In this interview, Whisky discusses his experiences as a student activist-turned-spy for the military, then as an army ranger sniper, his committing summary killings, and his subsequent conviction for his crimes, imprisonment, and release.
Born in the 1950s to anti-Japanese spies who served in WWII, Whisky avoids discussing his childhood and personal life, beginning his recollections from the late 1960s, when the Marcos administration rose to power. He was then a student in Cagayan de Oro City, at a time when leftist organizations were aggressively recruiting students. Whisky too, was recruited into the Samahan ng Demokratiko ng Kabataang (SDK), which was inspired by Mao and Castro, without fully understanding its ideologies and motives.
He worked as a student propagandist, vandalizing campus property and distributing pamphlets at Xavier University. When the Marcos government cracked down on student activism under Martial Law from 1972, he was promptly arrested and identified, given his father’s previous military career. He was then offered an opportunity to be released back into the student organization to serve as a government spy, which he initially declined. However, he accepted the offer after his father personally convinced him, and when the military agreed to employ him as a ranger in future. Until 1975, he served as a Deep Penetration Agent, providing intelligence on leftist activism in the mountains to the military, which led to the killing of almost 700 suspects. Before leaving his post, he trained replacement agents to carry on his duties, which allowed the military to take control of the zone with few casualties.
He was then formally trained as an army Ranger and special forces operative, to serve as a sniper and bomb disposal expert. He was then deployed to various urban, rural and mountainous conflict zones in Mindanao, where he fought Moro secessionists and defused improvised explosives. Outside of active combat, he was also placed on paramilitary duties to provide security to politicians. Whisky recalls that the soldiers could trust nobody in Mindanao, not even their own colleagues, as there were also Muslim soldiers within their ranks. He notes that the Muslim community had various reasons for supporting Moro secessionists, including genuine faith in Islam, or being orphaned or kidnapped and raised by Muslim rebels. Of these, he observed that the ex-Christians who converted to Islam were the most dangerous opponents, as they were more violent in an attempt to demonstrate their commitment to their new faith. The military also had the support of the Christian fundamentalist group ILAGA, and upon its disbandment, the most competent members were absorbed into the military.
He then briefly reflects on each Philippine President’s performance regarding conflict in Mindanao, favoring Duterte’s approach of extrajudicial killings; which he attributes to his own experience as a soldier, when he had to torture or kill suspected enemies to ensure peace. However, he was eventually accused of 67 counts of gross human rights violations (some of which he successfully disputed by covering his tracks), convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the 2000s. He was eventually granted clemency and released by President Duterte.
Yet, he is still haunted by the memories of his past actions and the victims civilians he executed. A particularly traumatic episode for him is recalling when he summarily killed his own subordinate for raping a civilian during his military career. Today, he teaches his grandchildren to choose differently than he did, and tries to live righteously. Yet, as a God-fearing Christian, he fears that he will have to answer for his sins.
Interviewer and Writer: Kisho Tsuchiya
Date: August 2019
Location: Cagayan de Oro City
My family originated from IloIlo and later settled in Northern Mindanao. My parents were spies during the World War II, staying with the Japanese military personnel, and leaked organizational information to the pro-American guerrillas. After the Independence of the Philippines, my father became a military man, and served for the national air force.
I was born in Northern Mindanao in the 1950s. During my youth, I was with the Boy Scouts. The scout leaders taught me basic techniques of outdoor activities and discipline which shaped my personality. I hope that the government will reactivate the Boy Scouts again because nowadays children don’t know these basic things. I was also a “bad boy.” I am a man of only one woman who is my wife. I love her. But I don’t want to talk much about my early life and private issues.
Instead of narrating my entire life, I want to start my story from the late 1960s, or the early Marcos time. That time, I was a student in Cagayan de Oro City. I saw that the city’s landscape was quickly transformed; a new highway, bridges, and buildings were built. Also, I observed that there were colonial behaviors among the people. Originally, this city’s name was not “Cagayan de Oro City”, but “Kagayaan,” which means “a place with the river.” It was only after the “independence”, that they renamed it into “Cagayan de Oro City”, a name influenced by the Spanish and Americans. During Marcos’ time, the new highway was named as “Claro M. Recto Highway.” Rapid changes.
In 1971, under the leadership of Monte Berhen Tigolo (teacher at Loudes College), some people organized leftist groups in Northern Mindanao’s higher educational institutes such as Xavier University, Loudes College, the Peldrim Institute, the Cathedral High School, and the Cagayan de Oro College. Other activist leaders were Mariam Pocray (teacher at Loudes College), Matano (a “Sparrow” leader). Berhen was the one who convinced students to join the leftist groups during the rallies. Madros (a guerrilla leader). Matano also formed women’s Sparrow and men’s Sparrow that operated in urban areas and collected the “revolutionary tax.” If you couldn’t pay the revolutionary tax, they would kill you.
In August that year, the leftists bombed the Plaza Miranda in Manila, and damaged more than 90 people. There were a lot of student movements nationwide. To counter this, President Marcos declared the martial law in September 1972. President Marcos then formed a new intelligence team to identify “Commander Dante” of NPA, who would be later identified as Barnabe Buscayno. He assigned Major Victor Corpus to do this mission.
At the time, I was a student propagandist. I was recruited by one of the leftist groups named Samahan ng Demokratiko ng Kabataang (SDK), and used to distribute pamphlets, write graffiti, and do vandalism at the backyard of Xavier University. There were two important student organizations that time. One is Kabataang Makabayang (KM) led by Jose Maria Sison, which was larger and inspired by Mao Zedong. The other was SDK, which was inspired both by China and... Che Guevara, I mean, Cuba, Fidel Castro.
Each leftist group member has a certain tattoo on the second joint of the right hand’s middle finger. And we used to shake hands like this [He showed his tattoo, making a circle with his thumb and the pointing finger, and took my right hand]. This means comradeship.
The students demanded abolition of private properties, exploitation, economic gap between the rich and poor, etc. When the Martial Law was declared, the student activists unanimously rose against it. I didn’t really believe in it. I mean, there was something that I didn’t understand about the leftist ideology. I joined SDK because I was recruited.
Gradually the student activists were cornered. I was arrested inside the campus by the army for 48 hours. Since my father was a military man, it was very easy for them to identify me by my last name. Then, they tried to convince me to go back to SDK to act as an army spy called “DPA” At first, I declined collaborating with the army. My father also visited me. We talked 1 on 1. He convinced me to give up the leftist struggle. The army promised to enlist me as a ranger after my work as a spy. Then, I surrendered.
Thus, I became a “DPA”, or “Deep Penetration Agent.” DPAs are spies who are tasked to penetrate as deeply as possible during long spans into an enemy organization in order to provide core organizational information. I acted as a DPA for 4 years in the mountain side and provided information about guerrilla members’ names and the organizational structure to the nearest command of the army. Due to the activities of many DPAs planted into the leftist organizations such as NPA, KM, and SDK, they experienced internal war. In my estimation, several hundred…perhaps 700 leftists were “liquidated” because of my information.
Later I was ordered to join another operation. But, before leaving my role as a DPA, I trained others to replace my mission to minimize casualties and summary killings in the mountain side. Later I suggested the officer that to easily conquer the enemy zone, we needed to form a platoon made up of snipers who were familiar to the area: This enabled the DPAs to directly communicate with the district contact man. This new team successfully conquered the area with few casualties (on the army side).
As a Sniper
Since 1975, I was trained for one and half year to be an army sniper, SOCOM (Special Operation Command) ranger, and expert of the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal). Army trainers and myself found that I had in-born techniques to kill enemies and to survive in battle zones. As you know, strategies can be studied. But such techniques are often a “gift” than something that you can learn through training. Being a soldier for almost four decades, I experienced countless near-death experiences, hard times, and “engagements.” Many of my men are “damaged” or died. But I am still fine. I never experienced a serious damage. Of course, I have a lot of scars and scratch. (He showed his forehead with many scars including that of gunshots). Somehow, I know how to survive.
Being a sniper, one has to follow where and when you are assigned. My first “actual combat” was in Patikul in Sulu. It’s not very far from Zamboanga. That time, the enemy was Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF. They were trained in Malaysia, and demanded an independent Muslim Mindanao. It was an awful experience for me, which was to be routine. From then on, my life was combat after combat. Other times, we acted as bodyguards of some politicians, a kind of duty that I did not like much. Now Patikul is a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf.
I was sometimes assigned to go to mountains. Snipers also conduct monitoring. When government patrol or squad operated there, I had to cover them. When they met (Nur) Misuari (the leader of MNLF), I used to call, [gesturing] “Be careful! Alert! You will be meeting somebody. Your visitor’s coming!” If there was an “engagement,” it was my role to disable the (enemy’s) heavy firearms. If there was transportation of reinforcement, I was the one to make LZ, or “landing zone”. When I was assigned in a city, I even removed IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
After Patikul, the army reorganized the platoons, and I was assigned to Marawi City in Lanao del Sur. I think it was 1978, or 79. This time, our enemy was the Blackshirts and the Barracuda. The first were composed of Maranaos, and the latter Tausugs. They wanted to make Mindanao an independent Islamic state and chase away Christians.
The most violent element among the Muslim rebels have been “Balik Muslim”, or ex-Christian converts to Islam. We got this information from captured rebels. Here in Mindanao, there are both Christians and Muslims. Some are indeed good people, and others not. But there are people who change their religions for various reasons. Some just believed in Islam. Others were orphans or being kidnapped by the rebels. The Muslim adopters train these ex-Christians as their warriors. And the Balik Muslims tend to be reckless and cruel in killing Christians because they need to demonstrate their “pure Muslim determination” to their adopters.
The religious conflict is one reason the men of AFP cannot trust anyone here in Mindanao. To begin with, we (Christians) were the aggressors. Mindanao was inhabited by Muslims and other tribes. Two people of different gods and conflicting interests in one place cannot avoid fighting.
Nobody can be really trusted. Some of our companions are also Muslims, Tausugs, Maranaos, etc., and they live in Islamic way. In other words, the army is multi-ethnic. Our enemies are mostly Muslim rebels. The Muslim rebels themselves are divided: First one was MNLF, a break-away group formed MILF, then MILF deserters formed the Bangsa Moro Freedom Fighter group, and so forth. They conduct terrorism, land grabbing, hold-up, kidnapping, abduction, etc. So, what happens?
There are also Christian fanatic groups like Ilaga. At least they were “our fanatics”. Here in Mindanao there are two types of anting-anting; one is to rebound sharp objects and the other is to deflect enemy bullets. Ilaga used both. They were already disbanded. But some of them, the capable ones, are enlisted within the army.
Both of us [the army and the rebels] are often used by businessmen to grab land or money. For example, the army was later “used” by Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos for their personal issue. (During the EDSA Revolution, Whisky was in Jolo Island being engaged in a counter insurgency operation.)
But, in my opinion, President Estrada was trying to bring a solution for Mindanao through truly eliminating Muslim rebel forces. During his term, there was the second war between the Christians and the MILF (led by Commander Abubakar) in Marawi and Lanao del Norte. I was there to capture some important enemy positions. There were so many casualties in both sides. President Estrada’s hardline stance on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF (a break-away group from MNLF) resulted in the capture of the Camp Abubakar. I don’t think Gloria Macapagal was a good president…
And I think that Aquino, the son, is not a responsible kind of person. Once it happened that SAF (Special Action Force) policemen were damaged and massacred in Cotabato by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF, a break-away group from MILF) due to a lack of coordination. We know that they were after the 5-million-dollar reward (from the United States) for Marwan (Zulkifli Abdhir), an internationally known terrorist who was hiding there. That time, the President didn’t mind the damage. That’s not how a President should act.
The Maute Group was established long before (the Siege of) Marawi City. It was established by international terrorists of ISIS. We had been observing Pakistani, Malaysians, and Indonesians coming in. Why didn’t the intelligence notice the establishment of the Maute Group until 2017? They let them come in. And, the war started, and Malawi became a Ground Zero.
President Duterte is different from some other presidents. Some critique him for “summary killings.” For me, as an army sniper, summary killing was normal to minimize the spread of war. It’s a good thing because they did bad things. Business syndicates invited international criminals. Drugs are sold here in Cagayan de Oro City. That’s how their business works. President Duterte is different: He is giving necessary support to crack down NPA commanders and terrorists in Mindanao. Building peace in Mindanao by declaring Martial Law? Yes! By that way the terrorist groups cannot carry firearms here.
Why do I say this? Politics is a troublemaker! Because some presidents order the army to capture the rebels and kidnappers for money. The politicians do not think about the military’s “damage,” which means army casualties. We “engage,” and we die. They just order without knowing how to read a map or how to use a compass. Sometimes when we corner the rebels, the politicians sign secret agreements with the rebels which include some million pesos. This is a lousy way of politics.
This is why sometimes the military men do not obey politicians. Myself ambushed some politicians with my men. We really did. Of course, it’s not reported as it happened. What we do is just to report that, “This and that politicians were ambushed and killed by NPA.” Of course, we didn’t wear our uniform.
Sometimes we were ordered to plant illegal weeds in the residence of certain politicians. It’s also a scenario. One politician doesn’t like another. Military men don’t like certain politicians. So, the higher-ups write a paper to order us to search whether the politician possess illegal plants or not. Sometimes they have, sometimes not. So, we go there, plant illegal plants, and report that we found it in his house. See, we have pictures (of illegal plants in his residence) now! We had scenario A, B, C, D like this.
I also fought against the leftists, or NPA guerrillas. The ones organized by Jose Maria Sison. I don’t understand them. They fight for nothing. They use revolutionary tactics for businessmen, farmers, etc. But, Sison is in the Netherlands. Why they still fight?
One time I encountered NPA guerrillas somewhere in Misamis Oriental. We were crawling and found them cooking. They cooked solid corn, salt, and some grass with banana leaves. I said to my men, “Don’t shoot. But, set the firearms against them.” Then, I really did not know how to convince the opponents. So, I said, “We are the same Filipino. What are you eating? It won’t make you healthy. Come back to your family!” Something like that. Then, “Bang! Bang!” One of them shot. We shot in return. 24 lives were lost. I mean, the NPA guerrillas. The distance was 60 meters. There was a river between us. My men, 8 of us couldn’t carry all these dead bodies. So, we took photos with our Kodak, left the bodies, and reported it to our superior. We were happy because we won the battle.
When the police found the dead bodies, they already started decomposing. They couldn’t identify the dead bodies. Perhaps smelt bad. Then, the Commission for Human Rights made it an issue, accusing that we massacred innocent people. They asked me, “Do you have any evidence that they were NPA guerrillas?” Well, I submitted a report with pictures to our officer. He lost them. Then, I was in trouble. No one can be trusted in Mindanao.
I don’t want to talk about how I was finally convicted. Since before, many complaints were filed against me; 67 cases in total; Human rights violations. I killed a lot of people, and some cases are not reported. Most of them were “enemies,” the “natives.” We tortured some of them to get information too. On some occasions, I also killed politicians and petty criminals such as thieves. I won most of the trials because I had reasons to kill, and the plaintiffs did not have solid evidence. I used to wear gloves and put cream on my skin so that gun powder did not remain there. The last one was just obvious, and in that case, I was a real criminal.
People around me learned that I was a sniper, only after I had been convicted. After being accused of killing someone, the judge told me, “Huh, you are a sniper?! You didn’t tell us!” So, I told them, “I was not educated to go to school. I was trained to die in honor.” Because I am carrying my family name. Well, they sentenced me for 40 to 80 years!
“Are you out of your mind, my judge? I am already over 50 years old, and (will stay in jail) for 80 years? Do you think I can reach that age?!”
It’s a lousy way. It’s the judgement according to their book of knowledge. Before leaving the court, I said, “Thank you for the good decision! You are not my friend anymore.” The judges were worried, “You might kill us?” But no. I just meant that they were not my friends anymore. I just thought that we were both the same government’s employees. But, at the moment when I was convicted, I was not one anymore.
So, they brought me to the prison, Dapicol (the Davao Penal Colony) in Davao del Norte. Well, some might commit suicide (in such a situation). But I just waited. That was the first time I reflected on what I did as a ranger.
Later on, I was allowed to work and conduct some programs inside the prison. The only criminals who were allowed to labor at the banana plantation there were those who were convicted for murder, homicide, and hit & run. Those drug lords and kidnappers are not. I was convicted for murder and homicide. I earned “good salary,” 330 pesos a day. But the work there was also risky because you cannot really control your men (the fellow inmates).
A few years later, President Duterte gave me amnesty. Somebody informed that what I did was a reasonable act. He knew that we sacrificed a lot, fought for the country, got wounded being away from our families.
So, now I can stay with my family. I train my grandchildren to be good persons. I do gardening too. I am happy. But I always pray to God: “Please do not send bad people to me.” Because, I want to do good things rather than bad. Honestly, I don’t trust priests because some of them are conniving with others, for example, the leftists.
My life was fight after fight. Even now, I have a trouble with sleep. My past disturbs me. When I am dreaming, I recall some incidents, and they trigger my mind. “Bang!” Suddenly I wake up, “Aww! Am I still alive?!” Then, I feel very tired, regret, and I ask myself. I don’t even know his name. Just say “Pedro” na lang. “I’m sorry, Pedro about what I have done to you.” I believe that if you did a bad thing, especially if you did it secretly, it disturbs you. “Kill without a witness! Bang!” [Whisky looked down.]
There’s another incident that still disturbs me. We were conducting a more civilian military operation to provide aid for dengue in the vicinity. I was also conducting another operation to recon the area. And I encountered a naked woman, who was running, severely injured. I realized that someone stubbed her. I provided blanket and first aid, brought her to the barangay hall, and called the ambulance. Then, I called, “Come back! Come back to X area! May incidente didto! (There is an incident!)”
When the team, 7 of them, came back, I observed that a corporal’s trousers were bloody. I asked, “What happened?!” He didn’t say anything. So, I checked his combat knife, and it was bloody too. He raped that woman! My own man!
So, I called the barangay captain and the chairman, and told, “One of my men conducted this!” The victim was still alive, but was suffering from the wound. I told the barangay captain;
“What’s your opinion? If you report this to the police, he will come out after a few years. Personally, I think I should kill him in front of you because he’s become a bad example of the military’s discipline. The decision is up to you. I will do the rest.”
The corporal said;
“Sorry sir! Sorry. I will not do it again!”
After an hour, the barangay captain said, “Do it. Take his life.” If not, he could be alive. He would go to prison, and tell his inmates, “I raped a woman, but I’m still alive.” It’s not good for the military’s moral. His very existence would damage the military’s reputation. We wear the same uniform, you know? So, I said;
“I sentence you according to God’s law and the common sense of humanity. You violated the Ten Commandments. You’ve done something really wrong as a soldier. So, you must die. Bang!”
This is how I executed my own man. I requested the superior to transfer me to another battalion because I saw terror on the faces of my men. This still disturbs me.
For me, Mindanao has been a bloody ditch. And the main problem is the religious war; the Christians and the Muslims. Some of them pay good salary and train the ignorant ones, for example, illiterate people who don’t have any education, to kill, kill, and kill. What can the trainees do? To kill only. Not to forgive or to protect.
I still believe in the Ten Commandments. Perhaps I will not go to heaven. I killed too many people.
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya
An armed group in Cotabato.
2An armed group in Lanao. Some say the private army of the late governor of Lanao del Norte, Ali Dimaporo.
Filipino converts to Islam.
How does Whisky’s testimony as a soldier enhance our understanding of the Philippines’ Cold War?
How does Whisky’s reflections on the conflict in Mindanao both reinforce and challenge traditional understandings of Islamic separatism in the Cold War Philippines?
How did religion and spirituality shape the lived experiences of the Cold War for Filipino citizens?