Jun Lontok: Quest for life’s meaning ends in hail of bullets
“Iyon lang po ang kaya ko” (That was all I could afford),” Tirso “Jun” Lontok Jr. said when asked by then Sariaya town Mayor Connie Doromal why he brought his wife Nini to the charity ward in a Quezon province public hospital when she gave birth to their child.
Doromal wanted to extend some help to Lontok so he could have his wife deliver their newborn in a private hospital. The mayor offered some cash but Lontok politely refused.
He told Doromal that he saw how people lined up to the mayor’s office everyday asking for all sorts of financial assistance, and he felt the support she was extending to him could better serve their poor constituents.
When Lontok refused to take the money, Doromal gave it to his wife instead and advised her to spend it for milk and diapers.
Chief political operator
To say that Lontok deserved the mayor’s special attention is an understatement. In December 2004, Doromal had won an election, defeating more established names in the local politics of Sariaya, with Lontok as her chief political operator. Returning the favor, she appointed him as her municipal administrator.
But Lontok was not the typical client who trails politicians for political favors. He is the top ward leader every politician aspires to win over. He was unusually mysterious on the outside, but he demonstrated a deep knowledge on the psychology of people in the barrios.
He possessed the ability to go down to the level of the masses and his personality showed a natural inclination to eat, work and live with them. He has probably developed those traits as a former community organizer for a nongovernment organization that worked on the rehabilitation and protection of Mt. Banahaw, and the elevation of the quality of life of the poor.
Later, when he felt that the situation has gone beyond what society permits and what it does not, he joined the New People’s Army and went underground. But there was something about his life in the mountains that kept telling him it wasn’t the kind of life he was looking for, so he decided to surrender and commit himself to the government’s social reintegration program.
While he continued on his work as an environmentalist, his penchant for being with the marginalized kept him busy in local politics, helping politicians like Doromal—whose programs he sincerely believed in—achieve victory.
Lontok was really crestfallen when Doromal failed in her reelection bid that he decided to leave the country to fend for his family’s personal needs. Not long after, he found himself going home and getting involved again, politically, this time helping the Suarez-Alcala tandem, to secure the crucial seats in the province. However, such engagement would also be short-lived.
He quickly moved on when he realized that the promise of politics have again failed him. A source told this writer that disappointments after disappointments have made Lontok decide to forget politics and focus on improving the lot of his family and personal life.
That was Tirso Lontok Jr. to his friends and relatives. He was an eternal optimist, always restless about his dream of a better life for the poor. Which was why it came as a shock to everyone to learn about the alleged shootout last Jan. 6 in Atimonan, Quezon, between members of the police and Army forces and suspected criminals that saw him as one as of the fatalities.
Observers are looking at two possible angles in the incident—politics and the competition for “jueteng” (illegal numbers game) clientele. Police officers maintained it was a shootout while friends and relatives of the victims cried salvage and rubout. Clearly, this is not how one expects an otherwise colorful life to end.
As a young man, Lontok grew up in a remote barrio in the town of Dolores and saw the enormous disparities in the distribution of wealth and resources in society. His life is a story of an insatiable quest for meaning, as it is entangled with a larger spectrum we call communities.
It is a story of how the harsh reality of Philippine local politics can turn idealism to cynicism. It is also a story of struggle, hope and political disillusionment.
Doromal still hears those words from Lontok: “Iyon lang po ang kaya ko,” to which the former so helplessly yearns to reply: “You have done enough, Jun. Rest in Peace.”
(Joseph Jadway “JJ” Marasigan is the chair of Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services Inc. )
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