PASSENGERS awaiting their flight at the Davao City airport immediately sensed a big shot was nearby: Lawmen in uniform were seen milling around the VIP Lounge. Even airport staff manning the x-ray machines and counters could not help but whisper about the controversial passenger, who was swiftly whisked out of sight into the quiet confines of the VIP lounge. â€œSi Bedol iyon, ano (That’s Bedol, right)?â€ they asked each other.
â€œWe received the order (from the Commission on Elections) to arrest Bedol on June 30,â€ says Chief Inspector Bahnarin Kamaong, head of the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Task Force Bedol was formed the following day, with Kamaong as its deputy chief, and his RMG team as its operating arm.
Teams were then dispatched to Lanao del Sur, General Santos City, Cotabato City, Cebu City and Davao City, where Bedol was ultimately found. Information was on a â€œneed-to-knowâ€ basis. Police officials in the areas involving the search were kept in the dark for as long as possible, until Bedol was found. Indeed, PNP officials from all over Mindanao who were having a training at Camp Catitipan in Davao City that day claimed they knew nothing of the arrest.
When Bedol was found at the Davao Doctorâ€™s Hospital, Kamaong and his team were in Cotabato. Kamaong was instructed to go to Davao City and deliver Bedol to the Comelec office in Manila.
Kamaong says he first saw Bedol shortly before the May 14 elections, when a conference was held to plan for the polls in Parang, Maguindanao. The second time he saw Bedol was when the Comelec official was at the Davao hospital around nine in the morning of July 2. He dismisses reports he was â€œhandpickedâ€ by Bedol to escort him to Manila. â€œHindi niya hiningi iyon. Walang dahilan para hingin niya iyon (He didnâ€™t ask for it. He has no reason to demand for it),” he says.
Due to reports that Bedol owned twenty baby armalites and other firearms of various caliber, search teams of TF Bedol carried with them armalites, M16s and M14s. But lawmen who guarded Bedol at the hospital carried small firearms, hidden in their civilian outfit. â€œWe didnâ€™t want to cause a commotion,â€ says Bedol. But he admits other members of his team, armed with the more powerful guns, were on standby â€œwithin the vicinityâ€ of the hospital.
There was no need for that, as it turned out, as Bedol was hooked to a dextrose and was having blood pressure problems he had to undergo an angiogram. Bedol was supposed to undergo cataract operation on June 30, Saturday, but his blood pressure was unstable, pushing the operation to Monday, shortly before he was taken into RMGâ€™s custody and flown to Manila. The operation was carried out by Dr. Perfecto Domingo Jr., an ophthalmologist. All that time, from the examination to the operating room door, police in plainclothes never had Bedol out of their sight.
On the flight to Manila, an uncuffed Bedol was given seat 8F, a window seat. Kamaong took seat 8D, while Salonga Edzela, Bedolâ€™s aide, was seated between the policeman and the Comelec official. The three seats in front of them were occupied by RMG men. (I was seated at 8A, beside a two-year old girl who refused to sleep, while her pregnant mother took the aisle seat, 8C). The Philippine Airlines flight took off shortly after 7:30 p.m. Thirty minutes after takeoff, flight attendants gave passengers a packet containing cookies, crackers and nuts. Bedol ate hungrily and opted for coffee to down his meal.
Kamaong says Bedolâ€™s only request was that the media be kept at bay, to allow him to rest. â€œHe was silent all the time and I didnâ€™t talk to him because he just had an operation. He was really tired and needed sleep,â€ he says. However, at one point, Kamaong went to the restroom and found TV reporters and cameramen interviewing Bedol when he returned minutes later. He politely asked the news teams to go back to their seats.
The plane landed at NAIA at 9 p.m. A horde of TV crews and photographers and reporters were awaiting Bedol and his escorts. He spent the night in a hotel in Malate. Less than a day later, Bedol was free.
But looking back at his two days escorting the controversial Comelec official, Kamaong says it was not an entirely grim business. As Bedol was being ushered into the Comelec building, Kamaong cracked a joke to his one-eyed detainee: â€œSir, para tayong modern pirate of the Caribbean (Sir, you are like the modern pirate of the Caribbean).” Bedol laughed. Hard.
And now that heâ€™s a free man, he probably is, still.