The Waterlogged Files 07
“A Coverup Most Foul”
By Antonio Ma. Nieva
Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 6, 1992 – Twenty-eight days to the eight year of his death by an assassin’s gun, Cesar Cortes Climaco’s ghost haunts the streets of Zamboanga City, restless, troubled by the truth that is denied him to this day in that other bourne.
It is the truth of rank injustice finally redressed, an eye for an eye, if no at least the consuelo of knowing who his murderers were, and who the shadow that gave the go-signal that sent a .45-caliber bullet crashing into his brain, and most important, why.
Military intelligence would know and should be made to tell, if somebody can pry them loose from their amnesia. All of Zamboanga knows but not, it seems, the law. It has an even shorter memory and would rather forget as it has countless other depredations committed by “duly constituted authority.’
Climaco is no more than a lingering private grief today, an oft-jammed, noisy thoroughfare renamed from Guardia National to honor a macho mayor as madcap noisy and endeared to all for being ever the guachinango champion to the underdog while he breathed. For the seekers of justice, Climaco is a heinous murder unsolved, a canker of disturbing questions that government is hesitant to give an ear to, then and now.
He never tired of breathing down on the military for their abuses. He needled them constantly. He broke up their attempt to control the arrastre service, the barter trade. Mainly, he stood up to Marcos.
Gunned down in downtown Zamboanga in broad daylight of Nov. 14, Climaco was made to look like the victim of a vendetta by military investigators who pointed an accusing finger at Pat. Rizal Ali and four others.
It was all too pat. Alih’s elder brother, police Lt. Abdurasal, was killed by airborne troops in a gun-fight that erupted virtually at the doorsteps of the Climaco home in Sta. Maria while the mayor himself was killed near the Alihs’ compound on Gov. Alejo Alvarez Avenue, toward which – so the military said ¾ the gunman was seen escaping.
Nobody believed it, but there was justification enough for the military to start a firefight with Alih and his men, who had to answer for four more dead, three soldiers and a nurse, after the smoke lifted.
Four years later, the court threw out the case against Alih, et al. Lack of evidence, Judge Tibing Asali ruled, allowing Alih to pass into national notoriety soon afterward with the “Battle of Cawa-Cawa.”
If Alih did not kill Climaco, who did? Common knowledge told a military conspiracy to silence Climaco with extreme prejudice, the mayor being punyal in their side, and the Tal Fulanos looked at U-2 and saw Col. Rolando de Guzman, its head and Climaco’s favorite scatologic [sic] target. He was yanked out of Zamboanga and reassigned to Camp Aguinaldo immediately after the Climaco assassination. De Guzman, a Philippine Military Academy graduate, is two years dead and buried (with full military honors) slain only July 10, 1992, by agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in a cocaine buy-bust operation in Manila.
Before he showed up in Zamboanga in 1983 as intelligence chief of the Southern Command, De Guzman, then a major, was linked as a master-mind of the kidnapping of Debora Simon on March 26, 1982, for which a Cotabato businessman, Pablo Mangulabnan, and four others were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment
He was never arraigned, according to the Cotabato newspaper Mindanao Cross, for the simple reason that his military superiors had declared him awol in court.
Brig. Gen. Benjamin Divinagracia attested to it in a letter to Judge Alejandro R. Leopando of Regional Trial Court Branch 13 saying that De Guzman had been “reverted to inactive status effective Dec. 1, 1983,” and had “left the country under an assumed name.”
Two military lawyers --- Colonels Artemio Gumtang and Cesar Nicolas Villanea --- told the court just so when they appeared during arraignment to explain De Guzman’s absence.
All this time, De Guzman was in Zamboanga!
How could officers and gentlemen perjure themselves so callously? How was it possible that then Southcom chief Delfin Castro did not know about it? Is it any wonder that Climaco is turning over in his grave?
It is a cover-up most foul. End
Note: The late Columnist Tony Ma. Nieva, as a young student at the Ateneo de Zamboanga, lived on the same street, Alejo Avarez Ave., where the assassinated mayor was felled with a .45 caliber gun. The very spot where the late Mayor Climaco fell, now marked with a flat bronze plate, a commemorative shrine, was about a kilometer away from his old house.¾Enriquez