bantayog.foundation

bantayog.foundation

Never Again

Ito ang sumpa ko


Lalaban ako sa lahat ng uring paghaharing hindi demokratiko. Hahadlangan ko ang pagbabalik ng mga kagawiang tulad ng sa diktadurang Marcos. Hindi na dapat bumalik ang matinding pagkatakot ng mga Pilipino sa kanilang sariling gubyerno.

Igigiit ko na kasinungalingan ang pagsasabing sa panahon ng batas-militar ay namuhay tayo sa kapayapaan at ginhawa. Igigiit ko ang itinuturo ng ating sariling kasaysayan na ang demokrasya ay di hamak na mas mabuti kaysa diktadurang rehimen ni Marcos.

Hindi ko iboboto ang sinumang pulitikong nagbubulag-bulagan sa mga krimen ng rehimeng Marcos, na hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa naitutuwid. Hindi ko iboboto ang sinumang manloloko na nagyayabang na ang diktadura ni Marcos ay naging mabuti para sa bansa at sa mamamayan. Hindi ko iboboto ang sinumang kandidato na nangangakong ituloy ang mga patakaran at programa ng rehimang Marcos.

Isinusumpa ko, isinusumpa nating lahat: Never again. Di na muli! Hinding-hindi na natin pababalikin ang kakila-kilabot na panahong iyon!

Deklarasyon ng Never Again! Never Forget! Movement
Ika-10 Disyembre, Taong 2015 sa Bantayog ng mga Bayani

never again

SALAC, Fr. Roberto C.

He is a model priest and a brother to me… his service to his people was crystal clear.

Roberto Salac pic

That is how Fr. Roberto Salac is remembered by his brother, Fr. Rodrigo Salac.

Fr. Roberto or Bert to friends was the third of five children in a family of farmers. His father died early, leaving his mother to take care of their children alone. They planted corn and other crops in their small parcel of land.

Roberto’s mother, who affectionately called him Udo, remembers him as the son who lovingly tells her “thank you very much” whenever she prepared food for him. Diligent and hardworking, Roberto was an honor student at the Queen of Apostles Seminary High School in Tagum City. He went to college at the Regional Major Seminary (REMASE) in Davao City and proceeded with his Theology studies there as well. He stayed in REMASE until his ordination in 1978.

While a student at REMASE, Roberto regularly went to the communities to do pastoral work, immersing with the poor. In these communities, he and his fellow students would witness many instances of injustice. Thousands of farmers were driven out of their land for the expansion of the banana plantations owned by multinational corporations (MNCs) such as Dole, Del Monte, the Marcos cronies and other rich families in the Davao region. This opened his eyes to the social inequality present in Philippine society. Land grabbing of thousands of hectares by the foreign agri-business corporations and the despotic landlords got rampant in the region especially during Martial law where brutality and militarization became their tools of oppression.

After Roberto’s ordination in 1978, he was assigned in the parish of Monkayo, Compostela Valley, a part of the Prelature of Tagum (The other provinces covered by the Prelature were Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental). Vatican II had emphasized that the church should be the church of the poor, deprived and oppressed. Thus, programs such as Basic Christian Communities (BCC), locally called GKK or Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban, and Social Action Center were introduced and developed during the time of Bishop Joseph Reagan to provide spiritual and socio-economic support among farmers. With the Liberation Theology as the prime mover of the times, priests (including Fr. Bert), nuns and many church workers were at the forefront undertaking conscientization programs among farmers and Christian communities. The church became supportive of farmers’ organizations such as the Federation of Free Farmers and KHI-RHO.

As a priest, Roberto did not confine himself within the comforts and safety of a convent. He was very much with his flock, living with the poor in the boondocks and in the plantations where oppression and abuse by the military proliferated. He would often be asked to help find missing persons, those who were illegally arrested or abducted by the military. Without hesitation, and at anytime of the day or night, he would go around the camps and detention centers to make sure that the rights of these political prisoners were protected. He regularly visited the prisons to make sure that those captured will be safe.

Friends often describe Fr. Roberto as very easy to get along with, someone with a very assuring and calming presence. He believed that knowing the problem is already half the solution. Thus, in his homilies, he would calmly talk about current issues and problems affecting the people, and remind churchgoers of their responsibilities as Christians. He also stressed the importance of inculcating love for country and humanity in raising families.

In 1979, Fr. Roberto chaired the board of the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) in Davao del Norte. The EMJP was a network of human rights advocates established to address the escalating incidents of human rights abuses of the Marcos regime among farmers, indigenous peoples and church workers. (Bantayog martyr Sr. Consuelo Chuidian, R.G.S. was one of his colleagues in the EMJP).

The EMJP’s stance for the marginalized was challenged when on the same year a big evacuation erupted in Laac, Compostela Valley due to heavy militarization in the area. Thousands of indigenous peoples and farmers fled their homes. Laac was a forestal area, very conducive for planting cacao and coffee. It was home to thousands of indigenous people. The military argued that they were there to crush the NPA. On the other hand, the agribusiness plantation owners were very much interested to operate in the area and collaborated with the Marcos regime to legalize land grabbing through militarization. EMJP conducted fact-finding missions in Laac and strongly condemned the militarization. They organized efforts to provide food, temporary shelter and medical attention for the evacuees.

Fr. Bert and his fellow church workers had earned the ire of the military for their involvement and activities in EMJP and other protest actions against the Marcos regime. Protecting Bert, the Bishop transferred him from one Parish to another in the Prelature. From Monkayo he was transferred to Tagum City, and then transferred again to Mabini, then finally to Cateel, Davao Oriental (a town which was accessible only after a two-day travel from Davao City at that time).

When the salvaging, illegal arrest and torture of civilians worsened in the early 80’s, the bishop offered to send Fr. Bert to Rome to study Canon Law to take him away from danger of getting killed and arrested by the military. But instead, he chose not to leave the Philippines and went underground in 1984 to continue his organizing work among the people. Even in the underground, Fr. Roberto Salac continued with his priestly role, officiating to the spiritual needs of his people. But he was also able to perfectly combine this defending and caring for the marginalized masses especially the peasants and the indigenous people.

He was at the frontline organizing a wide alliance of resistance movement for the National Democratic struggle in Mindanao. Fr. Bert, together with his fellow activists launched People’s Strikes or locally called Welgang Bayan (the nationwide and the Mindanao-wide Welgang Bayan) to call for rollback of oil prices, justice for the killing of Alex Orcullo (a Bantayog Martyr) and all the victims of the recent political killings, end of militarization, and the repeal of Marcos’s power to rule by decree. He led the initiative of issuing a press statement in Mindanao urging the people to support the People’s Strikes.

When Ferdinand Marcos got ousted in 1986 through people power, the door for peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines was opened under the Aquino Administration. Fr. Roberto Salac was one of those in the forefront of the peace process in Mindanao.

After February 1986, the military elements deployed by Marcos (who were responsible for the grave human rights abuses in the area) remained and continued sowing terror and harassment among communities even as the people were seeking ways to a peaceful solution to the conflict and prevent more human rights violations.

On the fateful day of March 19, 1987, during a consultation meeting in a community in Mawab, Compostela Valley, Fr. Roberto Salac together with fellow leaders in the peace process were attacked by the military. He got shot on his knee cap. Medics who were in attendance tried to save him. He did not reach the hospital and died due to loss of blood.

Thousands attended his funeral mass celebrated by 32 priests.

The people he served wept in silence over the loss of a priest, a friend, a defender of their rights they loved so much.
“His action of faith in God and commitment to people’s welfare is obviously excelling in dedication. Very obvious ang zeal of commitment and dedication. Although during meetings he speaks very very little, a man of few words but so much of action.”– Msgr. Ullyses Perandos

REYES, Cecilio Antonio

Cecilio Reyes pic

“Ciento” was how most of the classmates and friends of Cecilio Reyes called him. Siento, Spanish for one hundred, because he usually got top marks even if he only popped in class to take the exams. When Cecilio entered the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) in 1966, he was in the top twenty percent of the incoming batch of 150 scholars from all over the country. In college at UP, he studied under a scholarship grant from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which gave the scholarship to the top twenty-five examinees. After continuing his education at the University of Mindanao, he aced the test for 3rd year Chemical Engineering students even though he was only in his second year of civil engineering studies. His teachers there also let him teach the class every now and then.

Cecilio Reyes was the second of the five children of Apolonio and Purita Reyes. Apolonio, a lawyer, was originally from Bulacan and worked as a labor arbiter in Manila while Purita was a public school teacher in Davao City, her hometown. At the age of twelve, Cecilio had to leave home to study at the prestigious PSHS which then had only one campus in faraway Quezon City. A whiz at most anything he did -- he also sang and played the guitar well - Cecilio, or Cil to friends, was kind and exuded a serious and scholarly mien, aided by the horn-rimmed glasses he wore. Although asthmatic, he was also “surprisingly athletic” recalls his high school friend, Reinaldo Guillermo. “I remember him as a good lefty player of all handball games, as well as an agile forward player in football and basketball.”

In the national scene, mounting dissent against Marcos’ policies was expressed in several rallies and demonstrations in the streets. Cecilio was in his 4th year at PSHS (the school had a 5-year high school curriculum then) when he joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). He found his niche with the Gintong Silahis, SDK’s cultural arm, and took part in many of GS’ stirring plays on the social realities, performing in protest actions, strike areas and other public places to inform the people about critical national issues. Along with the other SDK members, he went to the slum communities near the school to learn about their lives. He participated in the protest actions during the First Quarter Storm of 1970. He helped man the Diliman Commune barricades in early 1971 in support of student demands for reforms. Graduating on April 30 that same year, he was among the students who denounced a perceived government scheme imposed on them – an educational orientation that was grooming the scholars to be scientists and technocrats who will serve foreign and local big capitalists. In a move never before seen at the PSHS, the students sang nationalist songs, wore red armbands and tore up their token diplomas. Cecilio and his co-graduating science scholars raised their clenched fists, and vowed to dedicate their gift of intellect and special education to the interest of the vast majority of the Filipino masses.

The day after his graduation, Cecilio attended the violence-marred Labor Day rally in front of the old Congress building in Manila. Several were injured when government troops opened fire on the rallyists. One died on the spot– labor leader Liza Balando (Bantayog martyr).This was another harrowing experience that must have firmed up his resolve to oppose the emerging dictatorship, his friend recollected.

When martial law was declared, Cecilio, in first year college at UP and one of the prominent members of SDK, was among the many student activists arrested in the crackdown that ensued. He was detained at Camp Aguinaldo but was released after a week upon his father’s representations.

Undaunted, Cecilio quit school and joined the underground movement. Using his musical and theatrical skills, he organized a community-based cultural group that kept the spirit of dissent going in Ugong, Pasig, Rizal. But sometime in 1973, a domestic matter came up and he was forced to go back home to the province.

Restlessness and frustration over the new regime soon overcame Cecilio in Davao. His relatives tried to cheer him up by bringing him to different places. After a while, he decided to go back to school and enrolled at an engineering course at the University of Mindanao. He even got a job as a computer programmer at the Davao Light and Power Company, working in the mornings and attending his classes in the afternoons. Oftentimes he would bring home a small group of people with whom he would be engaged in earnest talk. Discussion group, he would tell his family, who, because of their joy at having him back in their midst, would not mind Cecilio’s friends hanging out at the house.

Cecilio kept a low-profile during those years but he was also widely-known to be an activist. In 1975, he came to be under surveillance. Coming home from work at noon, Cecilio spotted an unfamiliar car parked across their house. A man came and asked for him. While his sister was talking to the man, Cecilio snuck out the backdoor. That was the last time he was seen at home.

The Reyes household was soon subjected to a raid and various threats and harassments allegedly by hired goons looking for Cecilio. He managed to send them letters, from which they learned of his decision to deepen his involvement in the fight against the dictatorship. He had gone away to join the resistance movement in the countryside. But the letters soon stopped coming, and nobody came to inform them of what happened.

By summer of the following year, Cecilio Reyes was reportedly killed in a raid by military men somewhere in Davao del Norte, near the Agusan border. Very little information can be gathered now, but in a picture smuggled out by another activist shown to close college friends in Manila, Cecilio’s remains can be clearly seen, unceremoniously dumped in a municipal hall somewhere in Agusan del Sur. His remains cannot now be found.

The Reyes family’s anguish over Cecilio’s demise left a big void that has not been assuaged with time. While they and his friends rue the loss of this brilliant young man, somebody who could have climbed the ladders of any big corporation, they are consoled and uplifted by his selflessness. Life was hard in the places where he went but he carried on without complaint or regret. He forsook his own comfort, future, life itself, to serve the people. In the words of his girlfriend, Hermilina Palarca, “ipinakita ni Cecilio ang ugali ng isang bayani. Hindi inalintana ang hirap ng buhay sa lugar na kinilusan niya. Handang isakripisyo ang buhay.”

KINTANAR, Ester Resabal

Ester Resabal-Kintanar pic (high school)

The parents of Ester originated from Maribojoc, Bohol province but migrated to Mindanao after World War II (late 40s) where her civil engineer father managed road projects (from Davao, Agusan, Zamboanga, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro) and her mother taught in the public schools there. The family settled in Iligan City in the early 1960s.

“Teray” as Ester was fondly called by family, colleagues and friends, was the third of 10 children brought up in a low middle income family with a strong Catholic orientation and a tradition of academic excellence to achieve a profession for good employment or career opportunity.

Due to the nature of her father’s work, her elementary years were spent in a variety of public schools in Mindanao—from Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte to Iligan City. Her high school education was at the RVM-run St. Michael’s College in Iligan City, where she was active in the Legion of Mary. In her teens, she gave catechism lessons to children during summer in Maribojoc, Bohol, her parents’ home town.

While in college, she was editor-in-chief of the Varsitarian, the Mindanao State University students’ paper. She graduated cum laude with Bachelor of Arts in English from the Mindanao State University in Marawi City. She also received a journalism award upon graduation.

She was a faculty member of the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology in Iligan City from 1971 to 1981 and was a full scholar MSU Faculty Development Program Grantee.

Before she took a leave of absence due to security pressures brought about by Martial Law policies, she was secretary of the School of Engineering Technology (MSU-IIT), Assistant Director of the Colombo-based Plan, and staff of the College Training Department of the School of Engineering Technology of the university.

Testimonies from family members and colleagues attest that she was always ready to help people in need, whether in the family or outside. She believed in freedom of expression and the rights of people and communities to determine their own social, political and national direction.

POLITICAL INVOLVEMENT

In college, she got into contact with the emerging movement for revolutionary change. As her involvement and support deepened, she became active in arousing and raising the political consciousness of her students, friends and colleagues.

She was a faculty member of MSU-IIT for 10 years (1971-1981) before she took an indefinite leave of absence due to security pressures brought about by Martial Law.

This eventually led her to go full time and serve the people in the villages of southern Mindanao through social awareness raising and local publication that helped community organizers.

Joy Asuncion, who knew Ester from 1979 to 1982, and shared a house with her together with their spouses (she with Edgar Jopson and Ester with Romulo Kintanar) in Davao City, said in a testimony, ”I learned that she had to give up her teaching and administrative work in (MSU)…Iligan Institute of Technology (IIT) in Iligan City, Mindanao, after the military found out her involvement with the underground movement and started to do surveillance work on her family, home and school.  Then she had to move from Iligan to Davao City.”

Ester was a staff of Mindanaw, an underground protest publication, in mid 1982, and became its editor in 1983.

Her personal traits and her dedication both to her profession and to her way of fighting against dictatorship brought inspiration to her family and the professional community in Iligan and other parts of Mindanao.

In a tribute “Alay kay Teray” on November 20, 1984 held in Iligan City by the MSU- IIT Alumni and colleagues, it was acknowledged that “Teray” was a committed teacher and writer who devoted her life for the betterment of her country. “She stood for what she believed in,” a colleague said, adding that she epitomized a “committed woman and mother.” The same source shared that in some discussions, Ester emphasized that being a mother is “no obstacle in serving the country.”

“Even if she had a family of her own, she sacrificed personal comfort for a cause that she believed in which she viewed to benefit not only her children but the entire Filipino people,” another colleague underscored during the public tribute attended by friends, colleagues, administrators and comrades.

Despite her schedule, she found time to show her love for her kids in concrete ways, a comrade noted. For example she recorded what she learned in the countryside like a folklore, and shared these with her children. “She was a comforter, a friend and a morale booster,” he said, adding that she was such “a great loss” to the movement at a time when it was gathering momentum against dictatorship.

“She was simple and easy to be friend with.  We shared housekeeping work at the same time we were helping our husbands with technical, research and other tasks,” Asuncion observed, adding that “Teray” was “a very loving and caring wife to her husband Rolly and two children, Eric and Jay. She will always be remembered as a loving and dutiful wife, mother, friend, and comrade.”

An administrator at MSU-IIT noted that as a teacher, she was patient, did her

work with humor, and most of all, was untiring in serving others, in helping edit, as adviser to the school paper, doing consultation work, even after class hours.

In thanking those gathered in the tribute of 1984, her mother Victoria Sarmiento Resabal, who was then principal of an elementary school in Iligan City, urged that in remembering her

daughter, those gathered “can focus on her life of giving as a guide for those who still care and love freedom. Let us remember Ester by sharing what we have to the poor.”

CIRCUMSTANCES OF DEATH

 Ester’s effort at further raising the social awareness of allies and of serving the poor and disadvantaged in the countryside was cut short on November 21, 1983.

Along with 12 religious and other rural workers, she was on her way to attend a seminar and to purchase a printing machine in Cebu City—part of her work in raising social and political awareness in the villages—when she took the M/V Dona Cassandra on November 21, 1983.

A typhoon that brought big waves caused the boat to keel and eventually to sink, drowning 200 passengers in the waters between Nasipit, Butuan and Cebu City, including Ester and her companions. Survivors attested that they saw members of the group helping passengers put on their life vests.

Along with other companions, Ester’s body was not recovered.

“Her body was never found despite efforts by the authorities and her own family and comrades to search the area called the Mindanao Deep,” Asuncion said in her testimony.

IMPACT ON FAMILY AND COMMUNITY

 Coming from a low middle class family, more members were made aware of the importance of working for the people in any endeavor, whether as a professional, as a family person, or in an organization or out of an institution.

In a write up, Procopio Jr., her elder brother, said Ester inspired him to go into journalism focusing his writings on those who are seldom heard in our society, the poor, indigenous peoples, farmers, workers, students, teachers, fisher-folks, the urban poor, women and victims of human rights violations.

In a posthumous program, colleagues, friends, students, and relatives recalled Ester’s very jovial and giving ways, and her dedication to her work as a teacher both to students, and as an activist and mother.

Her colleagues, friends and fellow workers attested that despite her youth, she expressed courage and contributed much to the cause of freedom and national democratic movement at a time when doing so entailed a lot of dangers, and in Ester’s case, meant giving up a comfortable profession in an academic institution.

PAR, Maria Socorro Baronia

Ma. Socorro Par pic

Ma. Socorro’s quiet demeanor belied steely nerves that helped her through the rocky path to which she committed her life. Described by family and friends as good, diligent and patient, Socorro, Soc, as she was fondly called, was the youngest of thirteen children. She may have been pampered but she did her chores dutifully and helped keep the house spotlessly clean. She was born and spent her childhood years in Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat, her mother Herminia’s hometown. Her father, Claro Par, was originally from Marinduque.

The Par family moved to Digos, Davao del Sur, when Socorro was in her early teens. She was in third year high school when she became aware of the problems besetting the country, particularly of the exploitation experienced by peasants. Already an active member of the Student Catholic Action, and in the wake of Vatican II, Socorro responded further to the call of the times by joining Khi Rho, a youth group closely allied with the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). The FFF was a socio-political movement that strongly advocated agrarian reforms. Khi Rho members helped document land-grabbing and other cases suffered by FFF members.They also campaigned for FFF leaders who ran for elective office in 1971.

The First Quarter Storm was then raging in Manila and it was the same scenario in Davao. Students took to the streets to demand for social justice and changes in a profligate government. Now in college and studying towards a degree in Economics, Socorro was an active participant in discussion groups and mass actions. When martial law was declared, like most student activists then, Socorro fled to the countryside.

Socorro joined the underground resistance that was newly taking shape in Mindanao. She worked to help the people in the countryside struggle against the manipulation and corruption heaped by abusive officials. While there, she got married to a fellow Khi Rho member, Emerito Rodriguez, with whom she had a son. Rodriguez was killed in early 1975 in Davao del Norte, making Socorro a young widow.

Socorro was arrested in November 1976 in Nabunturan, Davao del Norte. She was then in a house with a group of resistance fighters when they were surrounded by military soldiers. In a bid to escape, she tried to submerge herself in a mudpool but was soon spotted. Accused of subversion, illegal possession of firearms and inciting to rebellion, she was detained at the Philippine Constabulary (PC) barracks in Tagum.

Released shortly after, Socorro enrolled at the Ateneo de Davao. A consistent honor student, she juggled studies and campus activism in this period which political analysts in Mindanao call Second Reform Movement. At the Ateneo, students successfully demanded for the return of the school paper, the Atenews, and of the student council.

Socorro’s efforts were crucial in propelling this resurging opposition to martial law. In the book Subversive Lives, a Family’s Memoir of the Marcos Years, Nathan Quimpo described how Socorro was part of a group that set up the Council for Student Evangelization (CSE) in 1978. The CSE trained promising student leaders from three different universities in Davao. In one seminar held in Matina, participants discussed and critically analysed the national political and economic situations as well as of particular sectors of society- labor, urban poor, and youth.

Socorro also became provincial coordinator of the Student Christian Movement (SCM), and later assisted in the formation of the Kabataan alang sa Demokrasaya ug Nasyonalismo (KADENA), organizations critical of the dictatorship. She helped plan inter-school and multi-sectoral activities that made the people aware of the evils of martial law. Despite being older than most of the people she associated with, Socorro was never brash, but was friendly with them and quietly guided the younger activists“like a mother hen.”

As protest against the dictatorship grew, the state responded with even more repression. Human rights abuses were rampant. Eschewing a comfortable life, Socorro devoted her time organizing people in the urban centers after her graduation in 1979. She firmly plodded on with her commitment to work for the people’s freedom and a just society despite the obstacles she encountered: receiving a bad injury when a grenade near her exploded and a second arrest and two-week detention in 1982. There were certain joys as well: she got married a second time to Lucio Borlaza and gave birth to a daughter. She took a 90-day maternity leave to breastfeed her baby girl.

On April 23, 1985, Socorro had just returned from visiting her daughter in Davao when the hut her group was staying in, in Jasaan, Misamis Oriental, was raided by a composite team of twenty members of the PC and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). Socorro and another companion were killed, another woman was arrested, but her husband and another one managed to escape. The dead were brought by a kanga (carabao cart) to the municipal hall, ridiculed as common criminals, and buried in shallow graves in the municipal cemetery.

Socorro’s parents were able to retrieve her remains three days later, finding in it a shattered elbow and a bullet hole in the forehead. In the grave they also found her things: her bag, malong, pictures and bracelets. They brought her back to Davao and gave her a decent burial on April 30.

All these years after her death, Socorro’s friends remember her well. As they look back, they remember the conviction and courage she showed as she tried to achieve her dream of a just society. “Her life and martyrdom continue to inspire and haunt me,” Jeannete Birondo-Goddard mused. A former classmate and thesis partner believes that if Socorro was around today, she would “surely make a big difference in our corrupted society.” He wants to remember her “as a person and not just a footnote in the struggle against injustice.”

The Makabayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan (MAKIBAKA) posthumously awarded Socorro Par the Gawad ni Lorena in November, 1991.

GONZALES, Nicanor R., Jr.

Nicanor R. Gonzales Jr. pic

Among his many involvements in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, Nicanor R. Gonzales is most remembered for his work among teachers in Davao and Southern Mindanao. Among them, he was venerably called “Sir Nick”.

Nonoy and Nick among family and friends, Nicanor was a native of Davao City, born on April 02, 1940. Born to a poor family, he was the eldest of nine children and grew up taking care of his siblings. He went through the public school system for his elementary and secondary education and went on to earn an Elementary Education teacher’s degree from the Harvardian College in Davao City.

It was as a young teacher at the city’s Calinan District in the 1960s that Nick’s concern for teachers began to show. A colleague recalls how Nick, during district meetings, voiced out his concerns about school policies. He later became a member of the nationalist organization Kabataang Makabayan and helped organize its chapter in Davao City. He was also involved with the labor sector through the Young Christian Workers and the Federation of Free Workers (FFW). Nick helped organize the employees of the House of Magno, the city’s first department store, which went on a yearlong strike in 1969. Among the employees was Camila Bacalla who later became his wife and life partner. They got married in 1971.

This was also the advent of activism and Nick joined rallies and demonstrations along with other students and workers organizations. The Gonzales family residence served as some kind of headquarters where activists met and congregated. When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in 1971, the local KM temporarily went underground as members contemplated going to the countryside as martial law loomed in the horizon. Martial law came a year later and Nick was forced to go underground in the countryside, leaving his wife and infant son behind. Initially, he organized the farmers and indigenous people in the mountains of Paquibato area and later, workers in Butuan, enlightening them on their rights and the evils of martial law. Eventually he found his way to Cagayan de Oro which became his base of operation. His wife and son were able to join him there but security considerations made the family move back to Davao City.

Nick was arrested by the Philippine Constabulary in Tagum on December 31, 1975. He was moved from one military facility and safehouse to another. For a month-and-a-half, he was kept incommunicado and subjected to interrogation and various forms of torture - beatings, water cure, insertion of needles on his nails, Russian roulette.

By the middle of February 1976, he was taken to Camp Alagar in Cagayan de Oro City where he was detained until his release in September 9, 1976. So severe was the torture that it permanently impaired his hearing and resulted in an abnormal growth on his skull. He was so traumatized by what he went through that many years later, he refused to allow the installation of window grills in their newly built house because these brought him memories of prison.

After his release, he started working with the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference but continued to work for the struggle against the dictatorship, contributing articles for underground publications and translating other articles to Visayan.

Eventually, he was able to return to teaching in Davao City. He started organizing teachers in the public schools, raising their consciousness towards defining their role in social transformation. With the deepening crisis of the martial law regime in the early 80s, the teachers’ struggles for educational reforms were linked to the bigger national issues. Nick led the conduct of study sessions, indoor forums, participation in street marches and pickets.

In 1982, despite warnings from the Education Ministry, public school teachers in sixteen school districts in Davao City joined a nationwide strike to press for salary increases. The strike was the first ever such activity in the city, a political statement from the teachers who did this not only to fight for their rights but also to show their defiance of the repressive Marcos regime. Nick always reminded them that fighting for their rights is not rebellion. His dedication and selflessness were an inspiration to the teachers. Parallel union organizing work was also going on in the private schools, with Nick among the moving spirits.

Worsening economic and social conditions, militarization and unbounded human rights abuses were arising in the province then. Nick   was instrumental in getting the ranks of the educators to support mass actions against the dictatorship. To keep him away from his organizing work among teachers, he was offered promotions, even monetary inducements by school officials but Nick remained steadfast in his commitment. His torture related hearing impairment was no deterrent in the pursuit of his commitment of freedom and democracy for all.

The teacher militancy soon spread to Southern Mindanao and to other parts of Mindanao and later gave birth to the Kahugpungan sa Magtutudlo ug Kawani sa Edukasyon sa Mindanao (Group of Teachers and Education Workers in Mindanao) or the KAMKEM, the local chapter of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). Nick became KAMKEM’s chairman. He helped organize the Davao City Public Elementary School Teachers Association (DCPESTA). The militancy continued until the end of the dictatorship and beyond as the teachers continued to press on for better benefits, salaries and other conditions. But real improvements in their lot came about after the ouster of the dictatorship

After the fall of the Marcos regime, Nick became active in the fight for justice for the victims of the regime. He helped organize fellow ex-detainees and document cases for the class action suit against Marcos and became the local chairman for Southern Mindanao of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban saDetensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA). He also became a director of the Nonoy Librado Development Foundation, a labor center.

Nick’s organizing work left little time for him to spend with family but his wife and children understood and were supportive of his work. He made sure that time with them were memorable. He always brings home pasalubong and would spend weekends with them, often at the beach. His children, too young to know at the time, realized the full import of his work much later when they had become professionals or activists themselves and became associated with the people Nick worked with.

Nick retired from teaching in 2005. Fragile health and age may have slowed him down but he continued to work for teachers, joining their meetings and lobbying for their benefits.

When he died in 2007, his family was surprised by the number of people who turned up for his wake and funeral. The biggest group were the teachers who mourned the passing not only of a colleague but a champion of their rights. People who came spoke glowingly of him and his work and various involvements. The KAMKEM awarded him with the Gawad Dakilang Guro “for leading with all humility the organizations he was in and working beyond the four walls of the classroom.” He was also given the honorary Gawad Diego Silang Award for his support of women’s cause and in his role for seeking social change. Writing for a local paper, a writer paid tribute to Sir Nick which highlighted his work for the teachers. The writer described his relationship with teachers as one “that defined a selfless activist whose wisdom and guidance are valued by those he served, whose commitment to social change is an inspiration to many.”

Nicanor R. Gonzales Jr. was 67 when he died on May 25, 2007. He left behind his wife and four children and several grandchildren.

BONTIA, Evella Villamor

Evella Bontia pic

Evella Bontia was born in Compostela Valley, the eldest of 5 siblings. She was a bright student. She graduated class valedictorian in elementary school, and salutatorian in high school. She qualified as an American Field Scholar and spent a year in Connecticut, USA, before graduating from high school. She was editor-in-chief of the high school paper Daluyong. She was an avid reader, borrowing books from her school library because the family could not afford to buy them.

The family being poor, the only hope for the bright Evella to get a college degree was for scholarships. So she took examinations and qualified for scholarships in five schools, including with the prestigious University of the Philippines in Diliman. She chose Ateneo de Davao, which was closer to home. She was very active in Ateneo. She became editor-in-chief of the school paper, the Atenews, when she was only in her junior year. She also became the university’s first female student council president.

As a student leader, she began writing articles critical of government. She also became active in organizing students to protest government policies. She joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and participated in protest rallies. She became one of SDK’s regional officers for Southern Mindanao.

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, soldiers raided the Bontia house and ransacked it, searching for “subversive” documents everywhere, including in ceiling wells. Evella went hiding in friends’ houses. But one of her brothers, Ildefonso Jr, himself an activist, was arrested by martial law authorities. Evella once sent her brother in prison a siopao (dumpling), coursed through a group of visiting nuns and priests. Inside was a note, which her brother, reciting from memory, said:

“I am sorry for what happened to you. They might keep you in prison for a long time because you have a sister fighting for a principle, for the good of the many, for Filipinos and country. Bear this burden with strength, take care of yourself, our parents, and our siblings. I will never surrender even if they paid me millions of pesos.”

Like most activists who were caught by surprise by the declaration of martial law, Evella at first was unsure about what action to take under a martial law situation. She eventually joined a group of activists who left the city for the countryside of Mindanao, organizing resistance groups against martial law.

In interviews with Evella’s friends, they said of this period that activists like Evella would ask trusted friends to lead them to other friends or relatives who might want to shelter them. Often they would stay with farmers’ families, and if opportunity arose, they would discuss the political situation, and seek support for the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship.

This organizing work found fertile ground in the neglected but increasingly militarized Mindanao countryside. Nevertheless it was a constantly dangerous undertaking, and activists who did these were fuelled mostly by their vision of a better society, their youthful commitment, and sheer courage. If they grew faint of heart, they would stiffen themselves up by telling themselves, “Dare to struggle and dare to win!” But they rarely thought about the risks.

Evella, who spoke the local language, was better able to mix well with the people in the communities, and was thus an effective organizer, living with ordinary people, understanding their real conditions and sentiments, and explaining the nature of the Marcos dictatorship.

A brilliant writer who was fluent in both English and Cebuano, Evella led the task of producing educational materials and to translate English materials into Cebuano so these could be understood by workers and peasants. These educational materials were a very important component in the overall task of organizing the people to resist martial law. Those who worked with her said she was patient and industrious, bearing the rigors without complaint, and the dangers, with courage.

Her family would occasionally get bits of news about her and her whereabouts. They heard she sold street food (barbecue) at night in Cagayan de Oro to earn money for her expenses. They learned she spent time in the other smaller cities in Mindanao, including Ozamis, Zamboanga, and Butuan. Later they learned she had married a fellow activist, Efren Bulay. They also learned she had given birth but the baby died in hospital. Evella later mailed her family a picture of the baby’s grassy burial place, with the name Pamela on top of the grave.

 Circumstances of death

In 1974, the family heard she and her husband were killed somewhere in Lanao. With no proof or further details, they refused to believe the bitter news. But letters from Evella stopped coming. Then one morning in 1976 or 1977, the family opened the door of their house and on the steps was a small box. When they opened it, it contained several shirts and a sweater, all belonging to Evella. The box had no other markings and contained no letters.

Evella’s brother would later discover that Evella and her husband were in fact executed on the order of their leaders. Evella had been openly and sharply critical of certain senior leaders with whom she worked. She said they lacked political astuteness, among other failures. She also accused one leader of using the group’s precious funds for his own benefit. The leaders reacted violently to the criticisms, in turn accusing Evella of seeking to advance herself and of fomenting division among the ranks. These leaders then ruled her and her husband a serious threat to unity, and meted them the death penalty.

Those who had known her well and worked with her in those dark and difficult days say that while Evella had been vocal about her criticisms, the charges against her had little basis, and the punishment given was harsh as well as wrong.

“Evella is a true hero of the Filipino people. Her death is as weighty as the death of any hero who fought the martial law regime. She deserves to be remembered and honored,” says award-winning writer and Ateneo de Davao Literature and research professor Macario D.Tiu, a colleague.

Evella’s body has not been recovered by her family.

ESPERON, Fernando Torralba

Esperon, Fernando Torralba photo

Fernando Esperon, or Nanding, as he was more familiarly known, was the youngest among the three children of Aquilina and Pablito Esperon. His father left the family home when Nanding was very young forcing his mother to take odd jobs to fend for her children. Nanding liked to read and play the guitar during his free time, compiling favorite songs into his own handmade songbook. A friend recalled that he had even composed a song or two that told of the pitiful condition of children living amidst urban blight.

“Very disciplined in his ways” was one trait of his that would immediately come to mind when friends describe Nanding. He was always on time for meetings and other activities and would buckle right down to work when the schedule called for it. Even at a young age, Nanding has shown good leadership skills. Many of the youth in his neighborhood were getting hooked on drugs. Nanding would talk with them, and organize activities like sports events and clean-up drives to take their minds off this habit.

History of Political Involvement

Nanding was in high school in the late ‘70s when Davao City and its surrounding provinces where gripped by growing militarization. Increasing instances of criminality, bombings and the proliferation of illegal substances were causing mayhem in the city. But that period also saw an upsurge of protest against the dictatorship, a protest that was unconcealed and widely- participated by the populace.

Growing up witnessing the hard life and squalor of an urban poor community, Nanding was drawn to the grave political, economic and social issues being raised by the protesters. In no time he was a participant in these mass actions too. He joined a community-based cultural group, Bantawon, which sought to raise the awareness of the youth to the problems of the country through socially-relevant songs and plays. Nanding acted, sang in, and sometimes even directed the group’s performances in community gatherings and in rallies and demonstrations.

Sometime in high school, he joined a workshop offered by the Days with the Lord (locally known as Basta Ikaw Lord), a Jesuit-initiated spiritual movement. The retreat aims “to enable the participant to realize more intimately the personal love of Christ so that he/she may be disposed to respond freely to that invitation of love”(from the site French-speaking Cursillo Movement of Canada). Nanding’s experience there so moved him, it ignited a desire to serve the people fully.

Realizing that he wanted to be a part of the solution to the country’s problems, Nanding was soon spending more and more of his time as an organizer, and later as chairman, of the Liga sa Kabatan-onan sa Davao (LIKADA), a nationalist youth organization. By this time he had decided not to go on to college after his high school graduation.

Nanding plunged head-on into the hubbub of mass actions that happened in Davao then. In 1983, he mobilized support for a series of strikes popularly known as Welgang-Bayan. He helped organize protest actions against the blatant abuses being committed by the military in the urban and rural areas of Mindanao. He campaigned for a boycott of the 1984 Batasan Pambansa elections. He supported calls for reforms in the educational system, and urged attention to the condition of poor people, of the youth, in particular. “He was selfless and indefatigable in his efforts to help fight for freedom and democracy,” his friend proudly avers.

Circumstances of death

In early 1985, Nanding led the slum community of Agdao to expose and decry the murder of five of its youth allegedly by the Alsa Masa, a vigilante group loyal to the Marcos government. Already under military surveillance, this caused him to be further drawn into the spotlight. On June 27, 1985, Nanding left his mother’s house to attend a meeting of the LIKADA. Witnesses recount that Nanding was on board a public jeepney when he was hailed by a known military agent. He got off and ran towards the Mabini Public Market, with the agent closely following. The man fired at him, hitting Nanding in both knee caps, and loaded him onto a taxi, going in the direction of the PC barracks. The next morning, Nanding’s lifeless and bullet-riddled body was found floating in the Toril river, thrown off Lizada Bridge.

Once heard to have said, “This is an all- too expensive struggle. We pay lives for a freedom that is inherently ours,” Nanding too, paid with his life. He was 23 years old.

Pre-Martial Law Student Activism in Davao

Written by Macario D. Tiu, Ed.D

Student activism in Davao began with campaigns in the early months of 1970 calling for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention that was to replace the 1935 Philippine Constitution. It was part of a nationwide movement organized by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). In Manila, the rallies turned violent and became known as the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. The ripples of the FQS immediately reached Davao, with students from various schools taking the initiative to organize themselves or establish chapters of Manila-based organizations such as the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP), and Khi Rho, the youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).

By the latter half of 1970 the local students had become more politically aware. They began to be concerned not only with student and school issues, but also with the larger social issues concerning the plight of workers and farmers as well as the continuing foreign control of the economy. They organized in schools, communities, and expanded into the bigger towns of the region. They began to get involved in pickets of workers on strike, or in camp-ins of the farmers who demanded land reform. Whenever there were issues raised by the other sectors, the students would be there to help. The students might be divided into certain ideological camps, but they worked together on many common issues.

One of the most memorable events in Davao in 1971 was the so-called Battle of CM Recto that lasted for around three days and three nights. This was an off-shoot of the killing of student activist Edgar Angsingco who was manning the picket line put up by the striking students at the main gate of the University of Mindanao (UM). The student strike had dragged on for three months and tensions were running high. When Angsingco was killed, the city erupted into violence, with angry mobs battling with police and shutting down CM Recto and Oyanguren Streets. A special target of the attack was the office of the United States Information Service (USIS) on Recto Street which was trashed by the rioters.

Practically all the student governments and student papers in the City and major towns became very active. They did not only voice the concerns of the students, they also became vehicles to expose the ills of Philippine society and to demand reforms. There were frequent marches and rallies in 1971 and in the early part of 1972. The issues raised were both economic and political. The students held rallies to protest against oil price increases and landgrabbing of big ranchers and plantations, and to support workers’ strikes and peasant demands for land. The political issues included government corruption and the abuses committed by US servicemen in US military bases in the country and the US war in Vietnam.

This activism was fired up by the idealism of the students and youth to reform Philippine society and eradicate long-standing poverty in the country. When the venues for expressing their views were suppressed by the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, these idealistic youths were left with no choice but to go underground and/or go to the countryside to wage an armed struggle. It should be noted that there was no single NPA in Mindanao at this time.

Instead of responding to the demands for change, the government under President Marcos went after those who demanded change and social transformation. The students, youth, workers, peasants, and other sectors of society knew that they were going to be punished, imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the martial law regime, but they willingly faced these threats for the love of the Filipino people and nation.

Ferment and Student Activism in Iloilo and Other Provinces in Panay Island

Written by Ma. Diosa D. Labiste, Ph.D

Student activism and the subsequent revolutionary movement in the 1970s in Iloilo and the other provinces of Panay island probably emerged from a perfect storm of circumstances –the general dissatisfaction against the ruling elite and the authoritarian government of President Marcos, the palpable economic crisis that swept the country and, importantly, the emergent power of enlightened students who articulated social issues and the need for a radical social change.

These circumstances were present in the predominantly agricultural Panay island.

On examining student activism in Panay, one has to consider the circulation of ideas that saw the formation of critical minds among young people.

We cite student activism in Iloilo which was formally organized under the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST), formed on March 1970. FIST had benefited from the contribution of Ilonggo student activists from Manila who joined forces with Ilonggo student activists.

The Manila-based activists decided to return to Iloilo to conduct “teach-ins,” and organize students to join rallies and protests actions, just like in Manila in the summer of 1970. Thus a month after its organization, on April that year, FIST led hundreds of students in a demonstration that demanded fair wages for workers in Panay and Negros islands and called for resistance against the plan of President Marcos to declare martial law.

The Marcos martial law indeed drove many activists underground because they were subjected to manhunt by the military. In short, they didn’t have a choice. Many were arrested too. When Marcos intensified the crackdown soon after he declared martial law, the places where resistance organizing occurred were targeted. Curfew was imposed nationwide and the military might was palpable.

Panay was seen as one of the areas where defiance to the Marcos Constitution could take place, particularly in Antique province. Antique is strategic because it is where the sacada working in the haciendas or sugarcane plantations in Negros came from. The sacada, to this day, is one of the most exploited farm laborers in the country in terms of day wages, mandated benefits, and work conditions. Eduardo Legislador (Bantayog recognized martyr), a student activist exposed to the plight of the sacada, thought that Antique could provide a space in which the seasonal workers could be made aware of their exploitation in Negros. Organizing of the sacada has been taking place in Antique at that time and initiated by Evelio Javier (Bantayog recognized martyr). Javier organized roadblocks to prevent the hacienda laborers from leaving. His effort was supported by religious groups, led by Antique Bishop Cornelius de Wit, MHM, that also organized cooperatives and Christian communities of fishers and farmers who were being recruited as sacadas.

On July 1973, Legislador led a team of student activists that went to Antique to conduct research and investigation for possible organizing of the sacada, peasants and indigenous people of Panay, the Tumandok or Sulod-Bukidnon. It was timed when the campaign for “No” in the referendum was going on in Antique.

The violent treatment of the activists by the military by shooting them, exemplified the terror and repression under martial law. In the following days the death of five student activists, on August 11, 1973, four Western Visayas bishops, namely Jaime Sin (Jaro), Antonio Fortich (Bacolod), Antonio Frondosa (Capiz) and Cornelius de Wit (Antique) issued a pastoral letter condemning the harassment of church personnel and church-sponsored activities in Antique that took place on July 24 and the subsequent days. A priest was arrested and one of the churches was declared “off limits” to the public. Priests in Antique were also warned against doing pastoral work to the poor. The bishops’ letter said:
Why does all this take place? Is there resentment in certain circles that the Church of Antique has been taking side of the poor farmer and fishermen to give him a better share in the richness of our land and seas? Does the Church in her witnessing to truth and integrity provoke some who live by other values?

Although the pastoral letter did not make a direct reference to the death of five students, it was a sign that the Catholic Church in Western Visayas was vigilant enough to condemn the human rights abuses of the military and the harassment of Church people siding with the poor.

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