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Peace Soldier's Legacy : Cruel Death Parable for Philippines

October 27, 1986|MARK FINEMAN | Times Staff Writer

PINUKPUK, Philippines — There was nothing traditional about Lt. Col. Rrex Baquiran--not in the gentle way he lived, nor in the brutal way he died.

He was a soldier who wrote poetry, a combat officer who abhorred conflict, a key military operative in an increasingly brutal psychological war who preferred his ancient tribal beads and programs of peace to M-16 assault rifles and the logistics of guerrilla warfare.

When Baquiran was fresh out of the Philippine Military Academy in the early 1970s, he was thrown in the stockade three times as a suspected subversive after he publicly challenged the oppressive policies of then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos.

Disclosed Corruption

Years later, as an idealistic lieutenant colonel, Baquiran was quietly reprimanded and transferred from the southern island of Mindanao after he publicly disclosed rampant corruption and extortion in the military's highway patrol.

Finally, in January, Baquiran was assigned to his home province of Kalinga-Apayao, in the extreme north of Luzon Island 250 miles north of Manila. It was here, among his own tribesmen, that Baquiran quietly scored some of the greatest victories in the Philippine government's war against the Communist insurgency.

And it was here, in the rebel-controlled mountains of Kalinga-Apayao, that Lt. Col. Rrex Baquiran, 42, now celebrated as "a soldier of peace" by everyone from his family to Philippine President Corazon Aquino, was tortured and killed Sept. 13.

Just after 2 p.m. on that day, while carrying free seed to impoverished farmers and a proposal for them to make larger profits on their coffee crop, Baquiran was kidnaped by the Communist New People's Army.

Found in Shallow Grave

He was found three days later in a shallow grave. The rebels had sliced off both his ears, stabbed him 14 times in the back, gouged out his eyes, crushed both his feet and cut off his genitals.

Baquiran's death, and especially the manner of it, angered people throughout the Philippines. And in the weeks since, his life and death have become a parable of the war, bringing into focus the forces involved.

The military now talks of using his death as justification for abandoning Aquino's "path of peace" in favor of a decisive counteroffensive, and Baquiran's relatives and friends are calling on everyone involved to "stop the madness."

"Let us, I appeal to you, take up and continue his struggle," his widow, Loretta, pleaded on national television recently. "Not by blindly killing one another, but by striving for unity and understanding as one family, one people, one nation.

"Let my husband's senseless murder be seen as a warning of what this 17 years of advocating war, of overlooking our blood bonds as Filipinos, has led us to. Let Rrex's poor mangled body speak for all the victims of this fighting between brothers.

"Let his slaying be a portent of the barbarism that will spread like a forest fire over our land if we continue to pursue this same destructive course."

Loretta Baquiran's appeal has gone largely unheeded.

Crackdown Urged

Philippine Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile has used Baquiran's murder in several speeches as a justification for his public campaign urging Aquino to abandon her peace talks with the rebels and crack down militarily on the insurgents.

In one recent speech to the Manila Rotary Club, Enrile described the colonel's murder in gruesome detail and declared, "This is not an isolated case." It is proof, he said, that the Communist insurgents "have reached a level of boldness where they feel they can confront us openly. . . . The insurgency has increased to a degree that it alarms us."

Reacting to the widespread public outrage, the top leadership of the Communist Party and other leftist organizations have publicly condemned it and denied responsibility.

Alan Jazmines, the alleged former chief of logistics for the New People's Army and now general secretary of the leftist People's Party, issued a statement that denounced the slaying. It said Baquiran was "a friend of many progressive and patriotic elements in the movement for national freedom and democracy."

Communists Blamed

The Communists speculated that Baquiran was assassinated by enemies within the military.

But interviews with farmers, local officials and schoolteachers, with Baquiran's friends and enemies, and even with Communist rebels in the region where he was killed, make it clear that it was the Communists who were responsible.

The story of Baquiran's slaying goes beyond his death. It is the story of what happened to one soldier who tried to find a peaceful, grass-roots solution to a conflict that has left thousands of Filipinos dead. And it underscores the fact that the economy, the disparity between rich and poor, is the root cause of the insurgency.

Roberto Pascua, a 28-year-old Communist militia leader who said he voluntarily surrendered to the government, in part because of Baquiran's death, explained that Baquiran was a military target in an area controlled by the guerrillas.

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