MANILA – Nearly after 26 years, ten soldiers who were locked up in jail for the 1983 murder of Philippine democracy leader Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, the outspoken arch-foe of then-dictator Ferdinand Marcos, were released March 4. They were granted clemency by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on March 2.
Aquino was gunned down at the then-Manila International Airport as he arrived from exile in the United States on August 21, 1983. He was shot dead on his way down to the tarmac. The soldiers were part of an escort team that led Aquino out of the China Airlines. The Sandiganbayan court convicted 16 soldiers of Aquino’s and Rolando Galman’s murder on September 28, 1990. Galman was identified by the Marcos administration as the assassin hired by communists to carry out the murder. Moments after Aquino fell, he was also killed by the soldiers.
The 10 who were freed are Ruben Aquino, Arnulfo Artates, Romeo Bautista, Jesus Castro, Arnulfo de Mesa, Rodolfo Desolong, Claro Lat, Ernesto Mateo, Filomeno Miranda, and Rogelio Moreno. They stepped out of the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City.
Earlier, former sergeants Felizardo Taran Jr. and Rolando de Guzman were released in February, after President Arroyo granted them clemency for good behavior.
Aquino’s son and his namesake – Benigno 3rd — now a senator, hesitated to comment saying that people “may say we are cold-hearted and do not know how to forgive.” He said, nevertheless, that his family maintained its position that there was a conspiracy and that the soldiers were freed as a “political vendetta” as a result of his mother’s falling out with President Arroyo.
Senator Aquino said there was a clear “abuse of discretion” when the President decided to free the soldiers. He also said they had stopped their now cancer-stricken mother from watching the news to avoid stressing her.
The death of Aquino spurred public outrage and escalated into a popular revolt called “People Power” which led to the downfall of Marcos in 1986. Aquino’s widow, Corazon, was installed as president. Marcos died in exile in 1989.
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s administration, through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, defended the commutation order in a press conference following the release of the convicted soldiers.
He said the President decided to commute the sentences of the soldiers for humanitarian reasons adding that the convicts are suffering from serious illnesses, like hypertension, diabetes renal illness and anemia.
“These became the basis of the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole, which was submitted to the President,” he said.