MEDINA, Constantino Reyes

Constantino Medina was born on the eve of the feast day of St. Helena of Constantinople, thus his name. He was also called Tinoy and Ante. Tinoy grew up in the coastal town of Hagonoy, in a barangay called Sagrada Familia, where poems can be plucked off the air just by the way people speak. His father was a fishpond caretaker while his mother looked after the couple’s six children.

Tinoy’s early life was like most everyone else’s in Hagonoy, a fisherman’s life. Even as a young boy, he fished in the sea, repaired footpaths and levees in fish ponds, and gathered seaweeds in Manila Bay to sell to gelatin makers. He was hardworking and industrious, but quiet and unassuming. He liked reading and had a quick, inquisitive mind. Friends say he could have become a lawyer.

In the late 1970s, Bulacan produced a number of nationalist and progressive writers and artists, such as a group called Galian sa Arte at Tula (GAT). These artists would sometimes bring their barriomates, Tinoy among them, to watch for free some of the plays staged by the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) in Manila.

The PETA plays Tinoy saw woke him up to realities in Philippine society and started his political awakening. When he heard that a protest rally was being scheduled in Manila, Tinoy and some of his townmates would plan to join these protests. He was joining more and more political meetings, taking him away from home for long periods of time. He was the fifth in the group of organizers that was formed to start the seeds of Bulacan’s AMGL.

The Bulacan Martyrs

While most ordinary Filipinos were cowed by the repressive machinations of the Marcos dictatorship, a good number actually exhorted the population to defy the regime and struggle to reclaim their freedoms and see democracy restored in the country. Most of these courageous few came from the youth sector.

The youth had the advantage of exuberance, idealism, and a deep sense of love for country. They, particularly the students in schools, also had access to information and resources useful for understanding the situation the country was in. It was natural that the youth would be the least cowed by the dictatorship.

Testing the martial law waters, first they organized to demand reforms in the campuses, raising issues such as tuition fee increases and demanding the restoration of student councils and student publications. Then they spread out into the communities and the rural areas, where they engaged the rest of the working population in discussions and debates, seeking to sweep away apathy and fear, and bolster the people’s courage to fight for justice and freedom. In doing this, these young people often had to abandon lives of comfort and ease, risking discovery, arrest, jail, even death, for some higher purpose. Many survived these risky ventures but some did not. They fell on the wayside, never returning to their old lives or their waiting families, their bloods merging with the soil where they fell.

Among these young people who heeded this powerful call to give all for one’s country despite the risks, never to return and never even to see victory, are the five youths from Bulacan province being nominated for Bantayog’s roster of heroes and martyrs: Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Teresita LLorente, Renato Manimbo, and Constantino Medina.

Circumstances of Death          

The group had been meeting to draft a program of action and to evaluate their initial work. Just this early stage had taken months to do. Then, one day in June of 1982, they were meeting inside a farmer’s house in Pulilan town when a huge group of soldiers came and took them away. The following day, all five were found dead.

A factsheet from the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (July 9, 1982) later gave an account of the incident:

They were six organizers, including a female, meeting at a farmer’s house to assess their work when suddenly they heard orders “not to move” for the house was surrounded. Then emerged some 30 heavily-armed soldiers from the 175th Philippine Constabulary (PC) Company led by a captain and a major. One of the six organizers inside the house managed to climb out of a window undetected and hide himself on the rooftop. The rest of the unarmed organizers submitted themselves without resistance.

Early the following morning, townspeople of San Rafael, some 20 kilometers away, were shocked to see five bullet-riddled bodies displayed at a corner of their municipal hall. Casualties from an encounter, the PC soldiers said. The municipal hall employees shelled out personal money to buy caskets, and for the female who was clad in pajamas, a pair of jeans. They had the bodies buried at the local cemetery in the afternoon of that same day.

The sixth member, still unaware of his friends’ fate, quickly told the victims’ families what had happened. Relatives immediately went to inquire at the camp of the 175th PC Company as well as in other possible military centers, but they were told no such detainees were being held in their camp. They learned of the deaths the following day.

The families of Rey Manimbo and Edwin Borlongan recovered their bodies on the third day. Those of the three others were recovered ten days after the incident, but only with the intercession with the military of the Bishop of Malolos. The bodies of all five showed heavy bruises and many bullet wounds.


Nine priests offered to concelebrate a funeral mass for the last three bodies to be recovered. The mass was said at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, after which the bodies were buried at the Meycauayan Cemetery. A campaign was started in Bulacan among various church and human rights groups to press for justice for the five youths. When Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. was himself assassinated a year later, many Bulakeños joined the protests, remembering the five unarmed youths whose lives were so harshly snuffed out the year before. Many poems, songs and stories would be written in memory of the five organizers. The AMGL itself began to take root in Bulacan. The perpetrators were not known to have been investigated nor punished.

FRANCISCO, Oscar Diamaro

Francisco, Oscar

Oscar was Oca to most who knew him. His socio-political activism started in the late 1960s with the Student Catholic Action (SCA) in Mapua University, and later at the Manila Archdiocese. He also was involved with the reform-oriented National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) under the leadership of the late Edgar Jopson (a Bantayog honoree), and then later the Christians for National Liberation (CNL).

Shortly before the declaration of martial law in 1972, Oca began a life-long involvement in community work, then called community organizing or CO. Working under church programs, Oca became a trainer and supervisor of community organizers, working primarily in Tondo, one of Metro Manila’s oldest and poorest districts.

When Marcos imposed martial law, he wanted to build an international port in the Tondo foreshore, thus ordering the razing of the homes of some 30,000 informal settlers in the area. Oca, doing organizing work in Tondo’s Magsaysay Village, was right in the center of what often became a fierce battleground between the regime and the affected villagers. In order to empower the local people, Oca together with organizers from the local parish, helped set up a broad alliance called Zone One Tondo Organization (ZOTO). The resident “squatters” defied the regime. They trooped to offices to submit petition papers, talked to foreign reporters, invited nuns and priests to their homes. They had a single message: Marcos’ plan was unjust and inhuman. ZOTO’s open defiance, which could not be cowed despite arrests and threats, made the community one of the Marcos regime’s biggest embarrassments abroad. Oca was a key figure in this local movement.

Oca was respected and even loved by many of Tondo’s tough community leaders. He was not only an effective community organizer; he was a brilliant trainer of organizers. He proposed daring tactics. He was quick to grasp situations and adapt them to his goals. He was calling on people to help themselves, applying the concept of “people power” when the term was yet unknown. More important, ZOTO’s thousands of poor families soon were joining the marches and rallies against the dictatorship.

After his stint with ZOTO, Oca joined the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), under the justice and peace desk and the desk for poor settlers. He continued to show out-of-the-box thinking, introducing innovations such as the creation of justice and peace groups nationwide. These groups later became the nucleus for a strong national ecumenical human rights network called the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, or EMJP.

Oca was also a key person in the development of the Basic Christian Community-Community Organizing (BCC-CO), a church program that became a crucial weapon in many urban and rural communities nationwide in resisting the Marcos dictatorship.

Oca’s contribution to the anti-Marcos struggle is incalculable. One of his most notable strengths was in building alliances. By the early 1980s, friends were seeking his help in building such broad anti-dictatorship alliances as the People’s Assembly for the Pope’s Arrival (PAPA), the National Coalition for the Protection of Workers’ Rights (NCPWR), the People’s Movement for Nationalism, Independence and Democracy (People’s MIND), the Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy (CORD), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), and the Lakbayan-Sakbayan (March and Caravan) for the campaign to boycott the 1984 elections.

His friends sometimes claimed that Oca had one of the most number of “comrades” in the anti-dictatorship circles. They came from north to south, and ranged from the proudest to the humblest, the highest of the high and the lowest of the low.

After Marcos was overthrown, Oca went full blast into supporting initiatives for urban and rural development, agrarian reform, as well as people empowerment and good governance. These initiatives included the Partnership for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (PARRDS), where he was executive director, and later president, and the Philippine NGO Council for Food Security and Fair Trade, where he was president for 14 years.

Towards the late 1990s, Oca returned to his Leyte roots and started the Leyte-based Institute for Democratic Participation in Governance, serving as its first executive director. He continued to be tapped as consultant for pro-poor programs in both rural and urban areas by the government and even international organizations.

He accepted several government positions, always choosing posts that allowed him to help the poor. For nine years, he was NGO sectoral representative in the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission, later its vice-chair. He was board member of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), and consultant at the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the KALAHI-CIDSS Program of the Department of Social Work and Development. For a short while, Oca also served as party-list representative at the House of Representatives.

Yet as he rose in position, he remained grounded, full of humor, and approachable. He always welcomed his friends who irreverently called him “General Tolindoy.” In or out of government, Oca pursued his crusade for the working people, fighting to enhance their power and to improve their welfare.

In the late 1990s, his health took a turn for the worse. Diabetes slowly ravaged his body. He finally succumbed to it in 2010.
Oca led in mobilizing the national network of diocesan social action centers in the promotion of human rights, justice, peace and the integrity of creation based on Gospel values. He also played a key role in linking the church with secular national and international movements for peace and justice. -SOPHIE LIZARES BODEGON, FORMER COORDINATOR OF THE NASSA RESEARCH DEPARTMENT

Two things strike me … : how Oca kept out of prison despite all his activities and statements in favor of empowering the poor and opposing Marcos’s martial law regime, and how he was so frequently effective both in stimulating consensus on contriversial matters and in modifying excesses. -VICTOR GERARDO BULATAO, MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, LANDBANK

I was one of the many who witnessed Ka Oca’s heroism, not only as a political and social activist, but as a man who knew his mission and the roles he had to play at the right time. -JOHN MARK CAJIUAT

Oca was truly one of the many people who contributed in toppling the dictatorship. Fueled by his passion to teach and mentor people with a heart for real change, he was able to hone young community organizers to become people’s partners in understanding and asserting their rights. -ATTY. ARMANDO D. JARILLA, NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF TASK FORCE MAPALAD INC.

Oca will be remembered for his service to the poor, his pioneering work in human rights under the Marcos dictatorship, and for his work as coalition builder, reformer and bridge-builder. 

We all knew Oca as a critical instrument in the building of alliances between the included and the excluded in our society, a crucial hand in coalition building, and a determined reformer and bridge builder between civil society and the state. -FRANCISCO LARA, COUNTRY DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL ALERT, UK

Oca had the sensitivity to religious belief and the respect for differences of opinion that many of our friends had in the 1970s. -DENNIS MURPHY, URBAN POOR ALLIANCE

I am deeply humbled and remain in awe of Oca Francisco’s valuable contributions to the cause of democracy, justice, and human rights… What a difference Oca would have made if we still had him working … within our ranks. -ALEXANDER A. PADILLA, EXECUTIVE VICE-PRESIDENT AND CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, PHILHEALTH

For his exemplary service in organizing the people of the Tondo foreshore and other communities during martial law, for enabling them to participate in decision-making and to exert their interests in an authoritarian regime, I strongly recommend (Oca to) the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. -MARY RACELIS, PROFESSOR AND RESEARCH SCIENTIST, ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY

Those years of ZOTO and Ugnayan were the golden years of people organization because of organizers like Ka Oca, who leave no stones unturned, so that the message of the urban poor can be heard. -TRINIDAD HERRERA REPUNO, FOUNDING PRESIDENT OF THE ZONE ONE TONDO ORGANIZATION

ILAGAN, Laurente Calanog

Ilagan, Laurente

Laurente, or Larry, Ilagan was born in old Manila's Sampaloc district, but the family moved to Davao in the 1950s and settled there, where Larry's father developed his law practice while his mother worked in government as teacher and then supervisor. Larry was a brilliant student, taking all of his schooling at the Ateneo de Davao.  In 1968, while still a law student, he married a former college classmate, Luzviminda ("Inday"), by then a teacher, and henceforth started a family.

After Larry finished law (top of his graduating class), he joined his father's law office and soon proved himself an outstanding corporate lawyer. Activism was ripening in Davao City but the couple, who had many friends in the activist movement and were both sympathetic to the various issues being raised by them, were busy earning a living and rearing a family to become involved.

Larry had been in practice barely a few months when Marcos declared martial law. The mass arrests that followed Marcos' crackdown included activists in Larry's neighborhood and Larry was asked to provide pro bono legal counsel to them. He was soon the legal counsel to more and more arrested activists, the only lawyer in Davao City to risk his career so during those early years of the dictatorship. His wife remembers the experience of strangers knocking at their house in the dead of the night, seeking "the lawyer who can help."

Around 1975 the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines under the Association of the Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines established a regional office in Davao City, and Larry became the TFDP's lawyer. Later, he also joined the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG.) Both gave him additional authority and support for his growing human rights work.

As the political situation in Davao City did not ease up, the resistance to the dictatorship spread to the schools and communities and in the churches. Military raids of villages grew more often, which swelled the number of people filling up the martial law prisons. Larry handled cases of bombing victims as well and prosecuting military abuses, including military operations to drive people out of their villages, then called "hamletting," after the American practice in Vietnam.

Larry was often overworked with his human rights lawyering, but he slowly gained influence among his colleagues, particularly the young lawyers. He showed them it was possible to provide good and intelligent counsel to those who worked for justice and other political issues surrounding martial law. He was FLAG Mindanao coordinator for some time.

Even before the Aquino assassination in 1983, and certainly to a much greater extent after that, Larry became committed to the struggle against the dictatorship. He had become a member of the Justice for Aquino Justice for All movement, the Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy, a broad and nationwide organization; and then the Coalition for the Restoration of Democracy (CORD). He also helped convene many protest groups in Davao, including the Lihuk Hugpong Alang sa Katungod, the Anti-Dictatorship Movement, the Mindanao Nationalist and Democratic Opposition, and the Concerned Lawyers Union of Mindanao (COLUMN).  Larry was appointed president of the Davao chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, by then quite critical of the Marcos regime. He also chaired the IBP chapter's human rights committee, even as he continued to provide legal counsel to organizations like the TFDP and the Mindanao-Sulu Secretariat for Social Action (MISSA).

His reputation in Mindanao spread as a fearless fighter of the Marcos dictatorship, but most especially as a hardworking and committed human rights lawyer who often risked his own safety, traveling on his own on little-traversed roads, to counsel martial law victims and their families.

By 1985, Davao City, much like the entire country, was in turmoil. Larry was in the thick of the protest actions which eventually paralyzed economic activities not only in the city but all over Mindanao island. A Welgang Bayan was called on May 1, 1985, and local support for it was very strong. Davao was simply exploding with anger against the Marcos regime.

A few days later, the 5th of May, Larry, resting at a coffee shop after attending a court hearing, was himself arrested and brought to nearby Camp Catitipan. Two colleagues, Attys. Antonio Arellano and Marcos Risonar, were arrested the same day. Later the three lawyers were flown to the notorious Camp Bicutan in Manila, where they spent a few months' incarceration with other political prisoners. They were returned to Camp Catitipan January of the following year and were determinedly hatching an escape plan when the "People Power Revolt" in February led to Marcos' downfall. They were immediately released from their nine-months' imprisonment.

An important footnote in Larry's case is that it created a legal principle in the Philippines, termed the Ilagan Doctrine after Larry's name, that remains in effect today. At that time in 1985, the then Supreme Court, acting on Larry's petition for habeas corpus, ruled that habeas corpus may no longer be sought as a remedy against a warrantless arrest (the lawyers were arrested on the strength of a "PDA" or preventive detention action, without a court warrant), once charges have been filed in court against a person in custody. (Charges of rebellion were slapped against them days after their arrest.)

Larry filed his habeas corpus case against then defense secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and a number of other martial law administrators. Thus the case is now called in law Ilagan vs Enrile. The counsels for the three lawyers included such legal lights as the retired Chief Justice Roberto Conception and retired Associate Chief Justice Jose B. L. Reyes, Lorenzo Tañada, Wigberto Tañada, Joker Arroyo, Raul Roco, Haydee Yorac, Francisco Chavez, Fulgencio Factoran and Martiniano Vivo (a good number of those dead being now on the Bantayog heroes' roster).

Renowned human rights lawyer Romeo Capulong who passed away recently said in 2011 that the Ilagan doctrine was a remnant of the Marcos dictatorship's repressive tools, a tool used to carry out illegal arrests and arbitrary detention, tools that violate citizens' constitutional and basic rights.

On Larry's release in 1986, he resumed his legal practice, as well as his involvement in progressive politics. He refused offers for government positions, saying he was better able to serve out of it. He however accepted a temporary government job which he held only for a few months. He was diagnosed for cancer not long after he started as Davao City's legal officer in 2001 and then died not long after.

When he had accepted that he was dying, Larry told his close friends that when he did go, he wanted no eulogies, not even a funeral march to mark his leaving. He wanted to leave quietly, he said. He died as he had wanted, but people he worked with and those he served had never forgotten this special Filipino, who often told aspiring law students that a lawyer could do only either of two things in life: to work to become rich, or to serve the ends of justice. "There's nothing in between," he said. It was obvious by how he led his life what choice he made.

MORALES, Rogelio Concepcion

Morales, Rogelio C. pic

Capt. Rogelio C. Morales - master mariner, educator, nationalist - came from a seafaring clan, with a father and several relatives holding various ranks and responsibilities in the seafaring industry. He was born, and grew up, in Manila’s Quiapo district.

Capt. Morales was a deep believer in human rights and social justice. Long before he was incarcerated in 1974 at Ipil Detention Center in Fort Bonifacio, he had, since the mid-1950s, actively promoted the rights of seafarers.  He was president of the Philippine Marine Officers’ Guild (PMOG) in 1954 and of the Federation of Maritime Workers (FMW). Since then, Capt. Morales has led many, and oftentimes protracted, industrial actions in the ports of Cebu and Manila. His efforts won due benefits for underpaid seafarers, longshoremen, and lighterage crews. This earned him the ire of oppressive ship owners, shipping agents, and rice-and-fish union leaders in company payrolls.  At tremendous personal sacrifice, he founded the Philippine Merchant Marine Society (PMMS) and the Philippine Merchant Marine Union (PMMU) in 1969.

Father to two sons and a daughter, manning the picket lines was no easy task. His wife “Mama Belen” (who recently passed away on August 30, 2012 from a prolonged illness) supported his ideals and principles through and through. Second son Nicasio (died November 1, 1999) grew up to become a staunch advocate for democracy and human rights even as an exile in the United States. Eldest son Rogelio Jr. and only daughter Leni also immersed themselves in the efforts for the restoration of democracy in the country. Capt. Morales also helped mentor the sons and in-laws of his siblings, making them reach the pinnacle of the maritime profession as ship masters or harbor pilots.

Capt. Morales was simply and fondly referred to by students and friends as “Cap”.  As superintendent of the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA), (the formerly historic Escuela Nautica de Manila or Philippine Nautical School), he was instrumental in its transformation as the country’s (and the region’s) premier marine deck and engine officer school. But in 1972, his vocal opposition to Marcos’ repressive policies caused him to be dislodged from PMMA with trumped up charges. Jobless and soon after, a marked man, he turned to his physics and mathematics to craft a method of ship magnetic compass compensation and adjustment to earn for his family’s keep. Time and cost-efficient, Capt. Morales’ system proved to be highly beneficial to the maritime industry, especially for vessels that caught in mid storms or were fresh from the dockyards. He became a certified compass adjuster in 1974, soon after his release from detention.

In 1983, Capt. Morales founded the Concerned Seamen of the Philippines (CSP). Aside from promoting the welfare of the Filipino seafarer, it put out a political message: that of the necessity and timeliness of severing the “long hand of the Marcos dictatorship” which sought to squeeze OFW dollar remittances to buoy up the sagging martial law economy via seamanpower export. CSP’s membership rose from a few to thousands in a short time.  Under his indefatigable leadership, CSP won at the picket lines and in the courts.

Known for his fiery speeches, Capt. Morales delivered a scathing critique of the Marcos regime before the 5th International Christian Maritime Association (ICMS) conference in May 1985 in Baguio City. He said that “National policy has been unkind to the Filipino seafarer”. His international audience of religious personnel and seafarers knew what he meant. The CSP then became a vehicle for the international mobilization of anti-martial law forces in the global maritime industry.

Abroad, Capt. Morales also spoke before member institutions of the Seamen’s Church Institute – Center for Seafarers’ Rights to solicit international sympathies for the struggles of the Filipino seafarers and the people at large under authoritarian rule.

While at this, Capt. Morales, being an old hand in the pre-martial law opposition, sought to unite the various aboveground and clandestine groups in what was then the broadest anti-martial law unity before the EDSA 1986 uprising. He liaised between and among them, provided them venues for communication, as well as refuge and logistics. He tirelessly discussed and debated with them, among others, on the best ways to achieve understanding and united action.

Capt. Morales passed away one morning on February 19, 1994, in bed at his residence in White Plains, Quezon City. He had a stroke that caused his big heart to stop beating.

His long-time friendship with Dr. Dante Simbulan, Navy Capt. Dante Vizmanos and PUP President Nemesio Prudente, (Bantayog honoree) among others, all with maritime backgrounds and staunch nationalists, helped steer a lifetime of unwavering commitment to truth, reason and justice and against all forms of oppression and exploitation. Ms. Carolina S. Malay, a friend of the captain, attests thus: “Belonging to a generation that came of age just after World War II, Captain Morales was someone who took his principles seriously.  He believed that fighting the Marcos dictatorship was a duty of all patriotic Filipinos, and he did his best to support the struggle in whatever way he could. “

True to his simplicity, he chose to have his remains kept in an unpainted wooden box at a morgue and simple eulogies said at the Manila Memorial Park, Paranaque, while his mortal body was being cremated.

ORTIGAS, Virgil Montero

Ortigas, Virgil

Philippine history is full of stories of young heroes, such as Emilio Jacinto and Gregorio del Pilar who both joined the revolution when they were barely out of their teens, and dead by the time they were 24 years old, fighting to help end Spanish rule.

A young man from Jaro, Iloilo City followed the path of these young models. Virgil Montero Ortigas of Jaro, Iloilo City was 20 years old when he started on his activism.

Virgil was the youngest son of a Baptist Minister and a teacher. He was outgoing and he loved to play the guitar. He had his education at the Central Philippine University, a Protestant-founded and managed institution in Iloilo City. His childhood was steeped in faith and in values.

Virgil was in college in the late 1960s, a time of great political ferment.  Virgil’s sense of right and wrong was pricked by the depravities he was seeing. As their Manila counterparts, students in Iloilo were taking their demands for reforms to the streets. Virgil joined the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST) and participated in discussions and other fora to learn more of the country’s worsening political situation. In a short while, he was at the forefront of the students’ campaign for reforms to education.

When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in 1971, Virgil pressed all the more to organize the students and the people in general to oppose the creeping repression. He joined one student organization after another. He was instrumental in the formation of a coalition of Ilongo organizations committed to oppose government moves to curtail the people’s freedom.

When martial law was declared in 1972, Virgil left the university and moved to the rural areas, living with sacadas and trying to understand the roots of their problems. He learned the ways that farmers were being exploited and how the lands they were tilling were being grabbed from them. Virgil was living with a group of other former students, themselves also seeking to understand local realities as well as trying to share their own insights with local residents.

Marcos called a referendum in 1973 as part of his plan to have a new Constitution ratified.  The students in Virgil’s group sought to make sense of the Constitutional draft and began to campaign against provisions that were embedded in the draft charter in order to perpetuate Marcos in power. This education campaign brought Virgil’s group to Antique, where, apart from campaigning against the sham referendum, they also undertook to conduct further studies on the social conditions of the people in the countryside.

This was the initiative of student Edmundo Legislador, (Bantayog honoree) who wanted to understand the situation of the horrendously exploited sacadas. (Also with the group was Atenean Ferdinand Arceo, also a Bantayog honoree.)

The students were winding down their research when military operations were conducted in the area where they were. It was the last days of July 1973. On July 25th, a vehicle bearing Virgil and his friends was stopped at a checkpoint. They were recognized as the students campaigning against the referendum. They were ordered to get down and to move to another vehicle. Virgil tried to break free. A melee followed, and Virgil’s captors shot him down.

The violence did not end there. On July 27, the day of the referendum, student Ed Legislador was killed while sleeping in a hut, and on the 29th, student Ferdinand Arceo and 2 others were shot dead as they were walking along a beach.

Western Visayan bishops issued a pastoral letter condemning the brutality of the slayings in Antique. Virgil’s aging parents were hit badly by the loss of Virgil because an older brother, Fluellen, was at that time being held as a political prisoner in Manila. Yet Virgil’s death inspired the community in Antique to fight their fear of the dictator and defend their human and civil rights.

PETALCORIN, Raymundo Ortega

Petalcorin, Raymundo

Raymundo Ortega Petalcorin was born in barrio Mainit, Nabunturan town, Davao Del Norte. The town is now part of the eleven municipalities that comprise the province of Compostella Valley. His father was a peasant settler who managed to acquire his own land to till. The elder Petalcorin was also able to put up a small sari-sari store and a copra and gold-dust buying station. He also served as barangay captain of Mainit from 1972 to 1994.

Raymundo was fondly called “Rhyme” by family and friends. They recalled him as being a bit mischievous as a boy but grew up to be a respected young man with a deep sense of justice. He loved to sing and play the guitar and often volunteered in church activities, especially during fiestas and special occasions.

It was in the late ‘60s when Rhyme enrolled in the University of Mindanao in Davao City as a Criminology student. It was a time when glaring social inequities and repressive actions of the state were being criticized by an emerging politically-conscious populace. As in Manila, the students of Davao took to the streets to protest and organize people against this growing threat. This led to the creation of the Young Christian Liberation Movement (YCLM) a youth organization that worked closely with farmer organizations in their bid to institute reforms in the agrarian sector. Rhyme Petalcorin was one of its founders.

Rhyme led YCLM members in protest actions against the Marcos government. YCLM joined the Khi Rho, the youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers, in staging demonstrations, pickets, and other activities in an effort to bring to government’s attention the plight of the farmers. Among the issues they brought to fore were cases of land-grabbing and abuse of human rights in Mindanao.

When martial law was declared, Rhyme left school altogether and together with other YCLM members, spent most of their time with the villagers of Nabunturan, trying to explain the new repressive regime and building up the villagers' will to resist abuses. They often went hungry, and Rhyme soon suffered from stomach ulcers. They lived under the constant threat of discovery and arrest.

Rhyme also did similar work in nearby Laac town, near Mt. Apo, among Aetas, Dibabawon and other indigenous peoples. Here he started writing songs to better put his message across. The songs told of the harsh life that people led in the Compostella Valley, the military abuses perpetrated against civilians, particularly women, a critique of the Marcos regime's New Society, the harassment suffered by settlers from multinational corporations, how Mansakas were being driven away by bigtime loggers, and how the Marcos government favored the rich and trampled on the poor.

The songs had titles like "Alimacoy," "Atong Composohon (Let us Write)," "Ay Ferding," "Gitonto Mi (We were Cheated)," and "Ikaw Gidagmalan (You were Hurt)." They became popular locally.

As martial law took a deeper hold in the country, bigger military operations were launched in Mindanao, in particular in the Davao provinces, leading to an explosion in the incidence of human rights abuses. Rhyme and his group of students persisted in their mission, although it grew ever more dangerous. They believed that the need to resist the regime had become even more urgent. With his guitar and his songs, Rhyme was a popular presence, made even more so when he started to use newly-learned skills as paghihilot and acupuncture. To the perpetually poor people of the Davao hinterlands, such free medical help, offered so compassionately, was very welcome and much treasured.

Rhyme was killed with two others on February 27, 1976, in barrio Matilo, Compostela Valley, by members of the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF). The CHDF surrounded the house they were resting in and opened fire. By then 23 years old, Rhyme spent four years undertaking his unusual mission in the Compostela Valley. His family came to bring his body home for burial.

Rhyme Petalcorin was a much-loved son who urged the people of Nabunturan to defend their rights and whose songs gave them hope amid their despair. Engraved on his tomb were words he often uttered: “Maulaw ako nga aduna pay tawo nga pobre pa kanako” (I am ashamed that there are people much poorer than I am) and also this self-made acrostic which expressed his attitude of servility to the people: “Remember Human, You’re My Everything (RHYME).

PURUGGANAN, Miguel Gatan

Purugganan, Miguel

Miguel Purugganan prepared for the priesthood first as a high school seminarian in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, then at the University of Santo Tomas, in Manila. He was ordained in Rome in 1957. Subsequently, he took a doctorate degree in canon law at the famous Jesuit Gregorian University in Rome. He completed the degree with the highest honors (summa cum laude). He proceeded to take another doctorate degree, this time in theology,  but he was unable to complete it because he received orders to return to the Philippines.

His first job as a priest was as seminary prefect of discipline. Then, in succession, he became a bishop's secretary, an assistant parish priest, a seminar rector, a vicar-general of the diocese of Tuguegarao, auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Nueva Segovia, and finally, in 1974, bishop of the diocese of Ilagan. At 39, he was considered young for the post. He held the post until 1999.

Priests who studied with him remember him as a caring person, someone who fought for the rights and welfare of fellow priests and seminarians, while keeping the respect of seminary authorities. His students from his Latin classes also respected him, remembering him as someone strict but gentle.

As bishop, he became a strong presence in the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). He was chair of its commission on lay apostolate, and a member of its commissions on canon law, and on social action. He was also a member of its Permanent Council.

His most significant contribution as church leader rose from his involvement in social action work and his determined defense of human rights under the brutal Marcos regime. This was at a time when his country in general, and his diocese in particular, was wracked by fear and uncertainty, as a result of martial law.

Popularly called Bishop Mike in his diocese and Apung Mike by his priests, Bishop Purugganan is remembered as one of seven bishops who denounced martial law and the Marcos dictatorship when the regime was just beginning. This earned the bishops the tag the "Magnificent Seven."

Bishop Mike opened diocesan programs to respond to the regime's repressive policies, particularly to help the poor defend themselves against the regime's abusive policies. Among these programs was the Community-Based Health and Development Program (CBHDP), which the military charged was a front for communist activity.

He built up his diocesan staff for social action in the communities. These diocesan workers soon joined the regime's "wanted list" in Isabela. When some of them were arrested and hauled to the military camp for their work, Bishop Mike pursued them there, confronting military authorities and demanding his workers’ release.

Farmers and priests in Isabela cite Bishop Mike’s very strong support for farmers in the province who, under martial law, were struggling to keep their control over a huge tract of land. The land, spanning some 11,000 hectares, was being claimed by the very powerful Marcos crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco and Cojuangco’s business partner, Antonio Carag, who wanted to convert it to agribusiness uses. Some 20,000 peasants were affected, but the peasants did not readily give way. They took a stand.

Marcos himself sent soldiers to the province to harass the farmers and force them to surrender to Cojuangco’s schemes. For many months, armed soldiers and private guards terrorized the villagers in the two haciendas, arresting and beating up farmer leaders, burning villagers’ houses, and generally sowing fear among the people. All too concretely, martial law made itself felt in Isabela.

Luckily for the farmers, they were not left to fight their battles by themselves. Many church people, led by the Bishop of Ilagan himself, gave aid and support. Bishop Mike placed the entire social action network under his office to help the farmers’ struggles. One day in December 1981, he led over 50 priests, nuns and members of the media to pay the haciendas a visit, evading fully armed soldiers and private guards who sought to keep visitors out.

Bishop Mike and most of his staff were placed under constant military surveillance. Days after the Aquino assassination in 1983, soldiers raided Bishop Mike's residence in Ilagan and another nuns' residence nearby. They sought but failed to find firearms and individuals who were on their “wanted” list. Far from being cowed, Bishop Mike denounced these raids.

On the national scene, Bishop Mike helped found the Basic Christian Communities - Community Organizing (BCC-CO) program, and was the program's chair for many years. The BCC-CO became acknowledged as one of the most effective ways that church people had been able to empower parish communities by teaching people their rights and interests, urging them to struggle for their true aspirations, and to resist the chilling effect of martial law. The BCC-CO encouraged communities to make the regime accountable for its excesses, and often led in demanding a stop to the militarization in the countryside.

Bishop Mike showed other church people how they could act with honor to resist an unjust regime, serve one’s people, and remain fully in the grace of their faith. He served as bishop of Ilagan for 25 years, retired in 1999 and died in 2011 after a stroke.

REYES, Victor Dandan

Victor Reyes pic

Victor was a college sophomore taking up engineering in FEATI University when he became a political activist. At first he only sat in on some of the discussion groups that were being held around the FEATI campus, dealing with economic and political situationers inside the country as well as outside. Later he himself began to lead these discussion groups, often attracting students from outside FEATI to join in.

His first organization was the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). He was instrumental in starting FEATI’s SDK chapter.

Later he became interested in problems facing Metro Manila’s factory workers and so the SDK encouraged him to establish the organization’s labor committee, which he did.  In 1971, he met his future wife Agnes Calda, also a student activist also working on labor problems. Often they worked together establishing ties with jeepney drivers and shop workers in Malabon, as well as mobilizing support for troubled workers in a large knitwear factory in Caloocan.

His involvement led him to then labor leader Crispin Beltran, at that time active with the Confederation of Labor of the Philippines (CLP), a small federation of trade unions with offices near the Quiapo district in Manila. Victor joined Beltran on the latter’s visits and meetings with leaders of CLP union-members in Southern Luzon. Victor grew to admire the leader, who he thought was a genuine unionist, a true patriot and a nationalist. Beltran returned this sentiment, listening to the young activist’s advice, seeking his views on the critical issues that faced the country then.

Victor’s other activities in the SDK labor committee involved assisting in various union work, helping put up unions in un-unionized factories, or leading discussion groups with workers in their workshops. He started keeping vigil with workers in strike areas.

When Marcos declared martial law, labor organizing was one of the worse hit by the ensuing crackdown. By then already out of the university and a fulltime labor organizer, Victor pursued his commitment determinedly but quietly. He strove to build the spirits of those laborers who wanted to keep their unions working in defense of their rights and welfare. To further establish his legal credentials and learn more about the new regime’s labor laws, Victor attended labor education seminars at the University of the Philippines.

Labor lawyer Hermon Lagman (whose name is already in the Bantayog wall) became one of his close associates in those days.  During these very difficult and dangerous times, the two colleagues were often seen visiting workplaces talking and giving advice to worker leaders, strategizing on trade union and related issues.

Then one day, Lagman and Reyes were set to meet with certain leaders for another consultation. The two never arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place. Family and friends were alarmed, immediately fearful for their safety. Fellow labor leaders, as well as Lagman’s lawyer friends, together with human rights lawyers such as the late senator Jose W. Diokno (whose name is also on the Bantayog Wall), launched a search for the two activists. The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) also helped –to no avail.

The two labor activists had simply gone missing, with no trace having ever found of their bodies or their whereabouts.

Outside of the small circle of human rights advocates and champions of labor that Victor had worked with in those dark days of the martial law era, very few took notice of the disappearance of these two colleagues. It was 1977, and still too few dared to speak out against the Marcos regime. But the respective friends and families of these two martyrs for freedom continued their search tirelessly, hoping to learn of their fate.  Their disappearance has remained one of the many unsolved cases under martial law.

The Comelec Walkout of 1986

On February 9 of 1986, “thirty-five tabulators/computer workers, officially composed of 30 women and 5 men manning the Comelec’s quick count computer terminals walked out of the PICC Plenary Hall in protest of what they said was the cheating they were being made party to” (Alex Baluyut) referring to the tabulation results of the  1986 Philippine Presidential Snap Election.

He Was My Human Rights Lawyer

(Written by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo for the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

I AM STILL a bit shaky after learning from Inquirer editor in chief Letty J. Magsanoc that Joker Arroyo has “passed on to the highest court in the great beyond,” but I am under orders “to write a personal tribute,” so I write.

When an Army general of the Marcos dictatorship slapped me with a P10-million libel suit in 1983 for my Panorama magazine article on human rights violations committed against rural folks in Bataan province, the publication gave me a lawyer, and from the Siguion-Reyna Law Office no less. And then I got a call from Joker Arroyo whom I had never spoken to personally but whom I knew as a tough human rights lawyer and defender of big-name Marcos victims as well as unknown ones languishing in the dungeons of martial rule. I had been familiar with cases documented by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, and had helped in some of their publications, so his name rang loud.

His face was familiar too because he was among those often photographed with bigwigs of the anti-Marcos forces in rallies. He was also in photographs taken at the court trial of Ninoy Aquino that showed the defense team that included him and Sen. Lorenzo Tañada.

Could he have a word with me? Joker said on the phone. Could we meet somewhere?

Joker came alone to a small restaurant in Quezon City and offered to be my lawyer. Pro bono, of course. I told him that I already had a lawyer, Saklolo Leano of Siguion-Reyna. He said he knew “Sak,” that they would work together to defend me. He was insistent and I couldn’t help wondering why my case meant the world to him. Perhaps because his late sister Nimia was a writer, I mused.

Defending women writers

Just a little backgrounder. I had been the first writer to be interrogated by the defense department (1980) and later was one of several women writers who went through a series of interrogations conducted by a military tribunal (1983). “National Intelligence Board” was how the military officers called themselves. It was the brainchild of Gen. Fabian Ver, then the Armed Forces chief of staff. I called them the Sanhedrin.

And then my case became like a trial balloon. In street-corner lingo, “sasampolan.” That was after our group, Women Writers in Media Now, routed the “National Intelligence Board” at the Supreme Court. We had a battery of human rights Mabini lawyers, with Tañada leading the pack, and Joker was among them.

We thought it was over. All of a sudden, Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, came out of the woodwork to claim he had been maligned by the article. He had become a military attaché somewhere, but a P10-million libel suit was staring me in the face. It was pure harassment.

Rosary in his pocket

I said yes to Joker defending my case. While saying goodbye after our talk, he pulled out something from his pocket, a handkerchief, I think, and out fell his rosary.

The case was filed in Manila. I remember Joker telling me to make myself unobtrusive until bail had been posted, else I’d be handcuffed by the sheriff right there. At the preliminary hearing, Joker and Rene Saguisag clashed swords with then fiscal Jose Flaminiano (Joe Flame, Joker called him).

Well, to my chagrin, the Joe Flame filed the case for hearing. I don’t recall the name of the legal maneuver Joker did to make the case hibernate but it did. Thankfully, it did not progress to see me impoverished and in prison because the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution happened.

Still, I made sure the case was finally dropped. Joker, President Cory Aquino’s executive secretary, made sure that would happen.

I was assigned to do a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on Joker, the executive secretary (“Joker Arroyo Looks Back,” Feb. 24, 1991) for the fifth anniversary of the triumph of people power that saw the Marcos dictatorship crashing down. The Q & A is still quite a read.


Joker sent a handwritten letter dated Feb. 21, 1991, tucked inside a long white envelope with a Post-It on the flap. So old-school, I thought. He sent it through then Inquirer publisher Eggie Apostol.
It read:

“Eggie was indulgent enough to send me an advance copy. I felt great, being alternately humanized, then made bigger than life, then being combative, then supposedly humble in a stylish play of words and format only you can craft. Thanks really.

“I kept reading and rereading it like a priest reads and rereads the breviary in blind faith. And the paper didn’t soil. Has the color any preservative?

“Why don’t you, Lorna (then magazine editor), Bullit (Marquez, Associated Press photojournalist) and I meet for Chinese or Japanese, Filipino or Thai, Italian or Spanish lunch? Do set the date a week ahead or whatever. If mater publisher will condescend, it will be nice for her to join and stifle the fun. Most sincerely, Joker. P.S. Your handwriting is the trademark of a school.”

A faxed letter, now fading on thermal paper, was his reaction to my feature article on the exhibit of medieval torture instruments and King Ludwig’s castle that I visited in Germany. It continued with a letter to magazine editor Lorna Kalaw-Tirol congratulating her.

“Why my interest in this (the Inquirer magazine)? I was editor of the Chinese Commercial News, a pre-martial law Chinese language paper. When the Yuyitung brothers, Quintin and Rizal, owners, were deported in 1970, I took over as editor so the show (newspaper) will go on. Advertising became my concern and was illiterate in Chinese. I was their lawyer.”

(The names of the Yuyitung brothers are now carved on the granite Wall of Remembrance of Bantayog ng mga Bayani dedicated to heroes and martyrs who fought, died or were imprisoned during the martial law years, a number of whom Joker had defended.)


Another note, written on Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines/Free Legal Assistance Group stationery said: “Your answers conveyed unabashed humility and plain grit. Very searing. I just thought I should let you know.” I think it was about an article on me. Printed at the bottom of the stationery were the names Lorenzo M. Tañada, Jose W. Diokno and Joker P. Arroyo. The Mabini brotherhood of lawyers was not yet in existence then.

From Joker, I learned the meaning of “equipoise” that he used to describe a trait of Sr. Mariani Dimaranan SFIC, human rights defender and founder of TFDP. After she died and I was writing an article on her, I asked Joker for a quote and he obliged. What a tribute he gave.

So many years have passed but the women writers and the Mabini lawyers continued to keep in touch with each other, our way of expressing our appreciation for their stand and struggle to defend the oppressed and see justice prevail. A number of them later occupied elective and appointive positions in government, among them, Joker Arroyo (executive secretary, congressman, senator), Rene Saguisag (senator), Fulgencio Factoran (environment secretary), Augusto Sanchez (labor secretary), but they did not enrich themselves. (Joker, you know why I am saying this.)

When we came together to wine and dine, there would be lots of reminiscences, political gossip, teasing, jokes and laughter. We would also speak about painful and crushing incidents in the past. Joker would come with his wry sense of humor but would occasionally give in to cajoling and break open his thoughts even while feigning disinterest in silly, mundane matters.

No goodbyes

The second to the last time we lunched with Mabini lawyers Joker, Saguisag and Factoran was sometime in 2013. Joker ordered Chinese food and paid for it. When reminiscing time came, I suddenly remembered and narrated that small rosary incident with Joker when I was an endangered species. What do you know, the three formidable human rights lawyers, food in their mouths, instantly dug into their pockets and brought out their rosaries. Joker, too, had his.

No goodbyes, Joker. You left on the month of the rosary. My prayers and sympathies to your daughters and your lawyer-wife Fely.

I had written about persons who mattered to the lives of many and to my own, persons who are listed in my book. If I may quote myself, let me say and apply this to you, too: “You will be reborn in my words/ On the pages I write you will rise/ You will die say goodbye/ But I will remember/ I will make you live again in my words.”

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