THE MAN WHO SAVED THE PRESIDENT
Philippine President Simeon Benigno Aquino III was then a 29 year old bachelor (the President is still a bachelor to date) when the coup plotters in a bid to control government attacked Malacanan one bleak day of December, 1989. It was a period of political unrest, of selfish vendetta when the ultra rightists spearheaded by military adventurists assaulted the seat of power; President Cory Aquino was then at the helm. The palace grounds virtually became a target board for the shooting rampage of the soldier rebels and those in the area were veritable sitting ducks.
Bombs and a staccato of shots coming from high powered firearms were fired aimlessly. There were explosions almost everywhere in the compound. Shelling from both camps reenacted a leaf from a segment of a war film. Not in the conventional way though, where cowboys are pitted against Indians, guerillas against the kempetai, katipunan against the guardia civil. The coup was brother soldier against brother soldier. It is blood against own blood. In the mental asylum it is commonplace, it is poking one’s finger into his own eyes.
The Presidential Guard Battalion was holding on its ground while being bombarded with by the rebel camp. One of those PSB personnel was assigned to shadow and shield the youthful Aquino. During the skirmish, the convoy that brought Aquino to proceed to the Palace to support the beleaguered President got hit. The eldest child of the President was grazed by a bullet and shrapnel lodged in his neck area rendering the way he walk with a slight limp. He would have been mortally if not fatally wounded that day had those security detail failed in shielding him with their bodies. The young Aquino was bloodied all over but was safely evacuated. The closest among these personnel was PSG Mariano Contaoe. He positioned himself at the back of the youthful Aquino when they were being attacked. He was able to force his principal to duck and was able to survive the deadly assault.
When the smoke cleared, it was back to normal. At a time when the country was recovering nay recuperating from its economic ills, the coup sent it back to its reeling situation. Billions of dollars of investments flew and the country was nearly surviving in a Neanderthal way. The characters in that play just went back to their former posts, the Filipino people, on the other hand, subsumed into their impoverished background, this time carrying the brunt of their foolish guardians.
Presidential Guard Contaoe’s life deserved a closer look. He was completely forgotten after the bloody incident and like everyone else in the uniformed service; he would be back to the soldier’s barracks to continue with his career as if nothing significant happen.
Contaoe was not an ordinary soldier. He was a gifted marksman. He can shoot and target a hole of a doorknob as bull’s eye several meters away with one look and a bullet. Such a capacity he would be an instant qualifier to be sent abroad for further training in marksmanship. Abroad, he would not stay long as trainee. He would immediately be conscripted by Israel trainors to be their commando tutor in handling firearms. Thereafter he would return back to his country already a confirmed expert, bemedalled in tournaments and a sought after trainor of a dreaded elite unit of Israeli commandoes.
He did not pursue a long period abroad since he wanted to be of service to his country. He asked for leave and went back to the regular officer roster in the military service.
On the day of his homecoming, back in his simple soldier’s cottage, he was however met by his grieving wife. Accordingly, there were a number of fully armed civilians who insisted in claiming the portion of lot where their quarters are situated. Their quarters were situated in an area which the group wanted to clear. There were no notices given but plain orders. The group will not take no for an answer. Their presence meant that those affected, including Contaoe’s family, must have to vacate the area instantly. The sight of fully armed group was enough to sow fear among the affected dwellers that most literally packed their belongings and scampered away.
It was a nerve wracking incident and for the newly arrived soldier, it was a threatening situation. Contaoe consoled his wife that he will beg the authorities to be given a short period within which they could relocate. The wife however discouraged her husband knowing that those armed groups may never take any motion and that they may harm the husband. Contaoe assured his wife that he will use reason since man is a reasonable being in the first place. He patted the wife to relax.
Contaoe went around and sought information from his nervous neighbors and they too discouraged him to meet the group who looked more like thugs and goons than authorities. Contaoe still believed that he could prevail on the authorities for a few more days. For his safety, he went back inside his quarters, tucked two of his favorite Colt caliber 45 for his protection just in case the armed group would turn to violence. To challenge the group was farthest from his mind. He was, after all, a professional instructor in handling weapons and he knew how to deal with such a sensitive situation.
Contaoe asked his neighbors where he could find the group and readily they pointed at the small bistro just around the bend. He slowly entered the canteen, checked the surroundings, surveyed the terrain, and memorized the position of the people having their meals that moment. They all seemed associated with one another except for a middle aged lady who doubled as waitress and cashier. All of those inside, all burly looking with similar greenish shirts with firearms atop their dining table were all ribbing at each other. He noticed that the guns were all cocked. Some of those in the corner had their rifle almost ready and pointed. Their holsters were unzipped and bullets, half way through its containment. They were combat ready and all were exuding a penchant for trouble. As a matter of fact, they were about to move in to precipitate a crisis.
That was the time when Contaoe looking subdued and tame, approached the most senior among those having meals. He was also glancing secretly at the person who was in possession of an automatic rifle because it was the most lethal weapon when push comes to shove. He greeted the older guy and introduced himself as he summoned all the humble words he could express that moment. The old man instead yanked at him. They were in no mood for any soiree, they were tasked to expel people and therefore, they were sworn to act accordingly.
Contaoe felt that he failed even just to express his request. He bowed his head and slowly retraced his steps away to retreat. He might as well report to his superior in the military and use his connection in the hierarchy to bargain a privilege for his community. As he was about to move out from the canteen, he heard three weapons cocked and as he tried to view the position of the armed men using the reflection from the glass windows, he saw the one with a rifle being aimed at him and about to pull the trigger.
Contaoe dived and ducked, drew his two guns, instantly cocked it and sprayed at the armed men, one after another, in quick succession. In less than 5 seconds, yes make it 6 even, all those armed men, some 12 of them grouped in four tables apart from one another was shot individually, a bullet each lodged in between their eyes. All the armed dozen died instantly that day.
Contaoe repaired back home, changed his clothes and embraced the wife; and bided his spouse that he will have to report to headquarters and surrender. He was never given a fair chance by their community tormentors and that he was merely acting in defense of himself.
He was charged for murder, 12 counts. The judiciary in reviewing the facts of the case could not believe that it took seconds for Contaoe to aim and shoot at the victims at a single precise spot in their respective faces. Reality dictates that it may have been committed ordinarily by standing close to each victim and shooting them one long calibrated instance after another; say in a stretch of 15 minutes but never in seconds. The court was not convinced that he was defending himself. He was sentenced to Life Imprisonment for twelve counts. That means, he will have to serve time for 40 years in prison. The prosecution and court drama ended swiftly and Contaoe found himself as a numbered person inside the national penitentiary a few months later. I was the head of the institution that received and reviewed his case. He was a picture of regret and remorse. He never planned anything violent that day. But that was the twist of his fate.
Once upon a time he was the toast abroad by the most highly respected military elite force in the Middle East (if not in the modern world). He was their mentor. Once upon a time he was an esteemed member of an elite force in charge of guarding the First Family. He was a prized, although unheralded, member of a unit that repelled enemy soldiers during a violent coup. But most of all, deep in his heart, although no one not even the beneficiary has recognized it, he was able to save the life of his principal, the eldest child, the only son of then President Cory Aquino and now currently the country’s President.
After serving more than two decades in the penitentiary, he finally was granted his release. He immediately went back to his family in a remote town of Pangasinan, hugged his wife and a daughter he left as a toddler and now coddling her own baby. He was finally back in the arms of his family, that unit he almost lost by offering most of his time in the military service, even offering his life in defense of his superiors. In the free community, the organization he embraced was nowhere, recognition was also elsewhere. It was his loved ones only that took him back notwithstanding his thoughtlessness because of what he felt was a sacrifice to his beloved country and government. The institution he revered so much and those officers he served were nowhere when he left the confines of the penitentiary.
In silence and presently as he leads life in total obscurity, he feels contented that somewhere in time he saved the life of the future (and current) President.