The lone eyewitness to the assassination of Philippine opposition leader Benigno S. Aquino Jr. stood by her original testimony through more than four hours of cross examination yesterday. In May Rebecca Quijano testified that she saw a soldier shoot Sen. Aquino as he was coming down the stairs of an airplane at Manila International Airport in August 1983.
Miss Quijano is known as the ``crying lady'' because she was seen sobbing hysterically as she emerged from the plane after Aquino was shot.
Defense lawyers put Quijano's credibility to a severe test yesterday. Under qrueling questioning from Rodolfo Jimenez, counsel for 21 of the 26 defendents in the case, Quijano admitted she was imprisoned for three months in a Hong Kong jail in 1982 for allegedly possessing stolen travelers checks. But she said she was acquitted.
In tears, she said she was confined to a mental hospital, also in Hong Kong, after she had twice attempted suicide while in detention. ``I was desperate,'' she said. ``I was not guilty.''
Lawyers say that while Quijano's credibility may have been shaken ``a bit,'' her testimony remains solid. Raul Gonzales, private prosecutor, said the cross examination has even ``strengthened'' her testimony.
Mr. Jimenez attempted to discredit Quijano by citing some 12 cases filed against her in the Philippines, mostly for issuing bad checks. All charges have been dismissed, except for a pending car-theft case. Quijano admitted knowledge of these cases.
For the most part, Quijano kept her cool before the crowded courtroom. When Jimenez repeatedly asked her about the case against her in Hong Kong, she said: ``Even if I were the most wicked person in the world, it would not change the fact that I saw a Metrocom [Metropolitan Police Command] soldier shoot Senator Aquino.''
She testified she saw a man in khaki uniform who had escorted Aquino out of the aircraft hold a gun to his head and heard a shot being fired.
Judge Manuel Pamaran of the Sandiganbayan, the court trying the case, asked if she was certain the shot was fired from the gun she saw. ``I heard the gunshot,'' she replied.
Quijano's testimony boosted the prosecution's case against the lower-ranking, accused military officers and their men, led by Air Force Col. Luther Custodio, head of the Aviation Security Command, and Col. Vicente Tigas of the Presidential Security Command.
But it is seen as having little effect on the implicated generals: Armed Forces Chief of Staff Fabian Ver (on leave, pending the outcome of the case) and Prospero Olivas, chief of Manila's metropolitan command. Both were named as accessories to the murder.
Quijano was recalled to the witness stand after testifying May 2. Then defense lawyers waived their right to cross-examine her.
Observers interpreted the defense lawyers' decision as a move to dismiss the her testimony. Many though that to cross-examine her would only add to her news-media mileage and give importance to her testimony.
Later the defense asked that she be returned to the witness stand, and succeeded over the vehement protests of Quijano's lawyers. They said her safety was a stake.
In a press conference Monday, Quijano confirmed she received threats from ``some parties.''
In one instance, she said two armed men came to her house and inquired about her.
A well-placed source recently said that President Ferdinand Marcos wanted Quijano cross-examined. A legal assistant to the president reportedly met with the defense lawyers to convey the message.
In a recent interview, Mr. Marcos called the prosecution witnesses ``perjured.''
Lupino Lazaro, Quijano's counsel, claims that this is a signal from Marcos to the Sandiganbayan justices that the testimony of vital witnesses be ``thrown out.''
The prosecution is expected to rest its case within the month. No new witnesses will be presented. They have already submitted their evidence, including 140 pages of exhibits and 161 photographs.