I first came across Ninoy as a young boy. Mom had somehow come across a bootleg tape of a speech Ninoy gave in Los Angeles in 1983, just before he came home to his destiny. I hear snippets of the same speech on television from time to time. It is, I think, his most remembered and most quoted speech. Ninoy’s tongue was on fire.
Today, as someone much older, I know that his eloquence came from the discipline of free thought made valuable by its prohibition. If anything, Ninoy, even if he was the golden boy of the landed oligarchy, only became the Ninoy of legend after his prison catharsis.
In transcending himself to become legend, Benigno S. Aquino Jr. – not the Senator from the Province of Tarlac – was my first idol. It is because of him that I believe in the potential of the Filipino.
On March 5, the people held criminally responsible for his death were given executive clemency. I surmise that among the reasons for the pardon is the opinion of forensic anthropologist Jerome Bailen that these servicemen who escorted the late Senator could not have pulled the trigger. From what I know of Bailen’s opinion, he thinks that the more plausible theory is that Galman, rogue assassin, pulled the trigger on the gun that killed Ninoy. Unfortunately for these convicts, Bailen’s opinion was excluded from evidence on a technicality. Although I think the exclusion of Bailen’s testimony is sad because it ends in a triumph of legalism over proven science, I have no doubt on the guilt of Ninoy’s guards. They deserve every punishment they’ve received and then some.
Because the power to pardon is a choice entirely personal to the President, it is moot to inquire into the reasons why Ninoy’s killers have been freed. The heirs of the late Senator may shout and claim that the decision is political, but such exercises almost always are. This isn’t to say that the pardon is correct, but it is definitely not right.
Let’s not forget that what keeps the assassination shrouded in mystery is the blatant manner airport security blocked the cameras of the assembled world press, only to relent after the fatal moment passed. To make matters worse, they made sure that Galman, even if he really did kill Ninoy, can never say who gave him the order to kill the Senator. If today we they cannot show someone else pulled the trigger, Ninoy’s killers have nowhere else to look and no one else to blame. By willfully participating in the sham trials and in the grand conspiracy to hide the real mastermind, it was as if they themselves pulled the trigger. Even if they change minds and disclose the true author of this tragedy, they failed to do the right thing when it mattered, and that’s what counts.
Military loyalty ends when loyalty to your country begins. I have no place or stomach for those who confuse the two.