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Nardong Putik, the Outlaw King of Cavite

He was once called the terror of Cavite, but some remember him as a renegade hero.
IMAGE WIKIPEDIA/IMDB
ILLUSTRATOR Roland Mae Tanglao
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People are suckers for the Robin Hood trope, and in Cavite, there is no anti-hero more revered (or reviled) than Leonardo Manecio, aka Nardong Putik. Back in the ‘50s to ‘70s, Cavite was practically run by Nardong Putik, an organized crime boss hailing from Dasmariñas, Cavite. Depending on what you heard growing up and on which side of the law you’re on, Nardong Putik was revered as both a hero and a villain, and his gangster life story led to blockbuster films in the late ‘70s.

History books remember him as Cavite’s public enemy number one, while cinema portrayed him as a folk hero and benevolent outlaw. Either way, there’s no doubt that Nardong Putik is a name that’ll go down as one of the most controversial figures in Philippine crime history.

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A Killer For Hire

Like most Robin Hood stories, Leonardo Manecio was born in 1925 to humble parents who sought the best for their son. Back then, Cavite was mostly grassland and vulnerable to the attacks of bandits, cattle rustlers, carnappers, and smugglers—far from the suburban and rural developments we know today. Suffice to say, there were more than a couple of lawless pockets of land around the province, and locals turned to men who could protect them.

And so Manecio’s father turned to Jose Barzaga—of the notable Barzaga clan who still governs Dasmariñas today— for protection by having him become Manecio’s padrino. Little did his father realize that the alliance would lead to his death as he was killed by cattle rustlers believed to be hired by Barzaga's political rivals. Manecio was barely a man when he lost his father, and it birthed who we know now as Nardong Putik.

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That moment changed Nardong Putik. Starting out as a driver and a policeman in the town of Dasmariñas, Nardong Putik eventually fell into a life of crime as a henchman of notable political dynasties in Cavite. He participated in murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, illegal possession of firearms, and illegal growing and dealing of marijuana. His ragtag group of bandits grew and his influence was felt throughout Cavite. He was the outlaw king of Cavite with the underground completely under his control. It came to a point that Cavite’s politicians realized they would need Nardong Putik if they wanted to ensure their hold over the region. And so the criminal became the very image of his father’s killers.

As the urban legends go, Nardong Putik got his name from his tactic of submerging himself in mud paddies to escape the policemen hunting him. He used bamboo or papaya stalks as breathing tubes, and was famous for believing that anting-anting (amulets) protected him against ambushes, gunfights, and arrests. He even tattooed the magical medallion on his body along with Masonic protection charms and the word “Kilabot” across his torso.

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The Terror of Cavite

And a terror he was. By 1952, Nardong Putik cemented his reputation as a man not to be trifled with when he carried out the Maragondon Massacre, which resulted in the death of the town mayor, police chief, and policemen—all of whom were killed by hunting knives in a brutal fashion, as directed by a political figure who is suspected to have hired Nardong Putik and his gang to execute them.

For that massacre, he was convicted and jailed, but managed to escape prison in 1955. Just two years after his escape, he carried out the infamous Election Day Killing in 1957, which ended in the deaths of Lieutenant Colonel Laureano Maraña, the provincial commander of Cavite.

A year later, he surrendered to the police after a 45-minute gun battle. Nardong Putik was given a 182-year jail sentence in Bilibid Prison for his crimes. But even imprisoned, Nardong Putik’s reputation and influence couldn’t be tampered. He was granted freedom of movement by President Ferdinand Marcos during his sentence in order to assist Marcos against his enemies on the ground.

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He escaped prison for the third and final time in 1969, which led to a P20,000 bounty on his head, set by the new acting governor of Cavite, Juanito Johnny Remulla, the late father of the current governor of Cavite, Jonvic Remulla. In his time as a fugitive, Nardong Putik managed to kill two National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents who were on his tail. The death of two NBI agents, coupled with Nardong Putik’s mounting crimes, triggered the formation of an NBI-Constabulary force with one goal: to capture Manecio—dead or alive. And based on news stories and police reports, they were leaning toward dead.

In 1971, pure luck handed Nardong Putik into the hands of the police. They found his hideout. When his car came upon a regular police checkpoint in Kawit, Cavite, he refused to stop, so the 20 policemen who tailed him used that small act of defiance to open fire. Unfortunately for Nardong Putik, no amount of anting-anting was enough to save him. He was killed instantly, his body mutilated by the bullet beyond recognition, thus ending the reign of Nardong Putik as the outlaw king of Cavite.

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A Glorified Legend in Death

The convicted criminal and fugitive's reputation was enough to erase the respect he earned from the locals of Cavite. In his last years, he became known for targeting the rich and endearing himself to the townsfolk of the province. His death was met with both relief and grief.

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During the modern “warlord” days of Cavite, when cattle rustlers would harass farmers, the people didn’t turn to their local politicians for help—they turned to Nardong Putik because they knew that he’d settle any issues immediately. To them, he was the judge, jury, and executioner, with the ability to keep you safe from harm. But for those on his bad side, it was a different story.

Despite being known as the Robin Hood of the region, Nardong Putik was just as severe to farmers and locals as his rivals. For the farmers and locals who failed to cooperate with or pay Nardong Putik, the consequences were often bloody. He created an entire system of protection payments known as his “protection racket” for landowners and tenant farmers. Farmers in Dasmariñas, General Trias, and Imus paid him a large chunk of their harvest despite barely being able to survive on what was left. Contributing to a culture of violence and lawlessness, it was a system that preyed on the struggles of the weak, creating a convoluted heroic image of a bad man.

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His legend only continued after his death when two popular films based on his life were made, with film star and future Senator Ramon Revilla, Sr. playing Nardong Putik. The films portrayed him as a charismatic Robin Hood, an anti-hero for the poor who was protected by the magic of his anting-anting, feeding his reputation as a renegade hero of the people.

But while his romanticized story provides good entertainment and will go down as one of the most fascinating cases in Philippine crime history, Nardong Putik’s legacy is not one of a hero—but one that reflects the words he tattooed across his torso: Kilabot.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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