Aquino’s 1983 Killing Remains a Puzzle

As leader of the opposition to Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos, Benigno Aquino was clearly the leading contender for the presidency before he was shot down upon returning to his homeland from exile.

Aquino became the Philippines’ youngest mayor at 22, its youngest governor at 29 and its youngest senator at 34. In 1972, when Aquino was 40, Marcos declared martial law, thus extending his term as president beyond the country’s constitutional limit. At that time Marcos had Aquino arrested and convicted of murder, rape, illegal possession of firearms and subversion.  Aquino was sentenced to die, but he spent more than seven years in prison on the charges.

In 1980, Marcos allowed Aquino to have heart surgery in the United States, where he stayed for three years.  Upon his arrival at Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, Aquino was escorted from the plane by three soldiers, while two others prevented anyone else from leaving the plane. Within 30 seconds Aquino had been shot in the head, and his guards had shot his alleged assassin, Rolando Galman, seven or eight times. Aquino’s body was removed immediately.

Aquino’s friends had begged him not to return to the Philippines. Aquino replied, “I’m committed to return. If fate falls that I should be killed, so be it.” Aquino often referred to Filipino patriot Jose Rizal, who was shot by a Spanish firing squad upon returning from exile in 1896, igniting the Philippine war of independence.

A tape recording of the assassination clearly indicates that someone ordered the shooting. One witness claims that he saw Aquino shot before he reached the ground, refuting the government’s claim that he was shot on the ground by Galman. The government maintained that it was not involved in the murder, even though Aquino was surrounded by five guards when he was shot.

Political experts believe it unlikely that Marcos actually ordered the killing, but they suspect factions loyal to the president, especially the army under the leadership of General Fabian Ver. The government conducted an investigation of the assassination but its validity is doubtful. Aquino’s wife, Corazon Aquino, refused to allow exhumation of her husband’s corpse for further examination.

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