MANILA , AUGUST 19, 2013 (PHILSTAR) by CECILIO T. ARILLO - This Wednesday, August 21, marks the 30th year of one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in this country: the assassination of the late Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr.

To a group of people, mostly grandstanding politicians, the day is celebrated as a hero’s day; to some, it is considered as the antithesis of that heroism; and to others, it is a political malaise that must be given full and factual explanation to reverse the consequential cycle of hatred and vengeance.

Whatever or whichever you are in the political spectrum, there is incontrovertible evidence that the Aquino assassination on Aug. 21, 1983 polarized the whole nation, triggered the 1986 EDSA military-led civilian uprising and catapulted to the presidency his wife, Corazon Aquino, the naif icon of the Catholic hierarchy in this country.

Strangely, in her time, Mrs. Aquino, who wielded tremendous investigative and prosecutory powers during her six years and four months in office, failed to put in jail or even identify the mastermind or masterminds despite convincing leads that the 16 soldiers, convicted in the murder of her husband, could or “would not have acted on their own without a motive or without someone or some people masterminding or directing the killing.”

Neither is her son, Benigno Aquino 3rd , now the President, is showing interest to solve the murder of his own father.

What happened was that some people, instead of helping unmask the masterminds, merely turned the Aquino assassination into a propaganda hyperbole to endlessly destroy the Marcos Regime and promote their own political and economic interests.

Asked why then President Aquino did not pursue the probe and prosecute the masterminds, Raul Gonzalez, the uncompromising investigator and prosecutor of the Aquino assassination who was suspended by the Supreme Court for his courageous move to investigate some of its members for corruption, said: “That’s the 64 dollar question Mrs. Aquino [should have] or must have answered to the Filipino people.”

“Maybe, just maybe,” added Gonzalez, “she avoided a situation where her own family might have been dragged into the killing.”
Just before his Supreme Court suspension, Gonzalez had been working on positive information that bitter partisan politics in Central Luzon, particularly in the province of Tarlac, in the 1960s and the 1970s may have had something to do with the murder of her husband.

Gonzalez had in his custody a vital witness, a former mistress of a Constabulary general, who, he said, was privy to the assassination plot of Senator Aquino.

Gonzalez revealed to this writer in a series of interviews for his bestselling book, Greed & Betrayal, that the woman was present in several meetings when the masterminds plotted the Aquino murder.

Earlier, Gonzalez had traced to a shallow grave near a military camp in Tarlac the decomposing and bullet-riddled bodies of the Oliva sisters, two of the witnesses who last saw Rolando Galman, the fall guy, who was killed with Aquino at the airport.

Without authority and office to pursue the probe as a result of the Supreme Court suspension and the abolition of his office, Gonzalez turned over the probe of the Aquino murder to his successor, Manila City Fiscal Jesus Guerrero, and faded into obscurity until he got elected later as member of Congress representing the Lone District of Iloilo City.

At the time of his suspension, the late President Marcos had created a succession of fact-finding bodies, patterned after the Warren Commission that investigated the assassination in 1963 of President John F. Kennedy, to probe deeper into the Aquino murder.

The first that lasted only for a few hearings was the Fernando Commission headed by Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, a respected jurist and constitutionalist. It was disbanded in the midst of public outcry and undeserved accusations that Justice Fernando was a Marcos man.

The second was the Tolentino Commission headed by Senator Arturo Tolentino, a respected lawmaker and known for his independent mind. This commission, however, did not even last for one day as Senator Tolentino immediately turned down Marcos’s offer to head the commission.

The third was the Presidential Fact-Finding Board or the Agrava Commission composed of four members and headed by retired Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Juliano-Agrava.

Lawyer Andres Narvasa, now a retired Supreme Court chief justice, was appointed general counsel. With him, also appointed by Marcos, were two deputies, Mario Ongkiko and Paquito Villa; Bienvenido Tan Jr. acted as public relations officer.

After months of continuous hearings, the Agrava Commission agreed that Rolando Galman was just a fall guy and not the killer of Aquino as claimed by government investigators.

Curiously, the Agrava Commission subsequently came out with two different versions as to who were the mastermind or the highest ranking officers involved in the murder.

One report submitted by Chairperson Agrava herself pointed only to Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, the Aviation Security Command chief, as the highest officer involved in the murder.

The other, submitted by the four members, pointed to Chief of Staff Gen. Fabian Ver as the highest officer involved.
Former Vice President Salvador Laurel, in his critical summation of the Aquino regime, said that the Agrava finding was incomplete because it deliberately stopped short of identifying the prime mover—the person who masterminded the evil plot—and did not dig deep enough to expose the cover-up of the murder.

“No one would ever believe that the military escorts, including General Custodio and even General Ver, would decide on their own to liquidate Senator Aquino. Someone they could not refuse, someone who had the strongest motive, must have given the order to kill,” Laurel said, adding that “by limiting the responsibility to Custodio or Ver, the Agrava Commission implied that Mr. Marcos was no longer in command.”

“Neither would anyone believe that Marcos was stupid to order the killing of Aquino at the tarmac when he could have easily affirmed the death sentence for rebellion imposed earlier on Aquino by Military Commission No. 2 and thus legalize the killing thereafter,” said a military officer who commented on Laurel’s statement.

Finally, only the 16 soldiers were tried and convicted by the Sandiganbayan, thus drawing endless speculations that neither the Marcos Administration nor the Aquino Regime really wanted to solve the riddle once and for all.

President still mum on pork barrel: Malacañangugust 18, 2013 3:42 pm

President Benigno Aquino 3rd has not revealed his stand on retaining or scrapping the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or the pork barrel of lawmakers.

In a radio interview, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said this was the impression she got the last time she discussed the matter with the President.

The President had indicated he was not in favor of scrapping the pork barrel, but that was before the Commission on Audit (COA) found that at least 12 senators and 180 congressmen earmarked P6-billion of their PDAF to 82 questionable NGOs, including those allegedly formed by Janet Napoles, from 2007 to 2009.

“Perhaps this is something that we can discuss with the President. We haven’t had the opportunity to discuss it with him again in light of the recent findings of the COA and maybe it’s something that we can raise with him,” Valte said.

The President earlier ruled out the abolition of the pork barrel system, saying it was meant as a way to help those most in need.

Asked if the audit had focused mainly on the opposition, Valte said, “Let’s go through the entire report. We go where the evidence will take us. So that is very clear for us at that juncture.”

“The bulk of releases that have been given, some of them have very minimal involvement of the NGOs. If you look at the list of releases that is up on the DBM website, the implementing agencies are mostly agencies of the national government,” Valte said.

She promised stricter accreditation and monitoring of NGOs to prevent another pork barrel scandal.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development, she said, will “make sure really that these NGOs do the work that they represent themselves to be involved in.”

The Department of Agriculture likewise “will be tightening their policies on releasing funds to NGOs as identified by legislators,” Valte added.

Meanwhile, she said it was up to the Office of the Ombudsman to take any action on the COA findings.

“We will defer to the Ombudsman, to the independent constitutional commission that it is, because we do not also want to be accused of pressuring any independent agency into acting a certain a way,” she said. CATHERINE S. VALENTE


EDITORIAL - Holding on to ‘pork’ (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 18, 2013 - 12:00am

President Aquino, a congressman and senator for over a decade, knows the pork barrel system well and does not plan to abolish the Priority Development Assistance Fund, according to Palace officials, despite the still unfolding scandal involving its utilization.

The chairman of the Commission on Audit, who announced the results of a two-year special audit of PDAF utilization, also said what the system needs is regulation and, on the part of lawmakers and local executives, self-restraint.

The COA suggestions, which are included in detail in the special report, deserve careful consideration, particularly by the politicians who want the pork barrel system retained. Under the system, lawmakers are allotted a set amount of projects or programs they can earmark for funding and implementation.

Over the years lawmakers have been urged to bring transparency and accountability in the utilization of billions of pesos in public funds. The calls were ignored.

With the fund scandal now engulfing Congress and nearly a hundred local executives, politicians will have to heed the call for reforms. The COA report covered only 2007 to 2009.

Since the PDAF system is unchanged, the public is waiting for a similar thorough probe into pork barrel utilization and the use of non-government organizations for possible fund diversions under the Aquino administration.

The President has vowed that there would be no sacred cows, and that even his political allies would not be spared. His “bosses” hold him to his promise.

The special COA report includes a long list of recommendations to reform the system.

More measures can be implemented in the budget process, which should also include judiciary funds. The unprecedented ouster of a chief justice has not led to greater transparency in fund utilization in the judiciary.

This should not be the case; any office that uses public funds must be covered by rules on transparency and accountability.

If government officials want control over public money, they should be prepared to make a full disclosure of its utilization.

Those who want to retain the pork barrel should be prepared to give the system a thorough overhaul.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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