She Gave Ninoy 'Killers' Hope

Manila Bulletin, August 20, 2011 | Go to article overview

She Gave Ninoy 'Killers' Hope


Much has been said and written about the pains and struggles of the soldiers jailed and convicted over the assassination of former Sen. Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. 28 years ago. Now this is about the woman who listened, gave hope, and worked hard to make their wish come true.

"It was on my birthday in 2004 when I received their letter, asking for help," said lawyer Persida Acosta, chief of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO), which gives legal assistance to the poor and the needy.

Acosta was referring to the request for legal assistance signed by Ruben Aquino, Arnulfo Artates, Romeo Bautista, Jesus Castro, Arnulfo de Mesa, Rodolfo Desolong, Claro Lat, Ernesto Mateo, Filomeno Miranda, Rogelio Moreno, Felizardo Taran, and Rolando de Guzman.

All of them were among those tried, convicted, and jailed in connection with what would later become a historical event that also started the downfall of the dictatorial regime in the country, the assassination of Ninoy, the father and namesake of the incumbent President.

"They were apparently buoyed by the series of commutation of sentences that we initiated on some of the convicts, so they asked our help, hoping that I will be able to do something for them to gain their freedom," said Acosta.

It was a race against time for Acosta and her legal team, noting that the inmates are already old, some of them are even bedridden and dying.

In fact, she said three of the soldiers convicted in the Aquino assassination case already died while inside the New Bilibid Prison - Cordova Estelo was stabbed dead, Mario Lazaga died of stroke, while Luther Custodio succumbed to heart attack.

In working for the case of the Aquino assassination convicts, Acosta was quick to clarify that she was not asking too much of what the legal system could offer as a relief.

"They have already served their sentence so it is but logical for them to be freed. But the DoJ (Department of Justice) won't act on it during that time," said Acosta.

Then the painstaking legal works began - from creating and sending communications to agencies concerned and working beyond office hours to also give justice due to the convicted soldiers.

The request for assistance to Acosta was just a try of luck, as the prevailing fear was that all the convicted soldiers would all die and rot in jail, what with the sensitivity of the case that they got entangled into.

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