Wednesday, May 31, 2006


On Aug. 21, 1983, Benigno Aquino was on a China Air Lines flight from Taipei, his last stopover from the United States to the Philippines. It was a regular commercial flight for the China Air Lines, but it was no ordinary flight for Benigno “Ninoy”Aquino.

He had spent the past three and a half years in relative tranquility in the United States. After years of incarceration in the Philippines by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, he was released and allowed to fly to the United States for medical treatment. After his successful medical treatment, he had spent the last three years recuperating, spending time with his family and teaching at Harvard University.

Now he was on his way back to the Philippines. He would appeal to Marcos to relinquish power and return the Philippines to democracy. Failing that, he was ready to resume his political crusade against Marcos and suffer alongside his people. On board the flight were several television crews including, I believe, one headed by Aquino’s own son-in-law. The television crews conducted several interviews right during the flight.

In the interview, Ninoy acknowledged the gravity of the situation and the danger he was facing on his return to the Philippines. Arrest and detention, and even summary execution or assassination were real possibilities. He even warned the cameramen to be quick with their cameras when they land, as it could be over quickly.

I saw this particular television program when it aired years later, from the plane flight right down to Ninoy Aquino’s final moments on earth.

When the plane landed, the film shows uniformed soldiers boarding the plane. The head of the group approached a seated Ninoy Aquino, saluted and ostensibly introduced himself as the head of his security detail. Ninoy stood up, gathered his belongings and went with the detail and exited the plane. The plane door was then shut, and the cameras could no longer follow Ninoy’s progress past that point.

A few minutes later, there was a commotion inside the plane among the passengers, and the camera panned outside the plane, either through an open window or the door itself. The camera showed a fallen Ninoy laying face down on the tarmac floor.

Supposedly a lone gunman named Rolando Galman was able to elude posted guards numbering thousands in the runway and airport area, and fired one shot at Ninoy’s head, killing him instantly. The security detail then shot and killed the alleged gunman.

Either this was one of the most inept security detail in the history of the planet, or it was one of the more elaborate assassination scenarios in Philippine history.

The hue and cry and outrage at Ninoy Aquino’s murder reverberated not just in the Philippines but also worldwide. As expected, the list of usual suspects was long and intriguing, and included Imelda Marcos, the communists, Gen. Fabian Ver and other high ranking military officials, Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco and others but not President Marcos, who was on his sickbed recovering from a recent kidney transplant.

The military soldiers and officers on the tarmac who escorted Ninoy from the plane were tried, convicted and meted life sentences. But the government investigative panel, called the Agrava Fact Finding Board, failed to uncover a mastermind. The Manila International Airport (MIA) where Ninoy was assassinated was subsequently renamed the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Ninoy’s death and its tumultuous aftermath eventually led to EDSA, the People’s Revolution, and Marcos’s unceremonious flight from the Philippines in 1986.


Who do you think ordered the assassination of Ninoy Aquino?

If Ninoy Aquino was not assassinated but instead allowed his opposition activities against President Marcos, would he have succeeded in toppling Marcos?

Where were you and what do you remember about this incident?


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