It has been 21 years since our colleague, former News Express editor Teopisto “Pet” Melliza, escaped from would-be abductors by the skin of the teeth one afternoon on July 6, 1990 outside our editorial office at the Immaculate Concepcion Bldg. on Ledesma St., Iloilo City.
Had it not been for staffwriter Fems Pedregosa’s cleverness and our presence of mind (we call it “grace under pressure”) during the crisis, Atty. Pet Melliza would have been “captured” and God knows what would have happened next.
It was actually a combination of luck, right timing and a little guts on the part of Fems, who bravely faced and confused the pony tailed male visitor we learned later to be one of the hired killers that arrived from Mindanao with task “to abduct the editor of News Express and teach him a lesson (this statement had been confirmed by former Zarraga mayor Orlando Lacson).”
What lesson? Lacson told a small group of “trusted” reporters (he must have trusted me also because I was there) months later in the ballroom of Hotel del Rio that the would-be abductors had been dispatched by a political warlord in the fifth district of Iloilo “in sympathy” with then San Miguel mayor Simeon Suero, who was on warpath with News Express.
According to Lacson, Suero was “fuming mad” when he narrated to the political warlord how News Express had “tarnished my reputation as mayor of San Miguel.”
Suero was referring to a headline story a week before the foiled abduction in the paper’s Hiligayon section entitled “Mayor namago, baylehan naputo” (Benefit dance went bankrupt when mayor didn’t pay) which he claimed had pictured him in bad light.
Even after Marcos fell and President Tita Cory assumed power, extra judicial killings continued unabated victimizing mostly political activists and community journalists.
Lacson admitted he was privy to the plot as he was present when Suero and the political warlord discussed the abduction. In fact, Lacson didn’t oppose the plan, he said, as he also had a score to settle with the newspaper, which had criticized him along with a hard-hitting DYBQ Radyo Budyong anchorman (was it Rani Jangayo?) as protector of illegal gambling in his town.
At this juncture, Jangayo’s colleague, the late broadcaster Tony Laniog, who had one drink too many, berated Lacson. “Yots, ano kamo mamatay taga media? Patyanay na lang ta di ho” (So you want to kill us, mediamen? We might as well start killing each other here). Gus Bacabac, a former Capitol official and friend of both Lacson and some mediamen present, pacified Laniog. “Ton, tama na ina. Hinaya lang tingog mo” (Ton, that’s enough. Just minimize your voice).
The situation became tense when Lacson stopped talking and turned his back like looking for somebody. One Francis Terania later approached and whispered something to Lacson. Bacabac pointed his finger at Terania and ordered him in a loud voice to “Go out! You are not included here.”
Lacson and everyone in the group knew Laniog, then president of Capitol press corps, had a .45 caliber gun tucked in his waist. The atmosphere was so tension-filled that everyone started leaving as soon as silence beckoned. “Upod lang ta ya pre puli a (I will go with you, buddy),” the late Alex Sumagaysay, a colleague of Laniog and Jangayo, told me. No untoward incident happened. We dispersed at past 1 o’clock in the morning.
Atty. Melliza had nothing to do whatsoever with Suero’s supposed agony. It was Fems, in charge of the Hiligaynon page, who wrote the story about the benefit dance after being tipped off by an SK official whose association had hosted the benefit dance.
In the SK official’s allegations, Suero and his bodyguards did not pay when they entered the dance hall. Because many of them were armed, residents who wanted to join the dance, shied away.
The visitor, who was allowed to go upstairs by printing press workers, was looking for Pet. Fems became suspicious when he refused to give details about his purpose, and did not identify himself. She excused herself from the visitor and whispered to me, “Lex, sugataa to si Pet sa dalum e kon e nga indi anay magsaka kay diskompiado gid ko sa tawo nga ini (Lex, go wait for Pet downstairs and tell him not to enter our office yet because I don’t trust this guy here).”
I went downstairs and saw the visitor’s other cohorts some 50 meters away (their vehicle was parked near a barber shop) from the Malones Printing Press. They were restless and looking from one direction to another like fans in a “live” tennis match.
I went back inside and exited through the back door (going to the now Mary Mart Mall) where I met the unsuspecting editor. “Pet, indi ka anay magsaka kay delikado (Pet, don’t go upstairs yet; it’s dangerous),” I told the editor. We left the area.
The thugs had to endure about two to three hours waiting for nothing. They left empty handed.
While we were drinking coffee at Central Market several years later, Suero, who was no longer a mayor, confessed to me his knowledge about the issue. “Wara ron to a. Nadala lang ko to sa emosyon ko” (Let’s forget everything. I was only then carrried by my emotion).
How many journalists have been murdered in cold blood only because the likes of Suero were “only carried by their emotions?”
He was weak and limping. He has died.