Sunday, June 04, 2006


After all these years, I wish I could tell you their real names and true identities. But I have decided to be prudent, for their sake and mine, and keep their identities a secret. The names used are fictitious, but the stories are true.

The Sergeant

I met Sgt. Bert during a business meeting with the Governor of Cotabato. At that time, he was the head of security for the Governor. When he was introduced to me, he was dressed in civilian clothes, was almost good-looking in a rugged way with a steely gaze. One of my associates later whispered to me, “He’s a killer.” and proceeded to tell me a couple of chilling stories about Sgt. Bert.

Sgt. Bert was the Philippine Army equivalent of James Bond, Agent 007. It was not because of his suave conquests of women or his weapon gadgetry. It was because he had a license to kill. He was what I would call a military hit-man.

The next time I saw Sgt. Bert, he was in full military green BDU’s. He had driven into my construction camp, saluted smartly and shook my hand with a warm smile. He said he had grown bored with the security detail, had asked for field duty, and was now head of the army detachment camped about a couple of towns away. I was overjoyed with the news. Technically, he was in charge of the safety of my camp. He was equally happy to be back in his old stomping grounds.

We developed a friendship over the next months. He was a warm, family man, with a folksy sense of humor. He never asked me for anything, except for a company contribution when his daughter was a contestant in a beauty contest at their town fiesta. The way these beauty contests worked, whoever sold the most tickets to the coronation ball won, so it was mostly a monetary, fund-raising contest. I made sure his daughter won by a landslide.

In spite of our busy schedules, we had a few quiet talks together. Over some cold beers, he told me some hair-raising stories.

He confirmed his most talked-about exploit. Alone, he had crept several miles into enemy territory during the night, tracked down his prey, a ruthless Muslim killer and leader of a ruthless band, hacked him in the night, and managed to elude numerous pursuers and get back to camp safely. The chilling exclamation point to this whole exploit was the fact that he brought with him the head of his victim in a canvas sack (sako).

He told me another story of how he liquidated another Muslim rebel leader. This rebel leader somehow trusted Sgt. Bert. Sgt. Bert requested a face-to-face meeting with the Muslim, just between them, at a neutral location. Sgt. Bert described how he and the Muslim sat down on huge rocks, and started talking. Sgt. Bert’s marksman picked off the Muslim from concealment, with one shot.

He confirmed that he had gone out on “Ilaga” sorties, either as a combatant or a trainer. “Ilaga” is an Ilonggo or Visayan word for “rat” and the “Ilagas” were the fierce Christian para-military units who fought against the Muslims. Most of the time, they were led by former soldiers. The regular Philippine Army was routinely accused by Muslims of either training or actually leading or accompanying “Ilaga” units.

Sgt. Bert revealed that there had been several assassination attempts on his life. He recounted to me his closest shave. He had spent most of the day at a “sabong” (cockfight) festival, and was on his way home. He was only armed with a .45 and for footwear, was wearing only slippers.

He was ambushed by two men on either side of the road, one with an Armalite and one with a automatic handgun. He said the guy with the Armalite fired and somehow missed him. Sgt. Bert drew his .45, fired one shot each at the two assailants, and killed them both on the spot.

I do not even remember the last time I saw Sgt. Bert. I believe it was one of those random road checkpoints that he occasionally conducted. Since there were other people and complete strangers on that public road, we only nodded civilly to each other.

I do not know what eventually happened to Sgt. Bert. Within a couple of years, I was living a new life in the United States.

In one of our conversations, I remember asking him if he was afraid of dying, that eventually his old enemies would catch up with him. He shrugged his shoulders and uttered a common fatalistic line, “If that is the will of God.” Then he smiled his folksy smile, and said. “But they will have to be really good to get me.”


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