But of course it was a rubout.
At the very least, there’s common sense to suggest it. According to those who lived to tell the tale, who were those who made sure their victims did not, their victims started the gunfight. They flagged them down, but instead of stopping the victims tried to ram the barrier with their SUVs while sending a burst of gunfire at them. They fired back, and in the furious exchange killed them all.
Can anything be more idiotic? A group of 13 heavily armed men fires first at those manning a checkpoint and doesn’t get to put down even one of them? And instead ends up being riddled by bullets down to the last man? That happens only in action movies where the villains are duling.
At the very most, there’s evidence to prove it. The victims appeared to have been shot at close range, some right between their eyes. Some of them weren’t even armed, yet were blasted to death just the same. More than that, witnesses saw one of the victims get out of the car, hands raised up, and ask the people manning the checkpoint what the problem was. And got shot when he went back to the SUV for his pains.
No, it was a rubout pure and simple.
The man who got down from the SUV, not quite incidentally, was Tirso “Jun” Lontoc, and his death alone shows the utter obscenity of this mass execution. As has been the wont of the police and military in massacres like this, the victims are depicted as felons who have been preying on the innocent for some time now and whose departure from this earth cannot be a source of grief. That way we won’t look too closely at the manner of their departure: Who cares if they went by way of encounter or execution when we are better off without them anyway? That was so with the rubout of the presumed members of the Kuratong Baleleng, and that is so with the rubout of presumed car thieves that are found slumped on cars, their blood splashed all over the seats.
Lontoc shows what’s so deeply wrong with this. He is now being depicted as a go-between, or conduit, or link between suspected gambling lord, Vic Siman, who was one of the victims, and an unnamed “powerful politician” in Quezon province. The basis of this being the word of equally unnamed sources and of his name apparently appearing in dossiers on people possibly involved in “jueteng.”
It is an accusation that flies in the face of the testimony of some pretty credible people that Lontoc never gave up principle after he gave up arms as a rebel, he merely took up the cause of protecting the environment. Or more specifically protecting Banahaw and its environs from being ravaged by sundry despoilers. Proof of it being his record of having applied himself to that very task over all these years.
Could that have been just a cover for his real engagement as his executioners now allege? Could he have been tempted to lapse into a shady sideline in recent years as his killers now allege? Anything is possible, but as his wife bitterly speaks of Bishop Oscar Cruz who confirms that his name has appeared in his own records of people involved in jueteng: “He is a bishop. He should know that it is not good to accuse anyone without evidence.”
What evidence there is in fact is supplied by people like “running priest” Robert Reyes who says: “(Lontoc) was one of those down-to-earth, passionate environmentalists whom you will not find in an air-conditioned office. He would have given his life to protect the mystical water, timber, wildlife and rich minerals of Mt. Banahaw.” Lontoc’s sister, Belle, herself says, “If it’s true (that he had jueteng connections), his family should now be rich and his children not studying in public schools.”
In fact, if Lontoc is innocent, as we must presume him to be so in the absence of evidence to the contrary, then his death becomes all the more obscene. His being smeared as a jueteng stooge to justify his unjustifiable “salvaging,” or at least make it more palatable to the public adds horrendous insult to lethal injury.
In the end, the rubout could only have owed to two reasons, both of them damnable.
The first is that the ambushers themselves had something to gain or hide: This was a turf war, and the ambushers, or the people who gave them the order to waylay, were party to this war. Jueteng has not prospered for lack of collusion of the generals: That is their bread and butter, making their official salary look like the tip you give the watch-your-car boy. With elections coming up in a few months’ time, that becomes perfectly believable.
The second is that the authorities are trying to send a message to the gambling lords that they are serious about wiping out jueteng from the face of the earth—even if they have to wipe out the gambling lords to do it. It’s a little less believable, premised as it is on the proposition that the generals are now prepared to kill the goose that lays golden eggs. But you grant that is possible, you are still alarmed. You give the police and military that kind of power and they will not be a threat to the gambling lords, they will be a threat to us. They will be a threat to the Jun Lontocs of this world.
If I recall right, even Eliot Ness’ “Untouchables” went by the rules in fighting Al Capone’s moonshine, gambling, and prostitution rackets. They were quite incidentally called “Untouchables” not because they could not be touched by higher-ups when they became abusive but because they could not be touched by those trying to bribe them. They were incorruptible not just in that they did not take money, they were incorruptible in that they did not take shortcuts. In that they did not resort to terror tactics, executions and “salvagings.” In that they did not do rubouts.
Rubouts don’t solve anything. They just make for one very big rub.