As Philippine ex-president Ferdinand Marcos lies near death in a Honolulu hospital, he has yet to answer for some of the major scandals of his 20-year rule. Among them are his unexplained wealth and the 1983 assassination of opposition leader Benigno Aquino, and it appears likely that he will carry those secrets to his grave. But one shocking event that has been widely attributed to Marcos -- the brutal 1971 bombing of an opposition rally at Manila's Plaza Miranda -- was not his doing. It turns out that he was correct in blaming Maoist rebels of the Communist Party of the Philippines for the attack that killed nine persons and wounded 100 others, including some of his leading political opponents. A seminal event in modern Philippine history, the Plaza Miranda bombing scarred the country's political life and triggered a chain of events that led to Marcos's 1972 declaration of martial law. It also marked the beginning of more than a decade of rapid growth for the Communist guerrilla army. Today, the rebels remain a long-term threat to stability in the Philippines, and several survivors of the bombing are in key positions of leadership. Ironically, however, these leaders still blame Marcos for the attack. The real story of the Plaza Miranda bombing, along with other long-held secrets of the Communist Party of the Philippines, was pieced together from separate interviews with eight of its former senior officials during more than a year of research on the rebel movement. The former officials, four of whom were members of the party's governing Central Committee prior to their arrests in the 1970s, acknowledged that the bombing was the work of party operatives acting on orders of the guerrilla organization's founding chairman, Jose Maria Sison. They described how the party leadership planned -- and three operatives carried out -- the attack in an attempt to provoke government repression and push the country to the brink of revolution. They also said the attack squad's leader, a fiery party organizer named Danny Cordero, was executed by his Communist comrades a year after the bombing -- in effect, to silence him. The admissions of the former officials, some of whom still maintain close ties with the Communist underground, corroborated an account of party responsibility for the bombing that was issued in November 1986 by Victor Corpus, a former Philippine army lieutenant who had defected to the rebels in 1970. After spending 10 years in jail during the Marcos administration, Corpus was freed in 1986 by President Corazon Aquino. Two days after his statement on the Plaza Miranda bombing, he rejoined the army at the rank of lieutenant colonel. At the time, his statement was widely discounted. In the interviews, the former party officials also disclosed details of a clandestine mission to China shortly before the bombing, and the group's bungled efforts to ship Chinese weapons to the Philippine Communists' emerging armed wing, the New People's Army. The delegation's aim was to open what Sison envisioned as a "watery Ho Chi Minh Trail," a former member of the group recalled. But two attempted arms shipments failed, and the mission's 10 members became trapped in the chaos of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. They wound up languishing in China for 10 years as unwilling "guests" of the government, feuding bitterly among themselves and with the party leadership in the Philippines, delegation members said. According to four former ranking party officials, chairman Sison had become convinced by early 1971 -- less than three years after the party was founded -- that it would take only a well-timed incident to spark a great upheaval leading to an early Communist victory. Sison was later captured by Marcos's forces in 1977 and imprisoned until his release by Aquino in 1986. He has maintained ties with the revolutionary movement, although he now lives in self-exile in the Netherlands. Sison had calculated that Marcos could be provoked into cracking down on his opponents, thereby driving thousands of political activists into the underground, the former party officials said. Recruits were urgently needed, they said, to make use of a large influx of weapons and financial aid that China had already agreed to provide. To this end, Sison in February 1971 presented his plan for "disrupting" a Liberal Party rally in a meeting in Manila with three trusted Central Committee colleagues, including Secretary General Jose Luneta and Politburo member Ibarra Tubianosa, according to a former ranking party official who was briefed later. Sison "explained that by forcing Marcos to be tyrannical, we could in fact push the left as well as the more numerous moderate forces over to the side of the revolution," said an ex-official of the party who attended a strategy session in 1971. "If the moderates were pushed over to our side, that would solve our problem of manpower to match the thousands of firearms coming from China." By the end of July 1971, the 10 members of the secret delegation assigned to arrange the arms transfers had slipped into China through the Portuguese colony of Macao. Led by Politburo member Tubianosa, the delegation set up a mission in a Beijing compound provided by Chinese officials. Meanwhile, the party leadership had drafted Cordero to execute the Plaza Miranda attack, the former officials privy to the plan said. The party firebrand had built a strong underground network among students, factory workers and fishermen in the northern Manila suburbs, earning him a seat on the newly formed Manila party committee. In the early evening of Aug. 21, 1971, about the same time Cordero and two accomplices were making their way to Plaza Miranda, Sison was meeting in a party safehouse in the suburb of Paranaque with Central Committee members Reuben Guevarra, Manuel Collantes and Hermenigildo Garcia. Guevarra, then the party secretary for northeastern Luzon, recalled in an interview that Sison told the group: "We are going to execute a delicate plan that will intensify the split between the ruling class to the point that they are going to kill each other." On that balmy summer evening, Marcos's political rivals had gathered with thousands of their Liberal Party supporters at Plaza Miranda to launch a campaign for Senate elections. At 9:10 p.m. -- minutes after Sison's meeting had broken up -- at least three hand grenades arched toward the speaker's platform. Two of them exploded among the tightly packed crowd, killing a press photographer, two children and six other persons. Among the wounded were all eight Liberal Party Senate candidates. Cordero and his two accomplices -- Cecil Apostol and a party activist named Danny -- quickly vanished from Manila, turning up three days later at a National People's Army camp in the northern province of Isabela. After the bombing, Sison's calculations proved remarkably accurate. Liberal Party supporters led by Benigno Aquino, who had not attended the rally, blamed the attack on Marcos, who in turn cracked down on leftist political activists. Within a few weeks, the Communist guerrilla army had hundreds of new recruits, mostly students. Eleven months after the bombing, the first shipment of Chinese arms, including 1,200 copies of U.S. M-14 rifles, was brought ashore near the Isabela Province town of Palanan. Most of the weapons were captured by government troops after the weapons ship, a rickety Japanese trawler, ran aground. By that time, Cordero had begun to boast to comrades about his role in the plaza bombing. Corpus, the army defector who was responsible for training rebel recruits in Isabela, recalled in an interview that "it became common knowledge among the small group I was training that Cordero and the other two were the ones who did Plaza Miranda." When Cordero began openly to denounce party officials in Isabela, Guevarra, the regional party secretary, convened a military tribunal. He urged that Cordero be sentenced to death on charges of inciting rebellion, sabotaging the arms operation and slandering the party by claiming responsibility for the Plaza Miranda attack. During the guerrilla trial, Cordero swore that he had bombed the Liberal Party rally under orders from high party officials, according to Ariel Almendral, a former student activist and guerrilla appointed to defend Cordero before the tribunal. But in the end, the tribunal voted 6-3 for the death penalty. Cordero was led deep into the Isabela forest and executed with a pistol shot to the head, Guevarra and Almendral recalled in separate interviews. Cordero's two accomplices died in combat in the 1970s, according to former officials who served in the Isabela front. In an interview in Amsterdam in 1988, Sison parried when asked about the public charge by Corpus, his former colleague, that the Communist Party had carried out the Plaza Miranda bombing. "Vic Corpus is crazy!" Sison exclaimed. But he stopped short of categorically denying party complicity. Instead, he closed the subject by repeating the party's public position on the matter: that the Liberal Party "at the time was our ally of sorts."