3rd of four parts: “Line up, line up”
DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 March) – Life seemed better for the trainees after the interception of their written petition to Malacanang and the visit of Col. Eduardo Martelino on March 3, 1968.
Food, a major complaint, had improved, prompting someone to joke that those who died on the electric chair were usually treated to good food. They laughed.
Little did they know they had only a few days to live.
Q: So from March 3, everything seemed okay?
A: Yes. It was happy time. There was singing. Everyone seemed happy. Then March 18 came. At one a.m., a truck of soldiers arrived. Lt. (Eduardo) Batalla came down and Lt. (Eduardo) Nepomuceno. Many wondered why. He said 12 people would leave for Manila and that the plane was waiting.
Q: Did they choose who among you or you volunteered?
A: Everyone was jostling for space. But my group, I told them, let’s be the last. Let the others go first. So they sat down, some went back to sleep. But I wasn’t able to sleep because earlier, I saw the officials by the bonfire, fully armed. I somehow sensed something was wrong.
Q: Fully armed?
A: Yes. All the soldiers. By the bonfire. It was like they were guarding us, ensuring no one would escape.
Q: So 12 left. Was there really a plane or was that a joke?
A: We didn’t know. The airport was far, at the edge of Corregidor towards Manila. I estimate it was approximately three kilometers from where we were.
Q: Those who left on March 3, did they come back?
A: No. They told us the three were waiting for us in Manila.
Q: So that’s how they made it appear. They were waiting for you.
A: Yes. They told us we’d return in Corregidor together.
Q: So it didn’t sound suspicious.
A: No. But I remember that after March 3, the other trainees were wondering. Someone joked that in Muntinlupa, those who were sentenced to die on the electric chair were fed good food. They even slaughtered a goat for us. At 4 a.m. of March 18, the truck returned. The soldiers told us to wake up, they said the plane was waiting. I woke up my groupmates. Let’s go, I said. In one room, there were 24 of us. We were the first to go. Our fellow trainees woke up and dressed up. I was dressed already because of what I saw earlier. There were three of us who were relatives and we talked about our suspicions. When everyone had dressed up, Lt. Batalla and Lt. Nepomuceno told us to hurry up. We boarded the truck, 12 of us Muslims sat together.
Q: Out of 24, 12 were Muslims?
A: Twelve because the firest 12 had left at 1 a.m. But I was surprised because the truck was full, with Ilocano trainees. All of them, except the 12 of us, had guns. We had none. They disarmed us on March 3. But the Ilocano trainees were not disarmed.
Q: Did they explain to you on March 3 whey you were disarmed?
A: They said, ‘why did you do that?’ apparently referring to our petition to Malacanang. They did not tell us directly that they intercepted our letter but I told my companions, they probably intercepted it that’s why they disarmed us.
Q: So they did not tell you why.
A: Kaya sabi ko sa mga kasamahan ko, pero nagsalita kami Taosug para di nila maintindihan, sabi ko, lahat ng Ilocano may armas. Ang mga opisyal may baril. Tayo wala. Simula pagkadisarma sa atin hindi na binalik. Sabi nila baka di na tayo pasundaluhin baka pauwiin na tayo, ganon ang sagot ng iba. Habang nasa truck, nagkwento kwento kami. sige takbo ang truck, pagdating sa Malinta Tunnel yung daanan sa gitna ng bundok, wala pa yang kalsada sa tabi-tabi, dyan dumadaan ang truck sa Malinta Cave, dyan ang daanan, pagdating doon, napakadilim, nalaglag ang magazine ng carbine ng isang Ilocano, nalaglag. Sabi ng tiyuhin ko kasi carbine ang gamit nya. Sabi nya humanda kayo, sabi nya. Bakit? Nagkamali yun, baka kinunan ng safety ang baril nya, ang napindot nya yung magazine kaya nalaglag. Kasi magkatabi yan. Palibhasa baguhan ang trainee saka madilim, yun, iba ang napindot nya. Di, kahit naman sabi ko humanda tayo, wala naman tayong kalaban-laban wala naman tayong dala. Kahit na, sabi nya. So handa. (So I told my companions, but we spoke in Taosug so the others would not understand us, I told them the Ilocanos are armed. The officials are armed. We are not. They did not return our firearms since we were disarmed. Some said ‘maybe they won’t let us become soldiers after all.’ Another said, ‘maybe they will send us home.’ We kept on talking while the truck was moving. When we reached Malinta Tunnel, it was very dark, the magazine of the carbine of an Ilocano trainee fell. My uncle, who used a carbine, said, ‘watch out. He must have made a mistake. The safety lever and the the release catch of the magazine are near each other. The trainee is a rookie so he probably pressed the release catch instead of the safety lever).’ But even if we prepare, I said, we are helpless. We have no weapons. ‘Even then,’ he said. So we prepared.”
Q: So you were prepared for any eventuality.
A: Oo nakahanda kami. Pero handa tumakbo (laughs). Handa umiwas sa away. Pagdating sa may airport, nag-order si Lt. Batalla baba, baba kayo. Bumaba kami tapos nag-ipon-ipon pa kami eh hindi naman part sa training, eh pauwi na, pinag-ipon ipon lang, nag-order si Lt. Abadilla. Tatlo sila roon. Si Abadilla hindi kasama sa truck….Ngayon pag-order ni Abadilla nga line-up, line-up kami. Nagdali dali kami mag lineup kasi mabagsik itong si Abadilla, so lineup. Hindi pa paglagay namin ng bag namin na ganyan, hindi pa kami nakatayo tumakbo na yung mga kasamahan namin doon sa may harapan namin mga kinse metros, bumaligtad sila bigla putok papunta sa amin. Isa na doon umano si Lt. Abadilla. (Yes we were ready. We were ready to run (laughs). We were ready to avoid trouble. When we reached the airport, Lt. Batalla ordered us to disembark. We went down and gathered.. Lt. (Rolando) Abadilla . There were three of them. Abadilla was not with us in the truck. .. When Abadilla ordered us to line up, we lined up. We hurried up because Abadilla was fierce. We put down our bags, we had barely stood up when our companions ahead of us about15 meters away, turned around and fired at us. One of them was Lt. Abadilla.
Q: Can you repeat that?
A: Pagkasabi nya lineup , line up kami. Bigla naming inano mga bag naming, ibaba, hindi pa kami nakatayo. Nakalayao sila mga kinse metros siguro, bumaligtad sila, humarap sila sa amin pagharap, biglang putok. Wala na akong narinig na nakatawag nanay, nakatawag ng Diyos, wala akong narining sa labing-isang kasama ko. .. ako pang-anim sa katapusan, halos kalagitnaan ako eh. Wala akong narinig na nakatawag sa nanay o sa Diyos. Tumba sila lahat. Pagtingin ko kaliwa’t kanan, natumba sila, duguan” (When he said line up, we lined up. We put down our bags. We had barely stood. They were ahead of us about 15 meters away. They turned around, faced us. I didn’t hear anyone call his mother or God. I heard nothing from my 11 companions. I was the sixth, in the middle of the line-up. They all fell When I looked to my left and right, they had all fallen. Bloodied). [Concluded tomorrow]