Who masterminded Ninoy’s murder?

LAST Sunday, I lamented that while the 16 soldiers convicted of the murder of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. have all been imprisoned and pardoned, the mastermind of the sordid plot has not been identified, prosecuted and punished.

Highest official in the conspiracy. On the very same day, Ambassador Bienvenido A. Tan Jr. reminded me that the Agrava Board pointed to Gen. Fabian C. Ver, then chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as the highest official who actively participated in the military conspiracy to kill the senator. This was also the conclusion of the board’s legal team headed by “Gray Dean” Andres R. Narvasa (who on April 11, 1986 became a Justice of the Supreme Court, and on Dec. 8, 1991, chief justice of the Philippines) as well as of Tan himself, who was the board’s public coordinator.

In his book “The Public Has the Right to Know” (a copy of which he sent me), Ambassador Tan explained that “a public coordinator was retained by the (Agrava) Board – through him, questions were addressed by the public to the various witnesses…” He enjoyed the same rank as the board’s general counsel (Narvasa).

I should clarify, however, that this conclusion implicating Ver was signed by only four members (lawyer Luciano Salazar, businessman Dante Santos, labor leader Ernesto Herrera and educator Amado Dizon) and was dissented from by the board’s chair, retired Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Agrava who exculpated the general.

As a consequence of this report, General Ver was charged with murder but was later acquitted, along with all the other accused, by the Dec. 2, 1985 Sandiganbayan decision penned by then Presiding Justice Manuel Pamaran. And after the Supreme Court nullified the Pamaran judgment on Sept. 12, 1986, Ver—together with the 16 who were eventually convicted by the Sandiganbayan—was again indicted.

However, according to the Sept. 28, 1990 decision penned by Justice Regino C. Hermosisima Jr., the Sandiganbayan did not acquire jurisdiction over him because he joined President Ferdinand Marcos in fleeing to Hawaii on Feb. 25, 1986 as an aftermath of the Edsa Revolution. Thus, it could not pass judgment on his guilt. Since then until his death in Bangkok on Nov. 21, 1998, Ver never returned to this country.

No evidence against Marcos. In his letter, Ambassador Tan, now 85 years old, rued that “there was never any evidence linking President Marcos or Imelda or Danding so that much as we might have wanted to make a finding that they or any one of them was in the plot, we could not in good conscience come up with that conclusion.”

But Ambassador Tan did not stop with Ver. He asked Fr. Joaquin Jose Mari Sumpaico, SJ, a former chaplain at the New Bilibid Prisons who befriended the 16 convicts, a “question that has intrigued me all the years. How were (they) able to take care of their families while they were in jail? Father told me that he asked them the same question and the reply was family and relatives and an underground source whose name they could not reveal because they were told that if they mentioned that source it would stop. I also think that they also knew that even in prison if they talked they could be liquidated. If we ever found that support source, that could lead us to the mastermind.”

Perhaps, the pardoned convicts could also be asked how they were able to acquire and stay in their “fairly comfortable” kubols—described by the Inquirer on March 18 as “stand alone structures or small rooms within a building exclusively used by owners”—instead of the “pitiable” prison cells.

In his media interviews, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said that, being the “Tanodbayan” at the time, he actively prosecuted the Aquino murder case. But just as he was about to secure the evidence on the identity of the mastermind, the Supreme Court suspended him from the practice of law on Oct. 7, 1988. Now, as secretary of justice, he could resume the quest and put a definitive closure to the mastermind question.

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Seniors’ discount. I have written two columns (Feb. 15 and March 8) on the senior citizens’ privileges granted by Republic Act 9257. At my suggestion, Vice President Noli “Kabayan” de Castro has set up an action center to attend to complaints and suggestions. Nonetheless, I am still flooded with e-mail. I suggest that queries be sent (with copy to me) to Kabayan at the 7th floor, PNB Building, Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay City; Tel. No. 833-4507; E-mail vp@ovp.gov.ph

Lawyer Benjamin Villareal, in a long letter, proposed that all mayors strictly enforce Sec. 7 of RA 9257 requiring establishments “to prominently display posters, stickers and other notices” listing the seniors’ rights and privileges. At his instance, Antipolo City has done this successfully and has filed charges against violators.

Good news: Former Finance Secretary Jose T. Pardo assured me that all outlets of Wendy’s (of which he is the founding chairman) honor the 20-percent seniors’ discount.

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The “Tony Blair in Manila” symposium will be held tomorrow (March 23) at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel. Registration begins at noon and the program starts at 2 p.m. sharp. I accepted the invitation to speak not only because I consider it a great honor to share the platform with the charismatic former British prime minister but also because I like the symposium theme: “Leadership During Challenging Times.” For further information, please call Vicky de Leon, 894-3493 or 0918-9022279.

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