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PASETES, Benedicto M.

Benedicto Pasetes was the eldest of seven children of a soldier couple, a US Army veteran of World War II who survived the Death March, and a nurse in the Philippine Army. After the war the elder Pasetes worked at the Bureau of Animal Industry while his mother went into the real estate business. The family lived in a middle-class subdivision in Mandaluyong.

Valedictorian in both grade school and high school, Pasetes enrolled for a degree in veterinary medicine at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It was here where student activism stirred up his love of country, sympathy for the poor and oppressed, and his desire to contribute to social change.

He was in third year when he joined the UP Nationalist Corps and the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. He and his friends started conducting teach-ins and discussion groups in UP and top-ranked private schools such as in Ateneo, La Salle, Maryknoll and St. Scholastica's College. They bolstered the picket lines of striking workers and went on extended visits to poor farming communities. During the First Quarter Storm of 1970, Benny Pasetes was a mainstay of the radio committee of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, with the program Radyo Pakikibaka running from 10-12 p.m. every evening. They attended every rally and demonstration.

Two particular incidents highlighted this period of his life. “During one rally,” his family recalls, “he proudly related to [us] that he was the one who brought down the American flag which used to fly side by side with the Philippine flag in Luneta.” The other incident was during a strike at a paint factory in Caloocan, when he saw the company’s hired goons fire their guns at the picket line, hitting one worker. Benny brought the wounded man to the hospital, a “turning point” for him, after which he became more deeply involved.

Towards the end of 1970, Pasetes quit school to join other student activists in Central Luzon. They helped farmers in Zambales and Nueva Ecija deal with land tenancy, usury, and carabao rustling, and farm workers who had no lands to till. Some of them were captured and detained by the military. Nevertheless, he continued his organizing work, notably among the workers in several textile mills in Bulacan and even in small factories manufacturing bihon and sotanghon noodles.

In time Pasetes, as Ka Willy, became part of a unit of the New People’s Army that operated in the area of San Ildefonso, San Miguel, Angat and Norzagaray in Bulacan. On January 26, 1976, he was captured and killed in a military raid in the sitio called Buhol na Mangga in the barrio of Sta Catalina in San Ildefonso town.

Led by a civilian informer, combined constabulary and police forces had surrounded the house where Pasetes’ group was staying, and called on them to come out and surrender. The guerrillas responded by saying that the farmer and his family must be allowed to leave the house first. When they had done so, the guerrillas tried to jump out of the window but were captured and immediately executed. Also killed with Pasetes was Salvador Policarpio, a Protestant minister.

Their bodies were laid out in front of the municipal hall of San Ildefonso. Pasetes was then buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery (and exhumed some years later for burial in the family’s own plot) while Salvador’s remains were taken home to Capas, Tarlac.

PALABAY, Romulo D.



Usually the brightest in class, Romulo Palabay was called the "walking dictionary" by his high school classmates. Teachers liked him because he always came prepared for the day’s lessons. Though he was a shy boy, he also excelled in extracurricular activities. In his senior year, he was editor-in-chief of the school paper.

Entering college as an entrance scholar at the University of the Philippines in 1968, he also took a job as student assistant to support himself.

In UP Diliman Palabay’s awareness of the many ills besetting the country became more focused as he was drawn into student activism. He joined the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines and later the UP chapter of Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and its cultural arm, Panday Sining. He organized the Progresibong Samahan sa Pangangalakal, an organization of business administration students in his home college. He also kept in touch with friends in his hometown, organizing the Youth and Student Cultural Association of La Union. He also served as La Union coordinator of the UP Special Committee on the Constitutional Convention.

Eventually he became chairman of the KM chapter in La Union. His mother recalls meetings and discussion groups being held in their house in San Fernando. She would hear their stories about government soldiers and their abusive behavior: how “they took the villagers’ goats, pigs, dogs and chickens without paying and ordered these to be cooked” (this was before martial law). Palabay and his friends organized rallies, marches, strikes and demonstrations. They staged plays in public plazas depicting the injustices and atrocities of those in power.

When President Marcos imposed martial law in 1972, Romulo was arrested in La Union together with his brother Crisanto and other activists. A third brother, Armando, arrested later, joined the two Palabay boys in detention in Camp Olivas. All three underwent torture. They were released a year later under a presidential amnesty.

Romulo and Armando went back to UP to continue their studies. After his graduation in 1974, Romy, armed with letters of recommendation from the dean of the UP College of Business Administration, went job- hunting. But without a security clearance, which the military refused to give, prospective employers had to turn him down.

In July 1974, the authorities were looking for Romulo again. Failing to find him at home, they “invited” his mother and siblings for interrogation at the PC headquarters in La Union. Meanwhile, the siblings studying in Manila were held in Camp Olivas, Pampanga, for three days of questioning.

Romulo and his wife, a nursing student, left home to move to the Cordilleras where they helped organize the Igorot people to fight against the dictatorship. It helped very much that they both had some medical knowledge; Romulo, in particular, knew how to administer acupuncture treatments and herbal medicine. With this, they were able to successfully treat some cases, which assured a warm welcome in the mountain villages for the group. Soon, the people were calling him “duktor.”

Romulo Palabay was killed in Hungduan, Ifugao, two weeks before his 23rd birthday. During a surprise attack by a team of local CHDF members, he was hit in the back of the head by a shot fired from a grenade launcher. When his family received news of his death, “we were able to get Romy’s body after paying P500 to some PC soldiers and supplying food for three days,” according to his mother, “although it took them only one day to get it and bring it to Kiangan, Ifugao.”

The remains were transported to Baguio, then to his hometown in La Union, and from there to the UP Chapel in Diliman where friends held necrological rites in his honor. But the Palabay family has not yet been able to retrieve the body of his brother Armando, who died in Abra.

OSORIO, Magnifico L.

Magnifico Osorio had no political affiliations nor leanings, and he didn’t join rallies or openly defy the dictatorship. He only wanted to help the people he was serving – the indigenous communities of Palawan. Yet in being killed for his social justice advocacy against those in powerful positions to oppress and exploit the weak, he became a martyr of the struggle against the martial law regime.

He had aspired for the religious life even as a young boy. He achieved this dream, serving as pastor of the United Methodist Church, first in Masbate and then in Palawan.

Arriving in Palawan in the mid-1960s, he first settled in Bugsuk, a small island with a mixed community of native Palawans and settlers. The sea was so bountiful that fish would leap into the fishermen's boats. This garden of Eden was destroyed when the residents were driven out to make way for a vast coconut plantation owned by Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco. Osorio helped the people fight the eviction but they lost, and the pastor himself had to leave Bugsuk.

Osorio continued his ministry in another Palawan town, Bataraza. There he started a special ministry for the indigenous tribes because he saw that they were losing their ancestral lands to big corporations. Some were actually being jailed for cultivating lands that had already been abandoned. Osorio opened literacy classes, where people learned reading, writing and farming techniques. He believed that this was the best way for them to protect their interests and to defend themselves from the rampant landgrabbing and other abuses to which the native communities fell victim.

As a pastor, Osorio was basically self-supporting. For his family’s needs, he tilled a tract of land (14 hectares), putting to good use the knowledge he had gained as an agriculture graduate of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. But the land was later grabbed by another Marcos crony, his presidential assistant for national minorities, who believed that valuable minerals could be found in it.

Osorio became a dedicated campaigner for indigenous peoples' rights. He gave his all to this advocacy, at his own expense often shuttling to and from the capital, Puerto Princesa, to accompany villagers facing court cases regarding land disputes or guiding them through government red tape.

On March 10, 1985, he accompanied a group of villagers to meet with then Palawan governor Salvador Socrates who promised that their land rights would be respected as long as he was governor. The villagers were so thankful for Osorio's help, saying they wanted him as their adviser in all negotiations with government agencies as well as the big corporations that wanted to use their ancestral lands. Osorio himself was happy about this event, writing to his brother that "with God, we can accomplish something worthwhile."

On the day he was killed, March 29, Osorio was in high spirits. He was still euphoric from the successful dialogue with the governor. A case against two Muslim men he had been helping had just been dismissed. He went to his farm to burn a clump of bamboos in order to expand his rice paddies.

It was late when his wife Florenda went out to call him for supper. She found him lying on the ground; he had been clubbed on the head and then shot dead. No witnesses came forward to tell what they knew, and no search was ordered to find out who killed Osorio. However, many believe that Osorio was eliminated to deprive the native communities of an effective defender. To this day the murder has not been solved.

ORTIZ, Pacifico A.

Just weeks after President Marcos had imposed martial law, on December 1, 1972 the Jesuit priest Pacifico Ortiz stood before the assembly that had put together a new Constitution. In voting No to the document, Ortiz firmly warned:

“I believe no nation…can survive that would surrender her freedom and her future to the wisdom or mercy of one man, whoever that man may be, however great that man may be. […] Through this Constitution, we are establishing for many years to come nothing less than a dictatorial government, a government through ‘diktat’ or decree, by a one-man Executive who is likewise vested with full legislative powers (since his proclamations, orders and decrees shall have the validity of law even after martial law is lifted) and, who through his unlimited power of appointment and removal can control the judiciary, including the members of the Supreme Court.”

Elected in 1969 as the first Filipino president of Ateneo de Manila University, Ortiz resigned the post in 1971 after being elected delegate of Rizal province to the Constitutional Convention. Here he was frustrated in trying to put in safeguards that would prevent Marcos from perpetuating himself in power. It was also he who supported fellow delegate Eduardo Quintero in exposing the massive bribery that took place to ensure that Marcos would get the Constitution he wanted.

On January 26, 1970, Ortiz was asked to deliver the invocation at the opening of the joint session of Congress. In it, he described a situation where the people had lost their “political innocence” and now knew that “salvation can only come from below, …from the people themselves..." The country, he went on, stood “on the trembling edge of revolution.”

Only hours later, violence would erupt as security forces beat back tens of thousands of students and workers rallying in front of that same building. That historic demonstration ushered in the period of massive protests known as the First Quarter Storm.

With the martial law regime consolidating its monopoly of power, as he had foreseen, Ortiz continued to resist. As secretary of both the Episcopal Commission on Justice and Peace and the Church-Military Liaison Committee, he exerted himself to mitigate oppression and the violation of human rights.

Pacifico Ortiz was born to a landed family in Surigao province in Mindanao. Before World War II broke out, he had been appointed personal chaplain to President Manuel Quezon; with the escalation of hostilities, the president went into exile in Australia and then the United States, and Ortiz was a member of his entourage.

After the war, Ortiz pursued his studies in America. Upon his return, he became Catholic chaplain of the University of the Philippines in Diliman, at the same time serving as secretary of the Bishops' Commission on Social Action.

In 1961, he moved back to the Ateneo de Manila to teach political science. There he remained for the next 11 years, except for a one-year teaching stint at the Ateneo de Zamboanga. He also held other positions such as dean of the graduate school, regent of the school of law, and executive vice-president.

He died after a stroke in 1983, at the age of 70.

ORTIGAS, Gaston Z.

Gaston Ortigas found his way out of the Philippines during martial law, sought refuge in America, and while there continued to work for the ouster of the Marcos “conjugal dictatorship” together with other prominent political exiles.

A specialist in industrial and production management, and faculty member at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Ortigas had joined Raul Manglapus’ Christian Social Movement in 1970 as election campaign manager in what would be a frustrated attempt to make a dent in the Philippines’ traditional electoral system.

Ironically, President Ferdinand Marcos himself would dismantle that system by instituting one-man rule in 1972. The only elections allowed were those that would give his regime an appearance of legitimacy, and the only candidates allowed towin were those chosen by his party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.

When martial law was declared, Ortigas became involved in 1974 with Manglapus' Movement for a Free Philippines (MFP) and the Bishops-Businessmen's Conference, both critical of martial law.

He also became associated with the Light-A-Fire Movement, an urban guerrilla group that carried out small-scale attacks against Marcos crony establishments. After barely eleven months of operation, by December 1979 all but two members of the network had been arrested. Ortigas then decided to leave for abroad, taking a circuitous route through the Philippines’ southern backdoor.

Arriving in the United States in May 1980, he continued his work with the MFP and, especially after the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, liaisoning with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

In April 1986 he was able to fly home, and returned to AIM where as dean for the next four years, and propounding the then-new concept of development management, he brought the school closer to the people. Local officials, lawmakers, bureaucrats and foreign service officers were given a chance to learn broader perspectives and appreciate better systems, while developing greater sensitivity and compassion to people's needs. Under him, AIM opened new programs catering to social issues, such as women in development, agrarian reform and environmental protection.

In those few short years, Ortigas also committed himself to the advocacy of agrarian reform and the pursuit of a peace process with antidictatorship movements that remained in the underground after February 1986. “Gasty” died on August 31, 1990 after a lingering illness.

Ateneo de Manila University established the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute six months after his death.

ORCULLO, Alexander L.

From the start, martial law kept Alex Orcullo busy, denouncing military abuses and defending people’s rights.

Upon its declaration in September 1972, he led a group of young people in marching around the small town of Padada singing “Pilipinas Kong Mahal.” Days afterward, they were arrested and detained at the constabulary barracks.

He had been an outstanding student, and after graduating from college he went on to pursue a master’s degree in economics. At age 24 he was asked to become the president of St. Michael’s College in his hometown, during which time he focused on the development of more young leaders. He was a professional manager with a particular expertise in running housing projects. He also opened and ran a private school.

Orcullo initiated the publication of Mindaweek, edited Mindanao Currents and wrote for the San Pedro Express. His daily radio commentaries reached a wide audience. He was fearless in his stance against repression and tyranny, calling on the people to realize their pathetic situation and to struggle to be free.

His social and political involvement included chairing the LIHUK Mindanao and the Hukom Demokrasya ng Liga ng Ekonomistang Aktibo sa Dabaw. He served as secretary general of the Coalition for Restoration of Democracy in Mindanao and political officer of the Makabayang Alyansa.

He was even barangay captain in his village, Mandug, situated at the outskirts of Davao City. It was a highly militarized area, with armed men in masks roaming during the night. The military and their “assets,” the residents reported, were soliciting information about Orcullo.

But Mandug was “a well-organized community…able to project collective pressures on the local government and military.” In September 1984, Orcullo was arrested and brought to Camp Panacan. A hundred male civilians from Mandug gathered together and proceeded to the military camp and refused to leave until their barangay captain was released.

On the day of his 38th birthday, October 19, 1984, while Orcullo was driving home with his wife and youngest son (2 ½ years old), they were accosted by armalite-wielding men in uniform in barangay Tigatto. He was ordered to leave the car and subjected to a body search. His arms raised, he was ordered to walk. He was then shot from behind, sustaining 13 gunshot wounds. One “Kapitan Inggo”, known to head a paramilitary group calling itself Philippine Liberation Organization, later claimed responsibility for the murder.

The last editorial Alex Orcullo wrote before he was killed was entitled “Why Rage?” In it, he urged his countrymen to rage against oppression and tyranny and to fight injustice without compromise. It was to be his parting message.

ONTONG, Manuel F.

Manuel Ontong was, like many artists, a quiet man whose inner feelings ran deep. In fact, in 1970 the Art Association of the Philippines cited him as the “Best Expression of the Filipino Soul.”

That was the year he joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, of which his younger brother was already a member. He also joined Sining Bayan, an organization of socially committed artists that included stage, movie and television personalities. Ontong participated actively in the First Quarter Storm of 1970.

Before that, he had worked for two years as an artist-illustrator for the National Museum, having graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of Santo Tomas in 1967. His work entailed traveling to archaeological excavation sites as part of the team from the museum, and executing sketches for the documentation. His illustrations were later incorporated in the museum’s reports and publications.

Ontong was disappointed when his nomination for a study grant to Australia in 1969 did not push through; he thought it was because no one powerful was backing him up. The “palakasan” system, his sister observed, was what started his politicalization. At the time, she explained, the National Museum’s director had become critical of the Marcos administration, so that when the latter resigned her position Ontong followed suit.

When Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, Ontong was arrested and detained with some other activists for one week. Because his mother had been so traumatized by this incident, he got a job as artist-illustrator at the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research and Resource Development in Los Baños, Laguna. He was already working there when martial law was declared. But quietly, Manny Ontong continued to create posters and other art works that expressed the people’s anger under the dictatorship.

On November 26, 1975 his family received an anonymous call informing them that Ontong had been picked up by men in civilian clothes and taken away in an army jeep in front of the Philippine General Hospital along Taft Avenue in Manila. His mother went from one detention center to another looking for him, reaching as far as Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna and  in Pampanga. She never found him. Manuel Ontong was 29 years old when he disappeared.

OLIVAR, Mateo C.

Son of a poor farming family in Cebu, Mateo Olivar migrated with his young family to Tukuran, Zamboanga del Sur in search of better opportunities in life. After high school he had gone to college but could not afford to continue after one year.

Adding to his meager income from tilling the soil, Olivar found work as a janitor at the municipal hall in Tukuran. In 1978 he was invited by his pastor to attend a five-week seminar called Christian Living in the World Today. He was so inspired and enlightened by it that he left his janitorial job to become a fulltime churchworker in the Tukuran parish.

As such, he attended more seminars, shared experiences with other people, travelled to far-flung villages of the parish.

Even greater challenges and opportunities came when Olivar joined the staff of the diocese of Pagadian's Community-Based Health Program and Family Life Apostolate. He learned herbal medicine, applying it to help the people in villages all over the 15 towns covered by the diocese. He traveled long distances over very bad roads, and on any available transport. But he thrived. "He never wavered, never hesitated," said his parish priest.

However, because his work entailed going deep into the villages, discussing with people and spreading new ideas, Olivar attracted the military's attention. He started receiving threats. One day in August 1985, a group of armed militia men stopped the jeep he was riding, looking for him. Fortunately, none of them knew how he looked like and the other passengers covered up for him. His friends were worried.

Apparently, “Tiyong” Olivar had come under suspicion as a revolutionary organizer. But the priests defended him, saying he was organizing "for liberation, not revolution."

Olivar’s "work for liberation" came to an end on November 7, 1985 when three men fired at him while he was riding his motorbike on his way home. The ambush happened less than 500 yards from a military checkpoint in Dimasangca, Labangan, Zamboanga del Sur. Church workers deeply mourned this religious man's death. On the day he was buried, the bishop of Pagadian declared that no other mass would be said in the diocese that day except for Tiyong's funeral mass.

OBISPO, Immanuel M.

Immanuel Obispo was an honor student from elementary school to college. A scholar at De La Salle University, where he was a third-year biology major (“a brilliant student,” according to his thesis adviser) he engaged in many extracurricular activities and joined the staff of campus papers.

Although he did not fit the popular image of the stereotypical student activist – he had a quiet and scholarly manner, a slight build and a limp due to polio – Obispo was an active participant in the antidictatorship movement as a member of the De La Salle chapter of the militant League of Filipino Students. He joined protest rallies and demonstrations, and criticized the regime’s policies in articles for student publications.

Obispo left for school on October 17, 1984 and met there with friends, but failed to return home that day. His family reported him missing. After eight days of searching, they were informed that Imo's body was in a hospital in Laguna, where he had been brought, still alive, after being run over by a train.

But so many questions remained unanswered: What was he doing there? Who were the unknown persons inquiring after him at the hospital? Who was the fake priest who called his teacher and gave false information about Imo’s whereabouts? Why did his chest bear what looked like cigarette burns?

Immanuel Obispo’s murder took place at a time when the regime was carrying out many violent acts against its critics, including the killing of Alex Orcullo in Davao City and Jacobo Amatong in Dipolog City. At De La Salle University itself, students had been noticing intensified military intelligence surveillance. Thus, it was not hard to believe that Imo was killed by the military.

MORDENO, Rodrigo

Rodrigo Mordeno worked at the Catholic parish in the town of Sta. Josefa, Agusan Del Sur, in northeastern Mindanao. He had just been designated area coordinator of the relief and rehabilitation program of the local diocese, helping in the distribution of relief goods and processing of interest-free loans for local residents.

Mordeno, known to all as Diego, had only been at his job for a few weeks, doing it with much enthusiasm, when he was killed by Armalite-wielding gunmen.

There was no logical reason for anyone to murder Mordeno, a well-liked young man in his early 20s who had grown up in Sta. Josefa.

Except that it was martial law, and Sta. Josefa, like many other towns in Mindanao, was under the rule of the gun. At the time, an Airborne Unit of the Philippine Air Force and a unit of the Philippine Army’s Engineering Brigade were based in the town, aside from the Integrated National Police and paramilitary Civilian Home Defense Force.

And maybe the reason why he was killed, his friends said, was because he was helping the displaced people in the “strategic hamlets” that the military had been setting up in Sta. Josefa. These “hamlets” were an idea borrowed by the Philippine military from the US effort to control the civilian population during the war in Vietnam. The objective was to deprive rebel guerrillas of the support of the people living in outlying areas, by forcing them to live instead in virtual concentration camps where they were strictly monitored and unable to work on their farms.

Human-rights networks, both local and international, were increasingly aware of the existence of the hamlets, and they helped bring public attention to the miserable conditions and the abuses to which the people there were being subjected. Of course such publicity did not make the dictatorship happy.

One day, a group of human-rights workers, including some affiliated with the church and others who were journalists, arrived in Sta. Josefa intending to visit the hamlets. Mordeno was assigned to be their guide. But soldiers stopped the group from meeting with the villagers, and blamed Mordeno for taking them there.

Not long after that, on the night of August 7, Mordeno was heading home from a wedding party with his brother Richard, 13, when they met two armed men on the street. As the two brothers continued to walk, bursts of gunfire came from behind, and Richard saw Diego fall clasping his neck. With bullets whistling over his own head, Richard ran for his life and hid in a canal beside the road. The two armed men left after failing to find him.

Next morning Diego Mordeno’s body was recovered, riddled with bullets. The crime had happened in the vicinity of military detachments.

Churchworkers from all over Agusan, Surigao and Davao provinces came to bury Mordeno, in a funeral march that was the longest that the people of Sta. Josefa town ever saw.

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