Saturday, February 26, 2011

Game of the Generals

It seems like it's as easy as spinning back the web for folks like Gen. Carlos Garcia, et al, in all that hoopla. After all they hold the aces - cache of guns, third biggest allocated budget in the government, countless men who swore loyalty and obedience without question at their disposal, and skills to plan a game of war as dark and as impenetrable as night. A case in point is this short story that I am about to tell you. It happened to a brother of a good friend of mine. I changed their names in order to protect them.

"Larry, get off here and buy us some cigarettes," Sgt. Garcia, his commanding officer said, as soon as they got to a deserted road. He is seated beside Manuel Chan, a known drug lord and a son of a prominent businessman. They arrested him in a successful raid of his restaurant and was transporting him to their station for booking.

He got off and saw a lady sitting on the sidewalk with a baby on one side of her lap and a wooden box of cigarettes for sale on the other. He remembered promising to take his wife and son out to the mall to shop for gifts. It was two days before Christmas in 1999. He was called back from his night off to cover for a fellow police officer who was reportedly out sick. He would not think of jeopardizing all the hard work that he and his father put through to get him to the police academy.

His father, a farmer in Davao, raised all of his eight children through sheer hard work and no nonsense discipline. He devoted his whole life to making sure his children got what they needed, including university education in Manila. The proudest moment of his life came when Larry graduated on top of his class.

"Larry, hold it there." Sgt. Garcia shouted at him from inside the car. He was on his way back when he saw two other police cars screeched to a halt. He felt something terribly wrong as soon as he saw two men in uniform running towards him with their guns drawn.

"What's the matter?" Larry asked. Before he knew it, he was whisked off into one of the cars.

"Sarge, what is the meaning of this?" He asked his commanding officer, raising both his hands to show him the cuffs around his wrist.

"Don't worry, I will meet you there. They will release you tomorrow morning as soon as this gets sorted out." Sgt Garcia replied. Larry had heard of stories before about "fall guys" in the military. He got sick to his stomach. Still, he counted on his boss to help him out.

The following morning, he found himself in court, alone. Sgt. Garcia was nowhere in sight. SPO2 Larry Lavente could not believe what he heard. "You are being charged with bribery."

Well it turned out that this was not an isolated case. He was one of those listed in a sweeping press release that gave flavor to the career of a general. "Nineteen Metro policemen were arrested on orders of Philippine National Police chief Deputy Director General Panfilo Lacson for allegedly engaging in mulcting activities in Quezon City and ParaƱaque." PhilStar reported on January 6, 2000.

Immediately his family, mostly in Canada, pooled all their resources and hired a lawyer to defend their brother. Little did they know about the speed of justice in our country, if ever it moved at all. The case would go on for years. However, money was of little consequence compared to what their family had to endure because of this.

"How could he go now, I've not even proven to him that I am innocent," he said as he fell on his knees on the concrete floor of the prison's visiting area. He had been in prison for over a year. His father had suffered a heart attack when he learned about the fate of his son. (The possible sentence for a capital crime was death.) His sisters did not want to burden him with the guilt of causing his father's failing health, but now he was dead. They had to let him know.

"It took twenty one days for the court and another set of legal fees to get a pass for our brother to join us in the funeral of our father," my friend said. "The toughest part was seeing my brother cry that way as he was being taken back to prison again after the funeral."

His family never gave up the hope of seeing him freed from jail. After all he was innocent. True enough, a couple of years after that fateful night, President Joseph Estrada was ousted out of office. In no time at all, the officers responsible for this trumped up charges lost their hold. Larry could not believe it when he was released from prison in 2003.

I got a hold of his story from his sister here in Toronto in 2005. He was not yet cleared from all charges at that time. In one of my visits to Manila, I met up with him. I referred him to one of my father's trusted assistants in his former office as Overall Deputy Ombudsman.

Last year, I was pleased to hear that SPO2 Larry Lavente was cleared of all charges and reinstated to his former post. One of a few good men is back in business, after surviving the game of the generals.

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