Camelot’s other side

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

IT TOOK 19 years for a Cebuano ensign, who refused to turn a blind eye at smuggling of hot logs and drugs on a navy vessel, to get justice.

The Court of Appeals Thursday stood pat in its decision that affirmed Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales’s order: Fire 10 Navy officers linked to the 1995 murder of the then 24-year-old Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño.

An Ateneo honor student, Pestano graduated from Philippine Military Academy. He served as cargomaster on RPS Bacolod City. And he refused to load 14,000 board feet of illegal logs, weapons and shabu.


Part of the cargo was a gift of then governor Gerry Matba to Admiral Pio Carranza. “Orders from above” over-ruled Pestaño. DENR certified the logs were inspected in Zamboanga when the boat was already docked in Cavite. The logs vanished but spurious clearances appeared.

In September, Pestaño was shot in his cabin after the ship meandered on an hour-and-a-half trip from Cavite to dock at Roxas Blvd. Normally, that trip takes 25 minutes. Logbook entries vanished.

“Suicide,” ruled the Navy within 24 hours, sans investigation. Nonsense, objected Pestaño’s PMA classmates, who noted absence of powder burns and offered testimony.

Cebuano Ombudsman Aniano Desierto directed the Military Ombudsman: Archive the Pestaño case as the evidence is "patchy." Desierto’s record was so tainted the late senator Lorenzo Tañada refused to address him directly.

Enter the third Cebuano: the late Senate president and former Supreme Court chief justice Marcelo Fernan. From May 5 to September 3, 1997, he led the Committees on Justice and National Defense in eight hearings. Members inspected Pestaño’s cabin.

Pestaño was shot elsewhere in the vessel, Senate Report 800 concluded. “A deliberate attempt” made it appear that Pestaño killed himself inside his stateroom.

Pestaño’s parents, Felipe and Evelyn, gave up on knocking at then Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s door. “She has not agreed to see us.” “Ms. Gutierrez is an Aniano Desierto in skirts,” Inquirer said then. Gutierrez quit when the Lower House impeached her.

Pestaño’s parents sought UN help. In March 2011, the UN Commission on Human Rights wrote the government: Despite denials by authorities, Pestaño was not a suicide but the victim of homicide. “Violation of Ensign Pestaño's right to life and to redress of grievance... is directly attributable to the State in party (Republic of the Philippines)."

“No one has been prosecuted for the crime”--which after 15 years (then)--had been "committed with impunity.” The Philippines should “undertake enforceable remedies...and inform UN “within 180 days.”

Within four months of Pestaño's death, comrades disappeared in mysterious circumstances,” the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva found.

P02 Zosimo Villanueva tipped Pestaño on drugs stashed in 20 sacks of rice aboard the ship.” Villanueva was “lost at sea” but his three companions survived. A bloodied speedboat was found.

PO3 Fidel Tagaytay was BRP Bacolod City's radio operator. He vanished when summoned to testify. Wife Leonila's efforts to trace his whereabouts was brushed off by the claim that Tagaytay was “absent without leave.”

Ensign Alvin Farone contacted Marissa, Pestaño's sister, saying he wanted “to tell what really happened to Philip.” He died before he could do so.
Pestaño, Fernan and Carpio- Morales restore faith in degraded institutions. But from the other side of “Camelot,” alas, there are no complete “happily ever-afterings.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 01, 2014.


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