Jun Pala (left) with Leo Palo (right) interviewing an MNLF commander. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ledesma)

DAVAO CITY — The issues surrounding the Davao Death Squad (DDS) and Extra-Judicial Killings (EJKs) had become so convoluted when much of these were farcical and twisted. 

These were in fact used as political black propaganda against the undefeatable Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who, for 23 years ran practically unopposed in various posts he aspired for.

Until recently, the stories surrounding the creation of the DDS and EJKs have been attributed to Pres. Duterte to discredit and demonize him and even brought this myth in the international arena unmindful of the damage on the image of the Philippines among the community of nations.

I did several column items about these two controversial issues that have become the favorite fare of political oppositions, professional street rubble rousers, foreign-funded media organizations and members of the Catholic Clergy.

I have been writing for Sun Star and my own weekend newspaper, the Mindanao Journal.

At certain points I started to entertain doubts that being a community journalist writing from the boondocks of Mindanao, does not or would not matter much to my readers. When my daughter taught me how to use Facebook, I would copy-paste the pieces that I wrote on this platform.

Until recently, I was invited to write a column for the Philippine News Agency. I do get very positive comments and the shares and likes for each item I wrote and posted on FB and this gave me an exhilarating ego massage. This, despite the ugly fact that very so often I am guilty of murdering the English grammar.

Something bothers me though. I have these misgivings on myself that printed words may not be bringing across a credible message especially on the subject that Duterte critics and political opposition have been feasting on. I have decided to come out with this bit of expository writing.

My objective is to bare the facts surrounding the much ballyhooed DDS and EJK in order to disabused the minds of those who still believe that some of the stories and so-called statistics which have been perpetuated and exponentially raised all these years as true were in fact blatant lies. This time I will intersperse my account with pictures and sometime later with video interviews to leave no stone unturned. 

Philippines a murderous country?
I do not care much about the battle of President Duterte against his critics who continue to pillory him for I know he is used to that kind of verbal warfare and black propaganda, but I cannot countenance the prevaricators that do not stop at depicting our country as a murderous place in the world, impervious of the damage they create on our country.

As a community journalist, I witnessed and survived the vicious cycles of martial law era, the reign of terror of the CPP/NPA that followed, the deadly NPA “Sparrows” liquidation squads that ruled over Davao City and the syndicated crimes that emerged in the metropolis when the NPAs lost control of Davao. Forty years had elapsed since the CPP/NPA took root in Davao and were driven out from its urban strongholds.

Politicians and money-making non-government organizations still exploit that nightmarish event and unabashedly used these by creatively twisting the facts to suit their political and economic agenda. I consider it my personal obligation to write about past events not because I can write better than of my peers but I just happened to be there when many of these events happened. I will be brief.

The Davao Death Squad

Let me tackle first the Davao Death Squad issue. In 1979 up to 1984, the Communist Party of the Philippines and New Peoples Army headed by the late Romulo Kintanar, were in virtual control of Davao City. Agdao district, which had been referred to as the Nicaragdao of the Philippines, was the main bastion of urban unit of the CPP-NPA.

On the average, not less than eight people were executed by the NPA hit squads in Davao City alone. The NPAs reigned and controlled the areas in the rural barangays with about seven battalions, dubbed as guerilla fronts. In the urban center, police do patrols in platoons or the very least by squads, only during day time. By nightfall, the NPAs are in virtual control of most of the city proper. Policemen were the most endangered species in Davao.

Jun Pala
A central figure in the spread of communist movement was an anti-government propagandist -- Juan Porras Pala Jr. -- who is known as Jun Pala in his radio program “Operation Tulong” at DXRH which was based in the heartland of Agdao.

A rabid critic of Marcos, he metamorphosed into an NPA propagandist. It was quiet surprising that despite his freewheeling attack on Marcos and as mouthpiece of the CPP/NPA, his program was unhindered. But not until Col. Dionisio Tan-Gatue Jr., a intelligence officer by training, was appointed as Regional Commander of the Integrated National Police for Region 11. Among his first orders was to shut down the program of Jun Pala.

Three weeks without his radio program, Pala was a virtual wreck. He was a member of Medya Dabaw, a press club we organized to protect us from the leftists and rightists. I was President of the club so Pala sought my help. He pleaded to me to accompany him to see Colonel Tan-Gatue. I was obliged.

The meeting took place at the INP headquarters in Camp Catitipan. I introduced Pala to Tan-Gatue. Before I could tell the colonel to reconsider his order, Pala, in his usual rapid talk, harangued Tan-Gatue saying that if he will be allowed to mount his program again, he will do a 180 degree turnabout -- an idea which the good colonel at first frowned at.

“Just be fair, sobra ka naman kasi. Parang kami na ang pinakasamang tao sa buong mundo,” he told Pala. Tan-Gatue then motioned to me to type Pala’s re-instatement suggesting how it will be worded and addressed to the station management.

As I was typing the re-instatement letter on the old Olivetti, I could hear Pala pouring his lament before the chief cop. “Three weeks akong walang trabaho, wala halos makain, ni isa sa mga komunista na yan ay walang lumapit sa akin para tulungan ako (Three weeks I was without job, almost nothing to eat, not one of the communists came to help me.),” he said. Pala said a lot more. Two days after, he was back on the air this time launching verbal assault against his former comrades.

Four days after, Jun Pala showed up at the coffee shop of Maguindanao Hotel, a watering hole of media men in Davao. In whisper, he told me that Colonel Tan-Gatue requested him to announce that a “Davao Death Squad” had been organized to counter the vicious NPA liquidation squads called Sparrows.

I was curious what it was all about so I again accompanied Pala to the INP headquarters. It was there where I learned that DDS was nothing but a phantom force. DDS were ghosts as well as other phantom forces conceptualized by Tan-Gatue to match the many front organizations of the NPAs. It was to scare the NPA sparrows and their mass base as well, he explained. A week later, I heard Pala announcing in is program about another group called “Christian Soldiers for Democracy”.

The third phalanx was the more visible “Contra Force”, this time with Pala himself as the head. His headquarters was located in one of the abandoned stalls at Maderazo Fruit stand. In this venue, Pala received cash donations from various quarters, mostly grateful Chinese businessmen. In retrospect, DDS was actually a successful ghost force. Since its inception, the NPA hit squads had slowed down.


‘Palo-Pala connection’
Pala was not the only anti-communist radio commentator in Davao who was drafted by Tan-Gatue. Leo Palo Jr. – a hard-hitting radioman – ran a program in tandem with Jun Pala. Palo was broadcasting from DXRA while Pala was with DXOW, a new station where he transferred later when he felt he was hunted by his former comrades in Agdao.

The duo linked up on air in a program called “PALO-PALA CONNECTIONS”. The program only ceased when the NPAs staged a lightning ambush on radio stations that was critical of NPA. Leo Palo was murdered in cold blood along with four other fans who were inside the announcer’s booth. Jun Pala’s station was strafed but he survived the attack. The Herbolingo brothers, Joey and Chito, broadcasters of another station, were also hunted but escaped.

Years later Pala landed in the cover page (of the defunct) Asia Week Magazine, for his role in the overthrow of the NPAs, a distinction no Dabawenyos earned in those time. The prestige somehow made him quite heady. (PNA)

(to be continued)