Martial law had emasculated and marginalized the opposition, led by a number of traditional politicians who attempted, with limited success, to promote a credible, noncommunist alternative to Marcos. The most important of these was Salvador H. "Doy" Laurel. Laurel organized a coalition of ten political groups, the United Nationalist Democratic Organization (UNIDO), to contest the 1982 National Assembly elections. Although he included Benigno Aquino as one of UNIDO's twenty "vice presidents," Laurel and Aquino were bitter rivals. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Left-wing groups, affiliated directly or indirectly with the Communist Party of the Philippines, played a prominent role in anti-regime demonstrations after August 1983. While the New People's Army was spreading in rural areas, the communists, through the National Democratic Front, gained influence, if not control, over some labor unions, student groups, and other urbanbased organizations. Leftists demanding radical political change established the New Nationalist Alliance (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan--BAYAN), in the early 1980s, but their political influence suffered considerably from their decision to boycott the presidential election of February 1986. *

Discontent rooted in economic disparity and religious differences grew in the late 1960s. The New People's Army (NPA), a guerrilla force formed in 1968 in Tarlac Province, north of Manila, by the newly established Communist Party of the Philippines-Marxist Leninist, soon spread to other parts of Luzon and throughout the archipelago. In the south, demands for Muslim autonomy and violence, often between indigenous Muslims and government-sponsored Christian immigrants who had begun to move down from the north, were on the rise.

In 1969 the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was organized as a guerrilla force for the Muslim cause. The volatile political situation came to a head when grenade explosions in the Plaza Miranda in Manila during an opposition Liberal Party rally on August 21, 1971, killed 9 people and wounded 100. Marcos blamed the leftists and suspended habeas corpus. Thirteen months later, on September 21, 1972, Marcos used a provision of the 1935 constitution to declare martial law after an attempt was reportedly made to assassinate Minister of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile. In 1986, after Marcos's downfall, Enrile admitted that his unoccupied car had been riddled by machine-gun bullets fired by his own people. *

Influence of the Catholic Church Grows During the Martial Law Period

During the martial law and post-martial law periods, the Catholic Church was the country's strongest and most independent nongovernmental institution. It traditionally had been conservative and aligned with the elites. Parish priests and nuns, however, witnessed the sufferings of the common people and often became involved in political, and even communist, activities. One of the best-known politicized clergy was Father Conrado Balweg, who led a New People's Army guerrilla unit in the tribal minority regions of northern Luzon. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although Pope John Paul II had admonished the clergy worldwide not to engage in active political struggle, the pope's commitment to human rights and social justice encouraged the Philippine hierarchy to criticize the Marcos regime's abuses in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Church-state relations deteriorated as the statecontrolled media accused the church of being infiltrated by communists. Following Aquino's assassination, Cardinal Jaime Sin, archbishop of Manila and a leader of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, gradually shifted the hierarchy's stance from one of "critical collaboration" to one of open opposition. *

A prominent Catholic layman, José Concepcion, played a major role in reviving the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) with church support in 1983 in order to monitor the 1984 National Assembly elections. Both in the 1984 balloting and the February 7, 1986, presidential election, NAMFREL played a major role in preventing, or at least reporting, regime-- instigated irregularities. The backbone of its organization was formed by parish priests and nuns in virtually every part of the country. *

Benigno S. Aquino

Marcos's main political rival was opposition party leader Benigno “Ninoy” S. Aquino Jr. He was the Philippines’s best known political prisoner and was exiled to New York in 1980. He once said ‘The Filipino people were worth dying for.” He was assassinated by soldiers loyal to Marcos after he stepped of a plane at the Manila airport in 1983 after returning from exile. He was the husband of Corazon Aquino, the president of the Philippines after Marcos’s was ousted. Ninoy Aquino had originally been expected to succeed Marcos.

One of Marcos's first acts under martial law was to jail Senator Aquino, his main opponent and most likely successor. But even in his imprisonment, Aquino maintained a large following, and when he was allowed to go to the United States for medical treatment in 1980, he became a more formidable leader of the opposition in exile. By 1983 the deteriorating economic and political situation and Marcos's worsening health convinced Aquino that in order to prevent civil war he must return to the Philippines to build a responsible united opposition and persuade Marcos to relinquish power.

Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino was, like his life-long rival Ferdinand Marcos, a consummate politician, Philippine-style. Born in 1932, he interrupted his college studies to pursue a journalistic career, first in wartime Korea and then in Vietnam, Malaya, and other parts of Southeast Asia. Like Marcos, a skilled manager of his own public image, he bolstered his popularity by claiming credit for negotiating the May 1954 surrender of Huk leader Luis Taruc. The Aquino family was to Tarlac Province in Central Luzon what the Marcos family was to Ilocos Norte and the Romualdez family was to Leyte: a political dynasty. Aquino became the governor of Tarlac Province in 1963, and a member of the Senate in 1967. His marriage to Corazon Cojuangco, a member of one of the country's richest and most prominent Chinese mestizo families, was, like Marcos's marriage to Imelda Romualdez, a great help to his political career. If martial law had not been declared in September 1972, Aquino would probably have defeated Marcos or a hand-picked successor in the upcoming presidential election. Instead, he was one of the first to be jailed when martial law was imposed. *

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “A disturbing video shot in 1983 shows Filipino army personnel boarding a plane and ordering opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr., more commonly called Ninoy Aquino, to disembark. He smiles, but his eyes look wary. Aquino walks out onto the tarmac of the Manila International Airport, while uniformed men prevent his companions from following. Suddenly the sound of a shot rings through the plane. Aquino's traveling companions begin to wail; three more shots sound. The western cameraman filming the event captures the image of two bodies lying on the ground, shot to the head. Soldiers hustle one of the bodies onto a luggage cart. Then, the soldiers come at the cameraman. Ninoy Aquino was dead at the age of 50. Beside him, Rolando Galman also lay dead. Ferdinand Marcos's regime would blame Galman for killing Aquino - but few historians or citizens of the Philippines give any credence to that claim. [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History,]

Ninoy Aquino's Family and Eary Life

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “Benigno Simeon Aquino, Jr., nicknamed "Ninoy," was born into a wealthy landowning family in Conception, Tarlac, the Philippines on November 27, 1932. His grandfather, Servillano Aquino y Aguilar, had been a general in the anti-colonial Philippine Revolution (1896-1898) and Philippine-American War (1898-1902). Grandfather Servillano was exiled to Hong Kong by the Spanish in 1897, along with Emilio Aguinaldo and his revolutionary government. [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History, <>]

“Benigno Aquino Sr., aka "Igno," was a long-time Filipino politician. During the Second World War, he served as Speaker of the National Assembly in the Japanese-controlled government. Following the expulsion of the Japanese, the U.S. jailed Igno in Japan, then extradited him to the Philippines to be tried for treason. He died of a heart attack in December of 1947, before his trial could take place. Ninoy's mother, Aurora Aquino, was his father Igno's third cousin. She married him in 1930 after Igno's first wife died, and the couple had seven children, of whom Ninoy was the second. <>

“Ninoy attended several excellent private schools in the Philippines as he was growing up. However, his teen years were full of turmoil. Ninoy's father was jailed as a collaborator when the boy was only 12, and died three years later just after Ninoy's fifteenth birthday. A somewhat indifferent student, Ninoy decided to go to Korea to report on the Korean War at the age of 17 rather than moving on immediately to university. He reported on the war for the Manila Times, earning the Philippine Legion of Honor at 18 for his work. In 1954, when he was 21, Ninoy Aquino began to study law at the University of the Philippines. There, he belonged to the same branch of the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity as his future political opponent, Ferdinand Marcos.” <>

Sources for Kallie Szczepanski’s article: Karnow, Stanley. In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines, New York: Random House, 1990; John MacLean, "Philippines Recalls Aquino Killing," BBC News, Aug. 20, 2003; Nelson, Anne. "In the Grotto of the Pink Sisters: Cory Aquino's Test of Faith," Mother Jones Magazine, Jan. 1988; Nepstad, Sharon Erickson. Nonviolent Revolutions: Civil Resistance in the Late 20th Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011; Timberman, David G. A Changeless Land: Continuity and Change in Philippine Politics, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1991.

Ninoy Aquino's Political Career

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “The same year that he started law school, Ninoy Aquino married Corazon Sumulong Cojuangco, a fellow law student from a major Chinese/Filipino banking family. The couple had first met at a birthday party when they were both nine years old, and became reacquainted after Corazon returned to the Philippines following her university studies in the United States. Just a year after they married, in 1955, Ninoy was elected mayor of his home town of Concepcion, Tarlac. He was only 22 years old. [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History, <>]

“Ninoy Aquino went on to rack up a string of records for being elected at a young age: he was elected vice-governor of the province at 27, governor at 29, and secretary-general of the Philippines' Liberal Party at 33. Finally, at 34, he became the nation's youngest senator. From his place in the senate, Aquino blasted his former fraternity brother, President Ferdinand Marcos, for setting up a militarized government, and for corruption and extravagance. Ninoy particularly took on First Lady Imelda Marcos, dubbing her the "Philippines' Eva Peron," although as students the two had dated briefly. <>

“Charming, and always ready with a good soundbite, Senator Ninoy Aquino settled in to his role as the primary gadfly of the Marcos regime. He consistently blasted the Marcos's financial policies, as well as their spending on personal projects and enormous military outlays. On August 21, 1971, Aquino's Liberal Party staged its political campaign kick-off rally. Ninoy Aquino himself was not in attendance. Shortly after the candidates took the stage, two huge explosions rocked the rally - fragmentation grenades hurled into the crowd by unknown assailants killed eight people and injured about 120 more. Ninoy immediately accused Marcos's Nacionalistas Party of being behind the attack. Marcos countered by blaming "communists" and arresting a number of known Maoists for good measure. <>

Martial Law and Imprisonment of Ninoy Aquino

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “On September 21, 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines. Among the people swept up and jailed on fabricated charges was Ninoy Aquino. Ninoy faced charges of murder, subversion and weapons possession, and was tried in a military kangaroo court.[Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History, <>]

“On April 4, 1975, Ninoy Aquino went on a hunger strike to protest the military tribunal system. Even as his physical condition deteriorated, his trial continued. The slight Aquino refused all nourishment but salt tablets and water for 40 days, and dropped in weight from 54 kilos (120 pounds) to 36 kilos (80 pounds). Ninoy's concerned friends and family convinced him to begin eating again after 40 days. His trial dragged on for years longer, however, until November 25, 1977. On that day, the military commission found him guilty on all counts. Ninoy Aquino was to be executed by a firing squad. <>

“From prison, Ninoy played a major organizational role in the 1978 parliamentary elections. He founded a new political party, called the "People's Power" or Lakas ng Bayan party, LABAN for short. Aquino's years in jail--physical hardship, the fear of imminent death at the hands of his jailers, and the opportunity to read and meditate--seemed to have transformed the fast-talking political operator into a deeper and more committed leader of the democratic opposition. Although he was found guilty of subversion and sentenced to death by a military court in November 1977, Aquino, still in prison, led the LABAN (Lakas Ng Bayan--Strength of the Nation) party in its campaign to win seats in the 1978 legislative election and even debated Marcos's associate, Enrile, on television. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although the LABAN party enjoyed huge public support, every one of its candidates lost even though the party gained 40 percent of the vote in Metro Manila in the thoroughly rigged election. Nonetheless, the election proved that Ninoy Aquino could act as a powerful political catalyst even from a cell in solitary confinement. Feisty and unbowed, despite the death sentence hanging over his head, he was a serious threat to the Marcos regime. <>

Ninoy's Aquino’s Exile to the United States

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “Sometime in March of 1980, in an echo of his own father's experience, Ninoy Aquino suffered a heart attack in his prison cell. A second heart attack at the Philippine Heart Center showed that he had a blocked artery, but Aquino refused to allow surgeons in the Philippines to operate on him for fear of foul play by Marcos. Imelda Marcos made a surprise visit to Ninoy's hospital room on May 8, 1980, offering him a medical furlough to the United States for surgery. She had two stipulations, however; Ninoy had to promise to return to the Philippines, and he had to swear not to denounce the Marcos regime while in the U.S. That same night, Ninoy Aquino and his family got on a plane bound for Dallas, Texas. [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History, <>]

“The Aquino family decided not to return to the Philippines immediately after Ninoy's recovery from surgery. They moved instead to Newton, Massachusetts, not far from Boston. There, Ninoy accepted fellowships from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which allowed him leisure to give a series of lectures and write two books. Despite his earlier pledge to Imelda, Ninoy was highly critical of the Marcos regime throughout his stay in the U.S.” <>

Aquino became a major leader of the opposition in exile.

Ninoy Aquino Prepares to Return to the Philippines

Corazon Aquino wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Throughout our three years and three months in the United States, Ninoy and were always aware that our life there was temporary. Ninoy never stopped talking about returning to the Philippines even as we enjoyed living together as a family in the land of the free. In the first quarter of 1983, Ninoy was receiving information about the deteriorating political situation in our country combined with the rumored poor health of the dictator. Ninoy believed that it was imperative for him to speak to Marcos so that he could appeal to him to return our country to democracy, before extreme forces were released that would make such a return impossible. I told Ninoy: “What makes you think that Marcos will want to talk to you or even listen to you?” And he said: “I will never be able to forgive myself if I did not least try.” [Source: Corazon C. Aquino, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Thursday, August 21, 2003 <~>]

“Hearing Ninoy say that, I knew there was nothing I can do to stop him from returning. Not even after we were warned about the threats to his life. The tiniest hope that there could be a peaceful and painless restoration of democracy was enough to convince Ninoy he had to try it. For him, the important consideration was that the solution did not involve more of the pain and suffering that the original problem spawned. While it is true that Ninoy’s own sufferings had convinced him of the inexhaustible capacity of the man to endure pain, still he did not want anyone else to go through the same experience. I think Ninoy was convinced that suffering ennobles, but he was not prepared to experiment with other people’s lives – only with his own. <~>

Corazon Aquino wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “The original plan was for Ninoy to arrive in Manila on Aug. 7, a Sunday, at a time when there would be four or planes arriving so there would be a ready-made crowd at the airport. Our only son, Noynoy, and our youngest daughter, Kris, would accompany him. It was necessary for Kris to be in Manila early in August so she could enroll at the International School. And in case Ninoy was arrested at the airport and detained again in Fort Bonifacio, Noynoy could take care of Kris. Our three other daughters, Ballsy, Pinky and Viel, were to saty with me to finish the packing and closing up of the house. [Source: Corazon C. Aquino, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Thursday, August 21, 2003 <~>]

“But then we learned from the Philippine Consulate official in New York that there were orders from Manila not to issue us any passports. At that time, all our passports had already expired and we had been denied new passports. So there was a change of plan. Ninoy decided it would be better if he went alone to attract less attention, and the rest of us were suppose to follow him after two weeks. Ninoy had acquired a passport through the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. This passport carried the name of Marcial Bonifacio (Martial for martial law and Bonifacio to represent his imprisonment in Fort Bonifacio). Ninoy was able to get a second passport from one of his friends in one of the consulates in America, and this passport carried his name, Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. <~>

Corazon C. Aquino: The Last Time I Saw Ninoy

Corazon and her children stayed in the U.S. while Ninoy took the circuitous route back to Manila. Corazon Aquino wrote in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “The last time I saw Ninoy alive was on Aug. 13, 1983. We had all attended Mass that morning at Saint Mary’s Chapel in Boston College. Both of us had very little sleep the night before. I remember being so nervous and in fact I was shivering that night, which was quite unusual because it was a warm summer night in Boston. (Whenever I feel very nervous, I usually shiver regardless of the temperature.) I could sense that Ninoy was also feeling quite apprehensive, but he reminded me that we had already discussed the matter and he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I guess he did not want me to worry more. And so we left it at that. I just prayed and prayed as I could not sleep even as I felt that Ninoy was just pretending to be asleep. [Source: Corazon C. Aquino, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Thursday, August 21, 2003 <~>]

“We saw Ninoy off at the Logan airport and we tried to be cheerful as we told him that we would see him in two weeks. Ninoy had to take another route home – from Boston on Aug. 13, 1983, to Los Angeles, then to Singapore, next to Malaysia, where we had friends in the ruling family, to Hong Kong, and then Taipei. And from Taipei to Manila. He had chosen Taipei as then final stopover because the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they did not know of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends to take care of him. <>

“Ninoy and I talked for the last time on Aug. 20, 1983, at 7 p.m. Boston time, which was Aug. 21, 1983, 7 a.m Taipei time. He told me that he had written letters for me and each of our five children, and that he would soon be leaving for the airport. I told him I had been informed that AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver had warned any airline bringing Ninoy in that Ninoy would not be allowed to disembark, and that the airline would be ordered to fly Ninoy back to his original port of embarkation. Ninoy said they could not do that to him because he is, was and always would be a Filipino. And he told me that most likely he would be re-arrested and brought back to Fort Bonifacio. In that case, he said, he would ask Gen. Josephus Ramas for permission to call me up. <~>

“At around 2 a.m Boston time, Aug. 21, 1983, a Sunday, our phone rang and my eldest daughter Ballsy who answered it was shocked when Kyodo news agency representative in New York asked her if it were true that her father had been killed at the Manila International Airport. United Press International and Associated Press reporters also called, asking for verification. I was hoping and praying that all these reports were false. But when Member of Parliament Shintaro Ishihara of Japan called me up from Tokyo and told me that from Manila and verified the shooting report, my children and I cried as we had to accept the cruel fact that Ninoy had been shot dead.” <~>

Ninoy's Aquino’s Return to the Philippines

In 1983 Aquino was fully aware of the dangers of returning to the Philippines. Imelda Marcos had pointedly advised him that his return would be risky, claiming that communists or even some of Marcos's allies would try to kill him. The deterioration of the economic and political situation and Marcos's own worsening health, however, persuaded Aquino that the only way his country could be spared civil war was either by persuading the president to relinquish power voluntarily or by building a responsible, united opposition. In his view, the worst possible outcome was a post-Marcos regime led by Imelda and backed by the military under Ver. [Source: Library of Congress *]

“The Marcos regime tried to prevent his return by revoking his passport, denying him a visa, and warning international airlines that they would not be allowed landing clearance if they tried to bring Aquino into the country. Starting on August 13, 1983, Aquino flew a meandering, week-long flight route from Boston through Los Angeles, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan to his final destination of Manila. Because Marcos had cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the government there was under no obligation to cooperate with his regime's goal of keeping Ninoy Aquino away from Manila. As China Airlines Flight 811 descended in to Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983, Ninoy Aquino warned the foreign journalists traveling with him to have their cameras ready. "In a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could all be over," he noted with chilling prescience. Minutes after the plane touched down, he was dead.” <>

Assassination of Benigno S. Aquino

Despite the obvious danger to his personal safety, Aquino returned. He was shot in the head and killed on August 21, 1983,, in full view of television cameras, as he was escorted off an airplane at Manila International Airport by soldiers of the Aviation Security Command. Rolando Galman, the alleged assassin, was also immediately gunned down by personnel of the Aviation Security Command. Upon investigation, however, another passenger named Rebecca Quijano testified that she saw a man, who was wearing a military uniform right behind Ninoy, shoot him at the back of his head. A post-mortem analysis confirmed that Ninoy was indeed shot from the back, at close range. Speculations of a conspiracy by the Marcos government instantaneously spread. After investigations, 25 military men were arrested including then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver. After a seemingly unending trial process, only 16 were sentenced to reclusion perpetua on September 28, 1990.

The government's claim that he was the victim of a lone communist gunman, Rolando Galman (who was conveniently killed by Aviation Security Command troops after the alleged act), was unconvincing. A commission appointed by Marcos and headed by jurist Corazon Agrava concluded in their findings announced in late October 1984, that the assassination was the result of a military conspiracy. Marcos's credibility, both domestically and overseas, was mortally wounded when the Sandiganbayan, a high court charged with prosecuting government officials for crimes, ignored the Agrava findings, upheld the government's story, and acquitted Ver and twenty-four other military officers and one civilian in December 1985. *

Ultimate responsibility for the act still had not been clearly determined. A special court convicted 16 soldiers, including a general, of killing both Aquino and Galman. However, most observers believe that Imelda Marcos and Fabian Ver wanted Aquino assassinated. Imelda's remarks, both before and after the assassination, and the fact that Ver had become her close confidant, cast suspicion on them. *

Trials and Investigations Into the Murder of Ninoy Aquino

Eric Pace wrote in the New York Times, “Many Filipinos came to believe that Mr. Marcos, a shrewd political tactician, had no hand in the killing of Mr. Aquino but that he was involved in cover-up measures. A civilian investigative panel issued a report in October 1984 naming Gen. Fabian C. Ver, the armed forces Chief of Staff and a close friend of Mr. Marcos, and two dozen others, mostly soldiers, as ''indictable for the premeditated killing'' of Mr. Aquino and of Rolando Galman, who was earlier said to have been the lone assassin killed by airport guards. An indictment was handed up in February 1985. [Source: Eric Pace, New York Times, September 29, 1989 >>>]

In 1987, a special court convicted General Luther Custodio and fifteen other officers and enlisted members of the Aviation Security Command of murdering Aquino and Galman and sentenced them to 40 years in prison. The trial failed to establish the mastermind, but speculation has long focused on Marcos. The men were acquitted in their first trial under Marcos. The court ruled Aquino was slain by a supposed communist hitman, Rolando Galman, who then was killed by security guards. After Marcos was ousted, the Supreme Court nullified the acquittals and ordered a new trial. In March 2009, ten of the former soldiers were released after they were granted clemency by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The general and two others died in prison and three were earlier pardoned. [Source: Oliver Teves, AP, March 5, 2009]

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. 1) 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. 2) 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. 3) 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. [Source: Cecilio T. Arillo, Manila Times, August 18, 2013 ***]

Cecilio T. Arillo wrote in the Manila Times, “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.” ***

Key Witness to the Murder of Benigno S. Aquino

A fact-finding board found out that Aquino was shot on the service stairway of the China Airlines plane, not on the tarmac, and this could have been perpetuated by the escorts that got Aquino from the plane when they exited through the service stairway. Janice Castro wrote in Time, “Moments after Opposition Leader Benigno ("Ninoy") Aquino Jr. was assassinated at the Manila airport on August 21, 1983, a Philippine camera crew captured the anguished face of a young woman. To the reporter who questioned her, she replied, "They have killed Aquino. Why are you not crying yet?" In June 2001, Rebecca Quijano, 32, now known as "the crying lady," became the first civilian eyewitness of the shooting to testify in the Manila courtroom where the armed forces Chief of Staff, General Fabian Ver, 24 other soldiers and one civilian are being tried for Aquino's murder. The 26 are also accused of the murder of Rolando Galman, who was identified by the military as a Communist agent and Aquino's killer. [Source: Janice Castro, Time, June 24, 2001 ^^]

“Quijano was a passenger on the China Airlines flight that carried Aquino home after three years of exile in the U.S. She told the court that she was looking through a window of the plane when she saw a soldier wearing a nameplate identifying him as a military policeman about three-quarters of the way down an exit stairway, "pointing a gun at the back of the head of Aquino, and at the same time, a shot was fired." ^^

“Her testimony, which was dismissed by the defense as not worth cross- examining, was in sharp contrast to the eyewitness accounts given to an investigating commission, the Agrava board, by the soldiers who escorted Aquino from the plane. They insisted that Galman, a small-time gangster, suddenly appeared and fired the fatal shots as Aquino walked across the tarmac. Galman, in turn, was then shot by security officers. Chief Prosecutor Manuel Herrera, who escorted the terrified Quijano into the Sandiganbayan, the court where the trial was in its eleventh week, did not ask her to name the assassin. But Herrera speculated that he could be Metrocom Constable Rogelio Moreno, who walked down the airplane stairway behind Aquino. ^^

“Quijano's account is the strongest evidence offered yet by the prosecution. Four other witnesses' appearances were canceled after they recanted the testimony they had made before the Agrava board, whose reports to President Ferdinand Marcos led to the trial. One witness, an airline employee, said at first that he had seen someone pointing a gun at the back of Aquino's head on the plane ramp; later he swore that before the shooting, a gun had been pointed at him and he had fainted. Even Galman's stepdaughter recanted after having told the Agrava board that her mother disappeared, following a summons from General Ver, three months after the shooting. The Galman family lawyer charged that representatives of the defendants had offered bribes to the stepdaughter. Said Andres Narvasa, the Agrava board's general counsel: "They (the witnesses) have become convinced it would be unhealthy for them to speak out." ^^

“That explanation was supported by Quijano, who said that she had been threatened before the trial. She said that as she spoke to reporters in the ) airport moments after the shooting, Colonel Vicente Tigas, one of the defendants, forcibly pulled her away and whispered, "Don't talk or you'll get in trouble." Quijano had offered several times to testify before the Agrava board. Each time, however, she failed to appear for an interview. Last December, when she was arrested and charged with five counts of minor fraud, she was publicly identified as the missing witness in the Aquino case. But she returned to hiding after her release from government custody and the dismissal of all but one of the charges. ^^

“What finally brought her forward, she told TIME last week, was the belief that going public might be her safest alternative. Said Quijano: "I have no way out. I could not lead a normal life." She endured a chilling moment during her testimony when there was a brief power failure. As the courtroom was suddenly plunged into darkness, Quijano clutched Prosecutor Herrera's arm tightly and pleaded, "Please don't leave me here." Minutes later, the trial resumed.” ^^

Marcos and an Aquino Relative Behind the Aquino Assassination?

“The masterminds were the fascist dictator Marcos and a very close relative of Cory Aquino,” Jose Maria Sison, founder of the 45-year-old Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA), told Wilson Flores, a columnist of the Philippine Star. “General Fabian Ver [then the chief of staff] could not have coordinated the assassination plot, involving subordinate generals and colonels and several armed services, without the approval of Marcos,” said Sison, during an exclusive interview in the Netherlands where Sison has been living in exile since 1989. [Source: Barbara Mae Dacanay, Gulf News, August 20, 2012]

“The cousin of Cory Aquino — who hated Ninoy Aquino and who was [then] one of the top cronies of Marcos — was the patron and boss of General [Romeo] Gatan,” recalled Sison, adding that Gatan was “responsible for getting [Rolando] Galman as a prop in the David Copperfield-type illusionist theatrics of the assassination plot.” At the time, the Marcos administration blamed Galman, who was identified as a member of the CPP-NPA, as the killer of Aquino.

Later, two fact-finding boards showed that Galman was a fall guy because he was taken by government officials from his home in northern suburban Bulacan on August 19, 1983, and kept incommunicado in a hotel near the airport until the Aquino assassination. One of the private citizens who got Galman from his home was associated with Eduardo Cojuangco, then an estranged cousin of Aquino, who was allied with Marcos.

Why Hasn’t the Aquino Family Called for a Tough Inquiry Into the Murder of Ninoy Aquino?

Cecilio T. Arillo wrote in the Manila Times, “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. [Source: Cecilio T. Arillo, Manila Times, August 18, 2013 ***]

“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.

Impact of Ninoy Aquino's Assassination

For the Marcoses, Aquino became a more formidable opponent dead than alive. His funeral drew millions of mourners in the largest demonstration in Philippine history. Aquino became a martyr who focused popular indignation against a corrupt regime. The inevitable outcome--Marcos's overthrow--could be delayed but not prevented. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The Aquino assassination shocked the whole nation and triggered the 1986 People Power military-led civilian uprising that catapulted Aquino’s wife, Corazon Aquino, to the presidency. As a martyr, Aquino became the focus of popular indignation against the corrupt Marcos regime, a more formidable opponent in death than in life. The opposition, initially consisted primarily of the Catholic hierarchy, the business elite, and a faction of the armed forces. It grew into the People's Power movement with millions of rural, working class, middle class, and professional supporters, when Aquino's widow, Corazon "Cory" Aquino, returned to the Philippines to take over, first symbolically and then substantively, as leader of the opposition. *

Kallie Szczepanski wrote in Asian History, “Before the open-casket funeral, Ninoy's mother Aurora Aquino insisted that her son's face be left bare of makeup so that the mourners could clearly see the bullet wound. She wanted everyone to understand "what they did to my son." After a 12-hour-long funeral procession, in which an estimated two million people took part, Ninoy Aquino was buried in the Manila Memorial Park. The leader of the Liberal Party famously eulogized Aquino as "the greatest president we never had." Many commentators compared him with the executed anti-Spanish revolutionary leader, Jose Rizal.” [Source: Kallie Szczepanski, Asian History, <>]

The Aquino assassination shattered business confidence at a time when the economy was suffering from years of mismanagement under the cronies and unfavorable international conditions. Business leaders, especially those excluded from regime-nurtured monopolies, feared that a continuation of the status quo would cause a collapse of the economy. Their apprehensions were shared by foreign creditors and international agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Inflation and unemployment were soaring. The country's GNP became stagnant by 1983, and then it contracted--by -6.8 percent in 1984, and -3.8 percent in 1985, according to the IMF. There was a steep decline both in domestic and foreign investment. Outward capital flows reached as high as US$2 million a day in the panic that followed Aquino's death. The Makati area of Manila, with its banks, brokerage houses, luxury hotels, and upper-class homes, became a center of vocal resistance to the Marcos regime.

Szczepanski wrote: “Inspired by the outpouring of support she received after Ninoy's death, the formerly shy Corazon Aquino became a leader of the anti-Marcos movement. In 1985, Ferdinand Marcos called for snap presidential elections in a ploy to reinforce his power. Cory Aquino ran against him. In the February 7, 1986 elections, Marcos was proclaimed the winner in a clearly falsified result. Mrs. Aquino called for massive demonstrations, and millions of Filipinos rallied to her side. In what became known as the "People Power Revolution," Ferdinand Marcos was forced out of office and into exile that same month. On February 25, 1986, Corazon Aquino became the 11th President of the Philippine Republic, and its first female president. Ninoy Aquino's legacy did not end with his wife's 6-year presidency, which saw democratic principles reintroduced into the politics of the nation. In June 2010, his son Benigno Simeon Aquino III, known as "Noy-noy," became President of the Philippines. Thus, the long political history of the Aquino family, once tarnished by collaboration, now signifies open and democratic processes today.” <>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Philippines Department of Tourism, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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