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Cotabato ’65

Cotabato ’65
Ronald Roy

Let’s take a respite from the prevailing election-related tensions by revisiting election year 1965. Contending were the Liberal Party’s candidate for president Diosdado Macapagal and his running mate Sen. Gerardo Roxas (Mar’s dad) for vice president, as against the Nacionalista Party’s tandem of Senate President Ferdinand Marcos for president and his running mate Fernando Lopez for vice president.
It was generally an NP landslide that year which saw Marcos easily reaching an early won position, and Lopez enjoying a virtually insurmountable lead. It was all over bar the shouting with a relatively small number of votes left to be counted in Cotabato province. Convened in Sen. Jose Roy’s house were top NP campaign strategists who had confirmed an intelligence report that the Liberals’ reputed head of their dirty tricks department, DND Secretary Macario Peralta, would be flying to Cotabato to dump manufactured ballots in order to enable Roxas to pull off a miracle.
A worried Marcos gazed out the dining room’s window and, his hand superstitiously rested on a grenade fragment embedded in his shoulder—an act he was wont to do whenever pondering a conundrum—asked Roy to form a three-man task force to dissuade Roy’s childhood friend from Moncada, Tarlac from carrying out his sinister plot. In an hour, Roy, Roquito Ablan and a Cotabato businessman named David Ghent were at the Manila Domestic Airport taking off on board a chartered plane.
Within minutes after touching ground at the Cotabato airport, the three were having a chat with Roy’s Kumpare Salipada Pendatun, the province’s governor in the latter’s mansion. But they failed to elicit Pendatun’s cooperation who said it was “beyond (his) power to interfere with the Defense Secretary’s functions.” Dejected, they left the mansion and contacted leading members of the Ilocano community for an action-plan bull session. After an hour, the three returned to the airport with a contingent of supporters.
At 2:30 in the morning, Peralta’s plane landed, circled around, then parked on the tarmac. Roy and Ablan walked towards the aircraft as Peralta and a military aide descended the stairs. It was with understandably awkward civility that the four guardedly shook hands exchanging greetings in Ilocano. When Peralta denied the plane carried boxes of fake ballots, Roy’s retort was straight to the point: “It’s useless to argue with you, Mac. I’ll tell you what—Roquito and I will now leave the tarmac. Then you’ll have two minutes to restart the engine and fly that plane out of sight. If you refuse, we will blow it up. Peralta froze, half-stunned and half-amused.
As Roy and Ablan commenced walking away, around forty rifle-bearing men led by Ghent—they had been lurking in the grassy shadows on one side of the runway—suddenly stepped onto a lighted portion of the tarmac. In standing position, they aimed their rifles with Ghent’s hand held high as if poised to execute the quick drop that would give the order to fire.
Everybody waited with bated breath. The former LP senator and retired general knew that only a moron would force the issue at hand, and he was no moron. He re-entered the plane followed by his aide and the aircraft was gone in seconds. What he didn’t know was that the rifles were wooden sticks concealed in newspaper wrappings. Vintage Roquito Ablan brinkmanship!
The foregoing story is not intended to cast aspersions on the late Gerry Roxas who in fact graciously conceded to Lopez two days after Peralta flew back to Manila. Likewise, the victorious Nacionalistas of 1965 may be praised for having magnanimously hushed down this bit of high drama at the Cotabato airport. Until today, what could yet be a potential movie blockbuster has remained practically untold.
Far greater than its entertainment value, however, is the Cotabato incident’s portrayal of yesteryears’ manifest crudities of mass fraud, as compared to the latest of hi-tech PCOS machines which cheat with the lowest possible risks of detection. Without doubt, this potential for unbridled fraud foreshadows an even bleaker future for our electoral democracy.
Hmm, perhaps Ronaldo Puno, the computer whiz kid who has lately been conspicuously absent and deafeningly silent, can show how President Erap was robbed at the polls. This he can do, but I doubt that he will without incriminating himself.

(Email: arnydolor@yahoo.com, cell # 09186449517, landline # (02)7106701)

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