Manuel Dorotan came from a large family of professional achievers – five physicians, accountants, a chemical engineer, a nurse, an agriculturist, and an economist-turned-world-renowned chef. All went to the University of the Philippines on college scholarships. Dorotan graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 1970.
The family had humble beginnings. His father Vicente was a naturalized Chinese immigrant who adopted the name Dorotan and settled in Irosin in Sorsogon. He had three children from a relationship and then married Beata Gabito, Manuel’s mother. They began a merchandising business which prospered as the family grew and expanded.
Manuel, called Boy or Kid at home, was regarded by his mother as the kindest of all her children (“pinakamabait sa mga anak ko”). He often helped in his mother’s little store and always let his siblings eat first. He also excelled in school and won many awards. He was a quiet person but he had leadership qualities and was often voted officer of organizations he joined in school.
History of political involvement
Nationalist sentiments were boiling in UP Diliman at the time Manuel enrolled there for college. By the latter part of the 1960s, students were taking to the streets to protest issues such as the rising prices of gasoline and basic commodities, Philippine participation in the Vietnam War, and tuition fee hikes. They pressed for reforms in the countryside, for local industrialization and nationalist education, and for respect of people’s rights. After the violence against protesting students in the First Quarter Storm of 1970, more joined protest actions against the Marcos government.
Manny joined the UP chapter of the Pambansang Samahan ng Inhinyeriya at Agham (PSIA), a nationalist organization of students of engineering and the sciences. “Manny heeded the call of the times,” says Victoria Lopez, a classmate and one of the PSIA founders. Manny was an enthusiastic member. He conducted PSIA teach-ins in and out of UP. Later during the nine-day Diliman Commune in 1971, he helped run the then-rebel campus radio station DZUP. Manny also spent time in factory areas and in picket lines,trying to grasp the conditions of Filipino laborers. He was appalled at what he saw.
After graduation, Manny found work at Refrigeration Industries, Inc. (RII) in Quezon City. Although by then a professional engineer, Manny began organizing the company’s blue-collar workers. He called them to meetings and discussed with them their rights as laborers. He urged them to use the union to fight for their rights. He once helped hide a union organizer sought by Marcos agents.
When Marcos launched a dictatorship in 1972, Manny left his job and joined the underground resistance in the city. Factory workers housed him. He spent time teaching them about their rights but they in turn taught him much about the realities of life as urban poor. He became Ka Brigs, a fulltime union and community organizer.
Marcos soon banned workers’ strikes but worker militancy continued to rise, thanks to the efforts of labor fulltimers like him. La Tondeña workers in Manila struck in 1975 in protest against the regime’s labor policies. Workers started to openly call for the dismantling of Marcos’ martial law. Manny was at the time organizing among the workers of Mead Johnson, Wyeth Suaco and Nestle Philippines, planning for even bigger strikes that would help paralyze the regime’s economy.
As a labor organizer, Manny is remembered as being meticulous and hardworking. Without any guidebooks for doing union work under martial law conditions, Manny and his comrades held extensive discussions with workers, made case studies, and on the basis of these studies, planned with the workers, for example, how best to bargain with management.
He studied the problems of poor people and found simple ways of responding. “Nakikita niya ang pangangailangan na tulungan ang mahirap, at tugunan ang mga pangangailangang ito” (He saw the need to help the poor and how to respond to this need), remembered Zenda Acebedo Bervano, another activist with whom Manny had worked at that time. She remembers how Manny solicited supplies from friends working in pharmaceutical companies and distributed their donations in communities in Sta. Ana, Manila. These communities soon became part of the network that supported the growing labor movement in the city.
In December1981, Manny married a fellow labor organizer, Ma. Victoria Mendoza (now deceased), who was also a former UP student. Eventually the couple, faced with security threats in the city, left for Bicol. They had a daughter a year later.
Circumstance of death
Bicol, they found, was also in a crisis. The price of copra was falling and people’s livelihoods were in shambles. The regime had imposed a coconut levy causing further disenchantment among the farmers. To quell dissent, the regime sent army and constabulary troops, whose abusive behavior only further alienated the people.
Finding the conditions ripe for organizing, the couple renewed their efforts to create resistance groups against the Marcos dictatorship.
Manny was walking to a community meeting in Basud, Camarines Norte, on September 6, 1983, when soldiers from the army’s 45th IB found and shot him. His body was later found inside a dry well, dumped head first. Caring residents took the body to be buried at the local cemetery, where his family retrieved it days later. One of his physician brothers, doing an autopsy, found that Manny’s body was mutilated, several fingers were missing and a foot was almost hacked off. He did not die easily.
Impact on the family and community
When Manny was finally buried at the Dorotan family crypt in Irosin, Sorsogon, many people came to his wake and funeral, braving the repressive conditions at that time.
Manny’s friends say that with his qualities he could have become a rich man and would have made a comfortable life for his family. Instead he chose to give his life to the struggle to free his country from repression and from age-old problems like government abuse and neglect, and the exploitation of the powerful.
Despite not getting to know Manny at all, his daughter Andrea Karla is nonetheless proud of what her father had done:
“I’m turning 33. In two years I would be my father’s age when he died. I’m filled with hope for the future. At 35, he probably was, too. He was newly married, had a baby daughter. He was a husband, a father, a brother, a friend and a son. He had his hopes and dreams. It was cut short by the Marcos dictatorship.
Every daughter thinks her father is a hero. How lucky I am that it’s other people who say my father is one.”
BORN: July 4, 1948 in Irosin, Sorsogon
DIED: September 6, 1983 in Basud, Camarines Norte
PARENTS: Vicente Dorotan Sr. and Beata Gabito, businesspersons
SIBLINGS: 10, and 3 older half-siblings Birth sequence of hero: 4th
SPOUSE: Ma. Victoria Mendoza CHILD: 1 (Andrea Karla Dorotan)
Elementary Irosin Central School, 3rd
Highschool Gallanosa High School, Sorsogon
College University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City (entrance scholar)
B.S. in Chemical Engineering, 1970
Gamma Sigma Pi Fraternity, Vice-Lord Guardian
KEM Engineers, vice president, 1969-70
Manila-Irosinian Youth Circle, president
Pambansang Samahan sa Inhinyeria at Agham (PSIA)
UP Chemical Society
Bantayog profile form
Sworn Statement executed by Andrea Karla M. Dorotan, May 28, 2015
Joint Sworn Statement executed by Florencia CassanovaDorotan and Eddie GabitoDorotan, May 28, 2015
Interviews with –
Dr. Eddie G. Dorotan, brother, June 8, 2016, BBF, Quezon City
Wilfredo Laurel, friend and colleague, June 29, 2016, NKTI, Quezon City
Vicky Lopez, friend, June 29, 2016, BBF, Quezon City
Viol de Guzman, Niva Gonzales and Arlene Villanor, co-activists, July 5, 2016, BBF, Quezon City
RosendaAcebedoBervano (by phone), co-activist, June 28, 2016
Liberato Ramos, UP batchmate, July 19, 2016, BBF, Quezon City
Vicky Lopez, e-mail communication with Bantayog Research, June 7, 2016
Mon Ramirez, e-mail communication with Bantayog Research, June 7, 2016
RosendaAcebedoBervano, e-mail communication with Bantayog Research, July26, 2016
NolascoBuhay, e-mail communication with Bantayog Research, August 10, 13 and 24, 2016
Documents and memorabilia submitted by family-
Certificate of Death
Burial Transfer Report, September 21, 1983
Necropsy report, undated
Alay kay Manuel Dorotan, memorial service booklet, prepared by family and friends, Irosin Central School Class ’63,Gallanosa High School Class ’64, College of the Holy Spirit of Irosin, Manila-Irosinian Youth Circle, Inc. and Concerned Citizens Council of Irosin, September 29, 1983
Out in Bicol by Nelia Sancho, Manila Standard, May 30, 1987