GMA pardons soldier in Aquino-Galman slay

- Rhodina Villanueva -

Nearly two decades after being sentenced with finality to double life imprisonment for the 1983 assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., a former aviation security officer  walked out of maximum security prison yesterday after being pardoned by President Arroyo.

Former M/Sgt. Pablo Martinez of the defunct Aviation Security Command publicly apologized to Aquino’s family and to the Filipino people shortly after his release.

But he stood firm on what he and 13 other surviving convicted military men had claimed since their arrest: Rolando Galman killed Aquino and was in turn shot dead.

Court records showed that Martinez was under orders to kill Galman if the latter backed out at the last minute from assassinating Aquino.

Martinez’s release came days before Aquino’s 75th birthday on Nov. 27 and weeks after the grant of executive clemency to ousted President Joseph Estrada.

President Arroyo said in a written order that Martinez had been granted “conditional pardon” and would be returned to prison to serve the rest of his sentence if he broke any law.

“By virtue of the authority conferred upon me by the Constitution and upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole, the unexecuted portion of the prison term of Pablo Martinez y Salomon…is hereby remitted,” Mrs. Arroyo said in her conditional pardon.

Persida Rueda Acosta, head of the Public Attorney’s Office said Martinez qualified for presidential clemency because he was already 70. Acosta picked up Martinez from the maximum security section of the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa, ending his 24-year jail stint.

“I ask for forgiveness. I assure them that they remain in my prayers,” Martinez told a news conference.

“I’m happy to be reunited with my family, my children,” Martinez who became a born-again pastor while in prison, said. But he expressed sadness at leaving his co-accused behind.

Martinez also said he is suffering from hypertension, diabetes and ulcer. He said his health condition has worsened because there are not enough medical facilities at the national penitentiary for old and sickly inmates.

“I am not also able to have myself subjected to regular check-ups by a doctor inside,” Martinez said.

“He (Martinez) already served 24 years in jail and in that span of time, his record showed good behavior,” Acosta said.

Malacañang said the pardon was on humanitarian grounds and that those who object to it should file a formal complaint

“If you are 70 years old and have served minimum of your sentence that’s when you’re a candidate for pardon,” Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol told reporters. “The President usually listens to everybody.”

The conditional pardon was dated Nov. 7 and signed by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita.

Thirteen other military men remain in prison for the Aug. 21, 1983 shooting of the former senator at the airport that was to be renamed in his honor.

Both Martinez and Acosta urged the President to extend clemency to the other jailed ex-soldiers, all members of what the courts ruled was a murder conspiracy. A formal request for clemency was made in August. Rueda said the other convicts were qualified for pardon.

One of the convicts Avsecom chief Brig. Gen. Luther Custodio died of cancer in prison in 1991, while another, Airman 1st Class Cordova Estelo, was stabbed dead by another inmate in 2005.

The assassination, believed to have been ordered by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, sparked outrage and massive street protests that led to the ouster of the strongman in a relatively peaceful military-backed civilian uprising after a disputed snap presidential election in which he ran against Ninoy’s widow, Corazon Aquino,

Mrs. Aquino has always held Marcos responsible for the murder, though the mastermind has never been identified. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989.

Martinez had tried to convince the Supreme Court that his fellow convicts were innocent and that it was he who was directly involved in the case, having kept an eye on Galman and brought him to the tarmac.

“It is conceded that only petitioner Pablo Martinez was with Galman, and aware of the mission to assassinate Ninoy, for which the former had his own reasons for following such orders, for fear of his own life,” his lawyers told the SC.

“However, the other members of the security detail of Senator Aquino, the petitioners herein, were merely ordered to give protection to the senator, and not to assassinate the latter,” the petition read.

Convicted with Martinez on Sept. 28, 1990 were Custodio, Estelo, Capt. Romeo Bautista, 2nd Lt. Jesus Castro, and Sergeants Claro L. Lat, Arnulfo de Mesa, Filomeno Miranda, Rolando de Guzman, Ernesto Mateo, Rodolfo Desolong, Ruben Aquino and Arnulfo Artates, supposed gunman Constable Rogelio Moreno, C1C Mario Lazaga, and A1C Felizardo Taran. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on July 23, 1991.

Much of the records of the case were drawn from documents culled by the Agrava Fact-Finding Board formed by Marcos on Oct. 22, 1983, apparently to ease a simmering national outrage. It was named after its head former Court of Appeals Justice Corazon Agrava, The board held 125 hearings from Nov. 3, 1983 and obtained testimonies from 194 witnesses.

The Agrava Board released its report in October 1984 naming then Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver in a military conspiracy to kill Ninoy. Two years later, the Sandiganbayan, then headed by Justice Manuel Pamaran acquitted the accused.

After the February 1986 People Power, the SC ordered a retrial by the Sandiganbayan which ordered the arrest of military men, including Ver who had already left the country.

New Bilibid Prisons Director Ricardo Dapat, meanwhile, said that in compliance with a recent order of the Department of Justice, he has referred to the Board of Pardons and Parole cases of around 200 inmates who are 70 years old and above.

He said the BPP would coordinate with Malacañang as to what action to take regarding their cases. - with Paolo Romero

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