LUCENA CITY—People who knew Tirso “Jun” Lontok Jr. as a rabid environmentalist and a champion of the rights of farmers found it incredible that he would die being tagged a member of a gun-for-hire and gambling syndicate.
But sources told the Philippine Daily Inquirer on condition of anonymity that Lontok began living a double life barely three years ago when he entered the dangerous world of illegal gambling.
In an interview before a press conference in Dolores town, also in Quezon, Thursday, Lontok’s wife, Marife, denied that Lontok was involved in shady activities. “He will not allow himself to become a dummy of anyone, especially in connection with illegal activities,” she said.
In the press conference, the family cited a witness account of the Atimonan incident that Lontok came out of the vehicle to ask law enforcers what the checkpoint was all about.
“Reports said Jun even raised his arms signifying that he meant no harm but he was still peppered with bullets,” Marife said.
Lontok was one of the 13 people who were killed in an alleged encounter with policemen and Army soldiers in Atimonan town in Quezon on Sunday. Law enforcers claimed the fatalities belonged to a big-time gun-for-hire syndicate, private armed group and operator of illegal gambling.
According to one source, Lontok was the “link” of a prominent Quezon political clan to alleged big-time gambling operator Victor Rimas Siman, or “Vic Siman,” one of the 13 slain in Atimonan.
“Jun was the front man of the Quezon connection,” said the source, himself a former operator of “jueteng” (an illegal numbers racket) in the Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) area.
Lontok has also been implicated by retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz in jueteng operations.
Cruz, who is known for his zealous antijueteng crusade, said Lontok was not on his group’s list of major jueteng lords but his name always cropped up as part of the illegal gambling network.
Lontok’s sister, Evangelista, dared the prelate to provide evidence to back up his accusation. “He is a bishop. He should know that it is not good to accuse anyone without evidence,” she said.
Ariel Lontok Saliva, Lontok’s first cousin, who is acting as the family spokesperson, said in the press conference that Lontok was killed in “a bloody massacre of innocent persons” at the police checkpoint.
“We don’t know anything about the so-called rules of engagement but what we’re sure of was that there were serious violations in the standard operating procedure at their checkpoint,” Lontok’s eldest daughter, Bianca, 20, said in a statement she read.
“The policemen and Army soldiers want to make sure that dead men will tell no tales,” she said, noting that the bodies bore bullet wounds in the head to indicate that the operation and the killings were well-planned.
For members of his family, his colleagues in Kapatiran at Alyansang Alay para sa Kaunlaran ng Bayan–Quezon (Kaakbay-Quezon) and friends, like activist priest Robert Reyes, what were being said of Lontok were all “lies.”
Reyes called Lontok “one of those down-to-earth, passionate environmentalists who you will not find in an air-conditioned office.”
Belle Lontok-Evangelista, a younger sister of Lontok, was angry that her brother was linked to gambling bookies in Southern Tagalog. “If that is true, his family should now be rich and his children not studying in public schools,” she said.
But according to the source from the underground gambling business in Calabarzon, Lontok served as the link between Siman’s jueteng operation and a member of the influential clan in Quezon.
The gambling tie-up has been operating the illegal numbers racket in Laguna and Batangas since the start of the Aquino administration in 2010, the source said. He did not elaborate.
“He was an environmentalist and community organizer. He was not a gambler and did not have any connection with any jueteng operator. All jueteng allegations against him are baseless and perverted lies,” Saliva said.
Lontok and Siman were friends, he said, but “it did not necessarily mean that Jun was also into Siman’s business.”
Access to NPA
In an earlier interview at the funeral parlor in Lucena City, another relative, who did not want to be identified, revealed that Lontok had once helped Siman in dealing with insurgents in Laguna who had been harassing Siman’s STL (Small Town Lottery) operations in Calamba City. Lontok was known in Quezon to have access to the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
Marife confirmed the friendship, which, she said, began after her husband helped Siman with his problem with the NPA rebels.
The relative said that a day before the encounter, Siman had asked Lontok to join him in his trip to Camarines Norte once more to stop the insurgents from harassing his STL operations in the area. But the relative did not know why policemen and soldiers were escorting them.
According to Marife, Lontok joined Siman in his trip to Bicol to visit Siman’s gold mining operations in Panganiban town in Camarines Norte.
Jay Lim, spokesperson of Kaakbay-Quezon, said Lontok helped organize the multisectoral coalition with activist priest Raul Enriquez in the early 1990s to oppose a plan to extend the South Luzon Expressway to the slope of Mount Banahaw.
He also led the fight to protect and rehabilitate Banahaw and Tayabas Bay, Lim said. “On mountains and seas, Jun will be always there to embrace its protection cause,” the group spokesperson said.
“He would have given his life to protect the mystical water, timber, wildlife and rich minerals of Mount Banahaw,” Father Reyes said.
He said he first met Lontok as one of the core leaders of the opposition of Quezon residents against the plan of the Metro Manila Development Authority to dump trash in the province.
Sanctity of outdoors
“Jun preferred the streets, rivers, rice fields and mountains to do his work,” Reyes said. “People like him made me recognize the sanctity of the outdoors and the utter brutality of those who worshipped progress at all cost.”
Francia Britania Malabanan, Lucena public information officer, said her generation of Banahaw protection advocates and mountaineers would always look up to Lontok as their “inspiring light” to continue his crusade.
Councilor Alex Tolentino of Sariaya town remembered Lontok’s contribution to the municipal government environmental protection programs in 2004 to 2007, when he was then municipal administrator and executive assistant to Mayor Connie Doromal.
A native of Dolores, Lontok left behind a wife and three children. He will be buried on Saturday.