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Page 2 . . .
November 2009
    Four years after I fled Manila to live in exile in Los Angeles, in June 1989, I went back to the Philippines but did not travel to Zamboanga City as the military officers who ordered me killed in '85 were still very much in power. Sad to say that some even got promoted under the Cory Aquino administration!
     In Manila I met a childhood friend whose father was connected with one of the intelligence units at SouthCom. He informed me that, according to his father, in early 1985 U-2's Col. de Guzman had offered a 30,000 pesos reward to any of his goons who can find me in Manila and kill me. Col. de Guzman was said to be "very, very angry" at me at the time.
      I have no ill feelings against anyone in the military---not today nor in the past. I only did what I was supposed to do. In other words, I was just doing my job as a photojournalist. In my 26 years as a photojournalist I had always been fair with everyone, my articles are balanced and independent from any bias or influences. And, most importantly, I also make sure the stories I wrote were well-documented.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Gathering documents and any related materials for a story was something we at Malaya learned to do religiously since we were working under constant threat of arrest by the Marcos regime. Once my editor rejected a story I wrote simply because I failed to get the middle name of one of the individuals I interviewed that accused the Marcos regime of falsifying official ballots before the 1984 Batasan Pambansa elections. The person I located and interviewed was one of the professional "forgers" who were used by Marcos to sign thousands of ballots weeks before the elections.
   In fact, during my early days at Malaya, I was forced to teach myself photo-
graphy---as evidence and also to support my investigative articles since a few of my editors actually thought I was just making up my stories. This was the only reason why I ended up becoming a photographer as well as a reporter.
      Filipino publishers and editors in North America---from Montreal, New York in the East Coast to Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego in the West---all know who I am because they've read and published so many of my columns and investigative articles and exposes over the years that I've been based in Los Angeles.
I don't know if it will ever be safe for me to go back to Zamboanga today.
I've had so many colleagues in the media who were killed in the line of duty
and I don't wanrt to take any chances because as the popular saying goes...
"isang bala ka lang." (meaning one's life is now worth only the price of a single bullet which is all that's needed for an assassin to snuff one's life out of this world.)

JOHN L. SHINN III Photo Collection
(2009) 25 years later at 49: Older, wiser and still idealistic
I'm 25 years older now at 49, but I still possess much of the idealism I had as
a 23-year old reporter at
Malaya during the darkest days of the Marcos dictator-
ship. These are the three people who had very strongly influenced my life as a
reporter: my grandmother Lurding and my parents, John Jr. and Floramay
Shinn (inset photo).

'You taught me to always be truthful'
By John L. Shinn III
Founder & Editor -in-Chief
L.A. Zamboanga Times
On the evening of Nov. 25, 1984 --- while the Alihs were holed up inside their compound with Col. Guerzon following a bloody one-hour gunbattle with the Philippine Marines that afternoon and a few days before I was to go back to Manila --- my parents talked to me after I had dinner with them at our house on San Jose Road.
       My father asked me if it was really necessary for me to write about the military being behind the mayor's killing. "You must remember, you have younger brothers and sisters---and us---whose lives will be in danger now because of your articles being published by Malaya."
      I told my father that when I was a little kid growing up they taught me to always be honest and truthful. "You sent me to Ateneo and they taught me the same thing: to be honest and truthful."
      "Now that I'm writing the truth, how come I feel like I'm the one who's wrong?" I asked.
       Then I told them that I've talked with some of the local reporters --- childhood friends of mine --- about all of us joining together to write the truth behind the mayor's killing. All of them told me the same thing: that they had families to take care of and that they were scared of the military.
      After listening to what I had to say, my father just looked at me and said:
"If you really believe that this is what you have to do, then we respect your decision."
      I knew exactly how scared my parents were too. Still very clear in their minds was an incident at our house nine months earlier.
      During the first week of January 1984, I was appointed Malaya's corres-
pondent in Zamboanga. That month I wrote a series of articles about a group of military officers who were gambling and losing large amounts of money at the Zamboanga Plaza Hotel casino in Pasonanca.

     The source of the money, I wrote, was questionable since these officers were only supposed to be earning no more than 6,000 pesos a month. One officer, SouthCom's U-2 intelligence chief Colonel Rolando Q. de Guzman, would lose as much as 200,000 pesos one evening. Col. de Guzman  was seen drunk and gambling heavily at the casino al-
most every night. Based on his rank, he should only be earning 6,000 pesos a month in salary.)
      After my articles were published --- and also for security reasons --- I stayed home during the day. If ever I ventured out, I only did so at night in the cover of darkness. I did not take the same route twice and I carried a .45-caliber handgun for protection.
Also, I avoided going to public places. If I did, which was infrequent, I'd sent someone ahead of time to check out the place. Once I get there, I made sure my back was against a wall and an escape route was already in mind in case something comes up.
      I just barely started my career as a journalist and I have already learned that most of the assassinations in the city occured during the day. I was told that the reason for this was to avoid any mistaken identity on the part of the assassins shooting the wrong target or person.
  (A colleague in the media, Piriong Doctor, was shot in the head from behind at close range as he stood on a busy street corner in downtown Zamboanga in mid-1983. The assassin did not even bother to run after shooting Doctor. He simply blended with the crowd still carrying the .45-caliber pistol he used to shoot Doctor wrapped in a newspaper and tucked under his left arm.)
     I had several couriers who did errands for me or deliver my articles to my editor Rolly San Juan at Mindanao Today where I was writing a daily column called "Hearts & Minds."
     Since I specialized in exposing corruption in the military especially at the barter trade, I became a likely candidate for assassination by the military--and some officers, including Col. De Guzman, were candid and brazen enough to let others know they wanted me killed.
"Ta man ugut-ugut gayot sila sa iyo," was how one U-2 agent described the military officers' reactions to my articles.

      On the morning of February 4, 1984, two officers (a Capt. Silva and Capt. Ong) from Southcom's notorious U-2 intelligence command, came to our house and asked to see my parents.
     After introducing themselves, they gathered the whole family and had us all seat on the couch in the living room. Then they warned us: "We want your son to stop writing about our boss, Col. Rolando de Guzman (referring to my casino stories). If he insist  on writing, then the moment he steps out of this house he's dead." We were all stunned, speechless and too scared to even answer.
      That afternoon, my parents decided to send me to Manila for my own safety. A plane ticket with a woman's name on it was bought for me as an extra precaution. When I got to the airport, I was silently whisked away and told to stay put inside the PAL manager's office. When all the passengers had already boarded the flight bound for Manila, I was escorted to the plane by one of my dad's armed bodyguards and a relative who worked at PAL.
      The incident scared the hell out of all of us because everyone in town knew how ruthless U-2's goons/agents are. We knew for a fact because one of them was our neighbor, a guy named Danny Villa.
       Danny will drink heavily with one of my cousins, then he would tell us stories of their (U-2) campaign of terror, killing and extortion. The more intoxicated he became, after consuming enough alcohol to kill a horse, the more he bragged about their illegal activities.
      U-2 agents, goons or thugs are actually "military assets" who do the dirty work for SouthCom's corrupt military officers, particularly Col. de Guzman.      
      These assets---whose names do not appear in the official military payroll---are chosen and picked from the criminal underworld. They are ruthless in every way and also expendable.
      During those days, just mentioning the word "U-2" was enough to send a chill down anyone's spine. A small group of these gun-toting, motorcycle-riding goons is enough to terrorize the entire city of Zamboanga.
     "If we shoot or kill someone, we know that we will never be arrested or prosecuted," Danny once told me and my cousins when we joined him for drinks at his rented place which was located on the first floor of my aunt's house on Calle Carmen. "Kasi order ni boss," he bragged even more.
      Looking back now, I have no regrets for exposing the truth about the military involvement in the murder of Mayor Climaco 25 years ago.
      When I look at my parents and younger siblings today, it's only now that I start to realize the risks I had placed on their lives.
      I feel extremely lucky just to be alive today because I lost count of friends and colleagues in the media in the Philippines who were murdered by the military's ruthless band of thugs.
      I'm ever grateful to my parents, especially, for they allowed me to write what I believed then, as now, was my ultimate duty---as a journalist---to inform the people
of the truth behind Mayor Climaco's brutal murder during those chaotic and dangerous times in Zamboanga City.
      After thanking him for allowing Peter and myself to spend that morning with him touring Abong-Abong, Mayor Climaco commented on the risk I was taking working for a newspaper like Malaya. We both knew that his life was at risk under the Marcos regime and so was mine.      
      Before we said our goodbyes, he said: "Noy, the truth must be told, even if in the process we are arrested, jailed or shot."

     As I recall these events from the past little did I realize then that those words---and the death of Mayor Climaco---would later change the course of my life forever.

Mass at Sta. Maria church before going to City Hall
This was the hearse carrying the mayor's body entering the church in Sta. Maria before proceeding to City Hall. All I saw was a sea of people in all directions and
as far as my eyes can see. I've never seen so many people at any single gathering in the city's history.

Mayor Climaco's body passes through downtown
Thousands of people lined the streets of Zamboanga to view the remains of the
mayor being brought to City Hall from his residence in Sta. Maria for public viewing.

Photo by ROMEO GACAD / Agence France-Presse
'We all know who murdered Mayor Climaco....'
This was the press conference at the Lantaka Hotel called by the military two
days after Climaco's murder. The military, through
SouthCom chief Maj. Gen.
Delfin C. Castro (left), insisted that the Alih brothers (see photo below) were
behind the mayor's murder. That's me on the right. This picture was shot by
Romy Gacad of Agence France-Presse at the exact moment I was saying:
"We all know who murdered Mayor Climaco so what's the point of calling this
press conference?" Notice the reaction of the people around the table while
I was speaking. Second from left, next to Gen. Castro is veteran journalist
Max Enriquez, while next to him to his left, is a reporter from the Washington

AFP's Romy Gacad in action while on assignment
A close friend of mine, Romy Gacad (seen here shooting photos of soldiers
atop a tank guarding the PC Compound in Cawa-Cawa two days after Mayor
Climaco was assassinated) is chief photographer of Agence France-Presse
in Manila. Gacad is the only Filipino photojournalist to be nominated for the
Pulitzer Prize twice: First, was for pictures he took of controversial Canadian runner Ben Johnson during the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the second one
came while he was imbedded with US forces as they invaded Baghdad in

Mourners from all walks of life came to bury Climaco
A soldier (left) watch as mourners from all walks of life trekked the dusty road
in Tumaga as the mayor's body is brought to Abong-Abong to be buried.

Gen. Castro was not involved, but what did he know?
AUTHOR'S NOTE as of APRIL 26, 2013: New witness accounts and evidence that emerged in Los Angeles late last year tells us now that GEN. DELFIN C. CASTRO was so deeply involved in Mayor Cesar Climaco's Nov. 14, 1984 murder.

MARIA CLARA "CALING" LOBREGAT, the mother of current mayor CELSO LOBREGAT, was in fact the "brains" behind Mayor Climaco's murder, the witness told L.A. Zamboanga Times.

SouthCom Chief Maj. Gen. Delfin C. Castro is seen here being questioned by
a three-man panel from the Batasan Pambansa
(composed of Teodulo Nativi-
dad, Romy Jalosjos and Ramon Mitra)
appointed by Pres. Marcos to conduct
an independent inquiry into the mayor's murder. I believe that Gen. Castro had
nothing to do with Climaco's assassination. He may have known who gave the
order, but he was not directly involved. If Gen. Castro knew at that time of a plot
to kill Mayor Climaco by his intelligence chief Col. Rolando Q. de Guzman,
there was nothing he could have done to stop it. Besides, if he was involved in the assassination plot why would Gen. Castro pick Zamboanga to retire from service several years after Climaco's murder? I saw Gen. Castro at the Lantaka Hotel when I visited Zamboanga City in 1995. He was there to attend a Rotary meeting and I invited him to have lunch with me. He joined me at my table but said he had to go to the meeting. During our brief chat I asked him about his son, a captain in the Philippine Marines, who was ambushed and killed in 1994 in San Jose Gusu while on his way to Camp Navarro in Calarian. My sources told me that the young Castro was killed because of his refusal to join other military officers in protecting the drug syndicates operating in the city. The young Castro's killing, like Mayor Climaco's, remains unsolved. When I asked Gen. Castro if he ever wanted to know who killed his son, he said "no" and that he'd rather let the matter rest. Today, I only have my deepest admiration for Gen. Castro for being a gentleman, a good soldier and a good husband and father.

What happened to the report of the three-man panel?
The city's top NBI official and three military officers face the inquiry panel at
the Zamboanga Plaza hotel. From left: Col. Guerzon of Zamdiscom, Mr. Bu-
garin of the NBI, Gen. Castro of SouthCom and Col. Reciña of the Philippine Constabulary.

The Alihs were determined to die to prove they didn't do it
This photo was taken at the height of the gunbattle between the Alih clan and
the Philippine Marines on the afternoon of Nov. 25, 1984 barely two days after
the funeral of Mayor Climaco. The entrance to the Alih compound is the auto
repair shop to the left next to the parked truck. Every time I see this picture
I'm reminded of the movie "Salvador" which starred Gene Hackman and Nick

Peter and I witnessed the murder of this Alih relative
Rizal Alih's brother-in-law (above) was shot in the chest by a U-2 asset pointblank while he was being questioned for being inside the perimeter set
up by the military. I saw this guy walking down the deserted street. One of
the U-2 assets wearing civilian clothes called him and he came over explaining that he lived inside the compound. When he identified himself as Rizal Alih's brother-in-law, the U-2 agent suddenly drew a .45-caliber pistol and shot him once in the chest pointblank. When the gun went off, I ran away. When I came back to the same spot about ten minutes later, the U-2 agent approached me, asked for my name and the newspaper I worked for. After writing down
my information on a piece of paper, he said: "I don't want to read anything
about this incident in the papers tomorrow. If I do I will come and look for you."  In my report that I filed that day, I simply listed the Alih relative as one of the civilian casualties hit by a stray bullet during the firefight.

The Alihs: Outgunned and outpowered
I don't exactly remember how I got to this high vantage point. All I know was
I shot this picture from inside the Semelte compound.
I must have climbed a
tree to get a better shot of the tense moments that followed the ceasefire. As
a photojournalist covering anti-Marcos demonstrations in Manila almost on a
daily basis I've even learned to climb light posts just to get a better shot.

Marines under fire from the Alihs and running for cover
As their comrades-in-arm lay dead or mortally wounded, Philippine Marines
scramble for cover after
finding themselves under heavy fire coming from the
Alih compound  The military later declared a ceasefire to try to retrieve their
dead and wounded using an armored personnel carrier (APC).

Who is this mysterious videographer? A U-2 agent?
To this day, I still wonder who this person (see arrow) was and why he was
there videotaping the entire incident. I was very sure he was not a member of
the media---local or national. I do remember seeing him arrive a few minutes
after Peter and I got there. I now believe he was a U-2 agent since none of his
video footage ever made it to the television outlets in Manila or elsewhere abroad.

Sheila Coronel interviewing Rini Climaco
I found myself joking around and playing with a World War II-vintage Thompson submachine gun belonging to one of the security detail of the Climaco family
while Sheila Coronel  (left) of Panorama magazine was interviewing the late
mayor's son, Rini (right).

The Ninoy Aquino mural that angered the military
This was the mural outside the Boy Scout building in Abong-Abong park that
angered the military command in the city because the city was to play host
to an Asian Boy Scout Jamboree in January 1985. The window above the slain
Ninoy Aquino was where Mayor Climaco stood and shouted "Marcos!" after I
yelled "Ninoy who killed you?" Photo shows my parents with my grandmother
Lurding Shinn who coincidentally was in town visiting from L.A. when Mayor
Climaco was murdered.

L.A. Zamboanga Times was established by Zamboangueño photojournalist John L. Shinn III on October 12, 1986 in Los Angeles.
    In early 1997, while visiting Zamboanga City, Shinn started the L.A. Zam-
boanga Times
Online Edition with the help of JetLink, one of the city's pioneer Internet service provider.

    But upon returning to L.A. two months later, Shinn realized there were only
a handful of Zamboangueños who were online. The project was later scrapped.

    On August 8, 2000, Shinn re-launched the L.A. Zamboanga Times (Internet Edition) and has since had close to 270,000 hits!
    LAZT reflects on the self-taught style of journalism Shinn had developed in the last 25 years on the job. During his younger days, Shinn was known for exposing corruption---whether in the government, police or the military---
including the Nov. 14, 1984 assassination of Zamboanga City Mayor Cesar C. Climaco which was orchestrated by the Philippine military.


COPYRIGHT 2000 | All Rights Reserved | L.A. Zamboanga Times