It pays to always have a calm mind amid difficulties.
This was proven when former Iloilo fifth distirct congressman Rolex Suplico and a team of capitol reporters visited the site of a massacre in Brgy. Mandu-awak, San Dionisio, Iloilo morning on July 16, 1996 and elected to detour from hell — and lived another day!
Suplico, then a member of the provincial board, invited us for an ocular inspection of the area where a carnage that killed six members of two families — Ayusip and Arabe– happened several days earlier (weren’t those 60 journalists also “invited” to cover an event when they were massacred in Ampatuan in 2009?).
The visit came three days after Suplico filed a board resolution condemning the massacre and seeking the appointment of a new town police chief. Suplico said an ocular visit was needed as he wanted to “look deeper” into the grisly crime.
After spending about an hour talking to some residents in the area and inspecting the houses where the crime was committed, we decided to call it a day. On our way going to neighboring Sara town for lunch, we met San Dionisio mayor Peter Paul Lopez and his armed bodyguards.
Lopez had begrudged the board resolution and accused Suplico of trying to implicate him in the massacre. He also believed the reporters were there to “add insult to his injury” as suspected mastermind. Suplico had quipped earlier that “I have no concrete evidence to link Mayor Lopez” but that the whole Mandu-awak area “is being controlled by the Lopezes.” In other words, a bad blood had been brewing between Suplico and Lopez even before the visit.
We were on board two vehicles when Lopez’s team arrived also on two vehicles. Both Lopez and Suplico, who had not been talking to each other for a long time–and if they ever did the discussion was not cordial– greeted each other and shook hands. They talked.
A few moments later, Lopez was heard admonishing Suplico like a master giving a mouthful to an erring servant about the board resolution Suplico had authored. Suplico, a lawyer who spoke professionally, maintained his cool aware who was king in the area. Lopez lashed at him some more blaming the board resolution to be the source of a “bombastic” article that appeared in the Manila Standard which allegedly referred to Lopez as “murderer.”
Unlike the bodyguards from both sides observing their respective bosses like daycare pupils from the start, some reporters, who were not paying attention either because they were hungry or they thought everything was normal, were now glancing at Suplico and Lopez while the two were swapping heavy words.
“Daw indi na ni maayo haw (It seems everything is not normal anymore),” photographer Cicero Omero whispered to me. “Pamati kamo daw ga binaisay na sila (Listen, they are now having argument),” Sun Star Iloilo reporter Nelson Robles interrupted us. “Relax lang ta. Alert lang” (Just relax and be alert),” contributed the late Panay News photographer Felix Agustin. If one of the bodygaurds pulled the trigger of an automatic firearm, there was no way for us to dodge the bullets as we were in open space and could hardly duck.
After a tense moment, Suplico turned his back and boarded his vehicle. This decision proved to be the turning point of what would have been a terrible “after shock” of the massacre if both camps had engaged in gunfight. While Team Suplico was speeding away, Lopez’s mouth continued to blabber with words not audible to the fleeing entourage.
Over DYFM Bombo Radyo that night, Suplico said he did not have any intention to meet Lopez that day. Suplico decided to leave to avoid trouble, he said, because “I sensed that he was not normal and his eyes were red.” Lopez, a political ally of then and now incumbent Gov. Art Defensor, denied Suplico’s statement. They have not crossed paths again until Suplico became a colleague and eventually ally of Defensor in the House of Representatives (Suplico will soon reportedly assume as Defensor’s provincial administrator).
Then provincial police commander, Supt. Wilfredo Dulay was furious when he heard about the incident. “Mabuti nalang walang nangyari. Naku, dagdag nanaman sana sa sakit ng ulo ko” (Good that no untoward incident had happened. It would have added to my headache),” Dulay said.