Wed. Jun 23rd, 2021

By Serafin Ledesma Jr.

No one is going to argue that the Minority Floor Leader, Franklin Drilon, is a doyen in the Philippine Senate. He is an old hand, a guru in some respect and a legal luminary.

I have always voted for him because I believed that with his knowledge and experience, he can help craft and refine legislation whether he belongs to the majority or the minority.

But there are legislative matters which Drilon oftentimes trivialized that sometimes I cannot help but wonder whether he has to speak to prove that his opinion matters and whether he is aware that being so legalese on simple issues he becomes an obstructionist fool.

Take the case of the 13 local bills intended to increase the bed capacity of government hospitals and conversion of some into general hospitals. The bills were sponsored by Senate Committee on Health, Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go.

The approval of the bills and the eventual enactment into laws would substantially upgrade hospitals’ capacity and personnel to effectively address the inadequacies of government health facilities. Any which way you look at it it is for the national good.

The health measures actually underwent deliberations in the lower house and elevated to the Senate from where Sen. Bong Go took over. Drilon made dramatics over it and made it appear that the neophyte senator sat on it. He even assailed the Davao Senator for appealing to the emotion in his sponsorship speech.

But of course. Bong Go, by upbringing and training in government service, is not honed in public debate and intellectualism in the mold of Drilon.

Dabawenyos knew Bong up close. Patently reserved, unassuming despite his closeness to then-Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Unknown to many, this executive assistant is the Mayor’s data bank. He knows what his boss needs and he has everything ready whatever occasion the Mayor will attend to.

Bong is the clearinghouse of all the Mayor’s domestic and international calls. He carries four mobile phones and each call in each phone he handles with dispatch.

So you think it’s a simple clerical job. Far from it. Duterte would always repair to Bong for things he had done and what more are needed. And Bong knows what are the priorities which have to be addressed and who are the people that the Mayor has to meet.

If you see the Senator these days going around the nooks and corners of the country it is simply by force of habit. Whenever calamities hit, he is among the first to respond. A jet ski enthusiast, he rescues flood-stranded victims in the middle of the night. He is among the first to rush to fire scenes and organize relief operations.

From Lingap to Malasakit

When Mayor Duterte established “Lingap” to attend to the needs of indigent patients in Davao City, he made Bong Go in-charged. He knew Bong can deliver. Lingap became a health aid institution in Davao not a few indigent patients from neighboring provinces would later seek Lingap and Bong for assistance.

Bong has a business degree from La Salle. It prepared him to either take up a job in the biggest printing press in Mindanao owned and operated by his grandparents or to help his own family in the construction business.

But Duterte took him in while fresh from college and made him his Executive Assistant starting from his brief stint in Congress, an unwritten contract which lasted to date even as Bong is now Senator.

If Drilon, the doyen, flaunts his mastery of the law and the rules of order in the Senate, Bong Go, the novice, would do his part quietly with no fanfare.

Go’s bill creating Malasakit Centers was patterned after “Lingap” only this time it has all the resources that cater to those in dire need of hospitalization. Malasakit Centers which now total to over a hundred are spread all over the country including Drilon’s turf.

The centers are located in government hospitals and this is why Bong, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, wants those which lacked facilities to be upgraded.

Let’s not forget that the Davao Senator was also chairman of the Sports Committee. One of his acid tests as a senator and a committee chair is the SEA Games in 2019. Again, the doyen questioned the costs of the game’s symbolic cauldron.

Drilon’s posturing was however drowned not only because the Philippines became the overall champion but because the Olympic Committee grade of the sports venues and facilities were of Olympic standards.

And here lies the difference between the doyen and the novice. We salute Drilon for his legal ascendancy we do the same to Bong for quietly bringing the government close to the people who have less in law and means in life.

Between hell and heaven

Life is here! Dabawenyos have this declaration that aptly encapsulates what this southern capital is to its roughly 1.6-million residents.

But let me walk you briefly from where we came from.

From 1979 up to 1984, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New Peoples’ Army headed by the late Romulo Kintanar, were in virtual control of Davao City. Agdao district, which had been referred to as the Nicaragdao of the Philippines, was the main bastion of urban unit of the CPP-NPA.

The slum dwellers of Agdao looked up to the CPP/NPAs as liberators as they liquidate in quick fashion local thugs, robbers, abusive policemen, and barangay officials.  They extorting money from the city businessmen and landed gentry, with impunity, warning them of the death penalty if they refuse to pay “people’s tax”.  

The NPAs reigned and controlled the areas in the rural barangays with about seven battalions, dubbed as guerilla fronts.

In the urban center, police do patrols in platoons or the very least by squads, only during day time. But by nightfall, the NPAs are in virtual control of most of the city proper. Policemen were the most endangered species in Davao.

Just about this time Col. Dionisio Tan-gatue Jr., a new regional commander of the Integrated National Police, assumed office with battle-ready police officer LtCol. Jose Calida, was head of the Metropolitan District Command, the CPP/NPA was relatively lording the city.

Tan-gatue lost no time in coming up with the “Davao Death Squad”, a phantom force used as a counter-propaganda weapon engaging in psychological warfare the dreaded CPP/NPA Special Partisan Unit or “SPARU” liquidation squads or assassins, which have become commonly addressed as “Sparrows”.                            . 

DDS was popularized by an intrepid radio commentator Juan “Jun” Pala an erstwhile communist propagandist who returned to the folds of the law when Tan-gatue assumed command.

The communists, however, did not stop at exacting revolutionary tax from the rich. Their collectors were ordered to start collecting taxes from their mass base. At first, the “donation” of two chupas per month of rice was affordable but when this was raised to a ganta and ₱50 per week it became a heavy burden to the mass base that can hardly eke a living since many businesses had closed.

To instill terror to force the poor to come up with cash and supplies, the Sparrows became brazenly ruthless. 

When collectors came short of tax collection targets, it was customary that the Sparrows would order the residents to gather in basketball courts to witness how they would execute their own men in cold blood.

One night, one such execution of three “erring” tax collectors was to happen. Many of the relatives of the would-be NPA victims, who were slum dwellers and NPAs themselves, however, shot back at the NPA liquidation squads, Agdao became the battleground.

Contrary to the uninformed, Alsa Masa is not a vigilante group. The phenomenal uprising by the NPA’s mass base themselves was dubbed “Alsa Masa”.

That night, the staccato of gunfire and eerie howling of the wounded and the dying could be heard in many places. By daylight, the urban center of Davao City was cleared of NPAs. 

Prior to that gruesome event, Both Tan-gatue and Calida had already calibrated the resentments on the ground against the high-handedness of the NPAs. The Metrodiscom head had secretly recruited valuable assets in Agdao and other NPA lairs. Intelligence network was also established by Tan-gatue.

Finding DDS to be an effective psychological weapon, he added two more: “Christian Soldiers for Democracy” and “Contra Force”.  Jun Pala was the person behind the three phantom forces, that in reality, had no warm bodies.

(Contrary to published claims of Senator Leila de Lima and the oft-repeated fake news of Rappler, Duterte never had anything to do with DDS as he was just an Assistant City Fiscal during that time when the Reds was practically in control of Davao City.)

From reds to drugs

With the NPAs gone, drug and kidnap-for-ransom syndicates started mushrooming in Davao City taking advantage of the divisive and weak leadership during the revolutionary government of Corazon Aquino that started in 1986 with the expulsion of all elected officials under the Marcos regime.

Cory appointed Zafiro Respicio and Rodrigo Roa Duterte as mayor and vice mayor respectively. The two however did not meet eye-to-eye, as under Respicio, corruption of unheard-of magnitude became the order of the day.  

When Aquino finally called for a regular election in 1987, Duterte ran against Respicio and decisively won. The third candidate was Jun Pala who was at the apex of his popularity. Respicio, the anointed candidate of Cory, demanded a recount, but in the process lost even to Pala. 

Immediately, Duterte waged an unrelenting war against all forms of criminality that beset Davao City in and outside of the local government bureaucracy.

His armed fist was fierce to crime, terrorist adventurism, and drug syndicates but hospitable and deliberately protective of those who lived peacefully, loved order and invested in the city’s prosperity.

Davao City, once called the “killing fields” of the communist terrorists never looked back after rising from the red ashes. The grateful populace elected Duterte as mayor for a total of 23 years, practically unopposed. 

Subsequently, the quality of life in Davao City blossomed not only as an ideal to raise future generations but hub of one of the fastest growing highly-urbanized cities in Southeast Asia.

ALSA MASA. The residents in a sitio in Agdao, Davao City cries out “Long live the Alsa Masa” (Masses Arise), at the height of its popularity or notoriety in early 1987(depending on where you were in the political fence). Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte was officer-in-charge of the city at that time and he said: “Any mass movement founded on myth is bound to fail because Duterte said what must be addressed are the roots of the insurgency.” HISTORY IN PHOTOGRAPHS BY RENE B. LUMAWAG

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