Si Nitoy Itaas, 50 taong gulang,  isinilang sa Davao noong ika-24 ng Hunyo 1964, ay ama sa tatlong anak at asawa kay Glenda Itaas.  Anak nina Ginoo at Ginang Memerto Itaas. 

Isang aktibista at lider magsasaka noon sa Davao bago siya hulihin at ikulong sa salang pagpatay kay Col. James Rowe ng Amerika.

Ayon pa nga kay Nitoy, nang siya ay iharap sa media noong 1989 ay ang kauna-unahang pagkakataon niyang makatungtong sa Maynila.

Juanito Itaas by Jeff Demyttenaere

One day in 1989, all Manila Newspapers carried the headline “Colonel James Rowe killed by NPA hitmen, An American career soldier, he specialized in anti-insurgency activities and was previously active in Vietnam. Rowe belonged to JUSMAG, the outfit that assured US influence with the Philippine military. To oppose the presence of US bases in the Philippines was sufficient reason to be branded a communist and to be summarily executed even by President Aquino’s security guards within spitting distance of her palace. When American authorities demanded the speedy solution of the killing, the Philippine government quickly obliged and … this is the story of Juanito.

August 27, 1989, 6:30 in the evening. Down South in Mindanao, Juanito, a 25-year old bachelor, had boarded a passenger jeep on his way to church. Suddenly it was blocked by a vehicle loaded with armed men. “A hold-up”, Juanito thought, but the men got hold of him, bound his arms and legs, blindfolded him and threw him the back of the van, the way it is done with pigs for their last trip to the slaughterhouse. 

All throughout the night and the next day he was interrogated, beaten and choked by different shifts to force him into confessing of being the triggerman in the Rowe murder, until he lost consciousness.  A few days later, Juanito was presented to the press as a prize catch and subsequently condemned to serve a life sentence in Muntinlupa, the huge penitentiary South of Manila, housing 8,000 inmates.

It did not matter much what Juanito had done. Fact was that he belonged to a suspicious breed. He was one of ten children of a poor corn and coconut farmer, of which seven are still alive. They all helped out in the fields. Planting and harvesting took priority over schooling. Two of his brothers died in accidents and one was killed in 1982 as a guerilla fighter. Juanito considers him a martyr in the struggle for justice. Besides farming, his father is a part time pastor of the United Church of Christ. Early in life, stocky Juanito joined protest marches demanding land for the tillers. 

When Juanito was 15 years old, he went to work for two years in the shoe factory after which, for eight years, he peddled tapes, radios and textiles in the turbulent settlements of goldminers. There, teams dig the ore in tunnels which, especially during rainy season, tend to cave in and bury numerous screaming fortune seekers. For every ten sack of ore, only three remain with the diggers. Six go to the owner of the tunnel and one to the military positioned at the entrance. But together with his wares, Juanity peddled the idea of social justice. Rowe’s death was a perfect alibi to get rid of this nuisance.

When President Ramos assumed office in 1992, it looked as if Juanito would soon be released. In his effort the project an image of peacemaker, the president seemed to favor the idea of amnesty for the more than 500 political prisoners. But from the US Embassy came the stern warning that those convicted of murdering Rowe should in no way be released nor their sentence shortened. This triggered protests against meddling in the internal affairs of the country. It is improbable, though, that the Philippines would risk to ruffle the sensitivities of the country that sees its role as that of policing the globe. Indeed, for Juanito, prospects of a conditional pardon are bleak.

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