Guns-for-hire: Letting slip the ‘dregs’ of war
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2019 - 12:00am

Years ago a speeding bus driver who beat a red light nearly hit my and three other cars and pedestrians. He was improperly in shorts and rubber slippers, and swung a lead pipe at apprehending traffic aides. The address on his driving license and another he gave at the police station were fakes. He was a deadly combination – a dishonorably discharged soldier who became a communist rebel, with persecution complex and no respect for authority. Even the bus owner was afraid to fire him.

In the news last week, a drunken ex-soldier and a surrendered New People’s Army (NPA) rebel went on a shooting spree in Davao del Norte. Their firearms were unlicensed.

Now it’s said that seven suspected murderers-for-hire of Rep. Rodel Batocabe were two ex-NPAs, an ex-militia man from the Civilian Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu), and dismissed Army sergeants. They allegedly comprised the private army of the mayor of Daraga, Albay. Skillful with guns and getaways, their kind is what dirty politicos rely on for muscle.

The Garin father and son mayor and congressman who recently mauled a policeman at their Guimbal, Iloilo, town plaza have armed bodyguards. Some reportedly are ex-policemen. But others could be ex-rebels, as the Garins loudly threatened to have their victim killed by the communist guerrillas.

The National Police vowed to probe that link to anti-government forces. It might as well look into the phenomenon and proliferation of ex-lawmen and ex-rebels joining up as guns-for-hire. The most notoriously ruthless of those were the 105 “personal bodyguards” of the Ampatuan clan who massacred 58 political rivals and media workers in Maguindanao in 2009. Not to forget, the Pentagon bandit gang in Central Mindanao. Both have as members ex-infantrymen and discards of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Armed Forces and National Police have gallant men; the NPA honors its “Red fighters” and the MILF its mujahedin. All also have dregs of war –scalawags – armed and trained to kill for a cause, but turned into lost commands. For a living those deserters turn to the only skill and tools they know, likely stolen from government arsenals.

That’s the story told by ex-Cafgu Edgar Matobato and retired cop Arthur Lascañas. They confessed to dozens of summary executions of suspected criminals and political foes for their Davao Death Squad.

Clearly skillful were the assassins of Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez’s publicist Mike Marasigan in Metro Manila last year, and of businessman Dominic Sytin in Subic Freeport last month. The murders remain unsolved.

When the “riding-in-tandem” modus operandi of hired assassins emerged in the early 2000s, the police immediately should have profiled them. From many eyewitness accounts and few arrests, they turned out to be mostly ex-soldiers and ex-rebels. Today, even if belatedly, the pursuit and locations of such displaced men should be inventoried, if they’re not already in hiding after another murder-for-a-fee. The police would do well to read the 2009-2010 study of Justice Monina Arevalo Zenarosa’s commission on private armed groups.

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It’s all over but the suing at The Medical City board of directors. New chairman Jose Xavier B. Gonzales has been governing for the huge shareholder majority, with new managers raising the morale of doctors. Things are looking up for the premiere hospital in Pasig City. After years of suffering unpaid professional fees because of fouled-up hospital management software, doctors are now able to collect. Shareholders are seeing at last a reorienting of their Guam subsidiary where they’ve lost to past mismanagement P1.8 billion receivables.

But past president Dr. Alran Bengzon is taking legal action at the SEC and regional trial court against Gonzales, his nephew. He questions the majority’s takeover in spite of their years-long management trust agreement. Too, he accuses Gonzales of disloyalty to his wee 0.11-percent bloc in siding with the majority. Gonzales, son of Bengzon’s elder sister, invokes fiduciary responsibility to the corporation and not to any kin. Bengzon sued not only Gonzales. Impleaded as well are the latter’s bedridden octogenarian father (Bengzon’s brother-in-law), and family.

Banking on Bengzon’s reputation as former health minister, the majority had let him run TMC as he wished. But when they bled about P100 million a month in the Guam operation, they started asking questions. From an initial board-approved investment of P11 billion, construction and startup hit P21.6 billion. Inapt billing processes ignored US systems. Yet Bengzon allegedly saw nothing wrong with the way his designee daughter-in-law ran it, so entertained no dissent. It got to a point that he allegedly tried to prevent the annual stockholders meeting.

Insiders began to liken the situation to Nokia when it was a global leader in mobiles, and Apple with its iPhone and Google with its Android OS were gnawing into market shares. Current chair of the much reduced Nokia, Risto Siilismaa, recounts in a book the futility of bringing up then the disruptive threats to their business: “with a sharp-tongued and thin-skinned chairman at the helm, intent on maintaining iron authority, raising questions can be close to mutiny.”

Despite the huge losses in Guam, past chairman Dr. Augusto P. Sarmiento believes The Medical City remains very viable. A co-founder with Bengzon, he was among those who asked Gonzales to take over and fix things.

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Beware of too much social networking: it could lead to psychiatric illnesses, especially among millennials. More and more researches show that, while such online platforms enable self-expression and community-belonging, they also worsen anxiety, depression, sleep-deprivation, bullying, self-obsession, and “FOMO” (fear of missing out). A 2014 study found that “Facebook triggers the same impulsive part of the brain as gambling and substance abuse,” The Economist reports. Conversely, in a survey of 5,208 Americans in 2013-2015, happiness rated highest from good old-fashioned conversations via video-calling apps like FaceTime, 91 percent, and voice calls, 84 percent.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

Gotcha archives on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jarius-Bondoc/1376602159218459, or The STAR website https://www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

GUNS-FOR-HIRE RODEL BATOCABE
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