(First in a series)
(Editor?s Note: The first part is based on interviews with Vir Pablico, former CIS [Criminal Investigation Service] investigator, now chief of the legal division of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group; retired Judge Jesus Guererro, special prosecutor at the retrial of the Aquino-Galman case; and ex-Col. Irwin Ver, former commander of the Presidential Guards, the uniformed component of the Presidential Security Command during the Marcos dictatorship.
Retired Brig Gen. Tomas Diaz, former commander of the 1st Philippine Constabulary Zone; a retired brigadier general who headed an intelligence unit in the National Capital Region in 1983; a retired brigadier general who was based in Malacańang from the 1970s to the early 1980s; and a retired air traffic official.
The last three sources would like to spend their retirement in peace, thus the request that their identities be withheld.)
An hour after former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. was shot dead on Aug. 21, 1983, a military agent verbally reported to his unit commander his assignment of monitoring the tarmac of the Manila International Airport.
After listening to the report, the commander said: ?O, who was there?? The agent replied: ?Si Colonel Abadilla po, sir.?
The unit commander did not ask further questions. He knew Rolando Abadilla, chief of the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) Intelligence and Security Group of the then Philippine Constabulary (now the Philippine National Police). They had coordinated with each other on several operations. They understood the culture of their job. An officer does not show up in any place if he had no business being there. In their kind of work, there were no coincidences.
The soldier in civilian attire, who monitored Aquino?s arrival, was not the only one who saw Abadilla on the tarmac. Aviation Security Command (Avsecom) troopers saw him. Jessie Barcelona, an airlines maintenance engineer, even testified before the Agrava Board (the group that first investigated the assassination of Aquino) that he saw Abadilla talking to a man in Philippine Airlines maintenance crew uniform. The man in the PAL uniform turned out to be Rolando Galman, who the Marcos regime claimed shot Aquino.
Abadilla?s name also surfaced during the initial investigation conducted by the Criminal Investigation Service (CIS) among the Avsecom personnel hours after Aquino was shot. The soldiers pointed to Abadilla as their ?training officer? in a refresher course on airport security. They were on training, in fact, when they were deployed to secure Aquino?s homecoming.
This bit of information was deemed unimportant by CIS investigators who were looking for witnesses and were in the process of tracking down more than 100 airline passengers and airport workers who were in the vicinity of the crime scene.
But the Sandiganbayan took note of this in its decision in September 1990, saying it was an ?uncontested fact? that Abadilla and Galman were seen talking to each other before Aquino was shot. The Sandiganbayan also linked Abadilla to the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum pistol found meters away from the body of Galman. The gun was traced to a retired Metrocom officer who claimed the weapon had been stolen from his car, allegedly by Abadilla?s men.
?The presence of Colonel Abadilla on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport (MIA) just before the assassination of Senator Aquino and his long suspicious conference with Rolando Galman at the time show the tie-up between the military and this gun,? the court said.
It was a ground for probable cause, yet Abadilla was never indicted by the Agrava Board, which conducted the preliminary investigation.
Abadilla, or ?Kabisi,? was just one of less than 10 people who were ?in on? the plot.
Based on the level of involvement, five people in the group were considered ?core,? while the rest were ?in the know.?
Aquino was targeted for assassination months before he came home in 1983. The plan was hatched by military and civilian ?minds? who saw Aquino as a communist-in-a- politician?s clothing and a thorn in the side of Ferdinand Marcos and his self-appointed successor.
The general plan was to ?neutralize? Aquino along certain vulnerable points. The opportune time came on Aug. 21, 1983.
Like a mouse trap
It was a plot with bold objectives and intended for massive impact, but carried out by a select group using a limited, armed component.
Like a ?mouse trap? left waiting for one unwitting mouse, the plot had been there waiting for Aquino to come home. One did not expect when: they knew it would happen.
Abadilla was on the tarmac to ensure that the ?mouse trap? worked as intended, while his cohorts, Col. Romeo Ochoco, deputy commander of the Avsecom, and retired PC Brig. Gen. Romeo Gatan, were at the Carlston Hotel, or the ?staging point,? to give final instructions to Galman and his escort, Ochoco?s trusted man, Master Sergeant Pablo Martinez.
Just another hit
With the group at Carlston was Hermilo Gosuico, a millionaire businessman from Nueva Ecija whose daughter was married to Gatan?s son. Aside from being Gatan?s balae (in-law), Gosuico also had the advantage of knowing Galman personally. He had once hired Galman as a bodyguard.
That explains why Gosuico had to be present when a military team fetched Galman from his house in San Miguel, Bulacan, on Aug. 17, 1983. His presence assured Galman it was just another hit.
A gun-for-hire, Galman was supplied with a motive to kill Aquino?money. Besides, killing the assassin would be a justifiable act of the soldiers who were assigned to secure Aquino. Getting a soldier to shoot Aquino ?for love of country? was deemed foolhardy. Murder is an illegal order.
Every time the Marcos family travelled by air, the country?s top air traffic officials are asked to join the party. Their primary function was to coordinate with flight control. Once, Imelda Marcos went to Tacloban City to inaugurate a government-owned resort. From the airport to the hotel, Imelda saw a building under construction that tended to obstruct the view of the sea.
The first lady frowned. ?Hindi yata maganda, nakakasira ng view (It doesn?t look right. It destroys he view),? she complained in a voice loud enough to be heard by her entourage, the local politicians and the government officials who welcomed her at the airport.
That same day, the owner of the structure received visitors with an unusual request. They wanted him to tear down the structure because it was unsightly for the first lady. When Imelda took the route on her way to the airport the following day, she was assured of a stunning, unobstructed vista of the shimmering horizon.
Wish as command
A word about being unhappy over something, a frown, a smirk or even just a change of mood when a certain name would crop up during a conversation were enough to inspire people around the Marcos couple to ?do something,? to translate the ?wish into a command.?
As a leader, Ferdinand Marcos was not the kind who gave direct orders. But he expected, or even demanded, full disclosure and complete transparency. The dictator expected his followers to tell him everything, including their mistakes. Knowing all the facts allowed him to make a decision, and the generals knew this by heart.
Three kinds of followers
Marcos had three kinds of followers. First, those who did not wait for direct orders. Second, those who waited for direct orders. Third, those who waited for orders through the chain of command, and would accomplish the goals according to their discretion.
The leadership style of Gen. Fabian C. Ver was based on his ?closeness? to Marcos and ?competence.? Closeness was often nonnegotiable, but ?competence? was set aside if the officer had a strong backer.
Ver was a guerrilla who enlisted as a third lieutenant in 1945. His early years were spent mostly doing police work?as acting police chief of Makati; as warden at the Rizal provincial jail; chief of investigation at the CIS; and instructor at the Constabulary School.
Ver?s career path changed when his childhood friend, Marcos, was elected President in 1965. Marcos was born on Sept. 11, 1917, in Sarrat, Ilocos Norte, just a few houses away from where Ver was born, on Jan. 20, 1920.
The newly elected President assigned Ver, then a captain, to head the Presidential Security Unit. In December 1966, he promoted Ver to the rank of major. Five years later, Marcos gave Ver his first star. On Aug. 15, 1981, Ver was named chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Imelda was never considered a leader in the caliber of her husband.
In fact, in Malacańang, she was seen mostly as head of the faction that included her brothers, Benjamin and Alfredo, her brother-in-law Brig. Gen. Edon Yap, the Blue Ladies, and her singing partner, Army chief Lt. Gen. Josephus Ramas.
Eduardo ?Danding? Cojuangco Jr.?s ?closeness? to Marcos and his generosity to the military made him a ?force? to reckon with. But Cojuangco had the culture of the Tarlac rich: He would give only if asked. When meeting with barangay officials, his first question was: How much do you need? (In contrast to his cousin-in-law, Aquino, who never asked but anticipated what the barangay needed.)
What the eldest Marcos daughter, Imee, said of Malacańang as a ?snake pit? was true. There was rivalry around her father, and there were sub-rivalries around Imelda, around Ver and even around Danding.
The competition even got stiffer when Marcos fell ill, with Imelda and her brothers gaining the upper hand. The rivalries got worse when it became evident that Aquino, another potential, if not formidable rival, was coming home.