination, and that the identity of the mastermind will remain a mystery to her throughout the remainder of her life. Mrs. Aquino has long gone, and the mystery remains.
Truth to tell, it is Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Ninoy’s only son and namesake, who should be most interested in knowing the entire story about the assassination. Family tradition in the East and in the West posits that sons, not widows, avenge a death in the family. The son did not live up to expectations.
Unlike in 1984, the scientific technology available when Benigno Aquino III was president (2010-2016) could yield new information or promising leads in the unsolved mystery surrounding the assassination. Like his mother before him, Aquino III did not avail of the services of the government investigation agencies at his disposal, apparently because he was also satisfied that a number of people, although substantially reduced since 1983, still point the accusing finger at Marcos.
What is the reason for the unusual, even suspicious, inaction of mother and son? Is there something which Mrs. Aquino knew and which Aquino III knows that they do not want the public to know? Is it possible that there is evidence that will exculpate, from the public perception at least, Marcos from any role in the assassination of Ninoy?
Uncovering what the Agrava Fact-Finding Board was unable to look into, or overlooked in the course of its investigation, is not something for the private satisfaction of the Aquino family, or for the private desire of the Marcos family for closure. It is something which must be done sooner or later because the public has a right to know who were really responsible for that terrible incident at the nation’s premiere airport on that fateful day in August 1983.