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Kawawa ang Bayan

Notebook By Juan L. MercadoBy Juan L. Mercado
MANILA – Is sanctuarized murder emerging in the 12-year-old unsolved killing of Philippine Navy Ensign Phillip Andrew Pestano, as witnesses are now vanishing, one after another?

Pestano was an honor student in both Ateneo and the Philippine Military Academy (Class 1993). He was only 23 and was engaged to be married, when found shot in his cabin, on the logistics ship BRP Bacolod City in September 1995. The ship meandered on a bizarre hour-and-a-half trip from Cavite to Navy Headquarters on Roxas Boulevard. Normally that trip takes 25 minutes. Logbook entries, on this trip, disappeared.

Within that same day, the Navy ruled, sans investigation, that the cargo master had committed suicide. Basis? A suicide note found in his cabin.

Nonsense, objected Pestaos PMA classmates, who pointed out the different handwriting, stilted language and absence of powder burns.

After the National Bureau of Investigation and the military ombudsman waffled, they wrote then Senate President Marcelo Fernan, documenting how Pestano blew the whistle on Navy ships hijacked for smuggling.

Pestano, for example, refused to authorize loading of 14,000 board feet of illegal hardwood logs in Tawi-Tawi. Part of the cargo was a gift of the governor (Gerry Matba) to his long-time friend, Navy flag officer in command Adm. Pio Carranza.”
Orders from above overruled Pestano. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources certified the logs were inspected in Zamboanga on Sept 25. Yet, the boat, commanded by Capt. Ricardo Ordonez and executive officer Lt. Ruben Roque, docked in Cavite that day. The logs promptly vanished, but spurious clearances appeared.

Pestanos zero tolerance for abuse, including peddling of high-powered weapons to rebels and of ship bunker fuel, spelled danger.
Pestanos parents pleaded with him to resign: Dont go back. Weve received phone calls. Theyll kill you.” His reply was: Kawawa ang bayan [Pity the country"].

Senate Report No. 800 dismissed both Navy and NBI whitewash with blunt findings. Pestano did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City… He was bludgeoned unconscious and then shot to death somewhere else in the vessel. His body was moved and laid on the bed where it was found.

The clear absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other human tissues is physical evidence more eloquent than a hundred witnesses. It is impossible for a person who has just sustained a fatal head injury to walk from some other place in his room, lie on his bed and drop dead.”

He was killed by an assailant, necessarily aboard the BRP Bacolod City,” before it docked at the Navy Headquarters, the Senate report said. The attempt to make it appear Pestao killed himself, inside his stateroom, was so deliberate and elaborate that one person could not have accomplished it by himself.”

Then who did? Lt. (jg) Carlito Amoroso (PMA Class 1994) who moonlighted as close-in security for Carranza? Strong evidence linked him to the crime as the possible gunman,” Sen. Fred Lim declared in a privilege speech last year. Amoroso was not a crewmember. Was he riding shotgun for those controversial logs earlier? And drugs?

Amoroso became scarce since then. Did he resign? Or has he been tucked into a low-profile post? The Navy isnt keen on locating him, much less asking him questions. To date, as like the others, (Amoroso) got off scot-free,” Lim fumed.
Ensign Joselito Colico? He admitted before the Senate that he removed the magazine from the .45-caliber pistol and wiped off fingerprints.

This tampered with evidence, Lim protested. Why was Colico not even charged administratively? No answer.

Then, there was PO2 Zosimo Villanueva. Was is past tense. This officer tipped Pestano on illegal cargo, specifically about the concealed bulk of illegal drugs (hidden) in the more than 20 sacks of rice cargoes aboard the ship,” Lim revealed. A week after Pestanos murder, Villanueva was sent on mission with three other companions. They were allegedly washed away in a sea mishap. All were miraculously rescued except Villanueva.” Only a bloodstained speedboat was found.

Ensign Alvin Parone knew who were involved in the Mafia-style operations. He was scheduled to spill the beans to Pestanos parents.

Killers apparently got to him first. He was also a victim of an unsolved murder,” Lim said.
PO3 Fidel Tagaytay happened to be manning BRP Bacolod Citys radio when Pestano was murdered. Alam ko po marami siyang alam kasi siya ang duty operator, (I know he knew a lot because he was duty operator), his wife Leonila wrote to then Defense Secretary Avelino Cruz.

Is Tagaytay also past tense? He vanished when summoned to testify. Leonilas efforts to trace his whereabouts were brushed off by the bland claim that Tagaytay is absent without leave. Is the radio operator then a desaparecido, like activist Jonas Burgos? Leonila feels the same anguish as Edita Burgos, Jonas mother.

Its a waste of time to investigate further, the notorious Ombudsman Aniano Desierto told Pestanos parents, Felipe and Evelyn. Corruption had sanctuarized murder. Impunity saw to that.

There is, however, a special viciousness when treachery masquerades in the same uniform and comrades in arms become the unseen foes,” Lim noted. It devours the countrys brightest, bravest and best, like Ensign Phillip Andrew Pestano.
Kawawa ang bayan.

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