Filipino general likely to be acquitted. `Tactical blunder' in Aquino trial will clear Ver, defense lawyer says
After six months of hearings, the drama surrounding the assassination trial of opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. -- once called the Philippines' trial of the century -- has subsided into public apathy and cynicism. But the drama may soon reemerge: the counsel for the highest-ranking defendant, Gen. Fabian Ver, is confident that his client will soon be acquitted. This could have widespread political repercussions both in the Philippines and in the United States.Skip to next paragraph
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Reaction from the US Congress could be swift and angry. The Senate passed a resolution in May that future aid to the Philippines would depend on a number of factors, including ``the full, fair, and open prosecution'' of those accused of the Aquino murder.
A Ver acquittal here could add to the country's growing political instability by reinforcing the perception that President Ferdinand Marcos played a role in the trial. If General Ver regains his position as armed forces chief of staff it could give further impetus to a growing military reform movement.
The trial up to this point seems to include more than its share of intriguing developments.
Senator Aquino was shot at Manila International Airport in August 1983, immediately after leaving the airplane on which he was returning to the Philippines after three years' exile in the US.
Twenty-six men, all but one in the military, are accused of conspiring to murder the former opposition leader, or of being accessories in the murder.
The list of accessories is headed by two of the country's most senior generals: Ver, who besides being chief of staff, is also the country's top intelligence officer and a close friend and relative of President Marcos; and Maj. Gen. Prospero Olivas, head of the Philippine Constabulary's Metropolitan Command.
The most senior of the alleged conspirators is Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio, former head of the Aviation Security Command, the outfit officially assigned to protect Aquino on his return, but which allegedly played a major role in planning and executing the assassination.
Antonio Coronel, Ver's defense counsel, says that his client may be acquitted as early as the end of August. The prosecution, he says, made a ``tactical blunder'' in charging Ver only as an accessory.
The fact-finding board that investigated the assassination produced evidence which seemed to show that Ver was monitoring Aquino's movements as he returned home from the United States. Ver denies this. In his testimony to the board, Ver stoutly maintained the official version of the killing -- that Aquino was shot by Rolando Galman, a small-time gangster who the government says was hired for the job by Communist Party of the Philippines. According to the government's version, Galman was then shot by se curity forces at the airport immediately after Aquino was killed.
But this evidence, Mr. Coronel says, is ``irrelevant'' to Ver's case. As an alleged accessory, he says, Ver ``only has to account for his actions subsequent to the killing -- not before. Foreknowledge [of the assassination plans] or awareness of Aquino's movements,'' Coronel says, ``are not material'' to Ver's case. But if Ver had been indicted as a principal in the murder, I would have encountered some difficulties.''