Ten former soldiers convicted of being involved in the Philippines' most
prominent assassination case have been released from prison after more than two
decades. But President Gloria Arroyo's decision to free the killers of former
opposition leader Benigno Aquino has been condemned as an act of "political
Just after noon, Wednesday, the 10 former soldiers
walked out of their cells at the National Bilibid Prison, in suburban Manila,
where they have been detained for nearly 26 years.
Secretary Eduardo Ermita says President Gloria Arroyo ordered the soldiers'
release because of poor health and good behavior.
"This was justified
because of humanitarian reasons," he said. "They are suffering different kinds
Many Filipinos still have vivid memories of the crime
these men have been convicted of - the assassination of popular opposition
leader, Benigno Aquino, in August 1983, minutes after landing at the Manila
airport following years in exile in the United States.
His death sparked
national outcry and resistance against the rule of Ferdinand Marcos, which
culminated in the 1986 "People Power Revolution" when street protests and
military defections forced the Marcos family to flee to the United States.
Aquino's widow, Corazon, was installed as president.
released Wednesday were part of a group of 16 people who got life sentences for
Aquino's murder. They have insisted they were innocent and that the
assassination was carried out by a lone pro-communist gunman, who was killed on
Three of those convicted died while in prison and one was
released in 2007. Two others were released last month.
Senator Noynoy Aquino, condemned the earlier release and accused President
Arroyo of using, in his words, "the pretense of mercy as an act of political
vengeance" because of his family's criticism of her government.
Aquino says the soldiers never told the truth on who ordered them to shoot his
father. Former President Corazon Aquino has always said she believes the order
came from top authorities in the Marcos government.
Ermita said there was no ulterior reason for the president's
"We should not think of any other motive other than the fact
that president thinks it's about time they be given such an executive clemency,"
On Wednesday, Senator Aquino declined to make further comments.
A spokesman says the senator stands by his earlier statement.