Thursday, April 25, 2019

Ledesma: The facts and hyperbole

IT has become apparent that Malacañang Palace has lost all legal grounds to disqualify Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte from running for President. But there is now a pincer move to deter the mayor on the basis of some extremely silly issues which had been raised before.

Duterte had been subjected to exactly the same persecution before. The allegations are the same, the timing is the same and it is the same office that is resurrecting the issue. The only difference is that the characters who want to nail Duterte this time are Mar Roxas aided by Malacanang which brazenly prodded the Commission on Human Rights to initiate investigation and to file criminal cases against Duterte. The charge?That the mayor is behind the extrajudicial killings of some 700 victims using Davao Death Squad. The source of information? Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The first to conduct a probe on this very same allegations was then CHR Chair Leila De Lima. Then House Majority Floor Leader Prospero Nograles wanted to challenge Duterte in the mayoral race and urged CHR to conduct a probe. Years before this the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and Dutertehad been waging an all-out-war against drug syndicates. In addition, Duterte is fighting another front: kidnap-for-ransom, akyat-bahay-with rape gangs and carnapping among others.

Davao City had just been through with the nightmarish reign of communist insurgents that ruled the city and the environs with impunity from 1977 to mid-1980’s. In those dark days of Davao City, the New Peoples’ Army had absolute control of the rural areas and the large communities of squatters which became the veritable spawning grounds of communist insurgents.

It was during this period when the rich left Davao City and there was hardly a perceptible economic development. Whatever business establishments were left were made to pay “peoples’ tax” which was actually another phrase for “extortion”. The most vulnerable of these were agricultural firms, construction firms, and communication facilities, to name a few, that were located in remote areas.

At the start, the NPAs were actually welcomed by remote residents barangays and urban ghettos. Cattle rustlers, thugs, abusive barangay officials were rounded up and executed by NPA “Sparrows”.

The swift justice instilled fear on residents. For several months since they took control, the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military arm, the NPA, summarily executed 15 people on a daily basis. The biggest toll was in Agdao District, the city’s largest squatters’ territory and the city’s poor. Execution was so widespread and a commonplace in the district it soon earned the moniker “Nicaragdao” in obvious reference to the equally troubled insurgent-controlled Nicaragua in those time.

Death statistics could only be guessed. No one was taking notes. The police and military establishments were faced with two organized rebellions: that of the CPP-NPA and the separatists Moro National Liberation Front. Violence was so pervasive. The police forces were overwhelmed by the growing forces and menace of the radical NPAs forming a ring of some seven guerilla fronts around Davao City.

Policemen moved around in squads or platoons. Less than that they were easy preys to the Sparrows. Elsewhere in nearby provinces, police and military patrol stations were attacked by hordes of either NPAs or Bangsamoro Army (BMA). The viciousness of the era elicited lawlessness. Executions were like being done to satisfy one’s thirst for blood especially that from a policeman or a soldier. No questions ask, no probe done.

On the other hand police investigators would go the extremes. Tortures to force out confession were resorted to. It is their misfortune however that they were being watched by Human Rights Watch or white skinned Amnesty International probers who close their eyes on the slaughters carried out by the Sparrows and the BMAs. Davao was the most dangerous city not only in Mindanao but in the Philippines.

New Faces in Command

Police and military assignments in Davao were like death sentences. For Marine Colonel Rodolfo Biazon and Police Commander Dionisio S. Tan-Gatue Jr., it was a test of what they learned from the Philippine Military Academy and experience. Biazon is an excellent community relation officer who can face the most radical demonstrators and winning them from the left to the center. Tan-Gatue on the other hand is an operations man, a strategist and one with exemplary knowledge and skills in propaganda and counter-propaganda.

Aside from the two, was a radio personality Juan “Jun” Porras Pala. A fiery commentator, he was initially known as an anti-Marcos and NPA propagandist. In a way he helped boost the image of the NPAs as the savior of the masses from the abuses of the military, police and the establishment. Jun Pala was a spitfire even as martial law was fully enforced. The station where he worked with was located in Agdao. He was right in the bastion of the NPAs and he feared nobody.

But Tan-Gatue did not tolerate Pala’s acerbic commentaries at the expense of military and the police. All that he wanted was a balance reporting. Pala laughed this off. Four days after he made an appeal, which Pala with his classic hubris disregarded, management was directed to cut his program off the air. The broadcaster was distraught. He loved his career so much he was adored by his fans which ran to millions that virtually gave him an ego massage. Six weeks without his program was like a torture chamber.

I was president of the Media Dabaw of which Jun Pala was a member. It was a press club that brought us community journalists to protect us from threats from the radical left and from the avenging right. Pala, approached me for help. I did not promise him anything but I went to see Regional Police Commander Tan-Gatue just the same.

I was surprised to see the top cop kind disposition. He said all he needed was a balance and fair commentary from Pala. When I broke the news to the almost decrepit Pala, he was ecstatic. He requested that I bring him to Tangatue who at that time had been promoted to Brigadier General. The moment he faced Tan-Gatue, Pala let out his emotion. “If I get back my job, I will expose the cruelty of the NPAs”.

The general moreover stopped him. “Just be fair, hindi naman kami ganoon kasama”. But Pala asserted: “I have been without job, but I never received any help from them (NPAs). Not even a gesture of concern. It was as if I never existed”, Pala fumed.

Pala returned to his turf in Agdao. This time it was not the NPAs who escorted him but CAFGUs, an armed civilian volunteers with police or military supervising officer. Colonel Biazon gave him a folding carbine which was later upgraded to a baby armalite. Inside the announcer’s booth Pala had four close-in bodyguards. The moment he mounted the anchor’s chair, he was back in his element, fuming and hitting his target right on the solar plexus with incisive commentary. The only difference this time is that his target was the NPA atrocities as he saw it from
inside the organization.

Pala was the only voice in the night. When all other radio stations were off or playing love songs and Christmas carols, Pala was spewing issues against the CPP/NPAs. Soon enough he was tagged as an anti-communist commentator.

But while Pala was mounting tirades against the reds, the police and the military were still up against communist guerillas. But by that time there were some in-fighting in the ranks of the guerilla fronts, city partisans and their tax collectors. The NPA hierarchy conducted cleansing operations. General Tan-Gatue had monitored this and proceeded to conceptualized the Davao Death Squad. The now famous DDS which is the favorite fodder of the Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International against Duterte. And yet, Duterte was hardly visible. He just graduated from San Beda College and became a lawyer. But lawyering was not the best career in an environment where the Sparrows would just kill for fancy. Later though he was appointed as one of the several assistant city fiscals of Davao City. He handled only two assignments: prosecute a leftist or a rightist.

But DDS was merely a phantom. It has no warm bodies. Moreover Pala was an excellent one-man propagandist tutored by General Tan-Gatue. Each casuatly of NPA inter-fighting he would attribute it to DDS. Even common criminals killed in legitimate encounters had tags on their dead bodies. “Rapist, huwag tularan –DDS”. Occasionally a tattooed corpse is retrieved from Bankerohan River and still with the tag: “Magnanakaw - huwag tularan: DDS”.
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