Gun barks…muffled moans…in the city of romance suddenly turned into a killing field

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

FROM where I live in a little farm right on Sumulong Highway in Antipolo City, the road going north splits into two, the one to the left toward Marikina, and to the right, Cogeo Village. The area has come to be known as Checkpoint, because it is here that a police checkpoint used to be in place, with an outpost to boot. A road widening in that bend caused the outpost to be relocated, but nonetheless the name Checkpoint stuck and continues to be used to this day.

The stretch of thoroughfare that slopes down to the right used to be known as Lucban Road, but sometime after the dumping in that area of the salvaged bodies of labor leader Rolando Olalia and his driver Leonor Alay-ay in November 1986, the winding passageway that connects upper Antipolo to Marcos Highway in that vicinity, was named Olalia Road.

Evidently the renaming of Lucban into Olalia was made as a tribute to the perceived heroism of Olalia in the Philippine labor movement.

Until last week, the dumping of the salvaged bodies of Olalia and Alay-ay had been the only stigma of death in my environs. For all the prevailing poverty of folks in the informal settlements (squatters’ areas, to be blunt about it), there has never been any serious incidence of violence in the neighborhood.


That Monday two weeks ago foreboded something grave, something grim. Not only was the police chief replaced but also the entire Antipolo police force, which reportedly were all transferred to Dasmariñas, Cavite. In the evening, as I entered the carinderia at the bend to have my supper there, I noticed that the balut vendor who regularly plied his trade beside the Meralco post in front of the place was missing. The carinderia owner, a barangay tanod, informed me that the vendor had been alarmed by news that another balut vendor had been shot dead in Barangay San Isidro, and he feared he might be next. The information was given in jest.

The gun barks that rang in the air the next night in the neighborhood were no laughing matter. My godson informed me the following morning that those shots were what felled a youth right at the corner of Sumulong Highway and Assumption Road (so-called because it leads to the Assumption School half a kilometer away), just opposite my compound. That was when I got the information from him about the swap of posts between the Dasmariñas, Cavite and Antipolo police forces, and that beginning that Monday bodies of alleged drug addicts had been falling all over the city – Sitio Padilla in Barangay de la Paz, Sitios El Dorado and Solid Cement in Barangay San Jose, Francisville in Barangay Mambugan, Sitios Pagrai and Peñafrancia in Barangay Mayamot, the list is long.

Until these incidents happened, I’d been viewing the so-called extra-judicial killings in the Duterte anti-illegal drugs campaign only from a distance, i.e., from media accounts of the carnage. From that perspective, nothing about the issue could affect me with a touch beyond that which concerns detached spectators.

This time, I realize that if this were a storm, I am in the eye of it.

Late afternoon of the following day, another youth fell at the corner of Sumulong Highway and Palos Tangke (a block away from my place, so called because that’s where the Palos Verdes subdivision about three kilometers up the hilly terrain has put up a pumping tower for supplying water to its residents). According to an eyewitness account, the gunman fired a single shot to the temple of a boy, which did not kill him instantly but left him in a convulsive spasm on the sidewalk, so that his legs were folded upwards as he breathed his last.

Just hours after, in the early evening, three blocks away, by the gate of the Bankers Village, two shots felled another victim. This time, the assailant served notice that assassins’ bullets don’t distinguish between the sexes. Sure, the victim was a youth, too, but it was a girl.

I’ve had it, I told myself. Against the advice of my godson for me not to touch on the incident, fearing for my safety, I resolved I could not be a passive onlooker in these killings.

Haven’t I been quoting John Donne after all? From his poem “No Man Is An Island”: “Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

Quite ironic that for the boy who fell that Tuesday evening, the bell cannot even toll. At least, not as yet. So hard up is his family that at this writing, they are still scrounging around for funds to bury him. He has a wife, incidentally, who is heavy with a child.

Similarly, the boy at the Palos Tangke incident may have to wait till kingdom come to be buried, having been the sole breadwinner for himself and his siblings, after being earlier abandoned by their parents.

I refrain from getting too engrossed in this, Antipolo’s only now unfolding genocide. At 76, I can only pine now for those days of vigor and bravado, when I could tackle Metrocom troopers in physical skirmishes. I may still have utter militancy in spirit, but definitely my flesh has regrettably gone, oh, too weak to put up with gun-crazed vigilantes who make no distinction as much between sexes as between young and old.

At the wake of the first boy in this story, his father was seated at a gaming table (put up to raise funds for the funeral) discussing with sympathizers when here comes a gunman already aiming a pistol at him. But the trigger jammed, enabling the father to flee. In the commotion that erupted, the gunman fired again at the fleeing father but missed and hit a woman on the shoulder. The gunman fired another shot, missed again and hit another man in the leg. The father made good his escape. Whereupon the assailants fled in the now-trademark riding-in-tandem manner.

(To be continued)

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