The newly appointed Philippine Human Rights Commission decided today to examine new evidence that could reopen the investigation into the 1983 assassination of President Corazon Aquino's husband, opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.
Commission chairman Jose Diokno said at a news conference that the investigation would spare no one and "go as high as necessary." Diokno said "it all depends what the evidence shows whether we investigate" Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile and Gen. Fidel Ramos.
Enrile and Ramos served for many years under Marcos and led the mutiny last month that resulted in his ouster.
Diokno said the commission will investigate possible "collusion" between the judiciary and the lawyers who defended the 25 military officials and a lone civilian charged in connection with the assassination. The officers included Gen. Fabian Ver, the armed forces chief of staff under deposed president Ferdinand Marcos.
Reopening the Aquino murder case could add to tension between civilian and military leaders in Aquino's government.
The Aquino case is politically by far the most important human rights case in recent Philippine history. A longtime political opponent of Marcos, the former senator was gunned down at Manila Airport as he emerged from the airliner bringing him back from three years of self-imposed exile in the United States on Aug. 21, 1983.
The killing marked the beginning of a political upheaval that brought an end to 20 years of Marcos rule.
Ver, who fled to Hawaii with Marcos on Feb. 26, and his codefendants were acquitted of the murder charge last Dec. 2 after a trial that lasted nearly a year -- an outcome that left many Filipino and foreign observers skeptical.
The commission was set up earlier this week and given broad powers to investigate widespread killings, torture and unexplained disappearances attributed to the Philippine armed forces during Marcos' rule.
Diokno, 64, a civil rights lawyer who was jailed for two years under Marcos, also said preliminary evidence indicated that the armed forces were still committing human rights violations under the Aquino administration, but he provided no details.
If Enrile and Ramos "knew about" human rights violations and "did nothing, then they are at least administratively guilty," Diokno said.
Brig. Gen. Samuel Soriano, the defense ministry's chief judge advocate and a commission member, said: "Let the ax fall where it may."
Human rights organizations in the Philippines have said as many as 2,255 Filipinos were summarily executed between 1977 and 1986 during Marcos' rule. Other groups, such as the London-based Amnesty International, say Marcos' military authorities regularly tortured prisoners and gunned down civilians suspected of sympathizing with the Communists.
Diokno estimated that 90 percent of the 600 Filipinos still listed as missing were dead. Many are buried in mass graves near remote "safe houses" where political prisoners were held clandestinely, he added.
Soriano said most human rights violations were the work of active Army troops, pro-Marcos "warlords" and their private armies or members of the former National Intelligence and Security Authority, which was headed by Ver.
Soriano also said the commission would work for the prompt release of all remaining political prisoners, estimated by another commission member, Sister Marianni Dimaranan, to number 598.
In her first major act upon taking power, President Aquino overrode military objections and freed 507 political prisoners, including a handful of prominent Communists, in compliance with an election pledge.