Wary of the armalite being waved around in front of her and her friends, Bernadette Mortel Quizon immediately thought of home. “I thought of my parents back in Manila, and how bad they would feel if I never came home alive,” she says, remembering the gun that was used to poke and threaten their group. “I will never forget his rifle in my face since I was the one to first approach him,” adds her friend Nixon Co.
The incident happened near the campus of UPLB almost 30 years ago: a large, looming man in fatigue drove up to a group of 14 teenagers who were celebrating the end of a particularly stressful week, and had them cornered with a gun. It could never be fully forgotten by those present then, particularly because the man in question was identified as a henchman in a gruesome case that occurred two years later.
The case of Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez is once again on the lips of the public with the recent news that former Calauan, Laguna Mayor Antonio Sanchez—who was accused and convicted of masterminding the abduction and murder of the two—is likely to be released on “good behavior.” This, according to the Bureau of Corrections director Nicanor Faeldon. (President Rodrigo Duterte later ordered Faeldon not to release Sanchez following public outcry.)
Following the initial news of Sanchez’s supposed release, Jesse Vera Acebes, who knew both Sarmenta and Gomez and was part of that group of 14 in 1991, recounted in a lengthy Facebook post their brush with the armed man in Panicles.
We called it “exam week.” Yup, that stressful period when the semester comes to an end as it culminates with a series of final exams for a string of days.
It was around September of 1991 at the University of the Philippines, Los Baños and it was the end of exams week. In those days, the common fashion to unwind was to gather together with friends and hangout with a few beers. Since it was in UPLB, we normally didn't go for bars. There weren't many of those places back then.
So, we gathered to become a sizeable group of about 14 teenagers in three cars. We wanted to try out this place called Panicles. It's a huge spread of rice fields on the southern edge of the campus. In between sections of these fields were small dead end dirt roads where we picked out the perfect spot to park and unload our ice chest full of beers.
We barely even went through our first drink when a vehicle drove in from the main road to our location. It was an owner-type jeep, the low riding kind. Then, while its headlights were kept on and pointed toward our direction, this medium to heavy-set man alighted from the passenger's side and approached us.
One look at him and we all thought the same: Military. He was wearing a soldier's uniform, folded sleeves, pants boots and armed with a side arm and an M-16 assault rifle.
At first, I thought it was just a routine patrol and we will probably get booted out of the area with a bit of scolding. But what he did was he began raising and waving his rifle around. "Get your hands up!" he shouted.
He wanted all the girls to stand on the left side and the boys on the right. We were a group of about six girls and eight boys from 17 to 20 years old. It was getting really scary. He told everybody to keep their hands raised and to shut up.
He kept pointing his rifle at each of the boys, saying things like it was not our lucky night. I remember getting the muzzle of his rifle pressed against my chest when I tried to reason with him. He also gave one of the boys a hard time about wanting to urinate. He wanted my friend to pee right where he stood. Then he said something that sent that frightening chill across my body”
“Do you know what I'm going to do with these girls?”
“I will give them to my boss as gifts.”
This is not a routine patrol, I thought. This is a some AWOL ex-military asshole out on a hunt for innocent prey. After hearing those words we were just horrified through our skin and bones. Desperate thoughts went through our heads. Was I going to go for his gun? Was everybody on the same plane to risk their lives to try to survive this ordeal? I remember my hands were getting numb and sweaty. I kept looking around to try to have eye contact with any of the boys, trying to communicate and ask if we were going to do something.
“Are we going to jump him?”
“So who's going to be the sacrifice?”
“Who's going to die first before we subdue him?”
“Oh wait. There's still someone left sitting in that jeep.”
What happened next was still strange but nonetheless a godsend. The headlights from his jeep started to flicker and dim. His vehicle was turned off and the battery was getting discharged. There were a few cars that drove by on the main road, about 150 meters from our little dead end path between the fields. His companion from the vehicle yelled something at him and he turned his back to us and went back to his ride. He hopped in but the engine wouldn't start. The battery was weak from having it's lights on for about 15 minutes or who knows how long that was.
He then shouts at us: “Hey, give us a push and hurry!”
Four of us did the job and he was gone.
Five seconds of silence followed and without a word, we all rushed to our cars and screeched the hell out of Panicles. You can hear us screaming and shouting as we drove away. It was panic and relief at the same time.
I wondered what made him lose interest and finally let us go.
Did this monster get spooked by the random cars that whizzed by? Did he figure that there were too many of us and it will be complicated for him to end up with eight dead bodies (the boys) and six hostages (the girls)? I really didn't know.
But there was one thing I will never forget that night. His name tag on this military uniform. It said “R. Corcolon.”
Rogelio “Boy” Corcolon is one of the convicted accomplices of their “boss” ex-mayor Antonio Sanchez. Two years later, this monster raped and butchered two UPLB students and I know them both. God rest their souls.
Seven life sentences plus two more is 360 years. That’s what he got.
Now, I heard things are about to change in this diablo's favor.
“I will give them to my boss as gifts.”
Eileen and Allan were not the first.