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‘Run, Evelio, run!’

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1A memoir of the Evelio Javier murder

By HERBERT VEGO

TODAY – or annually every February 11 -- is a holiday in Panay Island in commemoration of the assassination of the late Evelio B. Javier, a former governor of Antique. Between then and now, 27 long years have passed. But the date February 11, 1986 has been permanently etched in history books as a prelude to the fall of President Ferdinand Marcos and the rise of President Cory Aquino in the People Power revolution of February 22-25, 1986.

On a personal level, as an already practicing journalist in that era, I retain a memoir of that historical nugget that remains so vivid I can briefly “replay” it here for posterity.

It seems providential that February 11, 1986 was also my first day of duty as the Iloilo City-based stringer of Reuters, the world-renowned British news agency. It was a part-time job which would provide me “piece work” income: No accepted story, no pay.

There was a reason why a regular Reuters reporter, Casiano Mayor, had recommended me to his British boss to be their Iloilo man.  They were on nationwide snooping for hot stories related to the February 7 “snap election” where President Ferdinand Marcos appeared to have won via dagdag-bawas against a widowed housewife, Corazon C. Aquino.

The dawn of the day unfolded very quietly in the Province of Antique, certainly with no portent of a gruesome murder about to steal the thunder.

At a about 11 o’clock that morning, I was already busy on the job here in Iloilo City as editor of Panay News (still a fledgling five-year-old weekly newspaper at that time) when a Manila deskman from Reuters phoned, “Have you heard of the news? You must cover it.”

I did not know what to say, since I had no idea what it was all about. However, I sensed the urgency of the breaking news they wanted me to cover for my first report. So I tried to cover up my ignorance.

“Ah yes, Sir!” I interjected before he could elaborate. “I will do it.”

As I put down the phone, it rang. On the line was Imelda Griengo, an employee of La Editorial, a local printing press.

“Have you heard the news? Evelio Javier has been shot dead,” she hollered while crying.

Now realizing I really had an urgent job to do but was running out of time, I turned on the office radio. I was toying with the idea of “borrowing” the radio report. But even the local radio stations could not beam first-hand information. Their anchormen were calling known personalities in Antique for confirmation.

Presently an anchorman of DyRP-Radyo Trompa (now defunct) was paging its mobile unit to rush to the scene of the crime in San Jose, Antique. That gave me an idea on how to cover the news on the spot and still catch up with my deadline.

Panay News publisher Danny Fajardo and I barely had time to catch up with radio station DyRP’s  “patrol” jeep, which was moving out for a fast trip to San Jose, Antique. Two hours later, we were standing on the bullet-riddled comfort room of a business establishment where Evelio Javier had been shot in cold blood. The floor of the CR was still drenched with blood, but the former governor’s remains had already been taken to the provincial hospital’s morgue for autopsy.

We could recognize Time magazine’s Sandra Burton from among the foreign journalists who had arrived ahead of us. I asked her how she could have arrived ahead of us.

“We chartered a private plane from Manila,” she hastily answered while turning her attention to first-hand sources of information. I just listened to her and her interviewees who had witnessed the crime and took down notes, too. What a way to learn from a Time writer!

Like Ms. Burton, we also proceeded to the morgue of the provincial hospital and saw the blood-drenched and lifeless Evelio lying. With my small camera, I joined a score of photographers in taking pictures.

Back in Iloilo before 5 o’clock, I typed my report fast under time pressure and reached Manila by telephone. It was the fastest way to transmit a story from Iloilo to Manila in those days. Fax machines and cellular phones were still future realities.

After taking my dictation, the Reuters lady on the line asked me not to worry about sending my roll of film on the last flight. She revealed that she had already obtained a photograph from a freelance foreign photographer who had flown with Ms. Burton to San Jose, Antique.

I woke up the following day in time to see the Metro Manila newspapers being spread out on Iloilo sidewalks.  Some of them carried my story -- alongside a common photograph of the lifeless Evelio -- which began with three quoted words, “Run, Evelio, run!”

Those were the unforgettable words of an eyewitness who had desperately wanted to save Javier from hooded men who were shooting at him at the capitol plaza. Wounded, Javier managed to run about 50 meters to the CR and locked himself there. The CR’s tin door, unfortunately, proved to be no match to the assailants’ Armalite rifles.

I would eventually learn from Joel Palacios – the Reuters’ reporter who would eventually become vice president of the Social Security System (SSS) -- that my story, like those of the foreign correspondents, had also graced the front pages of newspapers abroad.

The story has since then turned into history familiar to today’s generation.