ON ROBBING BANKS AND FEEDING PEOPLE
“I wanted to give back everything I have to my fellow inmates, they who never had visitors, they who are sick and infirmed, they who are disabled, they who are old already, they who are malnourished. What I have accumulated in my long career in what society believe as crime, I wish to share and if possible spend everything on them, the needy, to them who are referred to as the socially disabled, the prisoners.” Thus spoke, one of public enemy’s dreaded number one gangsters in the early 2000s.
Herbert Colangco, 39, slim of built, soft spoken, youthful looking, without braggadocio, courteous to a fault, is not easy to classify as an offender although if one gets through the transcript of judicial testimonies, he can out rightly be categorized as a monster already, an alien out of this planet, an inhuman and incorrigible felon. In prison, he was a combination of “high risk” and “high profile.” And why not. If police records would be noted, he was the criminal mind behind all daring bank robberies in the country in the first half of 2000s. His gang was so bold and daring that their presence alone literally swept the vaults of all banks in all urban areas nationwide.
“I never had proper education as a child. I never had a chance at all to learn what it takes to read and write. My education was everything the street could offer and it is everything about outsmarting everyone. In my juvenile years, I led small bands of peers outsmarting people in the marketplace, just to make a living, just to make skin and bones stick together. As prime mover however, I never allowed anyone in my group to abuse anybody, much more so permit to hurt or injure even those who are opposed to us. It is not a poster principle for gangsterism but for me, if anyone gets miffed then I am out.”
Law enforcement quickly labeled Colanco group as the principal suspect in every bank robbery everywhere in the countryside. His group was however low key compared to the flamboyance of the dreaded Kuratong Baleleng group of similar persuasion. When this KB group was emaciated through a series of police crackdown, the remaining crew retired back to their province in Mindanao and sought refuge with a budding group headed by Colangco. The merger was called by police intelligence as the birth of the Ozamis Gang. The union of two offensive factions would likewise introduce brutality in the ranks of a subdued and scientifically managed Colanco group. Herbert, on whose surname the group would identify itself, would also be given another reference, “Ampang”, a title given as a label for respect similar to the Ilocano “Apo” or to the Bicolano’s “Manoy.” The differing manner in leading the group with Ampang Colangco insisting on a “no-casualty” policy and the other persuasion that “success includes injuries” eventually weakened the resolve of the gang to pursue its mission. Subsequently, cracks in the solid group would also lead to a series of failures and law enforcement successes in nipping the bud of the gangs. Midway through the 2000s, Ampang Colangco was bagged by law enforcement, charged in court and sentenced accordingly. That literally gave the last nail in the coffin of the so-called Ozamis gang. Remnants of the group, the violent faction, would still wreak havoc on peace and order but the police have the upper hand already. Slowly, the group would be decimated back to zero.
“I have befriended a lot of smart guys during my active years in the gang. I was never one in the first place and I was academically disadvantaged at the start. Hence, I have supported brilliant minds and sent them through scholarship. I have the resources even to extend assistance to principled leaders in some towns. I have nurtured not only friendship but camaraderie, even protection to politicians, military leadership, captains of industry and professionals who in turn would help me start my own commercial ventures above ground. My intention actually is to sustain commerce and from whatever profits or margins to be derived, it will go to charity.”
In prison, he discovered faith. He also realized that in the midst of the prison community are several sectors who are wanting of help—the visitor less, the sick, the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly, hundreds, thousands of them lumped inside the prison camp. He dabbled with programs, sought officers to help him organize a charity movement; implore gangs and its leadership to send their disadvantaged members to his program for nourishment. His business ventures are earning for him millions and these are the resources he would splurge just to help his fledging fellow inmates. It was however an awkward proposition to the prison community which is teeming with intrigues. His effort to his mind may be misinterpreted as power formulation. He sought advice from those in the prison community considered as elders and long timers. From then on, he was properly guided.
“In a small corner of the prison camp, I organized a musical band. I am fond of music. I used to sing. I was actually a frustrated musician before I started to be a gangster. I could revive my interest, draw attention and notice to those who wanted to watch my career in small scale showbiz. I intend to invite the physically disabled to my pocket shows just to have a means for me to replace a makeshift lumber as cane into state of the art aluminum “saklay” or crutches. No sooner paralyzed prisoners would be wheeled to grace my street corner shows. For starters, I would allow the patients to win in games so that I could replace their crude wheel chairs into sparklingly brand-new medical chairs. And because the melody of my weekly shows would draw kibitzers in the prison community, I had the occasion to pursue a feeding program too. That small street corner experimentation would develop into a charity show I would propose as a regular program inspired by the prison leadership.”
Prison intrigues coming from the ranks of various groups seeking attention would be affected by the charity program of Colangco. His shows would be criticized as obnoxious, loud and useless. But countless prisoners are receiving their comeuppance. Not even gangs with its full resources can equate to the resources Colangco was flooding the needy in the prison community. It was seen as a leadership threat, that which might crack open and eventually put demise on the strength of gangs and its hold on its members. Here was a person, seen as Robin Hood, exploiting himself, making himself barren, sacrificing his resources, squeezing his assets dry and sharing it to the prison community and their families.
“I will eventually grow old and in due time would die. I do not wish to be awash with possessions on my death bed. What I have accumulated I wanted to share to those who are disadvantaged and deprived. It is a promise which I never fashioned for my selfish thoughts but precisely as offering to my faith. The universe may have made me bad, so that in the final analysis, I could still save a sector and restore the goodness I crave. I have never wished to be villain for mankind. I only wanted to be of help.”
Colangco was straight face when confronted with the issue of his case on robbing banks. That he was well aware that it was illegal and it was a crime for which he must have to suffer the consequence. He also knew that what he did was a violation of peace and order; and that he ought to pay the price through the loss of freedom and consequent privileges.
“I still maintain a certain purity of purpose. I never allowed anyone, especially ordinary people caught in the cross fire of my activities to get hurt. Once, I learned that a member held up an overseas worker withdrawing a million from a bank, I immediately chastised my crew and forced him to return the money to the victim. Banks are different. You get its money, the next day, the insurance firm replaces it, no one gets hurt. My formula was simple in robbing banks. Overwhelm its security with more armed men and everyone obliges without fire fight. That’s all.”
He is a mainstay in the national penitentiary maximum camp. He is constantly repairing in one corner practicing his timing for a singing number in his show. He is busy designing the stage on which performers will grace their part. He is also checking on his notes and notebook, the resources he must spend so that everyone would be given their due assistance. For him, his every show spells penury for whatever he has saved. He knew that at the end of his singular life, whatever he has possessed would rightfully be enjoyed by the people he wished to have relished it even for once.
He never even dreams of freedom—although he knows that it will come as a blessing. His only desire is for all his resources to be shared evenly to the needy. Here is one wish which would defy criminal proclivity in whatever form.