Even when he was alive, Teofilo Valenzuela, whom everyone called Teope, was already an authentic hero in the eyes of his townmates in Samal, Bataan.
Thus, after he was killed by government troops in a dramatic gunbattle, thousands came to his funeral even though it was the height of martial law. It is said that entire villages were emptied of people that day as everyone had gone to pay their last respects to Teope.
The eldest son of a poor peasant couple, Valenzuela had little formal schooling beyond the elementary grades, but he was conversant in a broad range of topics. At the age of 15, after his father died, he took over the duties of caring for his mother and four siblings. He planted and fished, and worked as a laborer in construction sites. Eventually he found a regular job at the pulp and paper mill that was the town’s biggest employer.
Student activists started coming to Samal in the late 1960s, and they found ready support in the community. Teope and his two brothers joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. Their house became the group’s headquarters. Among his first projects as an activist was to organize the local young people to help out in planting and harvesting rice from the farmers’ fields.
After the declaration of martial law, Teofilo Valenzuela tried to continue with his activities but soon left home to join the armed guerrilla movement already active in the Bataan-Zambales area. This was of course a time-honored recourse of those with legitimate grievances against the authorities: they “took to the hills” where at least they had a chance of putting up a good fight.
Valenzuela was a mature man respected by all – easygoing and generous, someone who told funny stories and sang kundiman love songs. The townspeople understood and accepted his decision to go underground.
Soon he became Ka Miguel who, in behalf of the local farmers, bargained with the landowners for better terms and conditions. Confronting the environmental pollution being caused by the pulp and paper mill, he persuaded his townmates to protest by writing letters and launching mass actions. As a result, the management installed an antipollution mechanism at the factory site. Valenzuela also helped the workers to pressure for higher wages and better working conditions.
The authorities sent troops to hunt down the people’s champion. In a surprise attack one early morning, Valenzuela was hit in the knee in the first volley of fire. Knowing that his team’s firearms were no match for the high-powered rifles of their adversaries, he firmly ordered them to escape while he stayed behind. For hours, he was able to hold them off with just his old carbine and careful use of his remaining ammunition; he was even able to grab and use an automatic rifle that had rolled near him during the gunfight. By mid-afternoon, however, Valenzuela had been overpowered, his body peppered with bullets. He was 35 years old when he died.
BORN : March 1, 1940 in Samal, Bataan
DIED : January 25, 1975 in Samal, Bataan
PARENTS : Roman Valenzuela and Isabel Barcenas