The release of the 10 remaining soldiers convicted of assassinating Ninoy Aquino in 1983 in the same week as an announcement that a former policeman is willing to spill the beans on the murder of publicist Bubby Dacer and his driver in 2000 is an intriguing coincidence. How high do orders for assassinations go in this country? Did the instructions to kill Aquino and Dacer come from Presidents Marcos and Estrada?
Most commentators have argued that the Aquino assassination was too crude and blatant for an experienced operator like Marcos. In America’s Boy, James Hamilton-Paterson tells a nice story: “The president was alleged to have thrown a dish from his bedside table at the faithful Ver, furiously exclaiming ‘Idiot! Now they’ll all blame me.’”*
However, Hamilton-Paterson’s claim that “Oddly enough, Marcos was the one person not to have been seriously blamed” is not correct. In Waltzing with a Dictator (pp. 348¬¬-349), Raymond Bonner notes the following.
In July 1983, after Aquino had let it be known that he planned to return to the Philippines, Marcos asked one of his most trusted assistants to research political assassinations and expressed particular interest in the killing of Archbishop Romero, a human rights activist gunned down with a single bullet while saying mass in El Salvador.
US intelligence reported that Marcos sent Colonel Abdilla, a notorious torturer, to the USA to trail Aquino. Some intelligence officials felt that Abdilla was under orders to assassinate Aquino if the opportunity arose.
Abdilla’s mission and other evidence led one [US] diplomat, who was a in a senior position in the embassy at the time of the assassination, to conclude, “It was Marcos. He wanted get to rid of him. In effect, there was a standing order to shoot on sight. The order had gone out to take care of Aquino. It wasn’t an order to kill at the airport.” The operative words were the last three. Marcos wanted Aquino killed. But he didn’t give the order to do so at the airport.
Nevertheless, Bonner concludes that “most people believe that the cumulative weight of the evidence points to Imelda Marcos and her brother Kokoy Romualdez … The two were motivated, some American officials concluded, by their belief that Marcos was dying and by Mrs Marcos’s desire to run the country if he did.”
The official inquiry into the killing of Aquino, the Agrava Commission, was split, but unanimous on the involvement of the military, which most have taken to mean the head of the armed forces and Marcos’s fellow Ilocano, General Fabian Ver. In the words of Roberto Ongpin, the trade and industry minister, “Galman did it. Ver set him up” (America’s Boy, p. 372).
There is also plenty of evidence to implicate Imelda Marcos in the assassination, not least because the Agrava Commission found that, at an operational level, the operation was masterminded by General Luther Custodio, whose relationship to Imelda was succinctly described by a US intelligence official, “She owned him, lock, stock, and barrel” (Waltzing with a Dictator (p.350).
My guess is that, while Marcos probably didn’t issue a direct order, he certainly thought about it. By 1983, he was a very sick man, and in the atmosphere of paranoia that surrounds the sickbed of a strongman, it is reasonable to look for those who might be looking to establish a chain of succession, a chain that would be threatened by the arrival of Aquino. That seems to point to Imelda in concert with Ver, a conclusion that is also reached by Mark Thompson in The Anti-Marcos Struggle (p. 115). It is a shame that the assassination is rarely if ever raised in interviews with Imelda, which mainly concentrate on banal questions about her shoe collection.
Dacer and Corbito Assassination
Former Senior Superintendent Cesar Mancao has apparently signed an affidavit identifying the perpetrators and the mastermind behind the brutal killing of publicist Bubby Dacer and his unfortunate driver Emmanuel Corbito in 2000, a skeleton that has been rattling around in the Estrada-Lacson closet for the last eight years. I think someone had better tell Ping that running around all over the town denying a crime no one has directly accused you of might not be such a smart move. On the other hand Ping, as head of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force, was Mancao’s boss, so it seems unlikely that he is going to escape an accusation of involvement.
The really intriguing question is the participation of Erap. Did he issue an order? Or did he, as writers have argued above for Marcos, simply set the context for the killing and allow his subordinates to figure out what he wanted? Or did he have nothing to do with it?
Option C is clearly the one Erap himself wants us to believe. Speaking of his meeting with Dacer (“one of my good friends”) in Malacañang shortly before Dacer’s abduction, a meeting he can’t deny, since it will have been officially recorded, Erap reminiscences in today’s Inquirer “We talked about many things, for old time’s sake.”
That’s not quite how I remember contemporaneous reports of that meeting. In fact after Dacer’s disappearance newspapers reported that his meeting with Estrada had been acrimonious, shouting had been heard from inside the room, and Dacer had left hurriedly. Given that Dacer was abducted and killed in November 2000, at the beginning of the impeachment proceedings that were to lead to Erap’s fall two months later, there was conjecture that Dacer had tried to blackmail Erap by threatening to expose some more of his good friend’s shady dealings. Someone should dig up those old newspaper articles I think.
In all this interesting speculation, we should not lose sight of the pure horror of Dacer and Corbito’s last moments. Here is the account of Diloy and Jimmy Lopez, both of Indang, Cavite, who witnessed this ghastly scene:
Lopez said a group led by SPO4 Soberano arrived at his home in Barangay Buen Alejos I, Indang, on the afternoon of Nov. 24, and asked him where they could hold the two victims for safekeeping.
Dacer and Corbito were already hog-tied and their eyes and mouths covered with masking tape when they were brought to Lopez’s house, according to Wycoco.
Lopez recalled that the party arrived in two vehicles. Dacer and Corbito were still alive and were inside a white Toyota Lite Ace, he said.
Soberano and the two other PAOCTF agents, Escalante and Purificacion, were aboard another vehicle, he said.
From Lopez’s narration, it was not clear which car carried SPO3 Torres.
"When they arrived, they were looking for a place to hide the two men they brought with them. I said I would find a place, so I brought the group to the garage of my brother, William," Lopez said in Filipino.
Lopez said the group waited until it was dark. Around 8 p.m., the party left for a nearby creek, bringing the two victims along, he said. He told reporters he stayed behind because he has trouble walking long distances.
At this point, Diloy took up the narration.
Upon reaching the creek, Diloy said, he was ordered to gather firewood for the pyre.
Dacer and Corbito were made to lie face down, he said. Three men used the electrical cord to strangle them to death, he told the news conference.
Asked by reporters to identify the killers, Diloy replied, "Mauro Torres, William and Diego."
The murderers placed the bodies on top of the pyre of wood and tires, doused them with gasoline and set them on fire, he narrated.
They let the corpses burn for about half an hour, he said. When it was over, he walked toward nearby Binakayan town, leaving the others behind.
* In the version in Waltzing with a Dictator, Marcos throws something at Imelda (not Ver), hitting her on the cheek.