Ninoy slay prober Bienvenido Tan dies at 96

Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 27 2020 09:42 PM

Bienvenido Tan Jr., Photo courtesy of Tan family 

MANILA -- Bienvenido Tan Jr., the tax chief of the late President Corazon Aquino, died on Friday, according to family and friends. He was 96. 

Adolf Azcuna, Aquino’s presidential legal counsel and former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, confirmed Tan’s death by sending ABS-CBN News the Tan’s family announcement.

Tan first came into the public eye as a part of the controversial Agrava Commission, the fact-finding board headed by Justice Corazon Agrava looking into the murder of former Sen. Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr. in August 1983.

Tan was the board’s public coordinator, with the same rank as University of Sto. Tomas law dean Andres Narvasa and fellow lawyers Mario Ongkiko and Paquito Villa, as the board’s legal counsel.

Tan’s work at the board’s frontline put him at the center of controversy and pressure in explaining the roll call of possible witnesses and their highly-charged testimonies, especially when reporters covering what was then called the most heinous and celebrated murder got to know that he was a brother of Sister Christine Tan, an activist-nun highly critical of strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.

After several months, Justice Agrava and her all-male court penned two different reports about the Aquino assassination, divided over who should have been held liable for the killing of the opposition leader. The rest is history.

In a book published years later titled “The Public Has The Right To Know,” Tan wrote: “In the beginning there was a marked reluctance among witnesses to come out and contradict the military theory [that Rolando Galman shot Marcos opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.]. In fact, people like Butz Aquino [Aquino’s brother] openly stated that he had 11 witnesses to the assassination, although admittedly he only spoke with two; he refused to allow any of these witnesses to testify. As Butz Aquino reasoned out, these witnesses feared for their lives and the [Fact-Finding Board] did not have the power to protect them, moreover, he did not recognize the legality of the Board nor did he have any faith in its ability to arrive at a fair decision.

“Personally, I did not give credence to his story. It made front-page news, but as far as I was concerned it was patently a political decision. He had nothing to gain by presenting these witnesses if they really existed. On the witness stand they could have easily failed the test or they could have been exposed as keeping skeletons in their closet; skeletons totally unrelated to whatever they imagined they have witnessed. Butz Aquino had come out with a definite theory as to how his brother was assassinated. This earned him some publicity without exposing his witnesses to the risk or probably likelihood of being discredited. If the Board’s decision went his way he could say, “I told you so.” Either way, he was a winner. From a non-political standpoint, there was no justification for his stance, which so exasperated me that, for solace, I bought myself a new set of golf clubs.”

When Aquino’s widow Corazon rose to power, Tan was appointed to head the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), “to clean the ranks” while Narvasa was sent to the Supreme Court. Sister Tan was appointed member of the 1987 Constitutional Commission and later as board member of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes, and continued her pro-poor advocacies.

After BIR, Tan was appointed ambassador to Germany in 1989. He joined later the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP). In ceremonies in January 2018, PBSP gave Tan recognition for his contribution in improving the lives of poor Filipinos as its longest serving official and trustee.
Tan came from an affluent family who hailed from Bacolor, Pampanga. He was a grandson of Don Gonzalo Arceo Tan, a financier of the revolution against the Spaniards.

According to Aquino’s spokesman, the former president had always thought Tan was a saint. “Benny was a very decent, very honest man,” Lourdes 'Deedee' Siytangco told ABS-CBN News.