Fierce Abu foe introduced Basilan kids to play football
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—It was in early 2000 that the late church worker Liza del Puerto asked me to hook up with Tiny Perez before covering the remote villages of Basilan for television.
Tiny was Lt. Col. Cristobal Julian Paolo Pacificador Perez and he knew the place like the back of his hand.
He could provide a clear security assessment for journalists and humanitarian workers planning to go beyond Isabela City or Lamitan.
I was expecting a small person, but was surprised to see a tall, muscular mestizo, who can’t stop laughing even at jokes that are not funny.
When he greeted me with a gentle but firm handshake: “Lt. Tiny Perez po,” he said.
It was a security assessment. Almost two dozen journalists were told to stay in Mt. Mahadji and were to leave only after the delivery of 200 sacks of rice. The Abu Sayyaf was holding more than 70 hostages from Tumahubong, Sumisip, including Claretian priest Fr. Rhoel Gallardo.
The security briefing was conducted by 103rd Army Brigade commander Col. Glicerio Sua. Everyone was in rapt attention, not even bothering to touch the delicious snack—except for Tiny.
Breaking the ice
Tiny broke the ice when he accidentally hit the fork laid on the table. He was trying to get the chocolate cake that was nearer to Sua. He beamed even when the icing ended up on his face.
Lt. Col. Andrew Bacala, now commander of the 4th Special Forces Battalion, described Perez, his mistah, as “a happy giant man.”
Both of them graduated from the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) under the Maalab Class of 1993.
“Perez was baptized Tiny by our colleagues during cadet years, because he was so huge, like 5’9”. Very athletic and always a smiling fellow,” Bacala said.
Perez, in his early years at the PMA, was known as CJ, Paolo, Julian or Perez.
Jocelyn Pacificador Perez, Tiny’s mother, described her son as “very gentle, thoughtful and charming.”
“In fact, it was his younger sister who bullied him when they were small. Tiny just cried. When my daughter learned of Tiny’s demise, she cried hard and I gently told her, you made him cry, now it’s his time to make you cry,” Jocelyn said.
Tiny was born in Cebu but grew up in Barangay Maligue in Isabela City, Basilan, when his family moved there. When peace and security were getting worse in Basilan, the family moved back to the Visayas and later to Manila.
Jocelyn said Tiny spent his younger days in Maligue.
“It was his best childhood. Tiny was a kind of boy who easily mingled with other people—Muslims or Christians—all friends to him. I understand why he decided to return to Basilan after graduating from the PMA,” she said.
It was in 1998 when Perez and Bacala landed in Basilan as young lieutenants.
Bacala was company commander of the 24th Special Forces Coy while Perez commanded the 11th Light Armor Company.
Both of them got stationed in Barangay Balawatin in Isabela City and fought lost commands of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), Abu Sayyaf and other lawless elements.
In 2000, Perez was made the head of the 14th Military Intelligence Company or Mico.
Incoming National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. recalled how “Tiny was committed and effective in performing his task.”
“He was behind the successful neutralization of Abu Sayyaf during the 2001 crackdown in Basilan,” Esperon, then brigade commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade in Basilan, said.
In 2002, Perez was made the commanding officer of the intelligence unit of the 1st Infantry Division, but in between 2003 to 2005 and 2008, he served as one of the close-in security aides of Esperon.
Esperon was the commanding general of the Philippine Army and later the Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff.
‘Everyone wanted Tiny’
Perez was the favorite of the top officials, particularly by colonels and generals.
“He always find ways and you never hear him complain. Everyone wanted Tiny,” said one of Perez’s classmates in the PMA, who did not want to be identified.
When Esperon retired from military service, Perez brought his family to Spain for his schooling. Over the yearlong stay in Spain, Perez made some realizations and vowed to bring changes in his approaches in the war against Abu Sayyaf.
In 2011-2012, a tamer, more matured Perez returned.
He once told the Inquirer that he found an effective way to eliminate Abu Sayyaf in Basilan.
Asked how, Perez said “I will get all the kids, even children of the Abu Sayyaf and I will lure them to stay with me, play soccer or football with me, read books or watch movies with me or I will bring them to school.”
Perez said fighting the Abu Sayyaf in the battlefront “may lead to more bandits. We did that in the past, I am back and we still face the same problem, except this time, they are children of our enemies.”
He then introduced football to the children in conflict areas and they instantly loved it. Many of the children he had lured into football also returned to school.
“You see, plucking out one child from a family of ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group) then bring him to travel, let him play football representing Basilan and meet other children and see him off to school, it’s like winning the war against ASG hundredfold,” Perez proudly said during the Football for Peace held in the province in May 2015.
Dedeth Suacito, executive director of Nagdilaab Foundation Inc. in Basilan, said, “Tiny is like a father to young generation of Basilan, he brought education and introduced football that has become favorite of the youth of Basilan.”
Perez adopted some children, some stayed with him. “He produced scholars and looked for sponsors so children can continue their education. He even availed of loans so he can buy uniforms for football players and send them to play in Manila,” Suacito said.
His son, Renzo Perez, plays for La Salle Green Hills and Dragons-Global FC U17 in the United Football League.
In early 2012, Perez also started legwork in Basilan, bringing the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Hadji Dan Asnawi (114th BIAF) and the 104th Army Brigade under Gen. Charlie Galvez, into the peace table.
He was able to bring warring MILF and the MNLF to work together against Abu Sayyaf, says Al Barka Mayor Darussalam Ladjid.
He was also part of the campaign that put down two notorious foreign terrorists—Mohammad Khattab and Najib Hussin, aka “Abu Annas.” He also helped other units in Basilan in locating bomb-making facilities, particularly the one in Mohammad Ajul.
Perez was shot dead just outside his house in Barangay Guiwan here. He was 46.
Perez’s wife Florie May said, “Tiny had become so engrossed in his advocacy, that every single project, he treated it like his own.”
“He loved Basilan so much, the people, the communities, the food, the culture,” she said.
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