Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino was a Philippine senator, governor, and the leader of the opposition to the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. With Benigno Aquino’s political star rising, Marcos assumed dictatorial powers in 1972. He placed the entire country under Martial Law, the Writ of Habeas Corpus was suspended. Many Filipinos were arrested for subversion including Ninoy. Under international pressure, Aquino was eventually allowed to leave the country with his wife and children for exile in Boston. In 1983, however, he chose to return to the Philippines to try to offer himself as a political alternative to an ailing Marcos.
The regime warned it could not guarantee his safety; but saying “if it’s my fate to die by an assassin’s bullet, so be it,” Aquino flew back on August 21, 1983; indeed he was assassinated allegedly by a lone gunman–a Communist hitman named Rolando “Rolly” Galman–while being escorted off his plane by Philippine soldiers. Galman was shot dead at the scene by the aviation security. A convoy of security guards (all assigned to him by the Marcos government), a contingent of 1,200 military and police personnel on the tarmac, and three armed bodyguards were guarding Aquino at the time.
Everyone from the Central Intelligence Agency, to the United Nations, to the Communist Party of the Philippines to First Lady Imelda Marcos was accused of conspiracy. President Marcos was reportedly gravely ill, recovering from a kidney transplant when the incident occurred. Theories arose as to who was in charge and who ordered the execution. Some hypothesized that Marcos had a long-standing order for Aquino’s murder upon the latter’s return. His death catapulted his widow, Corazon Aquino–who flew back home for his funeral–to the limelight and subsequently to the presidency, replacing the 20-year Marcos regime.
The airport was later renamed Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
With rush, soldiers of the Aviation Security Command (Avsecom) load Ninoy’s body onto a van on the tarmac of the airport. This is one of 12 sequence-shot photos, was taken by Times Journal photographer Recto Mercene. Even as a soldier (2nd from right) pointed a gun at him, Mercene said he just let his camera roll.