Before Lt. Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV allowed the 11 million votes he received in the last senatorial elections to infect him with delusions of grandeur, he and his band of Magdalo mutineers raised legitimate issues about corruption in the military. Unfortunately, the messenger’s megalomania obscured the message. Fortunately, a day after the Manila Pen farce, Fr. James Reuter wrote an article that refocused the people’s attention on the message, more effectively than Trillanes ever could.
Entitled “Justice at 3 A.M.”, Fr. Reuter wrote about Phillip Andrew Pestaño, a graduate of the Ateneo de Manila High School in 1989, who entered the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), and graduated as an Ensign in the Philippine Navy in 1993, when he was then assigned as cargo master on a Navy ship.
Sometime in 1995, Pestaño discovered (according to Fr. Reuter) that “the cargo being loaded onto his vessel included logs that were cut down illegally, were carried to the ship illegally, and were destined to be sold, illegally… Then there were 50 sacks of flour, which were not flour, but shabu (methamphetamine) - worth billions. Literally, billions ... And there were military weapons which were destined for sale to the Abu Sayyaf.”
As cargo master of the ship, Pestaño refused to approve the illegal cargo despite orders from his superior officers that he do so.
According to Fr. Reuter, “Pestaño’s parents received two phone calls, saying: "Get your son off that ship! He is going to be killed!" When Phillip was given leave at home, his family begged him not to go back. Their efforts at persuasion continued until his last night at home, when Phillip was already in bed.”
”His father came to him and said: "Please, son, resign your commission. Give up your military career. Don't go back. We want you alive. If you go back to that ship, it will be the end of you!" But Phillip said to his father: "Kawawa ang bayan! (Pity the country)" And he went back to the ship.”
”The scheduled trip was very brief - from Cavite to Roxas Boulevard - it usually took only 45 minutes. But on September 27, 1995, it took one hour and a half. When the ship arrived at Roxas Boulevard , Ensign Pestaño was dead.”
Within a day, the Navy ruled that Pestaño had committed suicide because a “suicide note” was found in his cabin. But the note was not in his handwriting and he was an honor student at Ateneo, and engaged to be married in a few months, his family protested.
A Philippine Senate investigation on the Pestaño death was conducted in 1997 on a resolution sponsored by then Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the course of the investigation, witnesses testified that before he died, Pestaño refused to authorize the loading of 14,000 board feet of illegal hardwood logs in Tawi-Tawi even though its governor, Gerry Matba, had a gift for his good friend, Admiral Pio Carranza.
Despite Pestaño’s objections, the logs were off-loaded in Cavite before the ship sailed for Manila in what would normally be a 45 minute trip. The trip lasted more than 1 ½ hours.
After hearing from numerous witnesses, the Senate Report (#800) concluded: “Pestaño did not kill himself aboard the BRP Bacolod City… He was bludgeoned unconscious and then shot to death somewhere else in the vessel. His body was moved and laid on the bed where it was found.”
“The clear absence of blood spatters, bone fragments or other human tissues is physical evidence more eloquent than a hundred witnesses,” the Senate report observed. “It is impossible for a person who has just sustained a fatal head injury to walk from some other place in his room, lie on his bed and drop dead…”
“He was killed by an assailant, necessarily aboard the BRP Bacolod City”, before it docked at the Navy HQ on Roxas Boulevard. The attempt to make it appear Pestano killed himself inside his stateroom was so deliberate and elaborate that one person could not have accomplished it by himself.”
But who killed Pestaño?
In a privilege speech several years later, Sen. Fred Lim, now mayor of Manila, named Lt. Carlito Amoroso (PMA class 1994), a close-in security for Admiral Carranza who was not a crew member of the ship, as the possible gunman.
Sen. Lim also linked Ensign Joselito Colico to the crime as he admitted before the Senate that he removed the magazine from the .45 caliber pistol and wiped off fingerprints. Calico was never charged even with tampering with the evidence.
Lim also spoke of Petty 0fficer (PO2) Zosimo Villanueva who was the officer who tipped Pestaño on the presence of illegal cargo pn the ship, specifically about “the concealed bulk of illegal drugs (hidden) in the more than 20 sacks of rice cargoes aboard the ship,” Lim revealed. A week after Pestaño’s murder, Villanueva was sent on mission where he mysteriously “washed away in a sea mishap”.
There was also Ensign Alvin Parone who was apparently the officer who called Pestaño’s parents to warn them of plans to kill their son. He was also killed, Sen. Lim said, “a victim of another unsolved murder.”
Also missing and presumed dead is Petty Officer (PO3) Fidel Tagaytay who was the duty officer on board Pestaño’s ship. When he was summoned to testify before the senate, he disappeared. His wife, Leonila, has been desperately searching for him, begging the authorities to investigate his disappearance. He is “absent without leave” is all the Navy brass will tell her.
No one has yet been charged with the murders of Pestaño and the other officers who could abide the corruption they witnessed. The whitewash has continued.
Fr. Reuter wrote: “Some military men are killed in battle. They are given a hero's burial. But Phillip died for a much deeper cause - he was trying to preserve the integrity of our Armed Forces. He died out of loyalty to the Philippines, in an effort to keep the oath that he made when he graduated from the Philippine Military Academy.”
”Graft and corruption are the curse of this nation. But when they take root in the heart of our Armed Forces, they threaten our existence as an independent, democratic country.”
Let us all demand JUSTICE for Phillip Pestaño, a genuine Philippine hero.
For more information, log on to www.phillippestano.com.