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Friday, August 21, 2009

Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr.

Benigno Servillano "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. (November 27, 1932 – August 21, 1983) was a Philippine Senator, Governor of Tarlac, and an opposition leader against President Ferdinand Marcos. He was assassinated at the Manila International Airport (later renamed in his honor) upon returning home from exile in the United States. His death catapulted his widow, Corazon Aquino, to the limelight and subsequently to the presidency, replacing the 20-year Marcos regime. In 2004, the anniversary of his death was proclaimed as a national holiday now known as Ninoy Aquino Day.

Early life and career

Benigno Servillano Aquino was born in Concepcion, Tarlac, to a prosperous family of hacienderos (landlords). His grandfather, Servillano Aquino, was a general in the revolutionary army of Emilio Aguinaldo while his father, Benigno Aquino, Sr. (1894-1947) was a prominent official in the World War II Japanese-organized government of José P. Laurel. His mother was Doña Aurora Aquino-Aquino (who was also his father's third cousin). His father died while Benigno Aquino was in his teens amid rumors of collaboration with the Japanese during the occupation. Aquino was educated in private schools--St. Joseph's College, Ateneo de Manila, and De La Salle College. He finished high school at San Beda College. Aquino took his tertiary education at the Ateneo de Manila to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree, but he interrupted his studies. At age 17, he was the youngest war correspondent to cover the Korean War for the newspaper The Manila Times of Joaquin "Chino" Roces. Because of his journalistic feats, he received a Philippine Legion of Honor award from President Elpidio Quirino at age 18. At 21, he became a close adviser to then defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay. Ninoy took up law at the University of the Philippines, where he became a member of the Upsilon Sigma Phi. He interrupted his studies again however to pursue a career in journalism. According to Maximo V. Soliven, Aquino "later 'explained' that he had decided to go to as many schools as possible, so that he could make as many new friends as possible." In early 1954, he was appointed by President Ramon Magsaysay to act as personal emissary to Luis Taruc, leader of the Hukbalahap rebel group. After four months of negotiations, he was credited for Taruc's unconditional surrender. He became mayor of Concepcion in 1955 at the age of 22. In the same year he married Corazon "Cory" Cojuangco, and they had five children; Maria Elena (Ballsy), Aurora Corazon (Pinky), Benigno Simeon III (Noynoy), Victoria Eliza (Viel), and actress and TV host Kristina Bernadette (Kris).

Political career

Benigno Aquino was no stranger to Philippine politics. He came from a family that had been involved with some of the country's political heavyweights. His grandfather served under President Aguinaldo while his father held office under Presidents Manuel L. Quezon and Jose P. Laurel. Benigno Aquino became the youngest municipal mayor at age 22, and the nation's youngest vice-governor at 27. He became governor of Tarlac province in 1961 at age 29, then secretary-general of the Liberal Party in 1966. In 1967 he made history by becoming the youngest elected senator in the country's history at age 34. He was the only "survivor" of the Liberal Party who made it to the senate, where he was inevitably singled out by Marcos and his allies as their greatest threat. In 1968, during his first year in the Upper House, Aquino warned that Marcos was on the road to establishing "a garrison state" by "ballooning the armed forces budget", saddling the defense establishment with "overstaying generals" and "militarizing our civilian government offices"--all these caveats were uttered barely four years before martial law.

In myriad ways Aquino bedeviled the Marcos regime, chipping away at its monolithic facade. His most celebrated speech, insolently entitled "A Pantheon for Imelda", was delivered on February 10, 1969, and assailed the first lady's first extravagant project, the P50 million Cultural Center, which he dubbed "a monument to shame". An outraged President Marcos called Aquino "a congenital liar". The First Lady's friends angrily accused Aquino of being "ungallant". These so-called "fiscalization" tactics of Aquino quickly became his trademark in the senate. During his tenure as senator, he was selected by the Philippine Free Press magazine as one of the nation's most outstanding senators. His achievements at such a young age earned him the moniker "Wonder Boy" of Philippine politics.

No chance Aquino was seen as a contender by many for the highest office in the land, the presidency. Surveys during those times showed that he was the number one choice among Filipinos, since President Marcos by law was prohibited to serve another term.

Martial law, hunger strike

It was not until the Plaza Miranda bombing however—on August 21, 1971 (12 years to the day before Ninoy Aquino's own assassination)--that the pattern of direct confrontation between Marcos and Aquino emerged. At 9:15 p.m., at the kick-off rally of the Liberal Party, the candidates had formed a line on a makeshift platform and were raising their hands as the crowd applauded. The band played, a fireworks display drew all eyes, when suddenly there were two loud explosions that obviously were not part of the show. In an instant the stage became a scene of wild carnage. The police later discovered two fragmentation grenades that had been thrown at the stage by "unknown persons". 8 people died, 120 others were wounded, many critically. Aquino was absent at the incident.

Although suspicions pointed to the Nacionalistas (the political party of Marcos), Marcos allies sought to deflect this by insinuating that, perhaps, Aquino might have had a hand in the blast in a bid to eliminate his potential rivals within the party. Later, the Marcos government presented "evidence" of the bombings as well as an alleged threat of a communist insurgency, suggesting that the bombings were the handiwork of the growing New People's Army. Marcos made this a pretext to suspend the Writ of Habeas Corpus, vowed that the killers would be apprehended within 48 hours, and arrested a score of known "Maoists" on general principle. Ironically, the police captured one of the bombers, who was identified as a sergeant of the firearms and explosive section of the Philippine Constabulary, a military arm of the government. According to Aquino, this man was later snatched from police custody by military personnel and the public never heard from him again.

President Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972 and he went on air to broadcast his declaration on midnight of September 23. Aquino was one of the first to be arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion. On April 4, 1975, Aquino announced that he was going on a hunger strike, a fast to the death to protest the injustices of his military trial. Ten days through his hunger strike, he instructed his lawyers to withdraw all motions he had submitted to the Supreme Court. As weeks went by, he subsisted solely on salt tablets, sodium bicarbonate, amino acids and two glasses of water a day. Even as he grew weaker, suffering from chills and cramps, soldiers forcibly dragged him to the military tribunal's session. His family and hundreds of friends and supporters heard Mass nightly at the Santuario de San Jose in Greenhills, San Juan, praying for his survival. Near the end, Aquino's weight had dropped from 180 to 120 pounds. Aquino nonetheless maintained the ability to walk throughout his ordeal. On May 13, 1975, on the 40th day, his family and several priests and friends, begged him to end his fast, pointing out that even Christ fasted only for 40 days. He acquiesced, confident that he had made a symbolic gesture. But at 10:25 p.m. on November 25, 1977, the government-controlled Military Commission No. 2 headed by Major-General Jose Syjuco found Aquino guilty of all charges and he was sentenced to death by firing squad. However, Aquino and many others believed that Marcos, ever the shrewd strategist, would not let him suffer a death that would surely make Aquino a martyr.

In 1978, from his prison cell, he was allowed to take part in the elections for Interim Batasang Pambansa (Parliament). Although his friends, former Senators Gerry Roxas and Jovito Salonga preferred to boycott the elections, Aquino urged his supporters to organize and run 21 candidates in Metro Manila. Thus his political party, dubbed Lakas ng Bayan (People's Power), was born. The party's acronym was "LABAN" (the word laban means "fight" in the Filipino language, Tagalog). He was allowed one television interview on Face the Nation (hosted by Ronnie Nathanielsz) and proved to a startled and impressed populace that imprisonment had neither dulled his rapier-like tongue nor dampened his fighting spirit. Foreign correspondents and diplomats asked what would happen to the LABAN ticket. People agreed with him that his party would win overwhelmingly in an honest election. Not surprisingly, all his candidates lost due to widespread election fraud.

In mid-March 1980, Aquino suffered a heart attack, possibly the result of seven years in prison, mostly in a solitary cell which must have taken a heavy toll on his gregarious personality. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center where he suffered a second heart attack. The doctors administered ECG and other tests and found that he had a blocked artery. The surgeons were reluctant to do a coronary bypass because of their unwillingness to be involved in a controversy. Additionally, Aquino refused to submit himself to the hands of local doctors, fearing possible Marcos "duplicity", preferring to either go to the United States for the procedure or to return to his cell at Fort Bonifacio and die.

On May 8, 1980, Imelda Marcos made an unannounced visit to Aquino at his hospital room. She asked him if he would like to leave that evening for the U.S., but not before agreeing on two covenants: 1.) That if he leaves, he will return; 2.) While in America, he should not speak out against the Marcos regime. She then ordered General Fabian Ver and Mel Mathay to make necessary arrangements for passports and plane tickets for the Aquino family. Aquino was shoved in a closed van, rushed to his home on Times Street to pack, hustled to the airport and put on a plane bound for the U.S. that same day accompanied by his family.

Aquino was operated on at a hospital in Dallas, Texas. He made a quick recovery, was walking within two weeks and making plans to fly to Damascus, Syria to contact Muslim leaders, which he did five weeks later. When he reiterated that he was returning to the Philippines, he received a surreptitious message from the Marcos government saying that he was now granted an extension of his "medical furlough". Eventually, Aquino decided to renounce his two covenants with Malacañang "because of the dictates of higher national interest". After all, Aquino added, "a pact with the devil is no pact at all".

Aquino spent three years in self-exile, setting up house with Cory and their kids in Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. On fellowship grants from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked on the manuscripts of two books and gave a series of lectures in school halls, classrooms and auditoriums. He traveled extensively in the U.S. delivering speeches critical of the Marcos government.

Marcos and his officials, aware of Aquino's growing popularity even in his absence, in turn accused Aquino of being the "Mad Bomber" and allegedly masterminding a rash of bombings that had rocked Metro Manila in 1981 and 1982. Aquino denied that he was advocating a bloody revolution, but warned that radicalized oppositionists were threatening to use violence soon. He urged Marcos to "heed the voice of conscience and moderation", and declared himself willing to lay his own life on the line.

Planning return

Throughout his years of expatriation, Aquino was always aware that his life in the U.S. was temporary. He never stopped affirming his eventual return even as he enjoyed American hospitality and a peaceful life with his family on American soil. After spending 7 years and 7 months in prison, Aquino's finances were in ruins. Making up for the lost time as the family's breadwinner, he toured America; attending symposiums, lectures, and giving speeches in freedom rallies opposing the Marcos dictatorship, with the most memorable held at the Wilshire Ebell Theater in Los Angeles, California on February 15, 1981.

In the first quarter of 1983, Aquino was receiving news about the deteriorating political situation in his country combined with the rumored declining health (due to lupus) of President Ferdinand Marcos. He believed that it was expedient for him to speak to Marcos and present to him his rationale for the country's return to democracy, before extremists took over and make such a change impossible. Moreover, his years of absence made his allies worry that the Filipinos might have resigned themselves to Marcos' strongman rule and that without his leadership the centrist opposition would die a natural death.

Aquino decided to go back to the Philippines, fully aware of the dangers that awaited him. Warned that he would either be imprisoned or killed, Aquino answered, "if it's my fate to die by an assassin's bullet, so be it. But I cannot be petrified by inaction, or fear of assassination, and therefore stay in the corner..." His family, however, learned from a Philippine Consulate official that there were orders from Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to issue any passports for them. At that time, their visas had expired and their renewal had been denied. They therefore formulated a plan for Ninoy to fly alone—to attract less attention—and the rest of the family to follow him after two weeks. Despite the government's ban on issuing him a passport, Aquino was able to acquire one with the help of Rashid Lucman, a former congressman from Mindanao. It carried an alias, Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison). He eventually obtained a legitimate passport from a sympathizer working in a Philippine consulate. The Marcos government warned all international airlines that they would be denied landing rights and forced to return if they tried to fly Ninoy to the Philippines. Aquino insisted that it was his natural right as a citizen to come back to his homeland, and that no government could prevent him from doing so. He left Logan International Airport on August 13, 1983, took a circuitous route home from Boston, via Los Angeles, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and Taipei, before heading towards Manila. He had chosen Taipei as the final stopover when he learned the Philippines had severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This made him feel more secure; the Taiwan authorities could pretend they were not aware of his presence. There would also be a couple of Taiwanese friends accompanying him.

It would have been perfectly convenient for the Marcos government if Aquino had stayed out of the local political arena, however Ninoy asserted his willingness to suffer the consequences declaring, "the Filipino is worth dying for." He wished to express an earnest plea for Marcos to step down and seek a peaceful regime change and a return to democratic institutions. Anticipating the worst, during a pre-return interview held in his suite at the Taipei Grand Hotel, he revealed that he would be wearing a bullet-proof vest, but he also said that "it's only good for the body, but for the head there's nothing else we can do". Sensing his own doom, he told the journalists accompanying him on the flight that they "have to be ready with your (hand) camera because this action can become very fast... in a matter of 3 or 4 minutes it could be all over... and I may not be able to talk to you again after this...." In his last formal statement that he wasn't able to deliver, he said, "I have returned to join the ranks of those struggling to restore our rights and freedom through nonviolence. I seek no confrontation."


Despite a convoy of security guards (all assigned to him by the Marcos government), a contingent of 1,200 military and police personnel on the tarmac, three armed bodyguards personally escorting him, and a bulletproof vest Aquino was wearing, Aquino was fatally shot in the head as he was escorted off the airplane. From the airplane, aviation security personnel were seen firing into the body of an unknown man dressed in blue, who was identified as Rolando Galman. Aquino's body was quickly loaded into a van and sped away.

Initially government ran radio and television reported that Benigno Aquino was killed together with an "unknown" assassin . Then the government claimed that Aquino was killed by a Communist hitman named Rolando "Rolly" Galman, who was shot dead at the scene by the aviation security. However, politicians and diplomats found evident contradictions between the claim and the photos and the videotape footage that documented the time before and after the shooting. The footage had circulated throughout the Philippines at that time.

Everyone from the Central Intelligence Agency, to the United Nations, to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of conspiracy. President Marcos was reportedly gravely ill, recovering from a kidney transplant when the incident occurred. Theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the execution. Some hypothesized that Marcos had a long-standing order for Aquino's murder upon the latter's return.

Aquino's body lay in state in a glass coffin. No effort was made to disguise a bullet wound that had disfigured his face. Aquino's funeral procession on August 31 lasted from 9 a.m.--with a funeral mass officiated by the Catholic archbishop of Manila, Jaime Cardinal Sin, and held at Santo Domingo Church—to 9 p.m., when his body was interred at the Manila Memorial Park. Two million people lined the streets during the procession which was aired by the Church-sponsored Radio Veritas, the only station that covered the procession. The procession reached Rizal Park, where the Philippine flag was brought to half-staff.


Meanwhile, President Marcos immediately created a fact-finding commission, headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, to investigate the Aquino assassination. However, the commission lasted only two sittings due to intense public criticism. President Marcos issued on October 14, 1983, Presidential Decree No. 1886 creating an independent board of inquiry. The board was composed of former Court of Appeals Justice Ma. Corazon J. Agrava as chairman, Amando Dizon, Luciano Salazar, Dante Santos and Ernesto Herrera.

The Agrava Fact-Finding Board convened on November 3, 1983. But, before it could start its work President Marcos charged the communists for the killing of Senator Aquino: “The decision to eliminate the former Senator, Marcos claimed, was made by none other than the general-secretary of the Philippine Communist Party, Rodolfo Salas. He was referring to his earlier claim that Aquino had befriended and subsequently betrayed his communist comrades."

The Agrava Board conducted public hearings, and invited several persons who might shed light on the crimes, including AFP Chief of Staff Fabian Ver and Imelda Marcos.

In the subsequent proceedings, no one actually identified who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Aquino, but Rebecca Quijano, another passenger, testified that she saw a man behind Aquino (running from the stairs towards Aquino and his escorts) point a gun at the back of his head, then there was the sound of a gunshot. A post-mortem analysis disclosed that Aquino was shot in the back of the head at close range with the bullet exiting at the chin at an angle which supported Quijano's testimony. More suspicions were aroused when Quijano described the assassin as wearing a military uniform.

After a year of thorough investigation – with 20,000 pages of testimony given by 193 witnesses, the Agrava Board submitted two reports to President Marcos – the Majority and Minority Reports. The Minority Report, submitted by Chairman Agrava alone, was submitted on October 23, 1984. It confirmed that the Aquino assassination was a military conspiracy but it cleared Gen. Ver. Many believed that President Marcos intimidated and pressured the members of the Board to persuade them not to indict Ver, Marcos’ first cousin and most trusted general. Excluding Chairman Agrava, the majority of the board submitted a separate report – the Majority Report – indicting several members of the Armed Forces including AFP Chief-of-Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, Gen. Luther Custodio and Gen. Prospero Olivas, head of AVSECOM.

Later, the 25 military personnel, including several generals and colonels, and one civilian were charged for the murder of Senator Aquino. President Marcos relieved Ver as AFP Chief and appointed his second-cousin, Gen. Fidel V. Ramos as acting AFP Chief. After a brief trial, the Sandiganbayan acquitted all the accused on December 2, 1985. Immediately after the decision, Marcos re-instated Ver. The Sandiganbayan ruling and the reinstatement of Ver were denounced by several sectors as a “mockery” of justice.

After Marcos was ousted in 1986, another investigation was set up by the new government. The men on the tarmac, the rank and file of the military, were found guilty and sentenced to life at National Bilibid Prison. They recently filed an appeal to have their sentences reduced after 22 years, claiming the assassination was ordered by a Marcos crony and business partner (and Corazon Aquino's estranged cousin), Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., who was eventually cleared by the Aquino family. Through the years, some have been pardoned, others have died in detention, while yet others have had their terms commuted and then served these out. As of March 2009, the last remaining convicts have been released from prison.


Ninoy Aquino's actual bloodied safari jacket, pants (folded), belt and boots that he wore upon his return from exile are on permanent display at the Aquino Center in Tarlac.

The death of Benigno Aquino transformed the Philippine opposition from a small isolated movement to a massive unified crusade, incorporating people from all walks of life. The middle class got involved, the impoverished majority participated, and business leaders whom Marcos had irked during martial law endorsed the campaign—all with the crucial support of the military and the Catholic Church hierarchy. The assassination showed the increasing incapacity of the Marcos regime—Ferdinand was mortally ill when the crime occurred while his cronies mismanaged the country in his absence. It outraged Aquino's supporters that Marcos, if not masterminding it, allowed the assassination to happen and engineered its cover-up. The mass revolt caused by Aquino's demise attracted worldwide media attention and Marcos' American contacts, as well as the Reagan Administration, began distancing themselves. There was global media spotlight to the Philippine crisis, and exposés on Imelda's extravagant lifestyle (most infamously, her thousands of pairs of shoes) and "mining operations", as well as Ferdinand's dictatorial excesses, came into focus.

The assassination thrust Aquino's widow, Corazon "Cory" Aquino, willingly or unwillingly, into the public eye. Convinced by leaders of the opposition that she was the person to beat Marcos, Cory Aquino went on to campaign tirelessly in the 1986 snap elections which were called by Marcos to pacify rampant public discontent. In 57 days of trying to win people's votes before the February 7, 1986 election, her UNIDO party took to the streets, visiting all but a few of the Philippine provinces. On the campaign trail, Mrs. Aquino was greeted by throngs of people throwing confetti and cheering "Cory! Cory! Cory!". Despite the Marcos-controlled Commission on Election's declaration of a Marcos' victory, the majority of the Filipino people refused to accept the allegedly fraudulent outcome, prompting the People Power Revolution that drove Marcos into exile and placed Cory Aquino in the seat of power.

While no Filipino president has ever been assassinated, Benigno Aquino is one of three presidential spouses who have been murdered. Aurora Quezon was killed along with her daughter and son-in-law in a Hukbalahap ambush in 1949, while Alicia Syquia-Quirino was murdered by the Japanese along with three of her children during the Battle of Manila in 1945.


In Senator Aquino's honor, the Manila International Airport (MIA) where he was assassinated was renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) and his image is printed on the 500-peso bill. The Philippine Congress enacted Republic Act (R.A.) 9256, declaring August 21, the anniversary of his death, as "Ninoy Aquino Day", an annual public holiday in the Philippines. Several monuments were built in his honor. Most renowned is the bronze memorial in Makati City near the Philippine Stock Exchange, which today is a venue of endless anti-government rallies and large demonstrations, with another one bronze statue in front of the Municipal Building of Concepcion, Tarlac.

Although Aquino was recognized as the most prominent and most dynamic opposition leader of his generation, in the years prior to martial law he was regarded by many as being a representative of the entrenched familial bureaucracy which to this day dominates Philippine politics. While atypically telegenic and uncommonly articulate, he had his share of detractors and was not known to be immune to ambitions and excesses of the ruling political class. However, during his seven years and seven months imprisoned as a political prisoner of Marcos, Aquino read a book entitled Born Again by convicted Watergate conspirator Charles Colson and it inspired him to a religious awakening.

As a result, the remainder of his personal and political life would undertake a distinct spiritual sheen. He emerged as a contemporary counterpart of the great Rizal, who was among the world's earliest proponents of the use of non-violence to combat a repressive regime. Some remained skeptical of Aquino's redirected spiritual focus, but it ultimately had an effect on his wife's political career. While some may question the prominence given Aquino in Philippine history, it was his assassination that was pivotal to the downfall of a despotic ruler and the eventual restoration of democracy in the Philippines.

As part of Republic Act No. 9256, the Monday nearest August 21 was declared (SECTION 1. Section 26, Chapter 7, Book I of Executive Order No. 292, otherwise known as the Administrative Code of 1987) a nationwide special holiday (Ninoy Aquino Day) by the Senate and House of Representatives of the Philippines and approved on July 25, 2007 by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, President of the Philippines.

Timeline of the murder case

August 21, 1983 - Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated after disembarking a China Airlines plane at the Manila International Airport. Also killed was Rolando Galman.

August 24, 1983 – Ferdinand Marcos sent a fact-finding commission headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando to investigate the Aquino murder (composed of 4 retired Supreme Court Justices who resigned, after its composition was challenged in court and thereafter, Arturo M. Tolentino declined appointment as board chairman.

August 31, 1983 - More than 2 million people lined up the streets and joined Ninoy's funeral procession, which was the biggest in Philippine history. The procession lasted for 11 hours, from the Sto. Domingo Church in Quezon City to Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque City.

October 22, 1983 – Marcos created another fact-finding committee known as the Agrava Fact-Finding Board, headed by former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Agrava, with lawyer Luciano E. Salazar, businessman Dante G. Santos, labor leader Ernesto F. Herrera and educator Amado C. Dizon, as members.

October 22, 1984 – Agrava Board released the reports concluding that military officers, including then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver, conspired to kill Ninoy Aquino and the Supreme Court assigned the case to the Sandiganbayan.

December 2, 1985 – Following trial, the Sandiganbayan acquits all the accused.

September 12, 1986 – The Supreme Court, newly re-organized following the 1986 Edsa Revolution, orders a retrial of the accused. Warrants of arrests are subsequently issued by the Sandiganbayan for 25 military men, led by General Ver, and one civilian.

September 28, 1990 – The Sandiganbayan convicts 16 of the suspects and sentences them to reclusion perpetua. Convicted of the crime were the Avsecom chief, Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, Capt. Romeo Bautista, 2nd Lt. Jesus Castro, and Sergeants Claro L. Lat, Arnulfo de Mesa, Filomeno Miranda, Rolando de Guzman, Ernesto Mateo, Rodolfo Desolong, Ruben Aquino and Arnulfo Artates, gunman Constable Rogelio Moreno, M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez, C1C Mario Lazaga, A1C Cordova Estelo and A1C Felizardo Taran. No mastermind was named.

July 23, 1991 – The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction.

November 21, 1998 – Ver died of a lung ailment in Bangkok.

March 8, 2005 – The Supreme Court denied the petition of the accused (filed on August 2004) to re-open the case.

August 21, 2007 – The 24th anniversary of Ninoy’s murder. Chief Justice Andres Narvasa appealed for the closure of the case; Juan Ponce Enrile asked for the review for clemency in favor of the 14 convicts; Palawan Bishop Pedro Arigo, chairman of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC) asked pardon for the convicts; Corazon Aquino and Benigno Aquino III forgave the 14 soldiers but opposed their appeals for clemency or parole (which Sec. Raul Gonzales submitted to the President on 2004); Eduardo Ermita stated that the Bureau of Pardons and Parole had recommended a grant of executive clemency.

August 24, 2007 - Eduardo Ermita officially announced that due to political implications, the appeal for clemency by the 14 soldiers was archived, even if the Bureau of Pardons and Parole presently reviews the plea. The executive secretary refused to give a time frame for the review.

November 22, 2007- After more than 21 years, Pablo Martinez, one of the convicts in the Aquino-Galman double murder case in 1983 was released from the National Bilibid Prisons after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pardoned him for humanitarian reasons. Martines stated:

"Kung nakikinig man kayo Madam Cory Aquino patawarin ninyo ako sa nagawa kong pagkakasala noon."

("If you are listening Madame Cory Aquino, forgive me for the wrongdoings that I did before.")

March 14, 2008- Former Cpl. 1st Class Mario Lazaga one of the 16 convicted soldiers died of hypertension at the National Bilibid Prisons (NBP) in Muntinlupa City. Two other convicts had already died in detention since M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez’s pardon.

February 2009 - A1C Felizardo Taran and Sgt. Rolando de Guzman, whose sentences were commuted by former President Fidel V. Ramos and President Arroyo respectively, completed their prison terms and were released.

March 4, 2009 - The remaining 10 convicts, Rogelio Moreno, Ruben Aquino, Arnulfo Artates, Romeo Bautista, Jesus Castro, Arnulfo De Mesa, Rodolfo Desolong, Claro Lat, Ernesto Mateo and Filomeno Miranda walked out of the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City Wednesday, more than two decades after they were found guilty of the Aug. 21, 1983 killings at the former Manila International Airport.

Roque Ablan Sr.

Roque Ablan, guerrilla leader and war hero, was born to a poor couple, Victor Ablan of Salsona and Raymunda Blanco of Paoay. He studied at the Laoag Elementary Schooland graduated from the Laoag High School in 1924. He went to the University of the Philippines and there obtained a Bachelor of Philosophy degree in 1929 and a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1930. He took the bar examinations the same year he finished law and obtained 9th place. He managed this despite his having been a self-supporting student.

At the UP, he was a reporter for the Philippines Herald and edited the Carnival Courier during the carnival season. He taught for some time at the Chinese Elementary School and at other schools in Manila and edited also the Philippine Collegian, and the Philippinesian, the graduation yearbook. He became president of the University of the Philippines Alumni Association in Ilocos Norte and secretary of the Ilocos Norte Bar Association.

After graduation, he went home to Laoag where he was elected governor at the age of 32. He was the youngest provincial executive of his time. He was backed by some colleagues but his victory was also partly ascribed to the work of his wife, Manuela Ravelo, of Batac, who was a high school teacher.

Two problems faced his administration: lawlessness and unemployment. He sought to remedy these by increasing the daily wage in his province from 60 to 80 centavos. One of his outstanding achievements as governor was the establishment of a provincial hospital in Ilocos Norte, one that came to be considered as one of the best institutions in Luzon. He also stablished a branch of the Philippine Normal School in Laoag, move that enabled the poorer families to have their children their studies at minimal expense. Finally, he worked for the construction of theprovincia1 capital, the revival of rural credit and the organization of producers' cooperatives. He also espoused idea of giving more authority and power to local govemment. Where he received by his constituents, he was re-elected to a second term.

When the Japanese landed at Vigan, Ablan refused to extend his operation to them. He left the provincial capital of Laoag to avoid arrest and transferred the seat of government to a remote barrio near the boundary of Ilocos Norte and Apayao. From there he led in the organization of guerrilla units in coordination with Lt. Feliciano Madamba of the Philippine Army. By mid-January, 1942, the Ablan-Madamba Guerilla Group of Northern Luzon was organized.

On January 27 Ablan and Madamba went to Solsona where they unearthed an arms cache of numerous rifles, machine guns and several numbers of ammunition. The following day, January 28, their first encounter with the enemy took place when Madamba's unit successfully ambushed a Japanese detachment at Banna, and in the process, killed about 50 Japanese soldiers.

The efforts of Ablan and Madamba were welcomed by the people. Many soldiers who failed to join the USAFEE (United States Forces in the Far East) in Bataan joined them. The Japanese sent planes to the towns of Banna and Nueva Era, and bomb and strafe guerrillas and civilians. Ablan managed to get in contact with President Quezon in Washington D.C. by radio and reported that "despite the occupation of Laoag and San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte, our government is still functioning and our people have not alienated a bit of their allegiance to your leadership and to the Philipine Government and to the United States Government. Every day the will of our people against the Japanese becomes more intense as the enemy rob our homes, destroy property, kill civilian and rape our women."

Shortly after, Ablan radioed again President Quezon requesting P100,000 with which to pay the employees and keep the machinery the underground government functioning. Because of the difficulties involved in the transmission of money, Quezon authorized Ablan to issue emergency notes as previously authorized by your provincial expenditures." Ablan notified his people of Quezon's intention and the information, having spread throughout the province, they founded other small but independent guenilla groups to affiliate them with Ablan's outfit. Ablan then began to organize all these men to a more cohesive unit.

He divided Ilocos Norte into several sectors posed of one to three towns. Each zone was headed and supervised a guerilla leader. He established an intelligence section to gathering information from as many sources as possible. A runner-relay system was also set up for the purpose of disseminating news and sending orders to different sectors, thus linking towns and scattered guerrilla camps. Ablan assigned Lt. Isabelo Monje to take charge of operations in Batac, Paoay and Currimao; Vicente Cajigal was assigned the towns of Badoc, Pinili and Nueva Era. Ablan named Juan Albano as deputy governor, designated Lieutenant Madamba as executive officer, and placed Capt. Prime Lazaro and Damaso Samonte as chiefs of the intelligence corps. Captain Pedro Alviar was placed in charge of the counter-intelligence unit.

Ablan's guerrillas had a series of bitter skirmishes with the Japanese. After Bataan and Corregidor had fallen, the Japanese under Colonel Watanabe established their headquarters in Laoag. The enemy hunted Ablan and his resistance fighters and air units dropped Leaflets urging him and his men to surrender. He refused to give up the struggle. Large forces hunted him down. A series of raids were staged on his guerrilla camp. He escaped enemy traps twice but his outfit nevertheless sustained tremendous losses. His units then adopted hit-and-run tactics.

On November 8, 1942, Ablan launched a successful attack against Japanese patrols in Pampaniki, Solsona. On December 10 that same year, he left for Cagayan to confer with Governor Marcelo Adduru. His last words to his family reportedly were: "How I hate myself for having only one life to give to my country. But don't cry. I will be back when liberty returns to our people." He never came back.

He probably perished during an encounter with the Japanese or was captured, imprisoned and subsequently executed by the enemy. His heroic deeds have earned for him an honored place in his country history.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Domingo Abella

Domingo Abella has a monument in his honor at the town plaza of Naga, Camarines Sur. At 25, he was the youngest of the fifteen martyrs of Bicolandia. He was born in Nueva Caceres (now Naga City) of an affluent family. His father, Manuel, a landowner and businessman, was executed with him at Bagumbayan.

Endowed with a handsome complexion and taller than most of the Filipinos of his day, he excelled both in mental and physical activities. Because of his stature, he was the envy of the Spanish male populace. He was versatile in fencing, sipa, amis, horseback riding and other sports. Domingo, a bright man, was a surveyor by profession.

When the Katipunan raised the call for revolution, the young Abella attended secret meetings in Nueva Caceres to discuss ways and means of supporting the movement. He was active in recruiting Negritoes from Mount Isarog.

When his political activities became known to the Spanish authorities, an order of his arrest was issued and young Abella was included among those accused of rebellion and the plan to assassinate all the Spaniards in Nueva Caceres. Despite the insufficiency of evidence, Domingo and his co-accused boarded the ship Isarog and were brought to Manila in chains in September of 1896. Taken to Fort Santiago, Domingo was locked up in a filthy cell where he was whipped, insulted and buffeted by the Spanish soldiers. In a nearby cell, another political prisoner, Jose Rizal, was awaiting trial.

On the 29th of December, a military commission tried the case against the Bikolrebels. It was alleged that Domingo aided Florencio Lerma, the disputed leader of the movement was said to have received a shipment of arms from Tomas Prieto of Cavite. The shipment, however, could not be located. The arms. it was alleged, were to be used in the planned general massacre of Spaniards. The military court promptly found all the accused guilty of rebellion, a crime punishable by death in accordance with article 230 of the Spanish Penal Code.

On January 4, 1897, the sentence was carried out. Domingo, together with his father and the other Bikol martyrs, faced the firing squad in Bagumbayan, just five days after Jose Rizal was martyred.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Magat Salamat

(1550 - 1589)

Magat Salamat, son of Rajah Matanda, the Chief of Tondo when the Spaniards arrived, endeavored to recover his heritage by participating in the Tondo Conspiracy (1587-1588), aimed to overthrow the Spanish sovereignty in the Philippines. It was, Wenceslao E. Retana relates, la primera conguracion separatista in the country.

This movement was planned by Magat Salamat in cooperation with two other Tondo principals, and his cousins, Don Agustin de Legazpi and Martin Panga, a gobernadorcillo. Affiliated with them were other chieftains in their environs who willed to give up their landed property for that purpose.

In 1587, they enlisted the help of the Japanese adventurer, Juan Gayo, through an interpreter named Dionisio Fernandez. In the house of Legazpi in Tondo, the plotters composed of Magat Salamat, Agustin Manuguit, Felipe Salalila and Geronimo Bassi agreed with Gayo that he would come again with arms and recruited soldiers from japan. They also agreed that "the chiefs of the neighborhood would help them to kill the Spaniards." The Japanese would be rewarded with half of the tributes to be collected from the natives after they had conquered the Spaniards. "They swore solemnly," according to licentiate Ayala in a letter to Philip II, "according to their custom to keep and fulfill the agreement," choosing after the sandugo, "a King, captains, and officers of war." They also agreed to make weapons secretly.

Before his departure, Gayo gave Legazpi several weapons to be distributed to his men.

Later, a secret meeting that lasted for three days was called in Tambobong, by Magat Salamat and his co-plotters. Those who attended were chiefts of Pandakan, Tondo, Candaba, Polo, Catangalan, Navotas with "other Indian timaguas, servant and allies." They were all briefed as to the sad political condition of the country and themselves. With heavy hearts, they all swore an oath to throw off the Spanish yoke.

By 1588, no word was yet received from Japanese Gayo. But when the Filipinos heard the news of capture of the galleon Santa Ana in February, they again prepared for battle, this time aiming to attack swiftly moment the guns of Manila were turned toward the sea, and fire at the English privateer, Cavandish. But he never came.

A few days later, the chiefts of Bulacan, Esteban Taes, and Martin Panga agreed to call another meeting. Taes was to call all the chiefs from Tondo to Bulacan while Panga would summon the chiefs of Cavite, Malolos and Guiguinto and rally the men of La Laguna and Komintang (Batangas). With all the people gathered at Tondo, they would attack Manila.

At the meeting held in Tondo, the conspirators agreed to send Magat Salamat to the Calamianes to invite the Bornean Sultan to send a fleet that would join the Sulus and to launch an attack against Manila from the sea in conjunction with the Filipino chiefs' assault on land.

"The plan was that when the fleet of Burney reached the port of Cavite, and the spaniards trustfully called these chiefs to their aid, they would all immediately enter the houses of the Spaniards with their men, fortify themselves in them and thus take possession of them one by one. If the Spaniards took refuge in the fortress, Indian soldiers would follow them, and, being two to one, they would surely kill Spaniards."

By November 1588, Magat Salamat was in the Calamianes in company with Don Agustin Manuguit and Juan Banal. He rallied some principals of the island of Cuyo, notably Sumaclob who pledged to help him with 2000 men.

However, Antonio Suribao. Chief of the encomienda of the Spanish Captain Pedro Sarmiento, disclosed to the latter the plot of Magat Salamat and his companions, after he was persuaded to join it. They were arrested immediately. Sarmiento informed personally the governor-general of his fantastic discovery and soon the Spanish government became busy hanging or sending to exile the conspirators.

"Magat Salamat was condemned to death. His goods were to be employed for erection of the new fortress of this city (Manila). He appealed to the royal Audiencia, but the case was remitted to the governor, in order that justice might be done- exept that the goods were to be set aside for the treasury. The sentence was executed,"

And so the first of the rebels from Tondo died, his martrydom to be duplicated several centuries later by two of his disctrictmates, Andres Bonifacio and Macario Sakay.