Marcos regime sets up probe of Aquino assassination

The Marcos government is beginning to respond to public skepticism in the Philippines about the Aquino murder. Wednesday morning several Manila dailies, all considered to be government-controlled in varying degrees, called for a full investigation of the killing to allay public concern.

On Wednesday, President Ferdinand Marcos announced the creation of a commission of investigation to the murder and offered a 500,000 peso (about $45, 000) reward for information leading to a solution of the crime. He also announced that security men on duty in the immediate vicinity of the murder had been confined to barracks pending investigations.

Then late Wednesday evening, the chief of Metropolitan Command of Manila Police (Metrocom), Maj. Gen. Prospero Olivas, appeared on television for a phone-in interview lasting about 70 minutes. Some questions were quite probing, some answers less acute. But a clearer picture of the government version of events began to emerge.

The scene at the airport: A total of 35 men from the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom) were guarding the plane. They were backed up by an armored van and other vehicles. Avsecom had planned to check Aquino's papers. If his documentation was not in order, they would have put him back on the same plane out of the country.

General Olivas identified the three men who escorted Aquino off the plane as two Avsecom sergeants and one Metrocom NCO attached to the security command. General Olivas maintains that the three men were unarmed. A Japanese journalist who allegedly saw the murder claims that two of the Avsecom men shot Aquino. Members of the Aquino family indicated that they have similar suspicions.

The assassin: General Olivas suggested that the killer was hiding behind the steps leading from the plane. And, he suggested, the critical downward trajectory of the bullet may have been due to the possibility that Aquino might have been looking upward when killed.

Asked how the killer's gun was not spotted by the security men, General Olivas said it was carried in a holster tucked inside the killer's pants. If properly done, he said, the gun would not be visible.

The government did not know which plane Aquino was arriving on, the general said. The China Airlines flight which brought Aquino to Manila was in fact the eighth plane Avsecom had checked that day. It was this very fact, General Olivas claims, that may have allowed the killer and any accomplices to establish the pattern of security activity and plan the killing. (This also, however, presents the rather unlikely picture of one or more killers stalking the security teams across the airport tarmac.)

The motive: As the President already claimed, General Olivas speculated that the killing was carried out by the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA). The President has suggested Aquino was killed to settle a ''blood debt'' and to embarrass the goverment. The general noted that the communists like to form united fronts with other political groups. ''Perhaps they killed him because he would have proven too strong an ally,'' he speculated.

General Olivas's appearance was notable for the tepid support he gave to Avescom chief Gen. Luther Custodio. General Custodio's name was mentioned often by General Olivas. The references were rarely positive. Olivas ascribed several key decisions to the Avsecom chief. Among them:

* The decision to take Aquino off the plane. Previously, the government had announced it would not allow him to disembark from his plane if he arrived without permission.

* The decision to escort Aquino down the emergency exit of the plane rather than allowing him to enter directly into the terminal. (Aquino was shot on the tarmac at the foot of the plane's stairway.)

Presidential spokesman Adrian Cristobal was able to provide the names of only three of the commission members. They are: Supreme Court Chief Justice Enrique Fernando, and retired supreme court justices Roberto Concepcion and Ruperto Martin. The names of the other two justices being named to the panel were not released.

A prominent Filipino lawyer, contacted after the announcement, said that Chief Justice Fernando has long been close to President Marcos. ''He will take any orders Marcos gives him. And he is given to quoting the First Lady (Imelda Marcos) in his decisions.'' Justice Concepcion is believed to be in his 80s. He is highly regarded here for his integrity but has been in poor health for some time. Justice Martin, apparently in his 70s, is a specialist in administrative law.

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