bantayog.foundation

bantayog.foundation

MEGALLEN, Rogelio Jr.

Rogelio, single and 21 years old, a resident of Sitio Tigsuban, Barangay Bandila, in Toboso town, has been an hacienda worker since he was 10 years old. He was 3rd of 8 children of Rogelio Megallen Sr. and Erlinda Sinanggote. He reached up to the 6th grade, attending class irregularly because of his work in the hacienda. None in the family made it as far as he had.

Rogelio had joined the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and was an active member of its youth cultural group. Before leaving to join the welgang bayan, he left a message to his mother stating, “I must die for my native land. I hope one of my brothers would take my place in the struggle because this is for the national liberation of the Filipinos (Kinahanglan panginmatyan nako ang atong yutang natawhan.  Kong puede man lang anaay usa sa akong mga manghod nga mosunod sa akong paghimakas, kay kini para sa kahilwayan sa pangabuhi sa tanan).”

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

MAHINAY, Rodolfo

Rodolfo Mahinay

Rodolfo was a farmer, 23 years old, single and a resident of Barangay Magsaysay, in Escalante town. He was 3rd of 8 children of Bonifacio and Felicidad Mahinay, both farmers. Rodolfo reached up to third year high school, the highest any family member had ever reached.

He was an active prayer leader of the Kristohanong Katilingban and a member of the parish youth organization.

According to his mother Felicidad, she had not known that Rodolfo joined the welgang bayan, and so had not known until days had passed that her son had been among those killed in the massacre. When she started looking, she carried a photograph of her son, until she finally reached the camp of the 334th Constabulary where she was able to confirm that Rodolfo had been one of five unidentified bodies, and buried after the massacre in a nearby ricefield. Rodolfo’s body was exhumed in January of the following year, the jacket he wore recognized by his mother.

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

LOCANILAO, Norberto

Norberto was a native of Barangay Bandila in Toboso town, 16 years old, single, and a worker in the hacienda since he was 8 years old.  He was 5th of seven children. All in the family were hacienda workers but when he died, Norberto was the family’s sole breadwinner.

Norberto was active in joining protest actions. He was also a member of a cultural group. His mother Leonardo remembers Norberto saying that people “should do something” to change the system that was causing them all misery.

His mother had advised Norberto not to join the welgang bayan because it was too risky, but before he left, he told his mother, “I don’t mind if something happens to me. We have but one life. If I die, I only ask that you find and bury my body. I need to join this struggle to achieve our national freedom (Dili bale kon may matabo kanako, ka yang kabuhi tagsa ra man. Kon mamatay mang gyod ko pangitaon lang ninyo aron hiposon, kay gikinahanglan gayod nako ang pagpakigbisog para maangkon nato ang kahilwayan.)”

His mother remembered more last words from Norberto: “If I die on this journey, please do not become weak again. Let the strong principles prevail (Ako mamatay sa akong paglakat, pero ayaw mo pagbalik sa mahuyang nga baruganan.  Kinahanglan inyong ipatigbabaw ang kaisog nga baruganan).”

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

LAPE, Angelina

Angelina was a resident of Hacienda Gina, in Sagay, 17 years old, and single. She was 6th of 11 children, an hacienda worker since she was 13 years old. All in the family were also hacienda workers.

Angelina reached the 5th grade. At first she would spend two days a week at school and work the rest of the week. Later she stopped studying altogether to work fulltime in the hacienda. When she was alive, four in the family including herself worked in the fields but their weekly income, taken together, barely kept them alive, her mother said.

Angelina, her parents and several brothers and sisters were all active members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), but the 1985 welgang bayan was Angelina’s first protest action.

“It is better to die fighting for a cause than to die of hunger (Maayo pa nga mamatay nga magtindog sa paghimakas nga nagsulong sa kawsa, kay sa mamatay nga magtikongkong sa kasakit sa gutom),” were the words Angelina told her mother Flora before she left to join the welgang bayan.

Immediately after the shooting, the wounded Angelina was brought to the Magdalene Hospital in Escalante, where she died of her wounds.

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

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.

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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

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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.

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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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