The Cordillera Resistance Against Chico Dam and Cellophil


(The following is from A History of Resistance: The Cordillera Mass Movement Against the Chico Dam and Cellophil Resources Corporation, a publication of the Cordillera People's Alliance.)

The tribal opposition to so-called “development” projects can be cited as early examples of organized people’s power in the Cordillera. It was the people’s power of the Kalinga and the Bontok that stopped the construction of the Chico dams, which threatened to displace thousands of people. Tinggian people’s power was the major factor in the shutdown of Cellophil Resources Corporation, the 200,000 hectare logging and paper-pulp concession, which was awarded to Marcos crony Herminio Disini in 1973.

And it was the inspiration from these two shining examples of organized people’s power in the Cordillera region, which led to a greater unity among the various ethnolinguistic groups, and tribes in the region.

Historical Background to Chico and Cellophil

The Kalinga and Bontok people’s struggle since the early 70’s against the construction of the Chico River Basin Development Project, followed soon after by Tinggian opposition to the Cellophil Resources Corporation, sparked off the people’s movement in the Cordillera.

The series of four large dams to be constructed along the Chico river was the priority project of the dictator Marcos in the late 70’s to the early 80’s. World Bank has committed funding to these mega-dams, and the National Power Corporation (NPC) was to implement the project. The Chico river is one of the major river systems in the Cordillera, passing though Mountain Province from its headwaters in Mount Data in Benguet, to the province of Kalinga.

Thousands of villagers rely on the Chico river for the irrigation of their rice fields and for domestic consumption. Series of Bontok and Kalinga villagers are located on both sides of the river. The construction of the four mega-dams will submerge several villages and hectares of rice fields. More than 100,000 Kalingas and Bontocs were to be adversely affected by this project. Thus, widespread opposition was the response of the dam-affected peoples.

To start with, the affected tribal communities signed numerous petitions and sponsored delegations to bring to the attention of numerous government offices their grievances that dam construction would mean the destruction of the communities and indigenous way of life. They even went to Malacaňang to plead with the dictator. But this was martial law and their actions did not meet with much success. Instead, they were given a scolding, labeled “sentimental” and told that the minorities would have to sacrifice for national “development”.

Malacaňang chose instead to set up the Kalinga Special Development Region (KSRD) and send the Presidential Assistant for National Minorities (PANAMIN), Manuel “Manda” Elizalde, to the Chico area, bringing with him truckloads of food, chocolate bars, basketballs, flashlights and other trinkets. His job was to “minimize opposition to the projects.” His methods were bribery, deception and coercion in the classic tactic of divide and rule. He was able to coopt a handful of elders, who were easily exposed and isolated by the majority. He selected several young women and took them away with him, allegedly to study or earn in the big city. He armed one tribe against the other and caused the outbreak of tribal wars (Basao-Butbut).

This was undoubtedly a big test on whether the tribal opposition would hold, but they met it head-on and dealt with the myriad problems as they came, with great self-respect and dignity. The story goes that Elizalde called Macliing Dulag to a meeting a posh hotel and offered him a thick envelope. Macliing replied: “This envelope can contain only one of two things – a letter or money. If it is a letter, I do not know how to read. And if it its money, I do not have anything to sell. So take your envelope and go.”

The people utilized their indigenous social-political structures and processes, such as the peace pact (Kalinga vochong/bodong, Bontok pechen, Tinggina kalon, although with dynamic modifications in the face of the new challenges. The traditional peace pact is a bilateral agreement (pagta) between two communities. There is a wide network of bilateral peace pacts among the binodngan communities in Kalinga, Mountain Province and Abra. In the opposition to both Chico and Cellophil, multi-lateral peace pacts were organized to forge intra-village and intra-tribal pagta agreements to unite the many different home-villages (ili) affected by these mega-projects. From the first Vochong Conference held in St. Bridgets in Quezon City in May 1975, multilateral bodong conferences were then regularly convened to widen and consolidate the opposition to the dams.

The people resorted to active civil disobedience, escalating in scale in response to the actions of the fascist dictatorship. The following are only a few among the vivid images of active civil disobedience against Chico and Cellophil.

In 1974, the NPC work camps, which were set up in Maswa, BAsao for survey purposes, were dismantled twice by the people. A number of tribal leaders were picked up and confined at the stockade, sparking off a long line of maltreatment, arrest and detention of Kalinga natives in relation to the project.

The people resorted to bodily prevention of the survey work by physically disallowing the NPC to unload their equipment in the survery sites. At Tomiangan, the site for Chico IV, the PC- Police and the NPC tried to set up their work camps four times under armed protection, and four times were these camps torn down by the people, even under threat of death. The fourth time, the people carried the materials from Tomiangan to the PC-Police camp at Bulanao, a distance of 35 kilometers, in a silent protest march of around 250 people, lasting through the night and the curfew hours.

The people’s resistance drew widespread support from inside and outside the country. There was broad solidarity and advocacy from academics, environmentalists, church groups, the mass media, NGOs and a wide array of solidarity organizations. The Free Legal Assistance Group of the late senator Diokno and Taňada offered their legal assistance. Anthropologists and academics wrote numerous treatises on Chico and Cellophil. Progressive media practitioners provided good press coverage.

The Marcos dictatorship, with its World Bank funding for the project, was caught flat-footed. They did not reckon with the strong communal ethos still existing then between the Bontok and Kalinga, which allowed them to forge agreements among the binodngan – peacepact – practicing communities along the Chico river in opposition to the project. Nor did they expect the people to muster widespread national and international support.

Because of the sheer determination and courage of the dam-affected peoples to stop the project by all means, the World Bank decided to withdraw its funding for the dam project. In fact, it was the experience of the World Bank on the Chico Dam that it formulated its operational guidelines of projects affecting indigenous peoples.

Yet there was an added vital ingredient in the people’s struggle. This was the threat and eventual resort to armed resistance after peaceful methods to seek redress of grievances had proved futile in the face of unbridled militarization in the project areas. This was but a logical step for these warrior societies in the escalation of the struggle for the defense of ancestral land and their self-determination to continue their existence as indigenous communities.

The cordillera increasingly turned into a battleground in defense of indigenous people’s rights. This meant that military operations were escalating, with a corresponding increase in human rights violations, as government troops vented their anger not only on the rebel army they were unsuccessfully chasing, but also on the civilian population, which they suspected as being New People’s Army supporters.

On April 24, 1980, military troops of the Marcos dictatorship gunned down Macliing Dulag, a Kalinga tribal chieftain at  the forefront of the Chico opposition in an attempt to intimidate the people.

The people refused to be cowed. Instead, Macliing’s death has since been commemorated with a bigger AND BIGGER celebration each year to remember the martyrs who have given up their lives for the Cordillera struggle and an occasion for solidarity with Cordillera advocates. Since 1985, April 24 has been commemorated as Cordillera Day, and is the annual regionally coordinated mass-action of the Cordillera People Alliance.

Historical Lessons

The period from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties was a decade of ferment and upheaval throughout the Cordillera region as the indigenous peoples here drew on the lessons from Chico and Cellophil and learned to assert their rights. The decade of ferment led to increased coordination among the growing number of Igorot organizations and more concerted efforts towards defining a program for self-determination of the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera.

The Chico and Cellophil struggles were waged in uncompromising defense of ancestral land and the right to self-determination, or the right of the indigenous communities to freely determined their continued existence as distinct peoples, and the right to freely determine their political status, and their economic, political and socio-cultural development, at a pace which they themselves define.

This unfolding drama ignited dormant Igorot nationalism. Numerous activist and mass leaders espousing their rights as indigenous peoples emerge. The different cordillera tribes were challenged into the recognition of the pressing need for a greater unity among themselves if they hoped to succeed in the defense of their collective human rights as indigenous peoples.

This paved the way towards a Cordillera-wide movement for the defense of ancestral land and for self-determination. As the different Igorot tribes and sectors were increasingly exposed to each other in mass meetings, inter-tribal activities and bodong conferences, there was the opportunity for dialogue and mutual sharing and learning. From here, the different Cordillera tribes and ethnolinguistic groups realized that they shared a common history of national oppression; a common geography and territory – the Cordillera mountain range; a common persistence of their indigenous cultures, albeit in varying degrees; common problems and common enemies.

This growing unity found organizational expression in June 1984, when more than three hundred representatives from twenty-three organizations all over the Cordillera came together in a Cordillera People’s Congress in Bontoc, Mountain province and organized the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) for the Defense of the Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination. Many of the foregoing activities reached a better level of coordination and assumed Cordillera – wide scope after the CPA was organized. To date, the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance has distinguished itself as the leading group and organized expression of the Cordillera mass movement in defense of ancestral land and for self-determination.

On a boarder scale, the Chico and Cellophil struggles served to inspire and motivate many people, both here and abroad, which made it possible to generate broad national and international support to sustain the  popular resistance.

In addition, Chico and Cellophil brought to the fore the fact that the present-day problems of tribal peoples and indigenous communities are much bigger and more complicated than any faced in earlier historical periods. More concretely, Chico and Cellophil showed the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera that their problems couldn’t be taken in isolation from the wider Philippine realities, and the incursions of imperialist globalization.

The Kalinga and Bontok tribes people managed to stop the construction of the four huge hydro-electric dams which were a priority energy project of the Marcos government throughout the long years of martial rule. They were able to stop construction against fearsome odds by asserting their tribal people’s power. In their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their ancestral lands and their indigenous way of life, they earned the respect and support not only of the other national minorities in the region, but also the progressive and democratic forces both here in the Philippines and abroad.

Eddie Villalon's Account of the 1985 Escalante Massacre

eddie 1.2 edited

(This account was narrated by Eddie Villalon with wife Alma Villalon to Bantayog researchers Carrie Panaligan-Manglinong and Cathy Abrazado on August 2, 2013. This was transcribed by a staff from a video file, edited and translated by May Rodriguez.)

Negros activists were then responding to a national demand for the ouster of President Marcos. For September 21, 1985, the move was for a nationally-coordinated Welgang Bayan.

In Negros, the action was to be held in two cities, Metro Bacolod and Kabankalan in the south. But we from Northern Negros decided to organize our own welga. After all, people from the north usually filled up the rallies in Metro Bacolod, why not hold one in Escalante itself, we said?

So we organized our own welgang bayan in the 2nd district, from Cadiz to San Carlos, with Escalante as the center of the activities. Besides the oust-Marcos call, we also planned to raise many more issues such as the demand for fair wages and employment benefits, wage increases, reducing the prices of commodities, stopping militarization. We also raised anti-imperialist slogans, and issues coming from the different sectors, such as agrarian and land reform issues and so on. We raised human rights issues, such as the rampant killings going on in Mindanao -- Fr. Tullio Favali had just been killed by the Maneros – and widespread political detention.

I was a teacher at Mt. Carmel College and I was part of the welga’s organizing team. I supervised the general program of activities and organized the cultural activities. Juvy Jaravelo was part of my team.

I never expected violence to erupt as would often happen in Metro Manila in the mid-1980s. We had not experienced it even in Bacolod where the army was visible all the time. In fact, I remember seeing a Metro Bacolod protest rally where the activists were all flying red flags as if we were in a revolution, and nothing had happened.

It was to be a three-day welgang bayan. It would start Sept. 19th and peak on the 21st, the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. We put up two barricade points at the town center, where people would mass up in preparation for a total general strike.

Rallyists started arriving as early as the afternoon of the 18th. People from Cadiz, Sagay and Old Escalante would mass up in front of the town hall, along the highway (where the present shrine stands). Those from San Carlos, the farmworkers from Calatrava and Toboso, and farmers from Escalante would mass up in front of the town market. People from the town center of Escalante also joined. We were able to mobilize doctors, teachers particularly those from Mt. Carmel, and even students. Church people, priests, nuns, seminarians and lay, were also active.

In Negros, workers, farmers, the middle forces, members of the religious, lawyers, they all showed support. Some joined the marches. Others who could not would place food along the way, so that rallyists may have something to eat. People supported the rallies because they have had enough of Marcos by then. Talagang sobra na.

On day 1, the 19th of September, we erected a light barricade at both points. Vehicles could pass through quite freely. The people in the barricades were engaged in sharing of stories and in discussion of issues. The proceedings were quite peaceful.

We heard that rallyists had also put up picket points in Cadiz, in Kabankalan and in Bacolod. But Escalante had the biggest crowd.

In the afternoon of that first day, firetrucks started arriving, coming from all the neighboring places: Toboso, Calatrava, Sagay, Cadiz. We also noticed a growing number of paramilitary soldiers (CHDF) coming in, forces of Marañon and Gustilo.

A truck full of CHDF would pass by the protesters and we would tell our forces not to be afraid, and to denounce the militarization of our home areas.

On day two, September 20th, morning saw so many soldiers arriving in full uniform. News also got to us that Bayan chair Rolando Ponsica, who is now our present Board Member of the First District of Negros Occidental, was taken in for house arrest at that time.

At the same time, our protest forces had also grown very large. At Barricade 1 in front of the town hall, people filled up the road from the corner up to the Libra Mart, or about 100 meters. An even bigger group was massed up in Barricade 2 in the market. The professionals and student groups were all there. The panel of negotiators we had put up was there, although we did not actually think we would be violently dispersed.

At both barricade points, programs were going on.

By 9:00am, we announced a total barricade. We wanted to paralyze all transportation and get the transport drivers to join the strike. No more vehicles were plying the roads. Bacolod also had declared a total barricade.

By 10am, we heard rumors that certain policemen had told store owners to close their shops because “this would be dispersed.” Some relatives went to the barricades to tell protestors to go home because “you would be dispersed.”

We refused to believe the rumor. We said we were on the right. And besides, that was not the first political rally held in Escalante and we had never been subjected to dispersal.

But we thought we would prepare anyway. To counter teargas, we had lots of calamansi bought, then sliced, and the juice pressed and collected in pails, and handkerchiefs wetted with the juice. We also prepared ourselves for water cannons from the firetrucks. But that was the worst we thought it would get.

I had absolutely no inkling of the coming danger. The program at both sites went on, people were singing, making speeches, chanting of slogans, and so on.

I was coming from Barricade 1 where I had overseen the program and was moving to Barricade 2 when I passed the town hall and saw many soldiers in full battle gear. Those were not policemen with truncheons, but soldiers with armalites! And more firetrucks full of CHDF were arriving.

When I got to Barricade 2, I told the people that dispersal was imminent. We prepared the members of the negotiating panel in the persons of Mr. Roger Arnaiz, Mr. Loreto Bering, Mr. Daniel Gempesala, Mr. Carlos Allones, Mr. Bernardino Patigas, the late Adolfo Maguate, and some sectoral representatives.   It was around noon. I remember we could not take any lunch because we were girding ourselves for the dispersal.

Later we would learn that at that very moment, the Bayan chair, Mr. Rolando Ponsica, had been brought to the town hall and ordered to stand on the balcony and order the rallyists to disperse. Mr. Ponsica reacted to this order, saying he did not control the people, and if he ordered them to disperse, they would simply ignore him because they had their own will and initiative and he was simply chairman of an organization.

More truckloads of soldiers came. We would fight our fears by clapping our hands and shouting slogans (“Makibaka! Huwag matakot!,” “Militarisasyon labanan!”). I think the soldiers came from the 334th,  Sagay, Bato, Toboso. We called the rallyists to link arms (kapit-bisig). Our only means of defense by way of weapons were the torches we had used the previous night.

We wanted to beef up Barricade 1, where the farmers and farmworkers were all concentrated. We sent more marshalls to strengthen the forces. A group of males from Toboso workers also volunteered. The teachers, who were all in Barricade 2, also offered to cross to the other barricade.

As this was happening, firetrucks arrived. One was already at the Pilipino Bakery facing the negotiating panel. We had not known that water cannons had been fired at Barricade 1 in the plaza. The dispersal had started. I was told that at the start, the protesters in Barricade 1 were still able to make jokes: “let’s take a bath; shampoo your hair; we hadn’t been able to bathe this morning.” After several blasts, the firetrucks ran out of water.

Juvelyn Jaravelo was in the leftside at the center of the crowd facing the public plaza and leading the chanting. The CHDF had taken up positions in the plaza and started hurling tear gas canisters to the protesters. Juvelyn picked up one canister and threw it back from where it came. That was the point when the CHDF started firing, and Juvelyn was the first to be hit. Suddenly, even the machine gun was spewing fire on the rallyists.

We heard the gunshots at Barricade 2, but we thought that they were merely warning shots. The crowd shouted “Panakot lang yan! Makibaka ! Huwag matakot!” Then the trucks started spewing water out to disperse our barricade. I was in front. The water was painful. Some were hit in the eyes and were temporarily blinded. We all crouched to protect ourselves, still all the while shouting: “Bigas, bigas, hindi tear gas!” “Bigas, bigas, hindi bala!”

I kept thinking of the protesters in the other barricade. Then people came running from there. Some had bloody faces, others were holding on to wounded (nawakwak) stomachs. They came to join arms with us! That was when we heard it: “Minamasaker kami!”

Still, we faced the water cannons. Everything was happening very fast. Ratatattat! Papapapak! People started running in all directions. Some hid in the houses. Some fled to the nearby sugarcane fields. Some of us kept our arms still firmly linked, facing the water cannons. An order went around to disperse. This confused some because we had earlier given out orders NOT to disperse.

We had lost our forces behind us. When I looked back, all who were left were the teachers’ groups and the student groups, members of the League of Filipino Students.

When the water cannons stopped, those who managed to stay behind sat wet and dispirited at the side of the marketplace. We urged the members of our negotiating panel to leave and seek safety. I thought that was it. Suddenly four armored cars and more firetrucks arrived and encircled us, together with fully-armed soldiers. They shouted for us to surrender.

We were barely 50 in number by then, at the very most, 100, mostly teachers and students from Mt. Carmel.  We were both scared and angry. Our relatives were nearby, some also very angry. Someone shouted: “Get out of there! You are going to die there!” But we also saw our own relatives pick up stones, prepared to throw them to policemen, some of whom were also our own relatives! One of my co-teachers had a boyfriend who was a policeman and he was there, but on the other side. My uncle was a policeman, and he was there. We had relatives in the police force and we had relatives in the crowd, holding rocks to throw, shouting: “Those are innocent people! Don’t kill them!”

Several policemen had their firearms pointed to the CHDF/CAFGU! The CAFGUs in turn had their firearms pointed at us. The policemen themselves looked stunned. I think if someone started firing then, the police and the CHDF would have shot at each other.

An old teacher, the mother of an LFS member, got her rosary beads out, and with her son, waved a piece of white cloth saying, “We surrender!” We said: “Don’t surrender!” Someone shouted to her: Come here! I was still holding the megaphone and I called her to come back! I held on to her, telling her not to go to the soldiers. They ran towards the firetruck anyway, waving the white cloth and rosary beads.

The soldiers started counting. One! We embraced each other. We said our goodbyes: goodbye, friend! goodbye, comrade! The teachers, some new recruits, were crying. The LFS leaders stood and boldly faced the soldiers, ready to die.

Then a PC commander saw one of his nephews with us! He shouted to his men: “Ceasefire!”

Still the counting went on: Two! The CO shouted again: “Ceasefire!”

We kept saying our goodbyes, shaking our comrades’ hands: “Paalam, kaibigan!”

The CO ran to the center of the road, and as he was doing so, a door suddenly opened in the market and someone from behind said: “Get in here!” and we all rushed inside. We wove our way in and out of the market stalls and ended up inside the safety of the church convent. We got out of our wet clothes and left again to search for the wounded.

That was how we saw the CHDF shooting at the wounded, bang! if they saw any still alive. (The CHDF came from Cadiz, the Bato detachment.)

There were wounded everywhere, in the streets, in the ricefields, in the sugarcane fields. And when we brought the wounded to Magdalen (Hospital), conditions there were also terrible. The wounded lined the corridors.

We went to the sugar central in Danao to radio Bacolod for help and to ask for blood donations. Atty. Frank Cruz of FLAG, and the social action people from the Bacolod diocese arrived at around 4 or 5 pm. There were no reporters, so all the pictures were either personal shots or those taken by TFD.

There were bullet holes in the walls of the rural bank across the street of the town hall. If the machine gun had aimed lower, it would have hit many more people. The CAFGU were on the ground, where the monument now stands, shooting directly at the people.

We looked for the wounded through the night. The people from the Task Force Detainees were there, helping. But the boldest who went around were the youth activists, those with the LFS.

On Sept. 21, the planned third and final day of our welgang bayan, all the dead were laid side by side at the town hall grounds. That was towards the afternoon. We learned of a plan to have them brought in a truck to the 334th.  The bodies were thrown willy-nilly, like slaughtered pigs, on to army trucks. Since I was in cultural, I also remember noting the confiscated cassettes and sound systems, and other rally gear.

We stayed the entire night again at the convent. The sound of helicopters hovering would send people to panic again. Some would run inside the church, some to the classrooms, others would jump over walls to hide on the other side. Some of our own leaders crawled under church pews in absolute terror over the whir of helicopters.

Then rumors flew that the New People’s Army guerrillas were in a rage over the massacre and that they were coming to town! That led to another rush back to the safety of the church.

Members of the negotiating panel, who had also taken refuge in the convent, heard that they had been issued arrest orders. We called an emergency meeting and decided to send everyone out of the sanctuary. About ten of us known to the military borrowed dresses from the women to conceal their identities before leaving the convent. Toto Patigas was one of those who went out dressed as a woman. He had to go through a checkpoint, but he was not recognized. Some went to Cebu, or to San Carlos, or Dumaguete. A bunch of us stayed behind because we were teachers and we had to hold classes the next day. We went home in small groups, fear following us all the way.

The local press, the foreign press, the Red Cross, all came the following day and held interviews. The whole town was quiet. All the houses had closed doors. No one wanted to come out in the open except Fr. Nico who was fearless. He went to the town hall, unaware that he was in fact in an “order of battle.”

At Mt. Carmel, we had to resume classes. The students came, the teachers came, but soldiers stood at the school gates, and soldiers watched the entrance to the classrooms. It was surreal.

Businesses opened after several days.

It started as a peaceful protest.  I never imagined it would end like that. I kept asking myself, how did this happen?

Armando Gustilo was the governor of Negros Occidental at that time. He liked to use his power. He used the paramilitary to wield control. In particular, he wanted to divide Negros Occidental into two provinces, Negros del  Norte and  del Sur -- and the entire North would be his. Gustilo was a KBL, a Marcos crony. He was one of the biggest sugarcane planters in Negros.

Today, we remember September 20th with an annual commemoration. During the first anniversary of the massacre, we organized all relatives of those who died as MARTYR – Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny.  We said we wanted to give meaning to the sacrifices of those who died and to continue what they started, so that their lives would not have been wasted. That was the driving force behind the annual reenactment.

The late Adolfo Maguate was one of the massacre survivors. He was a teacher who became councilor, and later a two-term vice-mayor. He was also a Bayan member. When he was vice-mayor, he had the town council declare the date of the Escalante massacre as an annual day of mourning and prayer for the townspeople. He has championed this cause and he was for a long time supporter of the annual commemoration of the massacre.

The monument was conceptualized by the Federation of Concerned Artists of the Philippines (FCAN).  We had to raise funds for it, so we were able to build it only later. Today, the annual commemoration is always celebrated with different cultural activities spearheaded  by the Teatro Obrero  (TO). Many people still cry and become emotional when they see it. Some years back, we invited some fisherfolk in Old Escalante who were at the massacre to join the commemoration. Twenty-five years had passed, but they continued to be afraid.

We hold a vigil and a torch parade every 19th of September. People from all sectors participate. The following morning, the 20th and the day of the massacre, we hold a people’s mass. We hold a caravan. At noon, we march, and on the exact time the massacre happened, we begin the reenactment. It is an event that usually attracts many visitors.

I am usually the director, so I can guide the actors to depict what really happened. It is ironic that now I serve in city hall, and I’m able to use real firetrucks for these reenactments. For so long after the massacre, just seeing a firetruck pass by was a traumatic experience. Today I can give the direction: fire the water cannons, and know that justice is on my side.

Everytime I tell this story, I cry again.

Earth Rullan: Bantayog Is Where Martial Law Heroes Are Honored

"I used to live in Quezon City and I have been passing by these major places. I've always wondered what they were but my curiosity never led me to actually going there."

Read the rest here.

ALVAREZ, Emmanuel I.

ALVAREZ, Emmanuel I.

He knew a lot about revolutions.

His great-grandfather was Katipunan General Pascual Alvarez of the 1896 revolution. Emmanuel himself grew up in Cavite, a province steeped in Philippine history. Thus it is not surprising that he took up the call for revolutionary change in the Philippines, and gave his life to the cause.

Emmanuel was a consistent honor student, graduating at the top of his class in elementary and high school. In 1969, he enrolled at the College of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, at that time already boiling with activist energy. Joining the UP chapter of the militant youth organization, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) he was active in public discussions of pressing national issues, and helped organize KM chapters in nearby communities.

His political involvement grew deeper after his election to the KM National Council. In 1971 he became acting KM vice chair, and national chair shortly before martial law was declared in 1972. The militant youth organization was declared illegal, but continued to operate clandestinely under Alvarez' leadership.

Well-known for his sober views and soft-spoken ways, Alvarez’s low profile served him well after he joined the underground resistance; his friends say that was why he was able to elude arrest for several years.

From the underground, he explained to his parents in 1975 that “we must recognize the need to act in order to solve our own problems…we cannot rely on others, much less the regime,” saying further:

“Ang tanging ambag ko na maibibigay sa bayan ay ang aking buong kakayahan na makatulong sa pagbibigay ng direksyon at pamumuno sa mamamayan sa paglutas ng kasalukuyang problema.” (All I can offer the country is my absolute readiness to help in giving direction and leadership to the people in solving our present problems.)

On January 6, 1976 he left the family home in Cavite City, took a bus, and was never seen again. It is said that he was picked up by two men in civilian clothes. The family suspected military involvement in his disappearance.

“Kung ako’y mahuhuli o mapapatay ng kaaway, huwag kayong lubhang mangamba o malungkot.Nakahanda akong harapin ang ganitong kalagayan. Alam naman natin na ang pagbabago ng lipunan ay hindi isang laro, katuwaan o sine. Ito’y tiyak na may kalakip na sakripisyo gaya ng katiyakan din ng tagumpay nito.” (If I am arrested or killed by the enemy, do not fear or grieve too much. I am ready for it. Indeed we realize that social change is no game, whim or entertainment. It surely requires sacrifice from us, but just as surely is its victory assured.)

Emmanuel Alvarez was 27 when he disappeared. His short life did not go to waste.

AMATONG, Jacobo S.

Amatong, Jacobo S.

Jacobo Amatong belonged to a prominent family in Dipolog City. They owned a well-regarded school, his brothers were well-known in Mindanaoan politics, and Amatong himself was a respected lawyer and editor-publisher of a local paper named Mindanao Observer.

Besides serving as city councilor from 1971 until his death, he was active in many civic and community organizations, and received numerous awards from civic, charitable, government, professional, education and other organizations.

When the country fell under martial law and military abuses spread in his province of Zamboanga del Norte, Amatong took up the cause for justice and human rights, particularly the right to free speech and a free press. He espoused the cause of the common people. Mindanao Observer defied martial law restrictions on newspapers and published articles critical of the regime, especially the military. It exposed their involvement in protecting gambling operations, in extortion activities, and the fabrication of military reports by an intelligence officer for blackmail purposes. It reported on cases of summary execution of civilians and military bombing of communities. It also published appeals on behalf of political detainees.

Mindanao Observer gained the respect of many Filipinos, but it did not endear Amatong to the regime. He went further by taking up human rights cases and becoming an outspoken member of the Western Mindanao Alliance of Sectoral Organizations-Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD).

On September 20, 1984, eve of the anniversary of the imposition of martial law, Amatong again defied the authorities and spoke at a rally denouncing the military abuses.

That week, Amatong and his friend Zorro Aguilar, also a human rights lawyer, had been preparing to join a mission to document reports of military abuses in the province and to exhume the bodies of two individuals who had been summarily executed three months earlier in Tampilisan town.

The night before they planned to depart with the fact-finding mission, Amatong and Aguilar were walking along a city street when two men came up and shot them at close range. Aguilar died on the spot, while Amatong was brought to a nearby hospital by someone who recognized him. Asked three times if he recognized the attackers, each time Amatong replied:"…Army..." He died in the hospital eight hours later.

Two soldiers were identified as the killers by a key witness, the driver of the getaway vehicle; the latter was himself killed by unidentified men a year later.

Family and friends demanded justice from the government but no hearings were ever conducted on the two killings. Few doubted that the order to kill came from martial law authorities.

Some 10,000 people came to attend the funerals held for the two lawyers, a sight never before seen in Dipolog.

ANDAL, Reynante C.

andal, reynante

Reynante Andal's father was a guerrilla in the resistance against Japan’s occupation of the Philippines during World War II. The boy was fascinated by his stories about the war, tales full of heroism and love of country.

While their parents were out all day working to put food on the table, Rey, the eldest of nine children, took care of the younger ones and their household. His father died just as Rey graduated from high school.

Andal left for Manila in 1968 on a scholarship, and enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for a degree course in political science.

He soon got involved in a Filipinization movement initiated by students from the Ateneo de Manila, and helped found a counterpart in UST, the Kilusang Kristiyano ng Kabataang Pilipino (known as 3KP). He also joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). In 1970, he was among the founding members of the reform-oriented youth group, Kapulungan ng Sandigan ng Pilipinas (KASAPI). He coordinated support activities for the survivors and witnesses in the Bantay, Ilocos Sur incident in 1971 in which two sitios were burned down in an act of warlord terrorism. He joined the relief operations during the massive flooding in Central Luzon in 1971. Still that same year, he organized and headed the Samahan ng mga Kabataan sa Ikauunlad ng mga Tsuper, which supported the headline-making transport strikes of the pre-martial law period.

An effective and charismatic leader, Andal gave fiery speeches and made friends with student activists, whether reform-oriented or militant.

By the middle of 1972, he had stopped attending classes and was spending more time with activist friends and jeepney drivers. When martial law was declared that September, with some of his friends he headed for the hills of Pinamalayan, Mindoro, apparently emulating what his father Mariano had done, to fight an oppressive regime.

Not long after, soldiers of Task Force Lawin surrounded the hut where they were staying and opened fire. Killed instantly were two local youths, Antonio Pastorfide and Rene Julao, while Andal and Dante Perez of Ateneo de Manila University in Manila were both wounded. During a break in the firing, one of the hut’s occupants, the wife of Perez and also an activist, ran out to ask the soldiers to stop the shooting. The latter then went inside and simply shot the two wounded men dead. Andal died at 21.

The following morning, a local paper bannered the story of “four communist rebels” killed and three captured in an encounter with soldiers.

As Andal‘s dead body lay in the coffin, his mother Patria tenderly wrapped it in the Philippine flag. Then she bravely sang “Bayan Ko,” a patriotic song she would hear him sing. In the days after the incident, people in Pinamalayan who had been Andal’s friends were rounded up by police: teachers, students, carpenters, even the owner of the local billiard hall filled up all the cells of the local jail; some were beaten up.

Some time later Mrs. Andal was arrested when a carbine rifle was found in her house; she was keeping it, she said, as a memento of her son. She was sentenced for illegal possession of firearms and remained in prison for 13 years, released only in 1986 after the martial law government was dismantled. She died in 1997.

Defending her son and his activist comrades, Aling Patty said they were only defending the people’s interests: “Ipinagtatanggol nila ang ating karapatan.”

ANDRES, Trifonio N.

andres, trifonio

Friends remember him as warm, loving, and hardworking. His closest friend, a priest, said Trifonio, or Ponyong, saw life as something to offer to others "selflessly, for the sake of justice and peace, love and unity."

Andres was a seminarian in Davao City when he became involved in human rights work. He became a volunteer for the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines under the auspices of the Citizens' Council for Justice and Peace. He visited political prisoners and other detainees inside police and constabulary jails in Davao City. In 1979, he testified as one of the witnesses during an investigation of a massacre by soldiers of 14 people in Catalunan Grande, near Xavier Seminary where he was studying.

Seeing with his own eyes the grave abuses inflicted on the people, he became a committed opponent of the martial law regime. He told his family stories about how a government-supported fanatic group (the Ilaga) was waging a "genocidal war" against Muslims in remote towns.

In a Biblical preaching in 1981, he expressed solidarity with dispossessed farmers and indigenous communities, as well as with the underpaid workers, denouncing the injustice that was being done to them. “This community of ours,” he wrote, “is not anymore a community…based on love, but money, power and prestige.” When one speaks of love, there must be justice: "Justice is the minimum of love. There is no love where there is no justice."

Although Andres had already become a deacon in 1981, his bishop delayed his ordination into the priesthood. Undeterred, he continued serving as fulltime volunteer of TFDP and CCJP in Davao.

On August 17, 1983, some 50 heavily-armed soldiers and militia men belonging to the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force swooped down on a wedding ceremony being held in Libungan, North Cotabato, and arrested and interrogated 15 people. The soldiers said they were looking for communist guerrillas.

The male prisoners were hogtied, their eyes and mouths taped, and taken to the military camp. Four were taken to the Metrodiscom Headquarters in Digos, Davao del Sur, where they were executed.

Trifonio Andres was one of them. His body bore multiple signs of brutal torture, and there were gunshot wounds in the chest. He was 29 years old.

“He died,” said his friend Fr. Antonio S. Mayo, “in the darkest night of our struggle to get out from the land of bondage and slavery in order to bring light, to bring justice and peace, to bring love and unity to our brethren groaning because of the excruciating pain of hunger and deprivation….”

Reflecting on Ponyong’s life, his brother Sergio Jr. wrote, “His deep conviction [was that] man’s spirituality should grow hand in hand with the growth of technology. Spirituality to him [was] a consciousness that should develop in all men that will be expressed as service to fellowmen, justice, love, sharing and giving without preconditions even to the point of sacrificing one’s life.”

AQUINO, Benigno "Ninoy" S. Jr.


Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was born to a prosperous, landowning political family in Tarlac province. He was an adventurous and brash young man whose phenomenal career began when he was hired as a reporter at the Manila Times, then the leading Philippine newspaper. At age 18, he was sent to report on the war that was going on in Korea.

He attracted the attention of President Ramon Magsaysay, who then started Aquino on his political career. With the support of Magsaysay, Aquino was elected mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, in 1955; at age 22 he was the youngest to occupy the post. Then in 1962 he was elected governor of Tarlac province at age 28, again the youngest to occupy the post. And in 1969, he was elected senator, leading the victory for the opposition and becoming the youngest (at age 34) to be so elected.

As senator, Aquino (who called himself a "radical rich guy") took a progressive stand on several issues, He opposed Philippine involvement in the Vietnam War and condemned military and police abuses and the use of terror and violence against civilians.

Ninoy Aquino was a popular politician, with youth and charisma. When he became a clear frontrunner for the presidential elections in 1973, he began to be seen as a threat to Ferdinand Marcos, then on his second and final term as president.

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he had Aquino arrested and put in solitary confinement, and in 1978 sentenced by military tribunal to die by firing squad. Foreign governments and organizations flooded the regime with letters of concern in behalf of Aquino and other political prisoners. To defuse the situation, Marcos allowed a retrial and called for parliamentary elections (to the Interim Batasang Pambansa), letting Aquino run while still in jail. Marcos’ candidates won and Aquino lost in the rigged elections, further worsening the people’s disgust.

Aquino then launched a 40-day prison hunger strike to focus attention on the regime's abuses. The sacrifice nearly killed him but it helped strengthened the people’s opposition to martial law.

To rid himself of Aquino, Marcos permitted him to go abroad in 1980 to undergo heart surgery. For the next three years, Aquino stayed in the United States, continuing to denounce martial law and building a network of expatriates actively opposing the regime.

Aquino returned to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, fully aware that what awaited him was another prolonged stay in jail or possibly even death. Upon landing at the airport, soldiers fetched him from the plane and shot him dead as they descended towards the tarmac. He was 48 years old. The regime blamed an unknown gunman for the killing, but most Filipinos believed that it was Marcos and his henchmen who plotted and carried out the assassination.

Three years of protests followed, growing bolder, stronger, and spreading all over the country. Marcos was forced to call a “snap” presidential election in 1986, in which he was boldly challenged by Corazon Aquino, the martyr’s widow. By then the dictator was a very sick man.

The election results were massively manipulated, and many died protecting the election process. This only fueled the people's growing anger. One month after the election, a military faction revolted, starting a civilian-military uprising that would later be called the People Power Revolution. Multitudes poured into the streets to call openly for the ouster of the regime, and finally after three days Marcos was taken away from Malacanang in a US military helicopter. With his family and several of his closest friends, the ex-dictator was flown to the United States where he later died.

In 1986, Corazon Aquino became the country's first president after Marcos. She released political prisoners and had a new constitution written and ratified. The couple’s son, Benigno S. Aquino III, was elected president in 2010.

AQUINO, Jeremias A.

Aquino, Jeremias A.

Son of a poor couple in northern Luzon, Jeremias Aquino was ordained a priest of the Philippine Independent Church in 1974, after struggling to finance his theological studies with the help of his family. He graduated with honors.

Aquino came to activism through the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines. Despite the restrictions under martial law, he joined rallies to denounce the regime's injustices and human rights violations. He also joined the Christians for National Liberation.

As a young church worker, he was able to visit France and Switzerland. The experience of life in these European countries showed him the vast difference between them and the Philippines. He returned to the country to work among the urban and rural poor. The crowded communities of Tatalon and Navotas in Metro Manila, and the highland villages in the Cordillera region, became his "church."

In 1975-1976, Aquino was a member of the Workers Institute for Social Enlightenment under the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; he also served in a Quezon City parish and as Aglipayan chaplain of the University of the Philippines. His next assignments (1977-1978) were as director of the Manila-based Ecumenical Center for Development, staff member of the Christian Conference of Asia’s rural youth program, and missionary priest of the PIC diocese of Greater Manila. Then he was named acting program coordinator and youth director of the Laoag (Ilocos Norte) diocese, and concurrently acting associate rector of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

It was in this latter posting that Aquino was arrested in September 1979, at a constabulary checkpoint in Sadanga, Mountain Province. With several companions, he was held at the constabulary stockade in Bontoc, before being transferred to the Bicutan jail in Metro Manila. He was released on Christmas Eve of 1980 together with other political detainees, after prolonged fasting and hunger strikes to protest prison conditions.

After his release, Aquino received offers for work even abroad, but he chose to stay in the country and helped found the Freedom Shop, a carpentry shop for unemployed former political prisoners. He also took in editing jobs for religious publications, where he wrote about problems faced by his people, his church the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the ecumenical movement.

He was a man of many talents: proficient in several languages, a good musician, a sensitive poet, a man of the church who lived and felt deeply for the poor.

Aquino died in a Manila hospital on December 14, 1981, after one week of battling for his life following a road accident. He was 32 years old.

ARCE, Santiago B.

arce, santiago

Santiago Arce was the only child of a poor couple eking out a living as tenant farmers in the province of Abra.

A missionary priest assigned in his hometown noticed Arce’s gift for music and, wanting to encourage him, helped put him through college as a working student. Arce became a teacher, eventually becoming principal (and bandmaster) of the missionary-run Little Flower High School in Peñarrubia, Abra.

But he stayed a farmer, helping his father (who also played in the town band) in tending the fields of corn and sugarcane after school hours. He also served as a lay leader in the Catholic parish in Peñarrubia. Later he was elected president of the Samahang Nayon and the Irrigators Service Association in his home village of Agtangao, Bangued.

Arce had gone to college in the 1960s, when nationalist ferment was creating a progressive intellectual environment that helped mold his thinking.

In the early 1970s, Arce joined the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) and later became its provincial coordinator for Abra. Under his leadership and with the help of other priests and nuns in the province, FFF conducted seminars for the farmers and organized local cooperatives. Landlords harassed their activities, but Arce remained convinced about the need to reform the tenancy system in the rural areas. The local martial-law authorities did not appreciate his activities either.

In 1974, Arce was implicated in the murder of a police informer. The murder suspect had told investigators that the school principal was the owner of the motorcycle used in the killing. Santiago was arrested but released on the same day on the intervention of the seminary rector of the Society of the Divine Word in Bangued. He was arrested again two days later. Afterwards, residents living close to the military camp reported hearing during the night Arce’s agonized moans and pleas for his life. He was shot dead a few hours later for “trying to escape.”

Arce was buried after the longest and biggest funeral procession ever recorded at the time in Abra, despite the pervasive fear of retaliation from the martial-law authorities. Classes in Catholic schools all over the province were suspended so teachers and students could attend it. Twenty priests concelebrated a funeral mass.

At the height of the Marcos dictatorship’s repression, such a public display of unity was uncommon. It was because, as a friend said, Arce was well respected: “Mahal siya ng tao. Kahit sa mga hindi member ng FFF kilala siyang mabuting tao.Napaka-useful sa community. Maraming naituturo.” (The people loved him Even those who were not FFF members looked up to him as a good man. He was so useful to the community. He was able to teach many things.)

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