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January 23, 2017

Because opinions about the case against Ninoy Aquino have always been tainted with bias, for and against, it would be interesting to know how the then-US Ambassador to the Philippines actually viewed the matter.

The case against Ninoy Aquino according to classified US cables (with minor edit)

Summary:  Former Senator Aquino, who has been incarcerated without charges for eleven months, will be tried beginning August 27 at public sessions of Military Tribunal for illegal possession of firearms, murder and subversion.  Subversion accusations against Aquino are not new and may have some basis in fact.  While maximum penalty is death, it is doubtful that Marcos would go this far against his principal former political opponent.

Department of National Defense announced August 23 that military trial of former Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., imprisoned Secretary-General of Liberal Party (LP) and Marcos arch-rival, will begin August 27.  Aquino is charged with illegal possession of firearms, murder and four counts of violating the Anti-Subversion Act, and further charges are reportedly under study.  He will be tried by Military Tribunal No. 2 headed by respected Brig. Gen. Jose Syjuco, at National Defense College at Fort Bonifacio, of which Syjuco is president.  Local press reports that Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile said trial will be open to the public.  Aquino will be defended by widely-respected former LP Senators Roxas, Tañada, Salonga and Rodrigo among others; initial action of lawyers was to file petition before Supreme Court requesting restraining order and/or injunction against military trial.

Trial will open on August 27 with arraignment of Aquino on weapons charge and will continue on thrice-weekly schedule until completed.  Aquino is accused of illegally possessing various arms, including machine guns, high-powered rifles and hand grenades.

There are four counts of subversion.  In one, Aquino is charged with providing weapons, ammunition and other supplies to the New People’s Army (NPA) head Bernabe Buscayno (aka Commander Dante) and other NPA leaders between 1965 and 1969; giving shelter and medical assistance to ten HMB/NPA personnel in 1970 and 1971; and donating P15,000 in April 1969 to the NPA to organize demonstrations which took place same month before  Congress, Malacañang Palace and American Embassy.  Two other subversion cases also charge Aquino with providing weapons to NPA members.  Fourth subversion case charges him with giving former Philippine Constabulary Lt. Victor Corpuz P500 to rent car used in December 1970 raid on Philippine Military Academy armory.  Subversion charges are also brought against Dante, Corpuz and several other NPA personnel, in addition to Aquino in these same cases.

On murder charge, Aquino is charged with conspiring to kill a barrio captain in 1957 in his home province of Tarlac; there are reports this charge may have been dropped.

Comment: Accusations against Aquino for plotting with and assisting communist dissidents are not new. President Marcos aired similar allegations after August 1971 suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and in mid- September 1972, only a few days before declaring Martial Law; however, this is the first time that actual charges have been filed.  While Aquino consistently denied charges of subversion publicly before arrest on September 23, 1972, he made numerous statements in private, to (US) Embassy officials and others, that suggested he had close connections to the NPA.  Dante and Corpuz to be tried in absentia; strategy in involving Aquino in their trial designed to strengthen impression he is a subversive and to undercut his political popularity.

Lawyers for Aquino are highly qualified and they and the former Senator himself can be expected to make a strong defense.  It will be interesting to see how long trial remains public.

Maximum penalty under the 1957 Anti-subversion Act, which outlaws communist party in the Philippines is death.  However it is unlikely Marcos will risk making martyr of Aquino.  Marcos’ intentions appear to be tarnishing of Aquino’s political image and legalizing his continued detention.


*US Ambassador to the Philippines 1973 to 1977, William H. Sullivan


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