Japanese journalist sticks by his story on Aquino killing

A Japanese free-lance journalist who says he witnessed the shooting of Philippine opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. at Manila Airport last Sunday has accused the Philippine government of total responsibility.

At a press conference on his return to Tokyo Monday and in a nationwide television interview Tuesday, Kiyoshi Wakamiya stuck to his story that Aquino was shot by Philippine military officers, not by the man the Manila government says was the killer.

His statement could be crucial in the current climate of international suspicion surrounding the murder of President Ferdinand Marcos's most formidable political opponent within minutes of his return home after three years of self-exile in the United States.

Major Japanese newspapers carried Wakamiya's eyewitness account on the front pages Tuesday. But then debate began over whether it would stand up against the Philippine government's strong denials of involvement.

The official version is that the still-unidentified killer, dressed in an airport security man's uniform, managed to infiltrate a tight military cordon around Aquino and kill him with one shot in the head before being cut down by a fusillade from nearby soldiers.

Wakamiya's account is quite different. He says three military officers took the politician from the aircraft, two of them sandwiching him and the third following close behind down the stairs.

Moments later, the journalist claims, two of the soldiers pulled out handguns and ''I saw them shoot Aquino in the head from (a) one meter range.'' Next, Wakamiya says, a man emerged from the rear of a military truck parked near the aircraft looking as if he had been pushed by someone inside, and immediately several soldiers opened fire on him.

Wakamiya says he has evidence the assassination of Aquino was an ''organized and premeditated murder'' by the Philippine government, but he has yet to disclose this evidence.

On television the journalist said he had hidden for a day in a Manila hotel, convinced that what he had witnessed would also make him a target. He returned to Tokyo the next day because ''I believed my life was in great danger if I remained in the Philippines.'' Now he is staying out of sight.

Wakamiya, who is believed to have known Aquino for some years, accompanied the politician on his final flight from Taipei to Manila on assignment for the Sankei magazine. He has close ties with right-wing Young Turks of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but a source said the journalist ''has never displayed any rigid political disposition.''

The question remains: Did he really see what he claims to have seen?

Other journalists on the same plane have not been able to support his account , even while expressing grave doubts about the veracity of the Manila government version.

Katsuo Ueda, a reporter for the Kyodo News Service, said, ''I was looking out of the plane window but could not see the actual shooting. Wakamiya was certainly sitting much nearer Aquino and apparently followed him when the soldiers took him off the plane.

''As a result he was probably in a better position to see what happened than anyone. He certainly described the scene to me immediately after the shooting in exactly the same terms as he is doing now, two days later.''

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