bantayog.foundation

bantayog.foundation

LABATOS, Alex

Alex was a resident of Barangay Mabini, in Cadiz City, 18 years old, single and an hacienda worker since he turned 15. He was 11th among the 12 children of Maurecio and Jovita Labatos.  Everyone in the family worked as hacienda laborers. Alex reached the fourth grade. After his parents died, he went to live with elder sister Merly. Alex had not told his family that he was joining the welgang bayan. He only left word he was going to the city (Bacolod). The family only started looking for him after they were told he was one of those killed in the massacre. They found Alex’s body four days after the killing, on Sept. 24, 1985, at the Funeraria Adelina in Sagay town. The welgang bayan is the first political action Alex was known to have joined.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

IMG_4278

FRANCO, Rovena

At 14 years old, Rovena was the youngest of the 20 fatalities in the Escalante massacre. Rovena was single, an hacienda worker, and a native of Sagay town. She was the 2nd of five children of Bernaldo and Tessie Franco, both hacienda workers. Rovena had to stop going to school by the time she reached 5th grade, starting work at the hacienda when she was 12.

Rovena and Nenita Orot were relatives as well as friends, and were next to each other during the welgang bayan. Many of Rovena’s family members were also participants in the protest. Rovena was wounded during the shooting and was taken by the CHDF (?) to the Foundation Hospital. However, no doctor attended to her and she died bleeding at around 11:00 p.m. Her mother Tessie claims that the hospital’s doctors were prevented by the military from attending to her daughter.

At the time of her death, Rovena was working as domestic helper in the home of the owners of Hacienda Ricky. When she died, her employers held a full day’s wake for her in their own home. All five fatalities of the massacre from Sagay town were buried in a joint ceremony held in the town cemetery.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

IMG_4278

DEMEGILIO, Rodney

Rodney and his family lived in Sitio Nabiga-a, Barangay Lopez Jaena, in Sagay town. He was the father of two, a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.  Three other children had died by malnutrition.

Rodney worked hard to feed his family. His widow Regina related how he would look for work in other haciendas whenever there was no work where he was. Yet the family was always short of food, she said.

Rodney was active with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), joining rallies and protest actions for over a year. Fearful for his safety, Regina had asked Rodney not to join the welgang bayan. Rodney had told her he must join because the welga was “the means I think possible to achieve a brighter future for our children and for everybody (“gikinahanglan nako nga mokuyog sa welgang bayan para sa kaugmaon sa atong mga anak, ug kaayohan sa tanan).”

Rodney was 30 years old when killed in the Escalante massacre.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

IMG_4278

DAYANAN, Michael

Michael was a native of  Brgy. Fabrica in Sagay town, 17 years old and single, and an hacienda worker. Little else is known about him.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

IMG_4278

ALEGRE, William

William was a native of Barangay Mabini, in Cadiz City, 18 years old, single, and an hacienda worker since he was 13 years old. Both parents were also hacienda workers. William was second of five children, all unable to complete their elementary schooling due to poverty. William himself reached only 3rd grade. He had to start working early because his father was disabled. The 1985 welgang bayan was the first mass action he joined.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

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JARAVELLO, Juvelyn

jaravello

Eighth of the 11 children of Lilia Jaravello, Juvelyn Jaravello was adopted as a six-month-old, sickly baby by her aunt Elsa. (The family surname is also written as Jaravelo and Jarabelo.) Juvelyn would grow up to be a cheerful, lively girl who liked competing in contests (even beauty contests) and who would train to be a student captain in the citizens' army training program in high school.

Her aunt put her through school, so that she went on to get a degree in commerce from the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos in Bacolod City.

Jaravello joined the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines during her last semester in college, and became its coordinator for northern Negros shortly after. After graduation, she joined her home parish in Fabrica, where she led bible-sharing sessions, did parish surveys, and took charge of distributing food assistance to the needy. A member of the Children of Mary, this hardworking young woman of great faith became president of the diocesan youth organization. She went fulltime into community organizing, particularly in the town of Escalante.

It was a time when popular anger against the Marcos dictatorship was building up to a powerful climax. Communities had become conscious of their downtrodden situation, and they wanted to put an end to it. All over the country, mass protests were being organized. In September 1985, a three-day people’s strike – welgang bayan – was planned to be held all over the island of Negros, the center of the sugar industry and ruled by the so-called sugar barons.

The protest strike was being called to make a stand “against hunger, extreme poverty, and increasing militarization.” It would be held during the “Thanksgiving celebration” that the Marcos regime declared every year to commemorate the “New Society.” Twenty-eight bus and jeepney drivers’ associations stopped plying their routes. Public and private schools suspended classes, offices and some business establishments were closed in support of the strike. On Sept. 20, the rallies in Bacolod city, Binalbagan and Kabankalan proceeded peacefully despite threats of dispersal by the constabulary.

In Escalante, thousands of people massed in front of the municipal hall and on the road to Bacolod, 98 kilometers away. They were mostly farmers and sugarworkers. Jaravello helped organize the youth of Fabrica to support the strike, and during the strike itself, she was kept busy cooking and doing chores in support of the strikers.

On the afternoon of the second day of the strike, the strikers were attacked by a combined force consisting of constabulary soldiers, paramilitary members, and armed goons of local sugar plantation owners. As they fired water cannons on the demonstrators, Jaravello moved to the frontline (“I should have brought my shampoo,” she joked.) When the firetrucks ran out of water, the soldiers started throwing teargas canisters.

One of the canisters fell near Jaravello who picked it up, to throw away from the people. Just then, a soldier pulled a trigger, and she was hit. Then machine guns from atop the municipal hall started firing. A stampede followed. People ran in different directions. Some screamed for a stop in the firing. Some had their arms linked, still trying to keep the strike in formation, when bullets hit them. Some were hit as they ran for the safety of the nearby sugarcane fields. Others tried to protect their fellow strikers and ended up getting hurt themselves.

Jaravello and 19 others died in the Escalante massacre, mostly from gunshot wounds; hundreds were hurt.

More than 50 persons were charged for the crimes, among them Armando Gustilo, a former congressman with a private army, and who was close to Marcos; he died abroad in 1986.

escalante03

The Story of Escalante

The province of Negros Occidental is a province made prosperous by the sugar industry. For hundreds of years, in a history that began during the Spanish colonial period, it had exported sugar and sugar products. Because owning sugar plantations proved very lucrative, land gradually became concentrated and under the control of the elite, the sugar planters or hacenderos, who became extremely rich and powerful. The great majority, on the other hand, were dispossessed of their land and earned their living as farm labor, or sacadas. They were poor, often severely exploited, powerless, and on top of everything else, landless.

Social tension was always high in the province because of this situation. Frequently, Negros was described as a social volcano waiting to explode.

In the late 1970s, world sugar prices collapsed. Across Negros, production had slowed down or worse, stood still. Half a million farm workers lost their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands of children faced hunger and death.

Negros and the Marcos Dictatorship

The regime of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) super-imposed itself on this seething social volcano in Negros.

By itself, the regime had perpetrated terrorism in the Philippine countryside by ordering successive military operations, sending a stream of often abusive soldiers, killing and pillaging their way in the rural areas.

Armando Gustilo, one of Negros’ most powerful sugar planters and warlords, was himself a little dictator in northern Negros. His private army was said to number 1,500, which he wielded to strike terror in the hearts of his province mates.

Gustilo was congressman since 1963. When Marcos shut down Congress after he made himself a dictator, he made Gustilo governor of Negros Occidental. With Marcos and a powerful army behind him, Gustilo’s power knew no limits.

For the sacadas in Negros, life under the martial law regime – deceptively called the New Society – became much worse than the “old” society it claimed to replace. Farm wages stayed very low. Marcos promised to break up land monopolies and distribute land to the landless, causing a few to hope, but the promises remained on paper. Soldiers and paramilitary forces (Citizens’ Home Defense Forces or CHDF) stalked rural Negros, stealing from people, burning villages, and kidnapping and assassinating local farm leaders.

When the sugar crisis exploded in the late 1970s, the sacadas, and even a small number of enlightened landowners, said they have had enough. This triggered many protest marches, demanding agrarian reform and land distribution, fair wages and improved government services.

Welgang Bayan

By the mid-1980s, especially in the wake of the assassination of the former senator Benigno Aquino Jr., Negros Occidental, as elsewhere in the Philippines, wanted system change, foremost being the dismantling of the Marcos dictatorship. In Negros, people in both urban and rural areas, joined protest activities in great numbers, raising their voices and fists to demand democracy and justice from the government.

By 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide movement called for coordinated protests on the occasion of the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. It was called the Welgang Bayan (general strike), with participants from most cities and towns, north to south of the country.

Northern Negros – the kingdom of Armando Gustilo -- responded eagerly to this call by organizing its own three-day welgang bayan. It was to start on the 19th and end on the 21st of September at the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City, the provincial capital. Thousands joined the strike, including residents of the city of Cadiz, seat of Gustilo’s power.

On the night of the 18th of September, the eve of the three-day action, protesters began with an overnight vigil in front of the Escalante town hall.

On the morning of the 19th of September, Day One of the Escalante Welgang Bayan, people poured in to join the protest action. They came from the town centers and from far-flung areas. They were farmers and farm workers, fisherfolk, young and old, men and women, students, teachers, nuns, priests and seminarians. Some came marching in groups. Others brought their families and neighbors. Still others came by themselves. Many brought baskets of food with them, as well as change of clothing, intending to stay during the planned three days of protest.

The Massacre

By Day Two, the 20th of September, protesters filled the roads to the Escalante town hall. They held banners, gave speeches, and chanted slogans. Fully-armed soldiers, policemen, and paramilitary forces (CHDF) surrounded them. Firetrucks were ready to disperse the crowd. A machine gun also stood at the rooftop of the town hall, ready to spew fire. At around noon, the fire trucks blasted water on the ranks of protesters but failed to break the protest line. Some protesters even exchanged wisecracks about enjoying the “free bath.”

After the water cannons came tear gas. The protesters, particularly those in the frontlines, linked their arms, chanting: “Bigas, hindi tear gas! (We need rice, not teargas!)” They also told each other: “Makibaka, huwag matakot! (Struggle, keep fear at bay!).”

Then came the bullets.

It was about an hour past noon, rallyists remember. The firing was totally one sided, all coming from the CHDF, the police, and the soldiers. As it happened, the protesters massed in front of the town hall were mostly sacadas and a few student leaders. Several farmworkers and one student leader were killed instantly. Others tried to run to the canefields and ricefields lying next the town hall. But the armed forces pursued them, shooting several more dead. Twenty in all were slain that day, with bullet wounds mostly on the back and the side.

Indignation, Impunity

Terror spread in Escalante after this, so far, worst case of repression the town had ever seen. Many residents grew angry too. The Marcos dictatorship faced angry and disgusted reactions from all over the Philippines and the rest of the world. Priests and bishops came to Escalante to express solidarity. This abuse, they said, had to stop. The regime of the Marcos dictatorship had to end.

Five months later, with the EDSA People Power revolt, Marcos, his cronies and relatives fled the country, ending a 14-year violent dictatorship.

Escalante never forgot this Bloody Thursday in its history. Every year since then, it has held commemoration activities for these martyrs to democracy. A monument to these martyrs has also been erected, almost on the same spot in the plaza that had been marked by the blood of their sacrifice.

Of the truly guilty, however, none have been tried or punished. A military officer who had been implicated in the killings rose to higher posts but three low-ranking policemen were found guilty and suffered imprisonment for 18 years. In Negros itself, land ownership continues to be concentrated among a few families, and landlords have kept their private armies and huge arsenals.

Gustilo died in the US, never made to answer for the terror he had sowed in Escalante.

Recollections

recollections

Recollections is a compilation of short anecdotal pieces written by Thelma M. Arceo, head of Bantayog’s Research and Documentation Committee. Striking a pact with a friend to “put these snippets of memories down to paper,” as she writes about her son, Bantayog martyr Ferdinand "Ferdie" Arceo. Mrs. Arceo hopes this will inspire the other families, relatives and friends of our martyrs and heroes to do the same.

For inquiries, contact Bantayog.
"Thelma Arceo’s Recollections is a labor of love: for her son Ferdie, who at 21 years old died fighting the Marcos dictatorship; for Ferdie’s “Efren”(s), comrades who the Arceos welcomed to their home knowing their own son was welcomed by other parents who knew Ferdie only as a revolutionary; and for Ferdie’s many causes: love of country, a demand for government accountability, and the quest for social justice for and with the workers and farmers who Ferdie served “wholly and entirely.” This book brings to mind Jose Rizal’s mother; we have many modern Teodora Alonzos in our midst. Recollections will hopefully inspire other mothers and fathers of our martyrs and heroes to write their stories not just for the sake of remembering but also as a reminder to us all that the struggle for country, accountability and social justice continues." -Judy Taguiwalo

"Thelma Arceo, whom we fondly call Tita or Auntie, has finally gathered these brief anecdotes about her son Ferdie, killed at the prime of his youth by the Marcos military soon after the declaration of martial law. He was only 21 when he died in Panay, slain with four other students who had chosen to cast their lot with the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. That a parent survives a child is cause enough for the deepest grief, but to have lost a son like Ferdie who embodied the noblest ideal of being “a man for others” and who lived to “serve the people,” makes the pain and the sense of loss permanent. Through a mother’s eyes, this is the story of a Filipino hero who offered his own life for the liberation of his people from tyranny." -Ed Maranan

ARCEO, Ferdinand M.

arceo, ferdinand

Born to a middle-class family, Ferdinand Arceo’s many talents brought him various awards from his elementary school days all the way through college. Still, he seemed happiest when helping others especially those who had less in life.

In college, Arceo, called Ferdie, gravitated toward student activism, becoming one of the organizers behind the reform-oriented National Union of Students of the Philippines. He helped out during the rescue operations for victims of the 1969 earthquake disaster in Manila's Ruby Tower, meriting him a presidential award (but he refused to attend the awarding ceremony).

He read broadly about politics, including the writings of Marx, Lenin and Mao, and Filipino ideologue Jose Maria Sison. These were considered forbidden literature but Arceo went on to discuss them with his friends, believing the ideas were helpful for workers and labor unions. He developed close ties to workers and visited them in their communities. During the summer of 1970, Arceo worked as a parish volunteer in Cagayan de Oro where he gained even more insights into the problems in rural areas.

These personal experiences led him to found the Liga ng mga Demokratikong Atenista (LDA), considered the first radical activist organization in Ateneo. The LDA aimed at raising the political consciousness of Ateneo students and other youths outside the campus by engaging them in discussion groups, and inviting them to teach-ins and eventually, getting them to become involved in the "parliament of the streets," demonstrations and protest marches. Ateneo activists remember how, with arms locked, they stormed the school administration building in 1971.

When martial law was imposed in 1972, Arceo was about to take his last semester of studies for a humanities degree. But he opted to drop out when school authorities warned him to stop his activism, or he would not be permitted to enrol. Not only that, Arceo decided to join the New People’s Army in Panay island, in order, he said, to avoid being a “sitting duck” – an easy target for the military – and more importantly, to live among the poor and (in his mother’s words) to understand them, know their needs, know their way of life “so I can speak for them, articulate their aspirations.”

The Arceo family was a constant source of support for Ferdie, the eldest of three brothers and a sister. His father Reginaldo resigned his executive position to be consistent with the principles which his son was upholding. His example inspired the family to have more compassion for the poor. In one of his last letters to them, Ferdie referred to the closeness of their family ties but added: “Let us hope that what will bind us together will not be limited to the confines of consanguinity, but unity based on the things ‘bigger’ than ourselves.”

Exactly eight months after he left home for the Madya-as mountains, Arceo and a companion were shot by policemen along a beach in San Joaquin, Iloilo. The incident was part of an operation by state security forces against "subversives" in Panay. Arceo died at age 21.

ARCE, Santiago B.

arce, santiago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AQUINO, Jeremias A.

Aquino, Jeremias A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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