Court decision clears way for acquittal of Philippine general

The way has been paved for the acquittal of the Philippine armed forces Chief of Staff, Fabian Ver. General Ver, who is on leave from his post, is on trial as an accessory in the 1983 slaying of Philippine opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.

On Friday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ver. The court excluded from the murder-trial statements that Ver and a number of codefendants made before a fact-finding board that initially investigated the murder.

Antonio Coronel, Ver's defense lawyer, said that he will move for dismissal of the charges filed against the general.

The fact-finding board was ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos to investigate the killing of Aquino. Last October, the board indicted some of the military's top brass and held them responsible for the assassination.

Testifying before the board in April 1984, Ver said he had ordered that a security plan be drawn up for Aquino's arrival at Manila International Airport in August 1983. (The opposition leader was returning to the Philippines after three years' exile in the United States.) Major Gen. Prospero Olivas, another accessory in the case, prepared the plan. And Ver said he approved the plan as ``adequate, comprehensive, technically sound. . . .''

Prosecution attorneys in the murder case have been trying for weeks to have Ver's complete testimony before the fact-finding board admitted as evidence in the trial. Earlier, the court trying the case, the Sandiganbayan, decided not to admit the the testimony as evidence. The Supreme Court decision merely upheld it.

In its decision, the Supreme Court invoked the privilege of immunity provided in the presidential decree that created the fact-finding board. Chief Justice Felix Makasiar said the admission of the testimony of Ver, General Olivas, and six soldiers as evidence against them would violate their constitutional rights.

In a dissenting opinion, Justic Claudio Teehankee said there was no legal ground for excluding the testimony. He said the Sandiganbayan should consider all evidence presented by both the prosecution and defense, without exclusion, and render its verdict.

Following an acquittal, Ver will most likely be reinstated as chief of staff. Preident Marcos has said that should Ver be acquitted, he will be returned to his post.

The Supreme Court decision was expected by many. Public outcry over the court's decision has been limited.

One opponent of the Marcos regime, Leandro Alejandro, said the decision ``only clinched the government campaign to exonerate Ver and the military.''

Homobono Adaza, an opposition member in parliament, said, ``Marcos will never countenance a conviction of Ver for it will mean his own conviction.''

Yet the Marcos regime is likely to feel pressure both within his country and from the US government if the outcome of the Aquino trial appears to be a complete cover-up.

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