Lim Seng remembered
Early in the morning of Jan. 15, 1973, Lim Seng, a Chinese drug lord, was led out of a military stockade in Camp Crame and brought to a firing range in Fort Bonifacio where he was strapped to a wood pole and blindfolded. Lt. Jose Agawin barked the orders in Filipino—“Handa. (Ready), Sipat (Aim), Putok! (Fire)—that unleashed a volley of gunfire from eight M-1 rifles. In a split second, Lim Seng, was efficiently dispatched by seven .30-cal. bullets that ripped into his chest. I presume one rifle was loaded with blanks so that each member of the firing squad that day could assuage his conscience with the thought that he fired a dud.
Lt. Col. Florentino Marpa, an Armed Forces of the Philippines doctor, approached the slumped body of Lim Seng, which was kept propped up by a black strip of cloth around the chest and a white strip of cloth around the legs. Marpa declared the condemned man dead, and the firing squad returned to quarters without reloading the discharged rifles. After Marpa informed Philippine Constabulary chief, Brig. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos, at 6:06 a.m. that the execution had been completed, Ramos called Malacañang on the phone and said: “It is all over.”
Lim Seng made the evening news and all the front-pages of the newspapers the next day. The blurred black and white photo of the dead man was seared into the memory of the “martial law baby” that I was then. TV and newspapers were then in black and white, so my memory of the dead man was that he wore a white T-shirt and black pants, but news accounts say he actually wore a light blue sport shirt and blue pants. Memory can be faulty and most people at the time believed the propaganda that Lim Seng’s death spelled the end of the drug menace in the country.
However, from the rising number of small-time drug pushers and drug addicts killed at the hands of the authorities these past two months, it seems the war on drugs is like pulling weeds out of a finely manicured garden—the weeds always grow back.
Sometime ago, a short blurry execution video was uploaded on Facebook, which gave Lim Seng a face. Lim Seng, alias “Gan Suo So,” sourced the raw material for his drug business from the Golden Triangle. This was delivered to his suite in the Manila Hotel. His labs were located in rented mansions in Caloocan and other areas in Metro Manila, where morphine was processed and refined into high-grade powdery No. 4 heroin. At one point, Lim Seng was said to produce about 100 kilograms of heroin a month, 90 percent of which was exported to Thailand, Singapore and the US West Coast. Lim Seng allegedly supplied 10 percent of America’s heroin.
Lim Seng owned a restaurant, a printing press, mining interests, and ran other legitimate businesses to cover his illegal activities. Three million pesos worth of heroin seized from his labs in Caloocan and other parts of Manila on Sept. 27, 1972, were used as evidence in a case built by the newly formed Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (Canu) headed by 1Lt. Reynaldo Berroya and 1Lt. Saturnino Domingo, with assistance and training from the then US Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, better known to us today as the US Drug Enforcement Agency or DEA. This historic Canu operation was known as “Oplan Dama de Noche.”
An article in the Times Journal by Teddy Africa and Max Buan Jr. expressed the sentiment at the time: “Death by musketry! This was the price exacted by society at 6 a.m. yesterday from drug manufacturer-merchant Lim Seng, alias Gan Suo So, at the KDR Range in Fort Bonifacio, Rizal. It could have been a costly price, but is the ‘living death’ of more than 350,000 dope addicts not by itself a costly debt to society?”
The same argument can be used to justify the summary execution of drug pushers and drug addicts today. It was rumored at the time that some Makati families formed a vigilante group called “KAP” (Kill a Pusher). Lim Seng was a big fish who was given the benefit of a trial. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. With his connections Lim Seng could buy his way out of serving time, so the newly established martial law government made an example of him. The case was transferred to a military court that sentenced Lim Seng to death by musketry.
Documented in a short film clip is the reading of the death sentence to Lim Seng, who did not appear worried because he did not know much English. To make matters worse, the sentence was read, in machine-gun fashion, by a soldier, who did not know how to pause for commas, periods and paragraph breaks. His heavy regional accent did not help either. Lim Seng only realized the gravity of his situation when the same sentence was explained to him in Filipino.
While the electric chair was still in use in “Muntinglupa” at the time, the choice of death by firing squad stressed that the Philippines was under martial law. Unlike the semiprivate execution by electric chair, which was open to just a small group of people, the Lim Seng execution was witnessed by a curious public of some 5,000 spectators. It was said that more people stood in wait outside the gates of Fort Bonifacio but they could not be accommodated.
Lim Seng should remind us of many things: First, that there might be another solution to the drug menace aside from killing the pushers. Second, that Lim Seng was the first and only drug lord executed by musketry in the 14 years of martial law.
Lim Seng was used in the campaign for law and order that later spiraled into other killings and disappearances that still haunt us decades after martial law.
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