Gangland Politics

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Evelio Javier, director of Corazon Aquino's campaign in the remote province of Antique, was sitting on the lawn in front of the capital building, taking a break from a debate over contested votes in his region, when a white vehicle pulled into the driveway. Without warning, a man in a black knit ski mask leaped out and started shooting. Javier jumped up and ran. Zigzagging across the building's broad concrete plaza, he tried to escape the relentless barrage of bullets. At least one hit its mark. Javier stumbled and fell into a small fishpond.

Somehow, though, the fleeing man struggled to his feet and staggered across the street. By this time, other gunmen had begun to close in. Two approached from the left. Another, brandishing a .45 pistol, appeared in front of a warehouse. Javier ducked into an alley and tried to hide behind an outhouse door. But the masked killer found his prey and finished him off with a burst of gunfire.

Opposition leaders and many residents immediately claimed they knew who was behind the killing: Arturo Pacificador, a Marcos crony who is assistant majority floor leader in the National Assembly. Pacificador has operated like a warlord in Antique, wielding political patronage with his connections in the ruling party and the power he has amassed under Marcos. Opponents say he has ensured his power through alliances with the legitimate armed forces and ties to less reputable mercenaries known locally as goons. "We cannot distinguish between goons and the military here," said one provincial official afraid to have his name used. "Pacificador controls them all." A Marcos defeat was seen as a threat to such dominance.

The day following the murder, the Aquino campaign released an interview that Javier had taped before his death. "Every time I move around Antique, I have to play cat and mouse with the goons of Pacificador," said the voice of the dead man. "I have to be elusive." The accused man denied any involvement. He insisted that the murder had been committed by Communist insurgents or by Javier's political enemies.

Javier and Pacificador were longtime rivals. Javier, 43, a lawyer who studied at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and once served as provincial governor, had been an outspoken critic of President Marcos. Pacificador, 55, is an attorney who reportedly won Marcos' loyalty by purging references to bought votes from the record of the 1971 Constitutional Convention. He won his seat in the National Assembly by beating Javier in one of the most controversial campaigns of the 1984 election. On the eve of the voting, seven Javier supporters were killed during a shoot-out with Pacificador and his followers. The Ministry of Justice investigated, but never released its findings.

Sensitive to the potential damage the murder could cause, particularly during a period when the country is undergoing intense international scrutiny, the Marcos administration moved to find the guilty. The day after the killing, a constabulary officer identified by witnesses as the man who pursued Javier across the plaza was arrested. The government also promised a "swift and definitive" resolution of the 1984 incident. Welcome as those actions were, they brought little comfort to the grieving family and friends of Evelio Javier, or to the thousands of Filipinos who wonder how democracy can survive amid gangland violence.