The martial law government of Philippine President Ferinand E. Marcos has moved to head off shooting charges against a nephew of the president.
A columnist for the Manila Bulletin newspaper was ordered in for questioning yesterday and Marcos personally upbraided his editor after the columnist printed a vague version of the June 25 incident.
The president's nephew, Andres Avelino Barba, 24, is alleged to have shot a Manila couple and a bodyguard of nephew is accused of killing the couple's son.
The couple allegedly shot by Barba said in a interview that they have been promised money and other rewards if they will clear Marcos' nephew and the presidental palace military bodyguard whom witnesses said shot their 17-year-old son, Apolinario Buendia.
The two have not changed their story but have not responded to a government invitation to be questioned on the incidents, saying they are too frightened of the consequences.
Body guards and building security guards can be seen everywhere in the Philippines these days. Many carry M16 automatic rifles like the weapon that allegedly killed. Buendia, a University of the Philippines students.
Security fears have been particularly evident since Marcos, in a gesture designed to indicate a move away from martial law, lifted the late-night curfew in Manila about a year ago. The government says crime has not increased but many crimes go unreported to the police. In recent weeks, police have begun to restrict news reporters' access to police blotters that list daily offenses.
The June 25 incident exemplifies the problems that arise in a city where armed guards are numerouts. According to witnesses, an argument broke out during a game between a girls' volleyball team managed by Barba and a team in Buendia's neighborhood of Makati. Barba and his bodyguards began to chase hecklers into the adjoining streets. Buendia allegedly was shot when he stepped out of his house to find out what was causing the commotion.
Rodolfo Puendia, the boy's father, then came out of the house with a revolver and engaged in a shootout with the bodyguards. Barba came up from behind and shot both the elder Buendia and his wife, who was trying restrain him, witnesses said.
After days passed with no news of Barba's connection with the shooting columnist Jess Bigornia published a story lamenting the fact that police had not seen fit to identify the alleged assailant, whom Bigornia identified only as the son of an army colonel. Barba is the son of Marcos' younger sister Fortuna and her husband, Col. Marcelino Barba of the palace guards.
Bigornia soon got word that police were looking for him and turned himself over to a friendly Cabinet minister, Minister of Tourism Jose Aspiras. Aspiras took Bigornia to see Marcos at the end of a presidential golf game, when the president is usually in good humor.
"Sir, I've apprehended Bigornia," Aspiras said, according to an eyewitness. Marcos then reportedly cocked his first as if to hit the columnist, and Bigornia threw his hands up in front of his face. Then, according to the account of the incident, the president laughed, made a joke about the incident, and Bigornia left.
Marcos is reliably reported to have telephoned Bigornia's editor, Ben Rodriguez, however, and complained that the column was one-sided: "Ben, you know that my policy has always been justice and fair play for everyone," he said.
No charges have been placed against Barba or any of the bodyguards involved in the June 25 incident. Barba's father, however, has visited Buendia's parents weekly, Rodolfo Buendia said. Buendia's said other emissaries from the presidential palace offered him money and the mayorship of an unspecified small town if he would "cooperate."
Buendia said he has been asked to name a civilian bodyguard not directly connected with the palace as the assailant who shot his son, as well as himself and his wife. Maj. Gen. Fabian Ver, the head of Marcos' intelligence force, has also visited the Buendias, but only to express his sympathy, according to Buendia.
Although eyewitnesses say the younger Buendia was killed by a sergeant of the palace guards, the affidavit Buendia has been asked to sign names a civilian guard as the assailant. Neither man could be reached for comment. Both the elder and younger Barba and Gen. Ver have declined to be interviewed.