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Publisher’s Notes | ‘Bato’ Who?

Itaga mo sa Bato!

Batong Bakal!

Bato who?

Whatever! But the “Bato” I knew years ago is now Your Honor, the Senator of the Republic!

This may not be known to many but he got his “Bato” moniker actually not only because he is someone seen and considered hard like a rock, owing to his rock-solid physical build. The fact is, he came from a small place called “Bato” of Sta. Cruz town where he grew up as a boy. It’s about 55 kilometers south of Davao City. He grew up there in that interior, far-flung corner going through the not-so-easy rough and tumble of life as a barrio kid.

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NPA INFESTED — The place Bato, by the way, was also the favorite “playground” of NPAs and many an armed encounter had happened there. Its remoteness and its proximity to the nearby mountain area, fueled by hard life and poverty, made the place a fertile ground for armed insurgents to thrive and get “masa” support. The hostile environment and the human struggle for survival must have helped mold and hone the person Bato into what he is today.

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NEVER IN HIS DREAMS — That’s the kind of “enabling environment” our Ronald de la Rosa, (a.k.a. Bato) grew up in. But yes, going through hard life with sheer tenacity, he went on to become a cop — and fast forward — now becoming what, I’m sure he could not ever imagine even in his wildest dreams: a senator of the land.

Although much of what he has suddenly become today is principally and admittedly, because of the President, we must all admit that a lot of his “persona” is his very own.

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HIS OWN MAN — For example, his candidness and honesty to admit publicly very recently (which became viral and, yes controversial) feigning ignorance about lawmaking and expressing the need to be oriented, briefed, and trained first how to be a good senator, is telling enough of his candor and simplicity. But don’t be misled. He may not know the intricacies of law-making but as a law enforcer during his whole lifetime, he is not totally unaware of the fine points of laws that he had to faithfully and knowing enforce.

I also watched him in action in a televised public debate with opposition candidates. It was there where his down-to-earth candidness in tackling life’s foibles made some doubters see a little glimpse of his real ability and true self.

I also took special note of his most recent public statement where he disavowed total subservience to Malacanang as senator. This was his way of dealing with public perception that he will just be a self-anointed robot and “yes” man to the Palace. An assurance that he will be his own man while in the senate. Indeed!!

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PRISON HOSTAGES — Before I forget! Let me share with you one unforgettable about this man.

I was at that time newly appointed by President Ramos as presidential assistant for Mindanao. Armed prisoners of the Davao Penal Colony (DAPECOL) (located in the midst of the sprawling TADECO banana plantation of the Floirendos in Davao del Norte), forcibly took women prison employees working in the rehabilitation center as hostages demanding that they be freed and spirited out from the prison grounds by helicopter to freedom. I was quickly designated by FVR as crisis manager. I barely settled down after coming home to Davao after handling as crisis manager the month-long recovery operations of that famous no-survivors plane crash of CebuPac Flight 387 in the mountains of Misamis, outside Cagayan de Oro.

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ASSAULT — To make the story short, after several days of my futile negotiations to end the DAPECOL stand-off peacefully, there was no more option left but to mount an armed assault.

It was a risky plan. I needed volunteers willing to risk their lives as they had to storm the hostage area located in one of the prison cells and engage the armed hostage takers in a dangerous shootout. And try to save lives of the hostages.

***

MARKSMAN — A cop, then a junior officer, was one of them who bravely stepped forward. I was told this guy was a good shoot and marksman. (He was fondly called Bato. I now can still recall names of police officers Art Evangelista, Wilkins Villanueva, among others, composing the assault team.) They had to go through several “simulation assaults” in a mock-up prison cell before D-Day!

When the actual assault happened and the smoke cleared, all seven hostage-takers were dead. Sadly, one woman hostage got hit and died while other hostages were saved but injured.

“DO OR DIE!” I clearly remember during my final briefing before the actual assault. I called the police volunteers by name one by one and asked for the last time if they were willing to risk their lives for that dangerous mission. I heard a snappy voice from someone in the group say: “Do or die, sir.” I looked closely to find out who he was. I saw a tough-looking chubby guy. It was him, Bato, and the man Davao Mayor Duterte later made city police chief and by twerk of some fate eventually the No. 1 top cop of the country as “General Bato.” He’s that no-nonsense guy that the President trusted so much as his top law enforcer in the campaign against criminalities and drugs.

By the way, you may call him now “Your Honor, Senator Bato!”

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