It deliberated for 12 months, interviewed dozens of witnesses and compiled thousands of pages of evidence. But last week, as the latest in a series of self-imposed deadlines passed without delivery of the final report, the commission probing the assassination of Philippines opposition leader Benigno Aquino seemed no closer to agreement. The five-member board, chaired by former judge Corazón Agrava, was reportedly stalemated on a question of profound political importance: whether to name Gen. Fabian Ver, army chief of
staff and a confidant of President Ferdinand Marcos, as an accomplice in a military-masterminded plot to eliminate the popular Aquino.
At a minimum, the Agrava board is expected to implicate the upper military strata, including the air force chief, Gen. Luther Custodio, and 18 other senior officers. A 479-page report by the commission’s lawyers, said to form the basis of the panel’s own final conclusions, suggests that the military’s elaborate plans for protecting Aquino when he returned to Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, “were nothing but a gigantic hoax.” The legal staff also dismissed as a charade the army’s attempts to tie Aquino’s murder to Rolando Galman, a “hit man” claimed to have been hired by Communist insurgents. Forensic tests established that bullet fragments found in Aquino’s body had not come from Galman’s Magnum revolver.
But, alone among the panelists, Agrava has stubbornly resisted citing Ver directly as a conspirator.
That reluctance may have less to do with circumstantial evidence implicating Ver, the president’s former bodyguard and chauffeur, than with the potentially explosive political impact of naming the general. After years of service to Marcos, Ver is a symbol of the president’s dependence on the military. Ver’s son, Irwin, is a colonel in the presidential security command, an elite corps charged with protecting the Marcos family. While dismissing talk of a coup, diplomatic sources fear the army’s reaction to the final report, now
expected before the end of October.
Indeed, at one point last week the military seemed anxious to discredit the commission’s findings in advance. A key witness, airport maintenance worker Celso Loterinia, recanted sworn testimony that he had watched an army escort shoot Aquino in the head from behind on the stairs leading from the China Airlines plane that had brought the former senator back to Manila from exile in the United States. The retraction was contained in a letter delivered to the commission by a driver attached to the presidential security command.
For Marcos, already facing economic troubles and a Communist guerrilla offensive, the Aquino inquiry clearly posed the gravest threat to his 19-year reign. But most Filipinos last week seemed inclined to agree with the author of the leaked legal memorandum, who concluded with the fervent hope that “the truth will become so widely broadcast that, in the words of an ancient bard, ‘what has happened, even the fool knows.’”
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