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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
L.A. Zamboanga Times
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September 4, 1984 (Tuesday)
Ay si Cesar! Ay si Cesar Climaco!
Two months before his death, in early September, I took time off from
my job as a reporter for Malaya, the only national opposition newspaper in
the country at the time. I visited Zamboanga City for a few days to attend
my father's birthday and had the chance to spend an entire morning touring
the city with Mayor Climaco.
I remember when I was younger when Mayor Climaco would come to our house to pick up my grandmother Lurding Shinn, who would be visiting from Los Angeles. I would eagerly wait for the mayor by the gate and as soon as he arrives I would escort him into the house and try to start a conversation with him. He often ignored me as if he didn't even hear me talk to him. I did not interpret his non-reaction as being rude. But, anyway, it didn't matter to me then because just having him in our house was already a cause for excitement for me and the entire household.
Many years later, after I started working for Malaya in Manila---only months after Ninoy Aquino's assassination at the airport---my publisher Joe Burgos would call me to his office now and then to show me letters he received from Mayor Climaco. And always at the end of his letter to the editor, the mayor would write a short paragraph telling Burgos hown much he knew my family, who my grandmother was and that he was proud of me being from Zamboanga and a staffmember of the newspaper.
On that September morning, Mayor Climaco brought us to Abong-Abong,
a park he was developing into a campground, a family park and also a reli-
gious shrine for Catholic devotees. He pointed out to us an area in the park where, he said, he said he planned to build a small village to house the city's homeless.
Our next stop was the Boy Scout building above the park. On the side
of the building was a mural of a dead Ninoy Aquino sprawled on the tarmac. Above him was an even bigger portrait of the slain senator smiling. Mayor Climaco told me he was going inside the building. He told me that when I
see him standing by the window I would, as loud as I can, ask Ninoy: "Ninoy, who killed you?" I did as he had instructed me. The mayor responded by shouting at the top of his voice: "Marcos killed me!" Such was the character
of Cesar Climaco. Whacky at times, but sensible at best.
On our way back to city hall, everywhere we passed children would line
up the streets shouting his name, "Cesar! Cesar! Cesar!" His Toyota was,
perhaps the most recognized vehicle in Zamboanga, no doubt about it.
And it was only then, after witnessing this overwhelming outpouring of
love and respect from the people, that I realized how immensely popular
the Old Man was even among the school children.
During our excursion to Abong-Abong I told him that I was planning to
write my first book and I would like it to be about him so that future generations can study his life---as an inspirational guide to plan their future. He said the idea sounded interesting to him and we agreed to discuss the subject matter again in our next meeting.
A few days later, I returned to Manila and went back to work covering the Manila police beat, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minis-
try of Justice, the National Bureau Investigation and other special assign-
Joe Burgos, my publisher, would ocassionally give me special assignments, most often the dangerous ones because, he said, we had similar writing
styles. "Don't come back in a coffin," became his official joke as I leave his office.
Photo by MON ACASIO / MALAYA A John L. Shinn III Photo Collection
Working in Manila in 1984 as Malaya's 'Messengers of Truth'
I was 23 years old (top photo at left)and full of energy and idealism when
I joined Malaya in Manila in February of 1984. I fled Zamboanga earlier that month after receiving death threats from the military at SouthCom for exposing their corruption activities at the barter trade.
With me in this picture is Noel Bartolome (right), also a Malaya reporter, eating dinner at the newspaper's kitchen in Quezon City sometime in mid-
1984. Noel is now my editor at TODAY, a daily national newspaper in Manila owned by Teddy Boy Locsin for which I'm the Los Angeles-based correspondent.
Majority of the Malaya staffers were much younger than I was. What brought all of us together to work for the newspaper was our idealism and sense of duty to inform the nation of what was really going on at the time
when only a few brave souls were willing to risk their lives to stand up against Marcos and his notorious military machine.
The truth was none of us at Malaya were ever scared of Marcos during those darkest days in our country's history. I suspect it was Marcos who was scared of us because we were willing to die doing our jobs as the nation's messengers of truth.
November 14, 1984 (Wednesday)
'Mayor Climaco Was Shot...'
It was the morning of November 14, at around 11 a.m. when I got an urgent call at home. I was staying with my uncle, Willie Atilano in San Antonio Village in Makati, It was my editor Chuchay Molina-Fernandez. She said: "Boboy, Mayor Climaco was shot about half an hour ago and I think he's dead. I want you to come to the office immediately and bring some extra clothes because I will be sending you to Zamboanga to cover the incident."
That afternoon, in the company of several local and foreign journalists, I arrived in Zamboanga, the hometown I fled reluctantly nine months earlier because of military threats against me. After exiting the arrival area at the airport, I hailed a tricycle and headed straight to the mayor's residence in Sta. Maria.
There I saw thousands of people grieving---from school children to grandmothers, from tricycle drivers to elected officials. Many of them I knew from my childhood days. It then occured to me that I was witnessing history in the making and I was a part of it. In fact, it didn't occur to me until much later on that I was also reporting it for the most widely-read newspaper in the Philippines!
Over the next two days I interviewed dozens of people among them the mayor's widow and his children, friends and relatives. It didn't take me long to piece together the missing links and conclude that the military was behind the mayor's brutal murder. Even his widow, Julpha, said so publicly.
The day after the mayor was killed, then Pres. Ferdinand Marcos sent his Constabulary chief, Lt. Gen. Fidel V. Ramos to Zamboanga to start an investigation. A three-man panel composed of members from the Batasan Pambansa (the Legislative Assembly) headed by Teodulo Natividad and assisted by Ramon Mitra and Romy Jalosjos, was also dispatched to Zamboanga City to conduct an independent inquiry into the murder which by now was already world news.
In my dispatches to Manila since the day of my arrival, I reported that the mayor's family did not believe the military version of the killing: that the Alih brothers, all members of the city's police and Constabulary forces, killed the mayor to avenge the killing of their older brother, police Capt. Abdurazal Alih, who was ambushed at a military checkpoint near the mayor's house a month earlier. The Climacos made it clear they did not believe the Alihs killed the mayor.
The Climaco family even went as far as making public statements about their suspicion that it was the military---not the Alihs---who was behind the mayor's assassination. And that the Alihs were simply being used as 'scape-
goats' to cover up military involvement .
A few days after the popular mayor's death, there were mounting clamor among the people to have the entire top military command at Southern Command (SouthCom) replaced. I wrote an article saying that the Climacos had collected over 50,000 signatures from citiznes demanding the imme-
diate transfer of all top ranking military officers assigned at SouthCom.
The military even sent an emmisary to ask me for a copy of the signatures. I told them I didn't know who had them, but I confirmed seeing a copy of the signatures.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III / LAZT Photo Archive
Gen. Castro viewing Mayor Climaco's remains
I took this photo around 7:30 pm on the day Mayor Climaco was killed when SouthCom chief Maj. Gen. Delfin C. Castro (foreground) and his wife (left)
came to the Climaco residence in Sta. Maria to view the mayor's remains.
At center is Climaco's widow, Julpha. She barely spoke to Gen. Castro even after he offered her his condolences. And, without saying a word, she led
the general and his wife to the coffin to view Climaco's body. It was a very awkward moment to watch.
November 22, 1984 (Thursday)
Zamboanga City's 'Legend' is Laid to Rest
This day Mayor Climaco was laid to rest in Abong-Abong, a large and blissful park overlooking the city and the ocean. More than 200,000 people
---young and old, from all walks of life--- trekked the seven-kilometer distance from City Hall to the park despite the sweltering heat to say their last farewell to the fiesty but gentle and caring mayor they knew all too well. Mayor Climaco was close to their hearts---even the school children could have told you that. The downtown area was almost completely deserted. Zamboanga City became a virtual ghost town that day.
At the park, deployed troops watched the activity from afar. There was no feeling or outburst of anger among the thousands who came this day to pay their last respects to Mayor Climaco---only sorrow and disbelief. The same mayor they once revered as a "Living Legend" is now dead.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III / LAZT Photo Archive
Zamboanga City Became a Virtual Ghost Town The Day
Mayor Cesar Climaco Was Buried At Abong-Abong Park
More than 200,000 people from all walks of life, young and old, trekked
seven kilometers from downtown to Abong-Abong in upper Pasonanca
where Mayor Cesar C. Climaco was finally laid to rest. That day, the city
was nearly deserted and looked like a virtual ghost town. For many, it
was a day they will remember for the rest of their lives.
November 25, 1984 (Sunday)
Sunday Bloody Sunday for the Alih Clan
The day was Nov. 25. The Alihs had just eaten lunch and the kids started to doze off for their afternoon siesta. Many of their relatives, fearing that the military would arrest the Alih brothers, went to the Alih family compound on Camino Nuevo to join them and show their support.
Around 12:45 p.m., I was on a tricycle along Gov. Camins Road (near Edwin Andrews Air Base). I had already planned to go to a friend's house in
St. Ignatius Village to record some music audio tapes.
From a distance I saw a convoy of military armored personnel carriers (APCs), six-by-six trucks and Land Rover jeeps with head-lights on --- all filled with combat-ready Marines --- heading towards Veterans Avenue from Gov. Camins Road.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III / LAZT
The Marines convoy on the way to Alih compound
This was part of the military convoy I saw coming from the direction of Moret Field as they headed toward Veterans Avenue from Governor Camins Avenue. They were on their way to the neighborhood in Camino Nuevo where the Alih compound was located to conduct "zoning operations." This was one of the several pictures I took of the convoy.
Sensing that something was amiss, I told the tricycle driver to race after the convoy. As we reached the area where the Atin-Atin restaurant used to be (this is before reaching the Sta. Cruz market), we suddenly heard a burst of automatic gunfire coming from the direction of the Alih compound in Camino Nuevo.
first in the middle of the street then the sidewalk which was safer.
Instinctively I started taking pictures of what I was witnessing and what was happening in front of me. After finding a good cover I started taking pictures.
to stay out of the line of fire.
The scene was like straight out of a movie production set only this one is for real. I tried to get closer to the shooting and I did.
About an hour later, a ceasefire was called by the military so they could retrieve their dead and wounded. The military then set up a perimeter in the area to keep civilians out and also to prevent the Alihs from escaping.
I saw two or three dead soldiers lying in the middle of the street in front of the entrance to the Alih compound. One of them was a nurse who was seriously injured and was now lying underneath a military medevac jeep. He could have easily bled to death if the ceasefire was not called.
Another soldier laid motionless on his back near the entrance to the Alih compound---his legs twisted in an awkward position. Around his waist was a belt of unspent M-203 ammunition. We later learned that he was one of those who died instantly when the first shots were fired at the Marines by the Alih group.
The soldier apparently accidentally fired the M-203 he was carrying when he got hit. The M-203 shell landed on the roof of one of the grade school classrooms inside the Ateneo campus, a few hundreds yards away. The next day, we went to inspect the damage to the classroom from the roof of the building. Luckily, it was a Sunday and there were no students in class.
Photo by JOHN L. SHINN III / LAZT Photo Archive
Alih-Philippine Marines Shootout: 'Parang sine...'
When the smoke cleared after the one-hour fierce gunbattle between the
Alihs and the Philippine Marines, Camino Nuevo was littered with spent
ammo shells and dead bodies and wounded soldiers. "Parang sine" was
how one bystander described the shootout. The photos I took that day reminded me of the movie "Salvador" which starred James Woods, Gene Hackman and Nick Nolte.
Col. Jesus Guerzon, chief of the Zamboanga District Command (Zam-
discom), a combined local Police-Philippine Constabulary unit and the commanding officer of the Alih brothers, offered to talk the Alihs into surrendering. The military officer in command, a Marines named Major Blanco, allowed Col. Guerzon to go into the compound and negotiate with the Alihs.
Word got out that Col. Guerzon decided to stay inside with the Alihs as he continued to persuade them to give up peacefully. The Marines became agigated when Guerzon's two-way radio battery died. It was already getting dark by then.
Major Blanco immediately drew up a plan on a large piece of paper on
the hood of a military jeep. The Marines will use tanks and two huge am-
phibious vehicles to level the compound. Nightfall was fast approaching
and the Marines were running out of time and didn't seem to know what
to do next.
I was standing near Major Blanco when I heard him discussing his plan with some junior officers at the scene. I interrupted him to say that I visited the compound the day before and saw as many as 40 children in there with ages ranging from six months old to 10 years old.
"Do you want to be responsible for the murders of these children?" I asked the major. He didn't respond to my question. Minutes later, Major Blanco changed his mind and I found out that he called off the plan to assault the Alih compound and instead decided to wait till daybreak.
This was my 11th day covering the Climaco assassination. I have had very little sleep and rest since my arrival from Manila. I was somewhat relieved the Marines did not push through with their plan to assault and level the Alih compound. It would have been a massacre of global magnitude. I went home just as darkness was setting in.
The night went by uneventfully. All was quiet in and outside the Alih compound.
November 26, 1984 (Monday)
The Alih Brothers Surrender Peacefully
Very early on this Monday, the Alihs peacefully surrendered to Col. Guerzon. As I was walking towards the Alih compound I saw a convoy of of several vehicles leaving the area.
The Alihs must have already surrendered, I remember mumbling to myself.
I asked the driver of one of the vehicles that passed by me where they were going and a passenger said they were proceeding to the PC headquarters in Cawa-Cawa.
I climbed and boarded one of the mini buses as it slowed down to pass a military checkpoint.
The ride to the PC headquarters took only about five minutes. There I interviewed Col. Guerzon and the Alih brothers. The children were brought
to the mosque inside the compound. When I went there to check on them I counted a total of 41 children---many of them too young to even know what was going on.
It was during this interview Rizal told me that a group of armed men stopped in front of their compound and sprayed their house with automatic gunfire as they were about to take their siesta since they were almost done eating lunch. Rizal said all the men in their family --- heavily-armed and ready to protect themselves --- jumped from the second floor window of their house when the shooting stopped momentarily.
Seconds later---after recovering from the initial shock of the attack
---the Alihs regrouped, got their guns ready just as the Marines were arriving at the entrance of the compound----probably unaware what happened just seconds before they got there.
When they saw the Marines coming, Rizal said, they opened fire at them thinking this was the same group that fired at them a few minutes earlier.
The Marines arrived at the scene not knowing that a group of U-2 agents came by earlier and peppered the Alih residence with bullets fired from automatic rifles.
The fact that several Marines were killed only showed us how they were caught by surprise by the Alihs. They were not expecting any hostile fire as it was only supposed to be a routine "zoning operation." A zoning operation is when the military cordons off a certain area or neighborhood to conduct
a house-to-house search for unregistered firearms and suspected rebels
and other criminal elements.
If the Alihs shot back at the arriving Marines thinking it was the same group who fired at them earlier, the intended outcome would result in the deaths of many innocent Marines. The Alihs will then be arrested and jailed
to stand trial for multiple murders.
It was indeed an elaborate, well-timed strategy and only one officer
was capable of making such precisioned operation. His name is Col. Rolando
Q. de Guzman, SouthCom's (U-2) intelligence chief.
Once imprisoned, the Alihs will ultimately lose control of several lucrative illegal business activities at the local wharf where Col. de Guzman and his U-2 thugs were also involved in smuggling and extortion activities.
As time went by, it became necessary to get rid of the Alihs and Mayor Climaco who continued to expose many of the military's illegal activities at
the pier involving Col. de Guzman's goons. The presence of the heavily-armed Alih clan asserting their control at the pier often led to near shootouts with
Col. de Guzman's para-military goons.
Driven by greed, his incurable addiction to gambling and his insatiable appetite for young women, Col. de Guzman---the creator of the Monkeys,
a notorious band of renegade soldiers who terrorized farmers in Central Luzon in the '60s and '70s---had carefully planned the Alih and Climaco murders in a desperate move to wrest control of the local wharf from the Alih family.
Once the Alihs and Mayor Climaco were out of the picture, Col. de Guzman and his group of corrupt military officers, will have gained complete control of many of the illegal activities at the pier which generated hundreds and millions of pesos each month in bribe and extortion money.
was a brilliant military strategist who carefully planned the entire scenario starting with the ambush of police Capt. Alih on the night of Oct. 11 near the mayor's residence, to the shooting of Mayor Climaco more than a month later on Nov. 14 just a few steps from the Alih compound and eventually the shoot-
out between the Alihs and the Marines in Camino Nuevo on Nov. 25. Col. De Guzman was already out-of-control that even his superior officer, SouthCom Chief Maj. Gen. Delfin C. Castro, did not want to interfere with any of his criminal activites.
Meanwhile, in Malacañang in Manila, Pres. Marcos and General Fabian
Ver were busy fighting for their own political survival as reports of Marcos'
deteriorating health continued circulating around the nation.
Since Mayor Climaco was one of Marcos' fiercest critics, at first, the
people were inclined to believe SouthCom's version of the killing with the
Alih brothers being the main and only suspects in the case.
And, to make sure they had an airtight story, Col. De Guzman made sure the recruited triggerman was a Muslim. The gunman was then specifically instructed to ran towards the direction of the Alih compound after shooting Climaco---which he did.
Note: I heard stories from several sources over the years that the gun-
man was himself killed by Col. De Guzman's men less than 24 hours later.
After the story of Climaco's assassination broke out and became world news, the nation---and even the people of Zamboanga City, Catholics and Muslims alike---would have likely believed the SouthCom version of the
events that led to Climaco's assassination: that the Alihs were behind the mayor's killing in retaliation for the ambush a month earlier of their older brother, Siasi police chief Capt. Abdurasal K. Alih at a military checkpoint
only a few meters from the mayor's residence in Sta. Maria.
When I started my investigation, I found out that I had to start from
the eve of Fiesta Pilar when Capt. Alih was ambushed. Around past 10
o'clock that night, accompanied only by his driver and one bodyguard,
witnesses saw Capt. Alih arriving at the Zamboanga Plaza Casino in Paso-
About two hours earlier, around 8 p.m., residents in Sta. Maria and Pasonanca---who were hanging out or drinking by the side of the road
leading to Pasonanca---were ordered to disperse or sent home by uni-
formed and heavily-armed military personnel riding in several military
Being from Zamboanga City, I was able to easily locate four witnesses,
from four different locations along the route to Pasonanca who told me
the same story: that they were drinking by the roadside that night when
the military came and ordered them to go home without giving them
any explanation. Even those armed civilian militia members manning
the checkpoint near the mayor's residence---the exact spot where Capt.
Alih was ambushed---were also told to go home. All four said they found
it very peculiar that the military ordered them to disperse and it was
not even 9 p.m. When they learned from news reports the following mor-
ning that Capt. Alih was killed in an ambush at the checkpoint in
Sta. Maria---it was only then they realized that the military was actually
behind Capt. Alih's murder.
Not long after the People Power revolt of February of 1986 forced
Marcos and Gen. Ver and their families to flee to Hawaii, the new
President Corazon Aquino, promoted Col. De Guzman to deputy com-
mander of the Northern Luzon Command (NolCom) based in Pampanga,
the province Col. De Guzman calls home.
Now based in his home turf where in the late 1960s he created and
organized a band of renegade soldiers that became known as the "Mon-
keys"---the group that was eventually used by Marcos to terrorize far-
mers in most of Central Luzon---Col. De Guzman soon enough found
new ways to continue making easy money through his criminal activities.
Clark Air Base and Angeles City became his favorite targets because
of the location of the duty-free shops in Balibago City and the never
ending arrivals of U.S. troops on R&R flying in through the U.S. base.
On July 12, 1990, Col. De Guzman and NolCom's intelligence chief
Maj. Franco Calanog along with a civlian agent Avelino Manguera were
killed in a shootout with a combined Manila police-NBI drug task force
members led by Police Capt. Rey Jaylo at the Magallanes Commercial
Center in Makati. The task force was headed by former police General
Alfredo Lim, who was now national director of the NBI.
The task force was conducting a buy-bust operation when they en-
countered Col. De Guzman. Major Calanog and Manguera. The deal
soured and both sides drew their guns and started firing at each other.
A noted marksman with a .45-caliber pistol, Col. De Guzman and his
two accomplices, were outdrawn and outgunned by Capt. Jaylo and his
team. When it was over, the colonel who lived by the gun---was him-
self gunned down instead. All three of them died inside their car.
Col. De Guzman, it turned out, was trying to sell a task force in-
formant, an American DEA agent, 10 kilos of high-grade China White
heroin worth 230-million pesos.
I later found out that Col. De Guzman was actually set up by the
DEA office in Manila. The 10 kilos of heroin Col. De Guzman was
attempting to sell to Capt. Jaylo and his men was reportedly seized
by Col. De Guzman and Major Calanog in a drug bust in Angeles City
involving an American drug courier working for the DEA agents assigned
in Manila. The heroin as well as $200,000 in cash that were seized were
never turned over by Col. De Guzman and Major Calanog when they
filed their report about the incident. This reportedly angered the DEA
agents who then set the buy-bust meeting between the two groups.
It turns out that Col. De Guzman was a classmate of then Armed
Forces Chief of Staff Renato de Villa, who directed the PC-PNP to inves-
tigate Jaylo and his men.
Disappointed at the turn of events, Jaylo resigned from the police
force in disgust. Forty of his men also resigned with him in a show of
unity and loyalty to Jaylo.
Despite his shady and notorious past, not to mention the reason
why he died, Col. De Guzman was buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani (Cemetery of Heroes) in Manila with full military honors.
November 28, 1984 (Wednesday)
Climaco Knew His Days Were Numbered
On Nov. 28, two weeks after Mayor Climaco was murdered, I returned
to Manila partly because Joe Burgos, my publisher, and my editors feared
for my safety. It was not until I reached the office in Quezon City that same night I learned that our headline story for the next day was bombshell.
Mayor Climaco wrote a letter to Pres. Marcos and Gen. Ramos more
than a month before his death detailing his fears and suspicion of a plot
by the military command in the city to kill him. It turns out Malaya got
hold of a copy of that letter which was the Malaya headline the following
That December, in Manila, I was sought by a friend of my dad's, a
Muslim, who was a SouthCom military asset. He knew my dad (being one
of the pioneer barter traders in Zamboanga City) and, like many Muslims
who did business with him, he had such high respect for my dad.
The U-2 asset left word at Alavar's Seafood restaurant in Quezon City
(then the favorite watering hole of Malaya staffers) to contact him. He
told me that he learned there were six to 8 goons from U-2 who were
sent to Manila to track me down and to assassinate me. After consulting
Joe Burgos, my father agreed that it was best that I left the country imme-
diately. My personal safety was their main concern. I was instructed not
to tell anyone of my dad's plan and decision---not even my younger brothers and sisters knew I would soon be leaving for the United States. For more
than a month, I was in hiding and living in isolation from everyone including
my siblings, friends and relatives---as my visa was being processed. I had simply disappeared from the public radar.
April 3, 1985 (Wednesday)
The day I arrived in Los Angeles
On April 3, 1985, two of my uncle's military aides (both of them captain
in rank), escorted me to the door of Thai Air Ways Flight 745 at the Manila International Aiport. My uncle had instructed them to make sure they see me get on the plane---no matter what. And they really made sure I did board my flight because they accompanied me up to the door of the plane.
A day later, after an overnight stay in Narita, Japan, I arrived in Los Angeles on a self-imposed exile and to start a new life. The rest is history.
JOHN L. SHINN III Photo Collection
Starting A New Life As An 'Exile' in America
This photo was taken the day I arrived in Los Angeles on April 3, 1985 after
I fled the Philippines to live in exile in America. My grandmother, Lurding Shinn, (left) was overjoyed to see me and so were the large Shinn clan in
L.A. From left: my grandmother Lurding, my dad's sister Lilia Lucas, me, Raymond Shinn, my dad's younger brother, and Paely Enriquez, an uncle of mine.
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