A special prosecutor ruled today that armed forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver and seven other military men must be tried for an alleged cover-up after the murder of opposition leader Benigno Aquino and another man. He also ruled that 17 other military men stand trial for the murders.
The special prosecutor's report essentially upheld the findings of the majority of a board that spent almost a year investigating the murders that set off a wave of opposition to the government of President Ferdinand Marcos. The board's chairwoman, Corazon Agrava, had issued a separate report, initially embraced by Marcos, that said only seven military men should be put on trial for the crime.
Ver, Manila police chief Maj. Gen. Prospero Olivas and six other military men were charged for their alleged role in the cover-up of the crime at Manila International Airport Aug. 21, 1983. This offense carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
Seventeen military men were charged with planning and executing the crime. They included Gen. Luther Custodio, head of airport security when Aquino arrived home from self-imposed exile and was gunned down, and two colonels. The maximum penalty is death. The seven are also accused of the murder of Rolando Galman, whom the military initially blamed for killing Aquino.
One civilian, businessman Hermilo Gosuico, was charged as an accomplice. That charge carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Bernardo Fernandez, prosecutor of a special court that tries cases against government officials, announced today his preliminary findings based on the official reports of the Agrava commission, which wound up its investigation in October.
Arrest warrants were issued for all 26 persons charged. Fernandez recommended bail of $790 for Ver and those charged in the alleged cover-up and $1,052 for Gosuico. No bail was recommended for those charged as principals.
The military is to decide whether to suspend the accused military men. The trial will be heard in the special court that tries government officials.
Ver and Olivas went on leave when they were named in the final reports of the Agrava board. Only lower ranking soldiers were suspended by Marcos.
Ver canceled a speech he was scheduled to make at a civic luncheon today when word got around that the special prosecutor, or ombudsman, was ready to announce the results of his preliminary investigation.
Prosecutor Fernandez said his three-man panel took into account the two reports submitted by the Agrava board, including the dissenting view of the chairwoman, who limited blame to seven military men, the highest ranking of them Brig. Gen. Custodio. The majority report named all 26.
On the decision to charge Ver and Olivas solely in connection with the cover-up, Fernandez said: "Nowhere in the evidence gathered by the board is there any indication of any direct or indirect participation of the one or the other in any conspiracy.
"In fact, the findings of the [Agrava] board members, particularly in regard to Gen. Ver, were drawn mainly, if not exclusively, from portions of their own testimony as witnesses which the board members found to be of doubtful veracity or at times implied to be false."
[In Washington, one opposition leader, Aquilino Pimental, said he did not think there was enough evidence against Ver, one of Marcos' closest confidants. He said he expected Ver to be acquitted after a speedy trial, and, after a previously agreed arrangement, return to his duties and then immediately retire.]
Fernandez accepted the Agrava board findings that Aquino, the main challenger to Marcos, was shot while on the plane stairs by a member of the security unit that took him off the plane. The Agrava board could not identify the gunman but named two probable suspects, Constable Rogelio Moreno and Sgt. Filomeno Miranda.
Fernandez agreed in his findings that the only tenable conclusion was that the killing of both Aquino and Galman, who the board said was meant to be the scapegoat, were part of the same conspiracy.
Fernandez said he will accept new evidence during the trial and will offer protection to witnesses. The trial will be limited to points of conflict in order to speed up the proceedings, he stressed.