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The Julio Nalundasan Case

After 84 years, it’s not certain until today who really pulled the trigger that shot Assemblyman-elect Julio Nalundasan on 20 September 1935. Remember Viola Davis’ entrance on the first episode of How To Get Away With Murder? It seems that we had a bar topnotcher who really got away with it.


After the creation of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, the first elections for the Philippine Assembly was called for on 17 September 1935. The post of Assemblyman for the 2nd District of Ilocos Norte was at stake. Incumbent Assemblyman Julio Nalundasan had beaten Mariano Marcos in the previous elections. They resumed their political rivalry during the 1935 elections. For the second time, Julio Nalundasan won over Mariano Marcos.

In the afternoon of 19 September 1935, numerous Nalundasan followers paraded through the district in celebration of their victory. The parade carried a coffin marked “Mariano Marcos” symbolic of his political demise. The Nalundasan followers passed and briefly stopped in front of the house of the Marcoses in Batac. It was provocative and humiliating for the Marcoses.

The Crime and the Two Investigations

Bad blood can turn into cold blood. On the night of September 20, Julio Nalundasan was shot and killed, from a window in the rear of his house while he was brushing his teeth. The bullet went into his right side injuring the internal vital organs which caused the instantaneous death.

Immediately, the Philippine Constabulary (today’s Philippine National Police) conducted an investigation. A case was filed in the Court of First Instance of Ilocos Norte charging Nicasio Layaoen, a businessman of Batac, Ilocos Norte, of murder.

A star witness, Gaspar Silvestre, identified Layaoen as the man who fired the fatal shot at Nalundasan. Layaoen was seen with a revolver that night. The police found eighty-one rounds of ammunition of the .22 long Lubaloy Western rifle, the brand and class of bullet which killed Nalundasan, in a house immediately adjoining Layaoen’s address. It was believed that the house was under the care and control of Layaoen’s wife. The prosecution proposed for the imposition of the extreme penalty of death upon Layaoen. However, Layaoen was acquitted.

But you know how a politically-related crime could be in this country. Another investigation and detective work by the Division of Investigation of the Department of Justice (today’s National Bureau of Investigation) went on.

On December 7, 1938, more than three years after the death of Nalundasan, Mariano Marcos, his brother Pio Marcos, his son Ferdinand Marcos, and his brother in-law Quirino Lizardo were prosecuted for the crime of murder in the Court of First Instance of Ilocos Norte.

It was alleged that they conspired against the life of Julio Nalundasan. Ferdinand was selected as the trigger man because of his sharp shooting skills. Also, if discovered and convicted, Ferdinand would only be sent to Lolomboy reformatory school because of his age (he was 18 at the time of the crime). Mariano Marcos would in the meantime be in Laoag, Ilocos Norte away from the crime scene.

About nine o’clock in the evening of 20 September 1935, Ferdinand Marcos, armed with an automatic pistol, and Quirino Lizardo, armed with a revolver, left for Nalundasan’s yard. They were accompanied by the star witness, Calixto Aguinaldo. Upon reaching the yard, they posted themselves at a point where they could not be detected but where they could get a full view of Nalundasan. Calixto Aguinaldo was asked to watch while his two companions, Ferdinand and Lizardo, were to execute the act.

In 11 January 1940, the Court of First Instance of Laoag, Ilocos Norte handed down its decision. Ferdinand E. Marcos and Quirino Lizardo were convicted of murder and sentenced to imprisonment of 10 to 17 years. The sentence was handed down by Judge Roman Cruz, Sr., an old political adversary of Mariano Marcos.

The Controversial Appeal

Marcos was allowed to finish his studies and take his bar examination while in prison. When the 1939 Bar Examinations result came out, Marcos topped it with a record high score of 98.01%. It was the headline at the time.

With his law degree and new status as a lawyer, he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court. Marcos wrote his own appeal brief, a total of 830 printed pages, and argued his own case before the Supreme Court on 12 October 1940. He was 23 at that time.

Two weeks later, on 20 October 1940, Justice Jose P. Laurel overturned the conviction:

“The judgment of the lower court, herein appealed from, is accordingly reversed, and the defendant-appellants Ferdinand E. Marcos and Quirino Lizardo acquitted of the charge of murder and forthwith liberated from imprisonment and discharged from the custody of the law.”

Justice Jose P. Laurel, 20 October 1940

The decision made Ferdinand Marcos famous. This episode of his life was even dramatized in Iginuhit ng Tadhana: The Ferdinand E. Marcos Story (1965) with Luis Gonzales as Ferdinand Marcos.

Unanswered Questions

We have limited sources of information found online about this case. We need to gather more information to answer some questions:

  • The ballistics and autopsy results were not mentioned in detail in these sources
  • The motive of Nicasio Layaoen was never mentioned in these sources
  • Although the Marcoses had the motive to get rid of Nalundasan, it took another investigation and three years before they were charged. Why were they not charged immediately? Was there a cover up? Was Nicasio Layaoen a fall guy?
  • Why did they file separate counter charges against the star witness Calixto Aguinaldo? If they were to discredit him, who was then telling the truth?
  • What was the real score between Mariano Marcos and Quintin Lizardo? Some accounts say that they were not close or had a feud. Was there really a feud between them?
  • In a book written by Imelda’s relative, “Imelda and the Clans: A Story of the Philippines”, Beatriz Romualdez-Francia wrote that Dr. Domingo Abella, a cousin in-law, had the occasion to talk with Marcos during an afternoon family party. During that conversation, Dr. Abella brought up the matter of the Nalundasan murder in their leisurely tete a tete. Marcos replied with some nonchalance: “Dala lang sa kabataan ko ‘yon.” (“That was merely brought about by my youth.”) If that statement can be interpreted as an admission, do you think that Marcos really got away with murder?
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