DAPECOL ARMORY RAID: Lenten Thoughts
THE INFAMOUS DAPECOL ARMORY RAID in ’07: Lenten Thoughts
It was an Easter Sunday, April 7, 2007, a few minutes after midnight. The euphoria of Black Saturday has not faded yet. Dapecol denizens were almost exhausted with a series of religious programs all aimed in the prison camp where some prisoners would impersonate religious icons in the course of observing the daily struggle of the Lord Christ during His Calvary. It was the culmination of a weeklong Lenten season, a celebration, a day of feast equivalent to Christmas, akin almost, that is why the Sunday is also referred to as “Pasko ng Pagkabuhay.”
The religious among the prison personnel requested the prison leadership at that time to be assisted for the construction of a craggy contraption to be used in the traditional “salubungan” where Christian folks would re-enact the appearance of the resurrected Christ with his disciple, especially Mary Magdalene. It was denied. And so, the religious group went through the process of tapping personal resources instead just so their spiritual pledge would be complied with. All were geared and almost prepared for the feast day. Everyone, prison officer, his family and prisoners were all tired but has retained their last ounce of courage, so to speak, on the highlighted day of the season—Easter. But the folks at Dapecol, already informed earlier by the police and military to be on guard, would rather be complacent. If the top guy do not subscribe to such information, then it is merely an innuendo. (The Superintendent at that time even scolded his gate officer, throwing a tantrum even, while being briefed on security concerns, that there is no cause for alarm, and that any restriction could mean trying to disturb the celebratory occasion. The Superintendent at that time had several visitors and assembling the security could rock the air of the holiday.)
At about 1:30 AM, early morning of Easter Sunday, three rented vans parked in front of the main checkpoint gate of Davao Penal Colony and four of its several occupants got off, all of them wearing the prescribed military fatigue uniform, complete with arm bands of Task Force Davao (a special operation group identified with peace keeping in the city of Davao) drawing their long firearms as its barrel trained at the prison guards manning the entryway. Surprised at the sudden appearance of armed men, the duty personnel were dumbfounded. The man inside the first van shouted for the guards to open the gates and access was given. Two of the prison guards were collared and forced to board the second van.
A convoy was held and after a short distance of a kilometre from the gate, the armed group stopped at the prison armory. One of captive guards was brought out to signal his fellow officer in charge of the armory to open the depot. And as soon as the stockroom officer appeared, several hooded persons alighted swiftly from the van and began to break into the arsenal. A couple of quick intervals by the robbers, the entire armoury were literally emptied. Dapecol lost 112 firearms and 1,000 units of M-16 ordnance. Worst, the raiders had with them three custodial personnel as human shield in case there would be resistance.
The Dapecol community was in deep slumber. There were no tell-tale signs of danger although there were badgering instructions for the dapecol leadership to increase their alert status coming from central office headquarters. It was ignored as false alarm. There was no effort for verification and the institutional strength was never calibrated. It was a holiday, a day of festivity although it should be a matter of concern because every holiday is always a declaration of red alert consideration, over in this part of the correctional system, everyone was clueless.
A single shot addressed in the air could have awakened the entire Dapecol from stupor. But there was no firearm available. There was however one personnel who was able to elude the raiders and through his report, Dapecol was jolted to a position of alertness and a report was immediately relayed almost simultaneously to central office and to Dapecol leadership. A good two hours had passed already and the rebels at that time, the daring raiders, were already having their morning coffee and some celebrations. They had anticipated some fireworks in the process, a sort of “salubungan” of forces but none of it materialized. The religious among the prison personnel even made an allusion to the failure of dapecol leadership to support their spiritual salubungan tradition as a curse that triggered the raid.
As it were, after a few surgical minutes, the rebel mission was completed. At exactly five minutes, the convoy would leave the main prison camp, through the vast banana plantation which is within the prison reservation and off to a designated area, in a nearby town where the raiders chose to stop by. They knew that authorities would have been informed already, an officer or a team may have been dispatched for the counter offensive and that there was no more reason to hold on their shields, and so, the prison personnel, the three of them, were left along the hi-way.
In central office Muntinlupa, Metro Manila meanwhile, three hours later, around 3:00 AM, the news would broke out sending a prison leadership scampering for an instant security conference. Central office hated that instance when it would land on front page or even on headlines that the insurgents succeeded in overpowering a national government facility. The trouble should be addressed instantly and save face. But the prison leadership could not imagine anyone, much more so, for the prison leadership to confront personally the issue head on. It was feared that media would be all over the place, down south in Mindanao and like a nightmare, at the doorstep of Muntinlupa. There was one person who can manage the crisis—Supt. Ven Jo Tesoro—but he was placed on the freezer, presumed a non-team player and always subject of anonymous complaints. The prison leadership had no option however and survival dictates to take any medicine, bitter as it was. Tesoro should be dispatched to trouble shoot the incident, deal with the rebels, explain to media the Dapecol predicament, and provide the mattress on which the system should fall.
And the rest is history.
The Bureau of Corrections was never headlined.
The rebels were bombarded out of their comfort zones.
Dapecol’s prestige was restored.