21 FEBRUARY 2007
by MEI MAGSINO
It did look like he was finally running out of luck last month, when he was among the local officials ordered suspended by the Ombudsman in connection with complaints filed against them. But at the last minute, Sanchez was able to secure a temporary restraining order and he was able to keep his seat at the capitol.
This May, the 52-year-old Sanchez is up for reelection. If his lucky streak holds, then he may be in the capitol of the country's coffee-and-beach capital for another three years. If it doesn't, say his detractors, then that may mean it's now the turn of the province itself to enjoy some good fortune.
When Sanchez heard that he had been granted a TRO last Jan. 16, his eyes had welled up with tears as he thanked the people who helped him barricade the gates leading to the provincial hall. He then walked around the premises toting a Sto. Niño statue, a contrite look on his face.
"Only if he confesses to the people and to me will he be forgiven," the archbishop said. "That is, if he wants redemption or if he still believes in God."
"The worst crime that Armando Sanchez committed in Batangas is his being a governor," he also said. "He created that black spot in the history of Batangas when there wasn't any achievement that could have helped the people. All that darkest time in the history of Batangas could speak of was the heightened criminality and violence. I hope he realizes that if he lives by the sword, he will die by the sword. "
For sure, these are rather severe words for someone whose only supposed crimes three years ago were confined to his being an alleged jueteng lord and a confirmed bad dresser. But then the Philippine National Police (PNP) itself has said that in the first half of 2006, Batangas racked up the most murders in Calabarzon, which includes Cavite, Laguna, Rizal, and Quezon provinces. In just six months, said a Philippine Daily Inquirer report quoting the PNP, Batangas had 103 murders, most of them resulting from "heated arguments."
THE POLICE themselves told the Inquirer that the famed ego of the Batangueño may be to blame for much of the bloodletting. Batangas, after all, is the land of the barako, the man's man who will not let pass the littlest slight without a fight. (See Barako sidebar)
Still, as chief executive of the province, Sanchez could probably be faulted for being unable to keep the peace in Batangas, where just a week or so ago off-duty policemen menaced at gunpoint Philippine Tourism Authority chief Robert Dean Barbers and his family, who were on their way to a beach resort. The governor's critics, however, have also noted that some of those who have somehow crossed him personally have wound up as corpses.
These include Rolando Meer, who was town council secretary of Sto. Tomas during Sanchez's term as its mayor. (Sanchez's wife Edna is now its mayor.) Sometime in 2001, Meer charged Sanchez and two others with abuse of authority at the Office of the Ombudsman. In September 2002, Meer was back at the Ombudsman, this time charging Sanchez and three other people with technical malversation, misconduct, and abuse of authority. Six months later, Meer was dead, courtesy of a gunman riding a motorcycle.
On August 5, 2004, two months after Sanchez took his oath as governor, Dyaryo Veritas columnist and DZRH correspondent Arnel Manalo was shot dead in Bauan town. That was a month after Manalo's column in Dyaryo Veritas, a local newspaper, published his stories that told of how the capitol was being run like martial law by Sanchez, and which depicted the governor as the berdugo (killer) at the capitol. In fairness, though, Manalo was said to have other enemies, since he was a member of the As-is barangay council.
On May 30, 2005 Batangas ombudsman and graft investigator Guillermo Gamo was gunned down in Batangas City on his way to the capitol. At the time, Gamo was investigating what he described as multimillion-peso anomalous deals and projects at the capitol. In fact, he was supposed to meet with this writer on May 31, 2005 to discuss what he had found out. But whatever he was to have divulged went with him to the grave. His briefcase, which contained all the pertinent documents about his investigation, went missing at the crime scene and has yet to surface.
Members of the police task force formed to investigate his death told this writer that a staunch Sanchez supporter, who they said was behind the ombudsman's car when he was shot, had pointed out the target to the gunman. They also identified the gunman, who they said belonged to an organized-crime syndicate. Officially, however, the task force will go only as far as saying that it has yet to find credible witnesses and that the investigation is ongoing.
Batangas Provincial Police Officer SPO3 Jaime Mendoza does say that Task Force Gamo had been pursuing "two possible angles" to Gamo's killing, both involving revenge for the government official's investigations. One, he says, was about alleged corruption at a provincial hospital while the other was supposed to involve a barangay captain. But the task force, he says, seems to be at a standstill these days. Asked whether they had pursued the angle regarding involvement of the capitol, Mendoza says, "We did hear of something like that, but that was all hearsay, that's why we didn't pursue it." (See Dead and Buried sidebar)
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