Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr.

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Attack type
Assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr.

Manila International Airport, Parañaque, Philippines

August 21, 1983Approx. 13:00 PST (GMT+8) (Tarmac of the Manila International Airport)

2 (Benigno Aquino Jr. and Rolando Galman)

Suspected perpetrators
Pablo Martinez / Rogelio Moreno / Rolando Galman (disputed)

The assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., former Philippine Senator, took place on Sunday, August 21, 1983 at Manila International Airport. Aquino, a longtime political opponent of then-President Ferdinand Marcos, had just landed in his home country after three years of self-imposed exile in the United States when he was shot in the head while being escorted from an aircraft to a vehicle that was waiting to transport him to prison. Also killed was Rolando Galman, who was later implicated in Aquino's murder.


Aquino was elected to the Philippine Senate in 1967 and shortly thereafter began speaking out against Marcos's authoritarian rule. He was imprisoned on charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion, along with communist New People's Army leaders Bernabe Buscayno (Commander Dante) and Lt. Victor Corpuz shortly after Marcos's 1972 declaration of martial law and was sentenced to death in 1977. Aquino formed the party Lakas ng Bayan and ran in the Philippine parliamentary election, 1978; however, all of the party's candidates, including Ninoy (who was in prison) and others such as Alex Boncayao, Ramon Mitra Jr, Neptali Gonzales, Ernie Maceda and Tito Guingona lost in the election. In 1980, he suffered a heart attack in prison and was allowed to leave the country two months later by Marcos's wife, Imelda. He spent the next three years in exile near Boston before deciding to return to the Philippines.

Aquino's assassination is credited with transforming the opposition to the Marcos regime from a small, isolated movement into a national crusade. It is also credited with thrusting Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, into the public spotlight and her running for president in the snap election of 1986. Though Marcos was officially declared the winner of the election, widespread allegations of fraud and illegal tampering on Marcos's behalf is credited with sparking the People Power Revolution, which resulted in Marcos fleeing the country and conceding the presidency to Corazon Aquino.

Though many, including the Aquino family, maintain that Marcos ordered Aquino's assassination, this was never definitively proven. Marcos actually had a kidney transplant in August 1983 and was in critical condition after his body rejected the first kidney transplant. An official government investigation ordered by Marcos shortly after the assassination led to murder charges against 25 military personnel and one civilian; all were acquitted by the Sandiganbayan (special court). After Marcos was ousted, another government investigation under Corazon Aquino's administration led to a retrial and the conviction of 16 military personnel, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment. Since their conviction, one of the convicts was pardoned, three died in prison, and the remainder had their sentences commuted at various times; the last convicts were released from prison in 2009.


Benigno Aquino Jr. was elected to the Philippine Senate in 1967. During his first year as senator, Aquino began speaking out against the authoritarian rule of President Ferdinand Marcos; Marcos in turn saw Aquino as the biggest threat to his power.

On September 23, 1972, Marcos declared martial law and ordered Aquino and others arrested and imprisoned on charges of murder and subversion. Aquino went on a hunger strike to protest the injustice of his military tribunal but ended the strike after 40 days. The tribunal lasted several years, all while Aquino was still imprisoned, and on November 25, 1977, he was convicted on all charges and sentenced to death, along with his two co-accused, communist New People's Army leaders Bernabe Buscayno (Commander Dante) and Lt. Victor Corpuz. However, Aquino and others believed that Marcos would not allow him to be executed, as Aquino had gained a great deal of support while imprisoned, and such a fate would surely make him a martyr for his supporters.

In 1978, while still in prison, Aquino founded his political party, Lakas ng Bayan (abbreviated "LABAN"; English: People's Power) to run for office in the Interim Batasang Pambansa (Parliament). Amid allegations of election fraud, all LABAN candidates lost, including Ninoy himself and LABAN Candidate Alex Boncayao, who later was associated with Filipino communist death squad Alex Boncayao Brigade that killed U.S. army captain James N. Rowe.

In March 1980, Aquino suffered a heart attack in prison. He was transported to the Philippine Heart Center, where he suffered a second heart attack. Doctors determined he needed coronary artery bypass surgery; however, no surgeon wanted to perform the operation out of fear of controversy, and Aquino refused to undergo the procedure in the Philippines out of fear of sabotage by Marcos, indicating he would either go to the United States to undergo the procedure or die in his prison cell. On May 8, 1980, First Lady Imelda Marcos arranged for Aquino and his family to leave for the U.S. He underwent the coronary bypass surgery in Dallas, Texas and met with Muslim leaders in Damascus, Syria, before settling with his family in Newton, Massachusetts.

Aquino spent the next three years in exile in the U.S., wherein he worked on manuscripts for two books and delivered several lectures and speeches critical of the Marcos government. By 1983, news of the political situation in the Philippines led Aquino to return to his homeland, fully aware of the danger that awaited him.

At that time, Ninoy's passport had expired and the renewal had been denied. Ninoy therefore acquired a plan to acquire a fake passport with the help of Rashid Lucman, founder of the Bangsamoro Liberation Front, who trained about 30,000 Bangsamoro guerrillas as MNLF fighters and sent the top 90 moro guerrillas to Malaysia to train guerrilla warfare under the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces and the Gurkha Regiment. The passport carried the alias Marcial Bonifacio (Marcial for martial law and Bonifacio for Fort Bonifacio, his erstwhile prison). Aquino became allies with Rashid Lucman as he supported the Muslim rebellion in Mindanao against the government. According to Hermes Dorado, former national territory division head of the Department of Foreign Affairs, he also offered to surrender the disputed territory of Sabah to Malaysia to court Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad to oust Marcos.

Aquino, after flying in a circuitous route from the United States to several Asian cities such as Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to meet Malaysian Leaders, and then to Hong Kong, boarded a China Airlines plane in Taipei and landed in Manila on August 21, 1983.


Prior to his departure from Taipei, Aquino gave an interview from his room at the Grand Hotel in which he indicated that he would be wearing a bulletproof vest. He advised the journalists that would be accompanying him on the flight: "You 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." His last few moments in the flight while being interviewed by the journalist Jim Laurie, and just prior to disembarking from the flight at Manila airport, were recorded on camera.

On the morning of August 21, 1983, accompanied by his brother-in-law, ABC News correspondent Ken Kashiwahara, along with other members of the press, Aquino boarded China Airlines Flight 811 that departed Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport. In Manila, a contingent of over 1,000 armed soldiers and police were assigned by the government to provide security for Aquino's arrival. Flight 811 arrived at the Manila International Airport at 1:04 in the afternoon.

Upon the airplane's arrival at the gate, soldiers boarded the airplane to arrest Aquino. The soldiers escorted him off the airplane and onto the jet bridge; however, instead of following the jet bridge to the terminal, they exited the jet bridge down the service staircase onto the apron, where a military vehicle was waiting to bring him to prison. Sometime between his egress from the aircraft and his boarding of the ground vehicle, several gunshots were heard. When the firing stopped, Aquino and a man later identified as Rolando Galman lay dead on the apron, both from gunshot wounds. Aquino's body was carried into an Aviation Security Command (AVSECOM) van by two AVSECOM SWAT soldiers, while another soldier at the bumper of the van continued to fire shots at Galman. The AVSECOM van sped away, leaving behind the bullet-riddled body of Galman. The subsequent Sandiganbayan ruling later established that Aquino had died before arriving at Fort Bonifacio General Hospital. However, this remains controversial due to contrary evidence presented in court interviews of General Custodio.

In 2010, the AVSECOM van (dubbed "Ninoy Aquino's death van" by some) was found rotting inside Villamor Air Base in Pasay.

Pablo Martinez, one of the convicted conspirators in the assassination, alleged that his co-conspirators told him that Danding Cojuangco ordered the assassination. Martinez also alleges that only he and Galman knew of the assassination, and that Galman was the actual shooter, a point not corroborated by other evidence in the case.


Aquino lay in state for nine days, with no effort made to disguise a bullet wound that had disfigured his face. Aquino's mother, Doña Aurora, told the funeral home not to embalm nor apply makeup on the body, so that the public may see "what they did to my son". Thousands of supporters flocked to Aquino's wake, which took place at his house on Times Street in the West Triangle neighbourhood of Quezon City. Aquino's wife, Corazon, and children Ballsy, Pinky, Viel, Noynoy, and Kris arrived from Boston the day after the assassination. In a later interview, Aquino's eldest daughter, Ballsy (now Aquino-Cruz), recounted that they learnt of the assassination through a phone call from Kyodo News.

Aquino was later transferred to Santo Domingo Church, where his funeral was held on August 31. Following a Mass at 9 a.m., with the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila, Jaime Sin officiating, the funeral procession brought his remains to Manila Memorial Park in Parañaque. The flatbed truck that served as his hearse wound through Metro Manila for 12 hours, finally reaching the memorial park at around 9 p.m. More than two million people lined the streets for the procession, which passed by Rizal Park, where the Philippine flag had been brought to half-staff. Church-sponsored Radio Veritas was the only station to broadcast the entire ceremony.

Jovito Salonga, then head of the Liberal Party, said about Aquino:

Ninoy was getting impatient in Boston, he felt isolated by the flow of events in the Philippines. In early 1983, Marcos was seriously ailing, the Philippine economy was just as rapidly declining, and insurgency was becoming a serious problem. Ninoy thought that by coming home he might be able to persuade Marcos to restore democracy and somehow revitalize the Liberal Party.

and called him:

The greatest president we never had.


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.

Rolando Galman

Mere hours after the shooting, the government declared that Rolando Galman, a Communist hitman acting on orders from Philippine Communist Party chairman Rodolfo Salas, was the man who killed Aquino. A government re-enactment that aired on television days after the shooting alleged that Galman hid under the service staircase while Aquino and the boarding party descended it, and as Aquino neared the van, Galman emerged from under the staircase and shot Aquino in the back of the head. Several members of the security detail in turn fired several shots at Galman, killing him.

There were numerous irregularities in this version of events, not least of which was how an alleged lone gunman could have penetrated the security detail of over 1,000 people at the airport without assistance. 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. Years later, the official investigation into the assassination concluded that Galman was a fall guy in a larger plot to kill Aquino; despite this conclusion, many prominent individuals continue to support the position that Galman was the perpetrator.

Agrava Board

Marcos immediately created a fact-finding commission and called the Fernando Commission to investigate the Aquino assassination. It was headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando. Four retired Supreme Court Justices were appointed; they resigned after its composition was challenged in court. Arturo M. Tolentino declined appointment as board chairman. However, the commission held only two sittings due to intense public criticism.

On October 14, 1983, President Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 1886, creating an independent board of inquiry, called the "Agrava Commission" or "Agrava Board". The board was composed of former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon J. Agrava as chairwoman, with lawyer Luciano E. Salazar, businessman Dante G. Santos, labor leader Ernesto F. Herrera, and educator Amado C. Dizon.

The Agrava Fact-Finding Board convened on November 3, 1983. Before it could start its work President Marcos accused the Communists of 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 requested testimony from several persons who might shed light on the crimes, including Imelda Marcos, and General Fabian Ver, Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

In the subsequent proceedings, no one actually identified who fired 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 a downward 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 General Ver. Many believed that President Marcos intimidated and pressured the members of the Board to persuade them not to indict Ver, Marcos’s 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 Ver, General Luther Custodio, and General Prospero Olivas, head of AVSECOM.

Trials and convictions

In 1985, 25 military personnel, including several generals and colonels, and one civilian were charged for the murders of Benigno Aquino Jr. and Rolando Galman. President Marcos relieved Ver as AFP Chief and appointed his second cousin, General Fidel V. Ramos as acting AFP Chief. The accused were tried by the Sandiganbayan (special court). 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 as a mockery of justice.

After Marcos was ousted in 1986, another investigation was set up by the new government. Sixteen defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. The sixteen were: Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio; Capt. Romeo Bautista; 2nd Lt. Jesús Castro; Sergeants Claro L. Lat, Arnulfo de Mesa, Filomeno Miranda, Rolando de Guzman, Ernesto Mateo, Rodolfo Desolong, Ruben Aquino, and Arnulfo Artates; Constable Rogelio Moreno (the gunman); M/Sgt. Pablo Martínez; C1C Mario Lazaga; A1C Cordova Estelo; and A1C Felizardo Taran.

The convicts 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.. The Supreme court ruled that it did not qualify as newly found evidence. Through the years, some have been pardoned, others have died in detention, while others have had their terms commuted and then served out. In November 2007, Pablo Martinez was released from National Bilibid Prison after President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered his release on humanitarian reasons.

As of March 2009, the last remaining convicts have been released from prison.


Aquino's death 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's American contacts, as well as the Reagan Administration, began distancing themselves. There was a global media spotlight on the Philippine crisis, and exposes on Imelda's extravagant lifestyle (most infamously, her thousands of pairs of shoes) and "mining operations", as well as Ferdinand's excesses, came into focus.

The assassination thrust Aquino's widow, Corazon, into the public eye. She was the presidential candidate of UNIDO opposition party in the 1986 snap election, running against Marcos. The official results showed a Marcos victory, but this was universally dismissed as fraudulent. In the subsequent People Power Revolution, Marcos resigned and went into exile, and Corazon Aquino became President.

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


In 1987, Manila International Airport, where the assassination occurred, was renamed "Ninoy Aquino International Airport" in Aquino's honour. The spot where his body lay sprawled is now marked by a brass plaque on the tarmac.

Ninoy Aquino Day was formally instituted upon the passage of Republic Act No. 9256 and was to be observed every August 21 (the anniversary of Aquino's death). However, by order of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the observance of this holiday became moveable—to be celebrated on the "Monday nearest August 21" every year—as part of her controversial 'holiday economics' philosophy as reflected in Republic Act No. 9492. The commemoration has since been reverted to August 21 by orders of then-President Benigno Aquino III.

Timeline of the murder case

  • August 21, 1983 – Benigno Aquino Jr. and Rolando Galman are assassinated at Manila International Airport.
  • August 24, 1983 – Ferdinand Marcos creates a fact-finding commission headed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando to investigate the Aquino murder; it dissolves after two meetings.
  • August 31, 1983 – More than two million people attend Aquino's twelve-hour funeral procession .
  • October 22, 1983 – Marcos creates another fact-finding committee known as the Agrava Fact-Finding Board.
  • October 22, 1984 – The Agrava Board releases reports concluding that military officers, which included General Fabian Ver, conspired to kill Aquino; the Supreme Court assigns the case to the Sandiganbayan.
  • December 2, 1985 – 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. 25 military men and one civilian are charged.
  • September 28, 1990 – 16 defendants are convicted by the Sandiganbayan and sentenced to life imprisonment.
  • July 23, 1991 – The Supreme Court affirms the Sandiganbayan conviction.
  • November 21, 1998 – General Ver dies of a lung ailment in Bangkok.
  • March 8, 2005 – The Supreme Court denies the petition of the accused (filed in August 2004) to re-open the case.
  • August 21, 2007 – Chief Justice Andrés Narvasa appeals for the closure of the case on the 24th anniversary of the assassination. Juan Ponce Enrile asks for a review of clemency in favor of the 14 convicts, while Pedro Arigo, Vicar Apostolic of Puerto Princesa and chairman of the CBCP’s Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC) asks pardon for the convicts. Corazon Aquino and Benigno Aquino III forgive the 14 soldiers but oppose their appeals for clemency or parole (which Secretary Raul Gonzáles submitted to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004). Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita states that the Bureau of Pardons and Parole had recommended a grant of executive clemency.
  • August 24, 2007 – Secretary Ermita officially announces that, due to political implications, the appeal for clemency by the 14 soldiers was archived, even if the Bureau of Pardons and Parole was still reviewing the plea. Ermita refuses to give a timeframe for the review.
  • November 22, 2007 – After two decades, M/Sgt. Pablo Martínez (one of the convicted), is pardoned by President Macapagal-Arroyo for humanitarian reasons. Martínez said:
  • March 14, 2008 – Former Cpl. 1st Class Mario Lazaga, one of the 16 convicted soldiers, dies in prison of hypertension. Two other convicts had already died in detention since M/Sgt. Martínez’s pardon.
  • February 2009 – A1C Felizardo Taran and Sgt. Rolando de Guzmán complete their prison terms and are released.
  • March 4, 2009 – The remaining ten convicts – Rogelio Moreno, Ruben Aquino, Arnulfo Artates, Romeo Bautista, Jesús Castro, Arnulfo de Mesa, Rodolfo Desolong, Claro Lat, Ernesto Mateo, and Filomeno Miranda – are released.
  • May 7, 2014 – M/Sgt. Martínez is hit by an SUV. He was rushed to San Juan de Dios Hospital, where he dies during treatment at the age of 77.
  • References

    Assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. Wikipedia

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