Friday, July 29, 2011

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The spy who 'loved' me

By Alex P. Vidal

WHEN 24-year-old Evangeline "Vangie" Villan of Brgy. Caingin, La Paz, Iloilo City became my regular visitor at Sun Star editorial office sometime in 1997, our late former editor-in-chief, Ivan Suansing, became suspicious. 
She would show up in the office at past five o'clock in the afternoon to bring me Glor's hamburger and Coke in can, disappear after several minutes, and return after several hours. And stay -- until told to go home like a Manila Zoo food attendant doing an overtime, but would obey without any grumbling.
Ivan and I usually played blitz chess inside the office while our reporters -- Ednalyn Belonio, Ruby Silubrico, and Lorelie Panis -- were encoding their stories. Nelson Robles, editor of Super Balita, Sun Star's Hiligaynon sister publication, was always out and would spot Villan waiting in the canteen downstairs.


Villan was a cellular phone dealer whose "clients" included then Narcotics Command (Narcom) director, Chief Inspector Wilfredo Reyes and former Police Pricinct 1 (PPI) director, Chief Inspector Ricardo Jomuad.
We first met months earlier at the PPI when I interviewed two inmates, a male and a female (names withheld because one of them is a Facebook friend), arrested earlier in a shabu buy-bust operation. Through police reporter Ruby Silurico, the female detainee requested that I go to the police station myself to do the interview to confirm the veracity of their allegation of police brutality (police had laughed off this allegation and called it a "diversionary tactic").


Villan was at the PPI purportedly "to book a theft incident" involving their store which had been ransacked. She claimed she always read my articles "and I am glad that I finally saw you in person..."
This meeting happened several weeks after Reyes, who was also Belonio's regular visitor at Sun Star, had been charged with drug trafficking by the Regional Presidential Task Group on Intelligence and Counter-intellligence headed by Maj. Jonas Sumagaysay. This was a major news at that time; imagine, the regional boss of a police agency tasked to run after illegal drugs accused of being a drug trafficker? 
Ivan didn't trust my regular visitor. Publisher Marcos Villalon didn't give a damn, but ordered to secure our back issues and other files located in the waiting area. 
Villan would bring me chocolates, CDs, t-shirts, among other items, and invite me for a "walk outside." She once confided in Hiligaynon that "I have special feelings for you. Please don't get mad at me. I may not have the opportunity to express this. I have something to confess, sir." I refused several times; I was busy with my press work. Gossipers in the marketing department, including then Tigbauan vice mayor Jesse Terre, had suspected a romantic liaison between us because they would bump into Villan in the stairs as they went home, while Villan was coming in. Terre took fancy of her one time and was flatly rebuked.


Were Villan's actuations really motivated by love? I was in doubt. Was she a spy? I had reason to believe so. It was highly suspicious for a 24-year-old woman to shower a man she met only once with gifts and give him attention like a long lost sweetheart while his officemates were watching -- and gossiping.
Weeks later, on July 26, 2007, Villan was found dead at Brgy. Malusgod, Pototan town, 34 kilometers away from Iloilo City. She had no more arms and legs, her body bore a sign of torture. Dr. Owen Lebaquin, Camp Delgado medico-legal expert, who autopsied the body, said she died after the back of her head had been struck with a hard object. She was not raped. Investigators led by Pototan police chief, Insp. Khasmer Desumangkop, said Villan could have been eliminated by a drug syndicate. No arrest was made. 


I could not believe the woman who had professed her "love" to me weeks back was now gone and became the subject of news I was writing. 
When police gave me several file photos of Villan smiling "during her leaner and more attractive days," as the caption screams, I had goose pimples. 
Villan's murder has remained unsolved after 14 years. 

How can we help our president

"Honesty and loyalty are key. If two people can be honest with each other about everything, that's probably the biggest key to success."  Taylor Lautner

By Alex P. Vidal

WHO says millionaires don't cheat? 
Everyone will be tempted when opportunity presents itself. 
But not all will be tainted. 
Being rich and unmarried, President P-Noy has no reason to steal. 
His parents were never known to have dipped their fingers on the cookie jar; they were probably tempted, yes, but not tainted.
Man's special dignity lies in goods which no other animal shares with him, as other animals share with him the goods of food, shelter, and even those of sleep and play.


After more than 100 days in office, President P-Noy should continue to stand firm on the ideals of the late former Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Jr. and the late former President Corazon "Tita Cory," that sterling legacy that has helped catapult the Aquino clan into political fame -- and gave Kris Aquino guts to collect boys (when can this presidential sister nail a real man?) like Hello Kitty toys.
While the President may be immaculate, nobody walks a saint in Malacanang; no public official under the present system can match Caesar's wife, who was beyond suspicion: they will all be subjected to severe suspicion and scrutiny. 
Lest we forget, we always stumble on a serpent in every paradise, and a snake in every forest. 
Public office, where cash is aplenty, is no exception!


Only when the President succumbs to influence of friends and relatives can he be destroyed like Erap and Gloria. 
Being born with a silver spoon, the President is deemed to have passed the temptation of covetousness.
If he is a rational person, President P-Noy will no longer hanker for material grandeur. 
If he has a sanity, he will try not to suffer from the sanity of others--those waiting for the right opportunity to enrich themselves under his administration.
Because of the trust given him by his late parents, the President can't afford to go against them. 
A good fruit must come from a good tree.


But we can't tell the character of the man. As Voltaire had said, we can change institution but not the nature of man whose character can only be transformed by rationality and values -- philosophical and spiritual.
As citizens, we are duty-bound to help our leader fight not only graft and corruption and poverty, but also eliminate the tentacles of mysticism, dogmatism, superstition, and, most of all, ignorance!  

Thursday, July 21, 2011



POLITICIANS just come and go, but writers will continue to propagate ideas and pass them on for all generations, help educate mankind and liberate their minds from demagogues and merchants of enslavement and ignorance.
In our lunch date last July 20 at Chowking where I turned over the book by best-selling author Dr. Robert Hoyk entitled "The Ethical Executive" I promised to give him last year, my friend philosopher-lawyer Ernesto "Ernie" Dayot, the Socrates of Iloilo, exhorted this writer to "avoid politics as much as possible and continue writing wherever you are."
I told the Ilonggo philosopher I was lucky to be granted with a one-on-one interview with Dr. Hoyk by the author himself in Laguna Beach, California last year where he gave me the hard bound copy of that book with his signature inside.


"Let's continue to toss the torch of knowledge to others even in our own private capacity," Dayot stressed, suppressing his voice so as not to disrupt customers taking their lunch in other tables. "We have no property or power to share to society; we have no economic and political influence except our write-ups."
Age slowing him down a bit physically but not mentally, Dayot, 80, whose father Luis Roces was the youngest mayor of Dingle, Iloilo at 23, urged this writer to "reassert our ideas and we must continue to activate old philosophical and spiritual values amid the internet revolution."
Unlike some politicians devoid of wisdom and legacy who fade away and are forgotten easily when they are no longer in power, Dayot said "we writers will be remembered by generations because we are the harbingers and conveyors of ideas, wisdom, and knowledge."
What will keep all writers young, he added, "is our inspiration to convey ideas that are valuable and rational."


"People will respect us because of our works-- our philosophical and spiritual ideas and, like soldiers, we don't die but only fade away and resurrect through our printed ideas," Dayot explained.
He cited German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who only printed seven copies of his book "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" and yet became a classic. Nietsche gave the two copies to his trusted but uncaring friends who didn't value the books. The five remaining copies survived and gave him fame and stardom until this generation.
Described by Nietzsche himself as "the deepest ever written," the book is a dense and esoteric treatise on philosophy and morality, featuring as protagonist a prophet descending from his mountain retreat to mankind, Zarathustra in a fictionalized account. A central irony of the text is that Nietzsche mimics the style of the Bible in order to present ideas which fundamentally oppose Christian and Jewish morality and tradition.
As writers, we must also continue to gather and read great books, he suggested. Great books are those that contain the best materials on which the human mind can work in order to gain insight, understanding, and wisdom.


Each in its own way raises the recurrent basic questions which men must face. Because these questions are never completely solved, these books are the sources and monuments of a continuing intellectual tradition.
We both agreed that the kind of books that should be called "great" are those that never have to be written again. They are the rare, perfect achievements of sustained excellence. Their beauty and clarity show that they are masterpieces of the fine as well as of the liberal arts. Such books are justifiably called great whether they are books of science, poetry, theology, mathematics, or politics.
Before we parted, I bade goodbye to Dr. Hoyk's book with a souvenir photo together with it's new owner, the "Socrates of Iloilo."



THE old city hall building at the Plaza Libertad, Iloilo City Proper was a scene of so many unforgettable events -- violence and otherwise.
When former city mayor Rodolfo Ganzon refused to obey the suspension order meted by local government secretary Luis Santos in 1989, city hall nearly became a crime scene when Ganzon loyalists barricaded the building. We will write a separate story about this event in some other time.
Sixteen years ago on July 27, 1995, city councilor Restituto "Agent Kurantay" Jotes and his arch enemy, Leonardo "Nardong Damak" Grande (Mr. Grande had repeatedly told me he was never a "damak" or dirty. All his life, he said, he lives decently and was shocked how did he get this moniker. His critics must have taken it from a Tagalog movie "Nardong Putik"), almost came to blows when they crossed paths near the mayor's office located in the adjacent building of the Sanggunian Panlungsod.


I was with the late treasurer's office division chief Ray "Nono" Terre and broadcaster Boy Pablo following Jotes when Grande, a contractor and one of Mayor Mansueto Malabor's trusted allies, spotted us.
Grande, who was holding a copy of Panay News, a regional newspaper, was coming out from the office of the late former city administrator Angelo "Bebot" Geremias.
"Ma ano ka di? (Why are you here?)," an irate Grande, then 66, blasted the city councilor, his tummy bulging from his small body like Don Pepot.
In a loud manner, Jotes, then 48, shot back: "Ay sus, ari ka gani imo di nga manog taghol ka lang ako pa nga konsehal sang ciudad! (But why? If you think you have the right to be here when you are merely a barker, I have more reason to be here being a city councilor)." 


Their verbal joust attracted attention from employees and visitors who scampered away in different directions. The two almost squared off when they halted trading insults for a few seconds and gave each other Bruce Lee looks like in the movie "Enter the Dragon." Tension could be felt by horrified employees as far as the city assessor's office when Grande squeezed the newspaper with his two hands and Jotes, who also had excess baggage in the belly, copied the fight stance of Jinggoy Estrada in a Tagalog action film. 
"Tama na ina pre a. Aga pa ni. Kalma lang kamo bala (That's enough, buddies. It's early in the morning. Relax both of you)," Terre interrupted, like a boxing referee giving instructions in the 12th round.
"Wala ka pag taha sa opisyal sang ciudad (You have no respect for a city official)," Jotes bewailed, pointing his finger at Grande. "Wala ka man pag taha sa meyor ta permi mo lang gina insultohan (You also have no respect for our mayor whom you always insulted)," answered Grande, his left hand locking his hip like a mafia boss.


There was a bad blood between the two. Grande, who was also maintaining a radio blocktime program for Malabor, had been lashing at Jotes, a former radio reporter, calling him "incompetent," among other unsavory remarks both on air and in the coffeeshops -- where, sometimes, those in the hearing distance included Jotes' relatives and fellow market sweepers before he became a radioman and politician.
At one instance, Grande took potshots at Jotes' ill-fated interview over dyBQ Budyong Kapehan program: "Maayo ina bala nga e disseminate ya kuno ang graft and corruption? Tarso nga tawo (Is it right for him to declare that he would disseminate graft and corruption? He's a funny person)," Grande lamented.


 When asked by dyBQ Budyong Kapehan program host Leo Dumagat at Hotel del Rio what would he do now that he had been elected, Jotes, who admitted he only finished grade school, replied seriously: "E disseminate ko ang graft and corruption (I will disseminate graft and corruption)." Grande could not forget this mea culpa; he could not forgive Jotes for "putting to shame the Ilonggos."
As a Bombo reporter, Jotes was extremely popular; a household name and Iloilo's version of Noli de Castro. Jotes' participation in politics came at a time when popularity or name recall was the ne plus ultra of entry into public office. 
Meanwhile, when Geremias heard what happened in city hall that morning, he blew his top: "Yots, ka tigulang na inyo ma inaway pa kamo. Maayo lang wala di si meyor (You are told enough to engage in a fight like this. It's good the mayor is not here)."    


It was Grande who filed a libel suit against Jotes, not in relation to their near-riot city hall encounter. "Ipa priso ko gid siya (I will send him in jail)," he vowed. Grande claimed Jotes had accused him of "overpricing" the lot in Brgy. Bitoon, Jaro he had offered to sell to the city government.
An appropriation of P3 million had already been set aside for the deal which would serve as relocation site for squatters. Jotes had also threatened to file a counter-charge against his tormentor "for insulting and defaming my person as a public official."
Former Tanodbayan and future congressman and justice secretary Raul Gonzalez, Sr. acted as Jotes' lawyer while Grande was represented by future city councilor and RTC judge Rita Bascos-Sarabia. The cases they filed against each other did not prosper.



BY the time this article comes out, the next Ombudsman may have been named by President P-Noy. Will it be PCGG Commissioner Gerard Mosquera or retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales? Who will the fountain bless? Youth or experience?
The next Ombudsman should be like Caesar's wife -- above suspicion. He or she should not tangle in mudslinging with any politician or journalist especially on issues that concern public interest. 
Take the case of former Ombudsman Aniano Desierto, the most controversial character to ever occupy that hot seat. A week after Paranaque Rep. Roilo Golez sent me a personal letter on July 24, 1996 to disclose that he filed impeachment complaint against Desierto, Golez made a follow up letter to "appeal for your assistance" in dealing with black propaganda artists reportedly marshaled by his detractors.


We are not saying that the source of black propaganda or the sponsor was Desierto. But the timing was suspect.
Golez, whose first name is a combination of "Romblon" and "Iloilo," wrote: "Dear Mr. Vidal, There is a group going around, in an apparent black propaganda campaign against me and my family, using fabricated documents, stating the big lie that my son is engaged in government contracting as well as besmirched my wife's honor and reputation.
"I have only one son; he just turned 25 years old, fresh from college, and now taking up MBA at De La Salle University. My wife is the Managing Director of a U.S.-based company and my son helps as the Administrative and Stocks Manager. No member of the family -- not even distant relatives by consanguinity or affinity -- is involved in contracting work."


"My wife, though married to a politican, is virtually invisible in the political and government circles, because that is how we have preferred it to be since my Post Office days. She is one of the sweetest and gentlest persons on this earth -- a woman truly worth dying for -- and that is why we have remained happily married for more than 25 years.
"That a PR group, notorious in the PR circles for its foul and diabolical methods, is allegedly behind this vilification campaign paid for by persons threatened by my unrelenting position on certain national issues."  
In a parting paragraph, Golez added, "I say unto them: JEREMIAH (20:10-13) But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my prosecutors will stumble, they will not triumph. In their failure they will be put to utter shame, to lasting, unforgettable confusion. O Lord of hosts, you who test the just, who probe mind and heart, let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.


"May I therefore appeal for your assistance in dealing with these black propaganda artists. Thank you and warmest regards. Very truly yours, Roilo Golez (sgd)"
Desierto had every reason to run after Golez, who had accused Desierto of committing very scandalous offenses during his stint in government service.
In filing the impeachment case together with former Senator Rene Saguisag and the late former Comelec Commissioner Haydee Yorac, Golez called Desierto as "falsifier, perjurer and bribe taker."
By the way, the impeachment rap did not prosper and Desierto managed to wiggle himself out from the mess he was in for several months. When the battle ended, both camps had been  badly damaged, like the Berlin City razed down by Allied Forces in World War II. This should not happen again.

Saturday, July 16, 2011



MEDIA people working hard and trying to make both ends meet through honest to goodness means are always exposed to danger. 
My near death experience as a struggling newsman looking for advertisers to sustain a fledgling newspaper was a case in point.
As publisher of three-month old Iloilo Today, I went to Manila to collect from national advertisers 11 years ago. At around 6:15 o'clock in the morning on July 20, 2000, my encounter with three robbers in Quiapo, Manila nearly landed me in hospital if not in cemetery.  
While walking in the Quiapo sidewalk from Sampaloc on my way to take a passenger jeep going to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) in Roxas Boulevard, an unidentified male approached on my left side and asked, "Anong oras na?" (What time is it now?) I stopped and checked my watch; and before I could finish saying "6:15 am," a blunt object landed hard on my head on the upper right ear. 
Shocked and visibly shaken, I turned my head to check who did it and saw a male holding a dos-por-dos (wooden bat) and was preparing to swing another blow. My instinct and quick decision to defend myself quelled the second attack. 
As a left handed (the attacker was on my right side), I had a perfect latitude when I uncorked a left hook that hit the ruffian smack on the chin and sent him down the pavement pants first. 


As I watched him crawl back on his feet attempting to grab the dos-por-dos he had dropped, another set of fist blows this time coming from the one who asked me the time, peppered my left ear, neck and head plus a kick in the body. 
This time, I was unable to defend myself as my right hand was clutching a blue plastic envelop containing important documents and statements of account. I saw stars and my sight ebbed. 
The man on the floor was now up and holding the bat like a baseball player. Blood dripping from wound on my upper right ear, I dropped the plastic envelop. On wobbly legs, I tried to intimidate the thugs by raising both my clinched fists to signify willingness to mix it up. Then I heard the bogus baseball player shouting at his cohort on my left side now holding a knife, "Saksakin mo na" (Stab him now). I immediately backtracked to avoid the knife-wielding hooligan who shouted back, "Nakuha mo na?" (Were you able to take it?). The bat boy responded "Andito na" (Yes, I got it). They then ran away. I checked my belongings; my cellular phone missing in my waist, the severed case still hanging on my belt.


I ran towards the direction of the fleeing hoodlums, not to take back my cellular phone, but to save my plastic envelop, my only treasure, which had been flown away after one of them kicked it as they fled. 
Thinking I was trying to put up an empty bravado, a third man appeared with his right hand inside the pocket of his jeans (was he carrying a gun or only bluffing?). I stopped and desperately watched my plastic envelop on the floor, near the feet of the third assailant. It was like a film shooting.
Never mind my cellular phone. Never mind the wound on my head. Never mind the blood. Please, Lord, protect my plastic envelop; that's the only reason why I am here in Manila. I haven't paid our bills in the printing press yet; I will lose face if I return in Iloilo empty handed without any collection. I was willing to receive another blow in exchange for that precious plastic envelop, our bread and butter. 
God probably heard my prayers. When the third bad guy left, I dived into my plastic envelop and held it tightly like a mother cuddling her baby. Nothing can separate us now.


While this brutality was taking place, sidewalk vendors and passersby pretended they saw and heard nothing. There were no cops. No tanods. It was worst than a jungle; survival of the fittest. It was near the intersection of Recto-Quezon Avenue.
Before proceeding to a police sub-station, I walked and sat on my plastic envelop in one corner to attend to my wound using a handkerchief. Wet and exhausted, I felt pain all over and hunger. I ordered rice lugaw in the sidewalk. 
At the police sub-station, the investigator was indignant and sympathetic. " ina ang dami na nilang nabiktima dyan a (SOB, they have already victimized so many people in that area)," he thundered. 
Two patrol cops checked my wound and gave first aid. They then invited me to join them in scouring the area for possible hot pursuit. I refused for lack of time.
I reported the matter over the phone to my late friend, former congressman Art Borjal, who was columnist of the Philippine Star. He invited me to his office in Quezon City to confirm the veracity of my story. When he saw my wound and the severed cellular phone case hanging on my belt, he angrily quipped, "Mabuti na lang hindi ka tinuloyan ng mga hayop na yun" (It's good those animals didn't kill you).
When you meet journalists on the road, don't hurt them. They may be looking for food on the table to feed their families while scrambling to get news to beat the deadline.



It pays to always have a calm mind amid difficulties.
This was proven when former Iloilo fifth distirct congressman Rolex Suplico and a team of capitol reporters visited the site of a massacre in Brgy. Mandu-awak, San Dionisio, Iloilo morning on July 16, 1996 and elected to detour from hell -- and lived another day!
Suplico, then a member of the provincial board, invited us for an ocular inspection of the area where a carnage that killed six members of two families -- Ayusip and Arabe-- happened several days earlier (weren't those 60 journalists also "invited" to cover an event when they were massacred in Ampatuan in 2009?).
The visit came three days after Suplico filed a board resolution condemning the massacre and seeking the appointment of a new town police chief. Suplico said an ocular visit was needed as he wanted to "look deeper" into the grisly crime.
After spending about an hour talking to some residents in the area and inspecting the houses where the crime was committed, we decided to call it a day. On our way going to neighboring Sara town for lunch, we met San Dionisio mayor Peter Paul Lopez and his armed bodyguards.


Lopez had begrudged the board resolution and accused Suplico of trying to implicate him in the massacre. He also believed the reporters were there to "add insult to his injury" as suspected mastermind. Suplico had quipped earlier that "I have no concrete evidence to link Mayor Lopez" but that the whole Mandu-awak area "is being controlled by the Lopezes." In other words, a bad blood had been brewing between Suplico and Lopez even before the visit.
We were on board two vehicles when Lopez's team arrived also on two vehicles. Both Lopez and Suplico, who had not been talking to each other for a long time--and if they ever did the discussion was not cordial-- greeted each other and shook hands. They talked.
A few moments later, Lopez was heard admonishing Suplico like a master giving a mouthful to an erring servant about the board resolution Suplico had authored. Suplico, a lawyer who spoke professionally, maintained his cool aware who was king in the area. Lopez lashed at him some more blaming the board resolution to be the source of a "bombastic" article that appeared in the Manila Standard which allegedly referred to Lopez as "murderer."


Unlike the bodyguards from both sides observing their respective bosses like daycare pupils from the start, some reporters, who were not paying attention either because they were hungry or they thought everything was normal, were now glancing at Suplico and Lopez while the two were swapping heavy words.
"Daw indi na ni maayo haw (It seems everything is not normal anymore)," photographer Cicero Omero whispered to me. "Pamati kamo daw ga binaisay na sila (Listen, they are now having argument)," Sun Star Iloilo reporter Nelson Robles interrupted us. "Relax lang ta. Alert lang" (Just relax and be alert)," contributed the late Panay News photographer Felix Agustin. If one of the bodygaurds pulled the trigger of an automatic firearm, there was no way for us to dodge the bullets as we were in open space and could hardly duck. 
After a tense moment, Suplico turned his back and boarded his vehicle. This decision proved to be the turning point of what would have been a terrible "after shock" of the massacre if both camps had engaged in gunfight. While Team Suplico was speeding away, Lopez's mouth continued to blabber with words not audible to the fleeing entourage.


Over DYFM Bombo Radyo that night, Suplico said he did not have any intention to meet Lopez that day. Suplico decided to leave to avoid trouble, he said, because "I sensed that he was not normal and his eyes were red." Lopez, a political ally of then and now incumbent Gov. Art Defensor, denied Suplico's statement. They have not crossed paths again until Suplico became a colleague and eventually ally of Defensor in the House of Representatives (Suplico will soon reportedly assume as Defensor's provincial administrator).
Then provincial police commander, Supt. Wilfredo Dulay was furious when he heard about the incident. "Mabuti nalang walang nangyari. Naku, dagdag nanaman sana sa sakit ng ulo ko" (Good that no untoward incident had happened. It would have added to my headache)," Dulay said. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Brawl at Governor's Office

By Alex P. Vidal

When two top officials of the old Iloilo provincial capitol transformed the governor's office into a boxing arena, I did not only witness the bloody encounter; the event became my baptism of fire as a boxing referee.
The brawl between then deputy governor Ruben Bermudo and provincial tourism chief Manny Benedicto at around 11 o'clock in the morning on July 3, 1990 exploded while DYRI Radyo Agong reporter Arsenio "Kamlon" Ang and I were doing interview with Vice Governor Robert "Bob" Maroma, then the acting governor.
There were only five of us inside the governor's office present-- Maroma, Bermudo, Benedicto, this writer, and Ang, who had just won a labor case in the Supreme Court against the defunct DYRP "Radyo Tagring."


Even before the interview with Maroma started, we noticed Benedicto and Bermudo, then in their mid-50's, giving each other dagger looks. 
At one moment, Bermudo removed his eyeglasses ala Eddie Garcia to plant a sharp stare at Benedicto, who reciprocated with his own ala Pacquito Diaz look. 
While Maroma was answering our questions, the two disappeared. They silently entered inside the conference room located about four meters away. 
Minutes later, we heard a commotion. 
The noise didn't stop Maroma from talking but our eyes -- Maroma's, Ang's, mine -- were exchanging tacit signals alternately like actors in a silent movie.
When the conference room's divider started to shake violently and two angry voices dishing out unprintables, Maroma stood up and rushed to the scene. 
I grabbed my camera and followed suit. Kamlon scrambled to prepare a tape recorder.


Inside, we saw two gladiators literally holding each other's throats on one hand, and throwing rabbit punches on the other hand. 
The sight was reminiscent of two Tokyo Dome somo wrestlers. 
Blows rained from all angles--a chaotic scene. 
Maroma tried to separate the two but was in awkward position, and could receive one of the flying fists on the face if he forced the issue.  
So determined were the two Capitol bigwigs to maim each other they refused to let go of their grips--Benedicto's shaking fingers came closed to drilling holes on Bermudo's neck; Bermudo locked Benedicto's jaw with a tight Steven Segal grip. 
Both were gasping for breath like sprinters in the 100-meter dash, their false teeth threatening to jump out. 
Maroma lost balance on his second attempt to act as third man in the ring.


Instead of taking photos, I grabbed Benedicto's hand to prevent his fingers from committing cannibalism. 
Having lost much energy, he obliged. 
Bermudo, also fighting for air in his lungs, let go of Benedicto's jaw--but not after leaving some scratches on his skin.
"Tama na ina!" (That's enough)," Maroma, who was himself losing some energy--and patience, shouted while scratching his head in disgust.
When the smoke had cleared, the protagonists could manage to release Mona Lisa-like smiles as if King Kong did not vandalize their mangled faces. 
Either the pain from their violent physical activity did not yet take its toll, or they were ashamed for acting like kindergarten pupils and tried to suppress it.
No arrest was made even as Maroma hinted of slapping the misbehaving officials with administrative cases. 
Kamlon, who hit a jackpot with his tape recorded "eye-witness account", had a field day repeatedly playing the violent episode to friends and politicians, including Bermudo and Benedicto, who just grinned to hide their embarrassment.    


We found out their conflict emanated from the province's preparations for the arrival of the Miss Philippines-Guam in Iloilo that year. 
As tourism boss, Benedicto begrudged Bermudo's decision to bypass his authority and disapprove some items in the budget, among other reasons.
If there was one person so terribly upset and mournful that awful morning, it was neither Benedicto nor Bermudo. 
It was Maroma, whose interview with us had been cut off unceremoniously, thus he failed to deliver an important message to people as news the following day was dominated by the skirmish of his warring subalterns.



IT has been 21 years since our colleague, former News Express editor Teopisto "Pet" Melliza, escaped from would-be abductors by the skin of the teeth one afternoon on July 6, 1990 outside our editorial office at the Immaculate Concepcion Bldg. on Ledesma St., Iloilo City.
Had it not been for staffwriter Fems Pedregosa's cleverness and our presence of mind (we call it "grace under pressure") during the crisis, Atty. Pet Melliza would have been "captured" and God knows what would have happened next.
It was actually a combination of luck, right timing and a little guts on the part of Fems, who bravely faced and confused the pony tailed male visitor we learned later to be one of the hired killers that arrived from Mindanao with task "to abduct the editor of News Express and teach him a lesson (this statement had been confirmed by former Zarraga mayor Orlando Lacson)."


What lesson? Lacson told a small group of "trusted" reporters (he must have trusted me also because I was there) months later in the ballroom of Hotel del Rio that the would-be abductors had been dispatched by a political warlord in the fifth district of Iloilo "in sympathy" with then San Miguel mayor Simeon Suero, who was on warpath with News Express.
According to Lacson, Suero was "fuming mad" when he narrated to the political warlord how News Express had "tarnished my reputation as mayor of San Miguel."  
Suero was referring to a headline story a week before the foiled abduction in the paper's Hiligayon section entitled "Mayor namago, baylehan naputo" (Benefit dance went bankrupt when mayor didn't pay) which he claimed had pictured him in bad light.


Even after Marcos fell and President Tita Cory assumed power, extra judicial killings continued unabated victimizing mostly political activists and community journalists.
Lacson admitted he was privy to the plot as he was present when Suero and the political warlord discussed the abduction. In fact, Lacson didn't oppose the plan, he said, as he also had a score to settle with the newspaper, which had criticized him along with a hard-hitting DYBQ Radyo Budyong anchorman (was it Rani Jangayo?) as protector of illegal gambling in his town.
At this juncture, Jangayo's colleague, the late broadcaster Tony Laniog, who had one drink too many, berated Lacson. "Yots, ano kamo mamatay taga media? Patyanay na lang ta di ho" (So you want to kill us, mediamen? We might as well start killing each other here). Gus Bacabac, a former Capitol official and friend of both Lacson and some mediamen present, pacified Laniog. "Ton, tama na ina. Hinaya lang tingog mo" (Ton, that's enough. Just minimize your voice).


The situation became tense when Lacson stopped talking and turned his back like looking for somebody. One Francis Terania later approached and whispered something to Lacson. Bacabac pointed his finger at Terania and ordered him in a loud voice to "Go out! You are not included here."
Lacson and everyone in the group knew Laniog, then president of Capitol press corps, had a .45 caliber gun tucked in his waist.  The atmosphere was so tension-filled that everyone started leaving as soon as silence beckoned. "Upod lang ta ya pre puli a (I will go with you, buddy)," the late Alex Sumagaysay, a colleague of Laniog and Jangayo, told me. No untoward incident happened. We dispersed at past 1 o'clock in the morning.
Atty. Melliza had nothing to do whatsoever with Suero's supposed agony. It was Fems, in charge of the Hiligaynon page, who wrote the story about the benefit dance after being tipped off by an SK official whose association had hosted the benefit dance. 
In the SK official's allegations, Suero and his bodyguards did not pay when they entered the dance hall. Because many of them were armed, residents who wanted to join the dance, shied away. 


The visitor, who was allowed to go upstairs by printing press workers, was looking for Pet. Fems became suspicious when he refused to give details about his purpose, and did not identify himself. She excused herself from the visitor and whispered to me, "Lex, sugataa to si Pet sa dalum  e kon e nga indi anay magsaka kay diskompiado gid ko sa tawo nga ini (Lex, go wait for Pet downstairs and tell him not to enter our office yet because I don't trust this guy here)."
I went downstairs and saw the visitor's other cohorts some 50 meters away (their vehicle was parked near a barber shop) from the Malones Printing Press. They were restless and looking from one direction to another like fans in a "live" tennis match. 
I went back inside and exited through the back door (going to the now Mary Mart Mall) where I met the unsuspecting editor. "Pet, indi ka anay magsaka kay delikado (Pet, don't go upstairs yet; it's dangerous)," I told the editor. We left the area.
The thugs had to endure about two to three hours waiting for nothing. They left empty handed.
While we were drinking coffee at Central Market several years later, Suero, who was no longer a mayor, confessed to me his knowledge about the issue. "Wara ron to a. Nadala lang ko to sa emosyon ko" (Let's forget everything. I was only then carrried by my emotion).
How many journalists have been murdered in cold blood only because the likes of Suero were "only carried by their emotions?" 
He was weak and limping. He has died.