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Acquittal of 25 in Aquino Slaying Labeled 'Unspeakable Affront'; Mistrial Declared

September 13, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — The Philippine Supreme Court on Friday declared a mistrial in the case of 25 soldiers and a civilian who were acquitted last year in the assassination of opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

The court, declaring that the verdict was "a terrible and unspeakable affront" to the Philippine people, ordered that all the defendants, including Gen. Fabian C. Ver, armed forces chief of staff under former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, should be retried "with deliberate dispatch."

In its 50-page judgment, the court called the verdict "a sham and a mockery of justice" that had been personally "dictated, coerced and scripted" by Marcos, who fled the Philippines in February for exile in Hawaii.

The participating eight judges, all appointed by President Corazon Aquino, stopped short of accusing Marcos of complicity in the killing of her husband, his chief political rival, but they said the former president had directly interfered with the investigation and prosecution of the case at every stage.

Slain at Airport

Aquino was shot as he disembarked from an airliner at Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, after returning to the Philippines from self-exile in the United States.

The assassination fueled months of public protests against the Marcos government leading to an election last February that pitted Marcos against Corazon Aquino. Less than three weeks after Marcos claimed victory in voting widely denounced as fraudulent, a military-led revolt drove him from power.

Some assassination witnesses said that one of the 2,000 soldiers at the airport shot Aquino as he walked down a ramp. The Marcos government blamed Aquino's murder on Rolando Galman, described as a hired Communist assassin, who was shot dead on the airport tarmac seconds after Aquino died.

"The record shows suffocatingly that from beginning to end, the then-president used, or more precisely, misused, the overwhelming resources of the government and his authoritarian powers to corrupt and make a mockery of the judicial process," the court said.

Legal sources said the decision prepares the way for bringing criminal charges against Marcos. But such charges would require Marcos to return from exile to defend himself, and President Aquino has said as recently as this week that she does not want him back in the Philippines.

Ver, who was Marcos' most trusted aide as well as his military chief of staff, fled with Marcos in February. His attorney here said that he will ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing because its decision violates Ver's right to protection from double jeopardy--a constitutional provision that prevents an accused from being tried twice for the same offense.

But the Supreme Court ruled that the principle of double jeopardy does not apply in the Aquino assassination case.

"A dictated, coerced and scripted verdict of acquittal such as that in the (Aquino) case is a void judgment," the court said. "It is no judgment at all. It neither binds nor bars anyone. Such a judgment is a lawless thing which can be treated as an outlaw."

In uncommonly strong language, the court declared: "The Supreme Court cannot permit such a sham trial and verdict and travesty of justice to stand unrectified. . . . The court is constrained to declare the sham trial a mock trial--the non-trial of the century--and that the predetermined judgment of acquittal was unlawful and void."

The court based its decision on recommendations set out in the 64-page report of a special three-member commission it had appointed in June to determine whether there was evidence that the trial had been fixed.

The commission concluded that the trial was "rigged" and based its finding on the testimony of a former government prosecutor, who described a secret meeting with Marcos at the presidential palace in January, 1985, at which Marcos told the judge and prosecutors how to proceed with the case.

The former prosecutor, Manuel Herrera, testified that Marcos deliberately saw to it that the 26 defendants would be charged and tried specifically so they could invoke the double-jeopardy provision in the event that Marcos should ever be driven from power.

Marcos, who considered Benigno Aquino his most serious potential challenger, personally selected the judge who tried the case and recommended the charges to be brought against each defendant, Herrera testified.

At least two Supreme Court justices were among the petitioners who sought a retrial, and they were disqualified by the court from Friday's ruling. A third justice removed himself from the case because he was the chief counsel of a quasi-governmental fact-finding commission that investigated the assassination under Marcos.

The eight justices who took part in the ruling were all appointed by President Aquino. The close ties between several of them and the slain opposition leader were reflected in the language of Friday's ruling.

Aquino Speeches Quoted

Throughout, the court referred to Benigno Aquino by his nickname, Ninoy. At several points, the decision quoted from his speeches, including one in which he charged that Marcos' judiciary was proof of "the evil of one-man rule at its very worst."

It described Aquino's killing as "cold-blooded," a "national tragedy that shocked the conscience of the entire nation and outraged the Free World." And it went on:

"His brain was smashed by a bullet fired point-blank into the back of his head by a murderous assassin, notwithstanding that the airport was ringed by airtight security of close to 2,000 soldiers."

The court insisted, however, that it was not prejudging the retrial, which could open as soon as next week.

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