Eddie Villalon's Account of the 1985 Escalante Massacre

eddie 1.2 edited

(This account was narrated by Eddie Villalon with wife Alma Villalon to Bantayog researchers Carrie Panaligan-Manglinong and Cathy Abrazado on August 2, 2013. This was transcribed by a staff from a video file, edited and translated by May Rodriguez.)

Negros activists were then responding to a national demand for the ouster of President Marcos. For September 21, 1985, the move was for a nationally-coordinated Welgang Bayan.

In Negros, the action was to be held in two cities, Metro Bacolod and Kabankalan in the south. But we from Northern Negros decided to organize our own welga. After all, people from the north usually filled up the rallies in Metro Bacolod, why not hold one in Escalante itself, we said?

So we organized our own welgang bayan in the 2nd district, from Cadiz to San Carlos, with Escalante as the center of the activities. Besides the oust-Marcos call, we also planned to raise many more issues such as the demand for fair wages and employment benefits, wage increases, reducing the prices of commodities, stopping militarization. We also raised anti-imperialist slogans, and issues coming from the different sectors, such as agrarian and land reform issues and so on. We raised human rights issues, such as the rampant killings going on in Mindanao -- Fr. Tullio Favali had just been killed by the Maneros – and widespread political detention.

I was a teacher at Mt. Carmel College and I was part of the welga’s organizing team. I supervised the general program of activities and organized the cultural activities. Juvy Jaravelo was part of my team.

I never expected violence to erupt as would often happen in Metro Manila in the mid-1980s. We had not experienced it even in Bacolod where the army was visible all the time. In fact, I remember seeing a Metro Bacolod protest rally where the activists were all flying red flags as if we were in a revolution, and nothing had happened.

It was to be a three-day welgang bayan. It would start Sept. 19th and peak on the 21st, the 13th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. We put up two barricade points at the town center, where people would mass up in preparation for a total general strike.

Rallyists started arriving as early as the afternoon of the 18th. People from Cadiz, Sagay and Old Escalante would mass up in front of the town hall, along the highway (where the present shrine stands). Those from San Carlos, the farmworkers from Calatrava and Toboso, and farmers from Escalante would mass up in front of the town market. People from the town center of Escalante also joined. We were able to mobilize doctors, teachers particularly those from Mt. Carmel, and even students. Church people, priests, nuns, seminarians and lay, were also active.

In Negros, workers, farmers, the middle forces, members of the religious, lawyers, they all showed support. Some joined the marches. Others who could not would place food along the way, so that rallyists may have something to eat. People supported the rallies because they have had enough of Marcos by then. Talagang sobra na.

On day 1, the 19th of September, we erected a light barricade at both points. Vehicles could pass through quite freely. The people in the barricades were engaged in sharing of stories and in discussion of issues. The proceedings were quite peaceful.

We heard that rallyists had also put up picket points in Cadiz, in Kabankalan and in Bacolod. But Escalante had the biggest crowd.

In the afternoon of that first day, firetrucks started arriving, coming from all the neighboring places: Toboso, Calatrava, Sagay, Cadiz. We also noticed a growing number of paramilitary soldiers (CHDF) coming in, forces of Marañon and Gustilo.

A truck full of CHDF would pass by the protesters and we would tell our forces not to be afraid, and to denounce the militarization of our home areas.

On day two, September 20th, morning saw so many soldiers arriving in full uniform. News also got to us that Bayan chair Rolando Ponsica, who is now our present Board Member of the First District of Negros Occidental, was taken in for house arrest at that time.

At the same time, our protest forces had also grown very large. At Barricade 1 in front of the town hall, people filled up the road from the corner up to the Libra Mart, or about 100 meters. An even bigger group was massed up in Barricade 2 in the market. The professionals and student groups were all there. The panel of negotiators we had put up was there, although we did not actually think we would be violently dispersed.

At both barricade points, programs were going on.

By 9:00am, we announced a total barricade. We wanted to paralyze all transportation and get the transport drivers to join the strike. No more vehicles were plying the roads. Bacolod also had declared a total barricade.

By 10am, we heard rumors that certain policemen had told store owners to close their shops because “this would be dispersed.” Some relatives went to the barricades to tell protestors to go home because “you would be dispersed.”

We refused to believe the rumor. We said we were on the right. And besides, that was not the first political rally held in Escalante and we had never been subjected to dispersal.

But we thought we would prepare anyway. To counter teargas, we had lots of calamansi bought, then sliced, and the juice pressed and collected in pails, and handkerchiefs wetted with the juice. We also prepared ourselves for water cannons from the firetrucks. But that was the worst we thought it would get.

I had absolutely no inkling of the coming danger. The program at both sites went on, people were singing, making speeches, chanting of slogans, and so on.

I was coming from Barricade 1 where I had overseen the program and was moving to Barricade 2 when I passed the town hall and saw many soldiers in full battle gear. Those were not policemen with truncheons, but soldiers with armalites! And more firetrucks full of CHDF were arriving.

When I got to Barricade 2, I told the people that dispersal was imminent. We prepared the members of the negotiating panel in the persons of Mr. Roger Arnaiz, Mr. Loreto Bering, Mr. Daniel Gempesala, Mr. Carlos Allones, Mr. Bernardino Patigas, the late Adolfo Maguate, and some sectoral representatives.   It was around noon. I remember we could not take any lunch because we were girding ourselves for the dispersal.

Later we would learn that at that very moment, the Bayan chair, Mr. Rolando Ponsica, had been brought to the town hall and ordered to stand on the balcony and order the rallyists to disperse. Mr. Ponsica reacted to this order, saying he did not control the people, and if he ordered them to disperse, they would simply ignore him because they had their own will and initiative and he was simply chairman of an organization.

More truckloads of soldiers came. We would fight our fears by clapping our hands and shouting slogans (“Makibaka! Huwag matakot!,” “Militarisasyon labanan!”). I think the soldiers came from the 334th,  Sagay, Bato, Toboso. We called the rallyists to link arms (kapit-bisig). Our only means of defense by way of weapons were the torches we had used the previous night.

We wanted to beef up Barricade 1, where the farmers and farmworkers were all concentrated. We sent more marshalls to strengthen the forces. A group of males from Toboso workers also volunteered. The teachers, who were all in Barricade 2, also offered to cross to the other barricade.

As this was happening, firetrucks arrived. One was already at the Pilipino Bakery facing the negotiating panel. We had not known that water cannons had been fired at Barricade 1 in the plaza. The dispersal had started. I was told that at the start, the protesters in Barricade 1 were still able to make jokes: “let’s take a bath; shampoo your hair; we hadn’t been able to bathe this morning.” After several blasts, the firetrucks ran out of water.

Juvelyn Jaravelo was in the leftside at the center of the crowd facing the public plaza and leading the chanting. The CHDF had taken up positions in the plaza and started hurling tear gas canisters to the protesters. Juvelyn picked up one canister and threw it back from where it came. That was the point when the CHDF started firing, and Juvelyn was the first to be hit. Suddenly, even the machine gun was spewing fire on the rallyists.

We heard the gunshots at Barricade 2, but we thought that they were merely warning shots. The crowd shouted “Panakot lang yan! Makibaka ! Huwag matakot!” Then the trucks started spewing water out to disperse our barricade. I was in front. The water was painful. Some were hit in the eyes and were temporarily blinded. We all crouched to protect ourselves, still all the while shouting: “Bigas, bigas, hindi tear gas!” “Bigas, bigas, hindi bala!”

I kept thinking of the protesters in the other barricade. Then people came running from there. Some had bloody faces, others were holding on to wounded (nawakwak) stomachs. They came to join arms with us! That was when we heard it: “Minamasaker kami!”

Still, we faced the water cannons. Everything was happening very fast. Ratatattat! Papapapak! People started running in all directions. Some hid in the houses. Some fled to the nearby sugarcane fields. Some of us kept our arms still firmly linked, facing the water cannons. An order went around to disperse. This confused some because we had earlier given out orders NOT to disperse.

We had lost our forces behind us. When I looked back, all who were left were the teachers’ groups and the student groups, members of the League of Filipino Students.

When the water cannons stopped, those who managed to stay behind sat wet and dispirited at the side of the marketplace. We urged the members of our negotiating panel to leave and seek safety. I thought that was it. Suddenly four armored cars and more firetrucks arrived and encircled us, together with fully-armed soldiers. They shouted for us to surrender.

We were barely 50 in number by then, at the very most, 100, mostly teachers and students from Mt. Carmel.  We were both scared and angry. Our relatives were nearby, some also very angry. Someone shouted: “Get out of there! You are going to die there!” But we also saw our own relatives pick up stones, prepared to throw them to policemen, some of whom were also our own relatives! One of my co-teachers had a boyfriend who was a policeman and he was there, but on the other side. My uncle was a policeman, and he was there. We had relatives in the police force and we had relatives in the crowd, holding rocks to throw, shouting: “Those are innocent people! Don’t kill them!”

Several policemen had their firearms pointed to the CHDF/CAFGU! The CAFGUs in turn had their firearms pointed at us. The policemen themselves looked stunned. I think if someone started firing then, the police and the CHDF would have shot at each other.

An old teacher, the mother of an LFS member, got her rosary beads out, and with her son, waved a piece of white cloth saying, “We surrender!” We said: “Don’t surrender!” Someone shouted to her: Come here! I was still holding the megaphone and I called her to come back! I held on to her, telling her not to go to the soldiers. They ran towards the firetruck anyway, waving the white cloth and rosary beads.

The soldiers started counting. One! We embraced each other. We said our goodbyes: goodbye, friend! goodbye, comrade! The teachers, some new recruits, were crying. The LFS leaders stood and boldly faced the soldiers, ready to die.

Then a PC commander saw one of his nephews with us! He shouted to his men: “Ceasefire!”

Still the counting went on: Two! The CO shouted again: “Ceasefire!”

We kept saying our goodbyes, shaking our comrades’ hands: “Paalam, kaibigan!”

The CO ran to the center of the road, and as he was doing so, a door suddenly opened in the market and someone from behind said: “Get in here!” and we all rushed inside. We wove our way in and out of the market stalls and ended up inside the safety of the church convent. We got out of our wet clothes and left again to search for the wounded.

That was how we saw the CHDF shooting at the wounded, bang! if they saw any still alive. (The CHDF came from Cadiz, the Bato detachment.)

There were wounded everywhere, in the streets, in the ricefields, in the sugarcane fields. And when we brought the wounded to Magdalen (Hospital), conditions there were also terrible. The wounded lined the corridors.

We went to the sugar central in Danao to radio Bacolod for help and to ask for blood donations. Atty. Frank Cruz of FLAG, and the social action people from the Bacolod diocese arrived at around 4 or 5 pm. There were no reporters, so all the pictures were either personal shots or those taken by TFD.

There were bullet holes in the walls of the rural bank across the street of the town hall. If the machine gun had aimed lower, it would have hit many more people. The CAFGU were on the ground, where the monument now stands, shooting directly at the people.

We looked for the wounded through the night. The people from the Task Force Detainees were there, helping. But the boldest who went around were the youth activists, those with the LFS.

On Sept. 21, the planned third and final day of our welgang bayan, all the dead were laid side by side at the town hall grounds. That was towards the afternoon. We learned of a plan to have them brought in a truck to the 334th.  The bodies were thrown willy-nilly, like slaughtered pigs, on to army trucks. Since I was in cultural, I also remember noting the confiscated cassettes and sound systems, and other rally gear.

We stayed the entire night again at the convent. The sound of helicopters hovering would send people to panic again. Some would run inside the church, some to the classrooms, others would jump over walls to hide on the other side. Some of our own leaders crawled under church pews in absolute terror over the whir of helicopters.

Then rumors flew that the New People’s Army guerrillas were in a rage over the massacre and that they were coming to town! That led to another rush back to the safety of the church.

Members of the negotiating panel, who had also taken refuge in the convent, heard that they had been issued arrest orders. We called an emergency meeting and decided to send everyone out of the sanctuary. About ten of us known to the military borrowed dresses from the women to conceal their identities before leaving the convent. Toto Patigas was one of those who went out dressed as a woman. He had to go through a checkpoint, but he was not recognized. Some went to Cebu, or to San Carlos, or Dumaguete. A bunch of us stayed behind because we were teachers and we had to hold classes the next day. We went home in small groups, fear following us all the way.

The local press, the foreign press, the Red Cross, all came the following day and held interviews. The whole town was quiet. All the houses had closed doors. No one wanted to come out in the open except Fr. Nico who was fearless. He went to the town hall, unaware that he was in fact in an “order of battle.”

At Mt. Carmel, we had to resume classes. The students came, the teachers came, but soldiers stood at the school gates, and soldiers watched the entrance to the classrooms. It was surreal.

Businesses opened after several days.

It started as a peaceful protest.  I never imagined it would end like that. I kept asking myself, how did this happen?

Armando Gustilo was the governor of Negros Occidental at that time. He liked to use his power. He used the paramilitary to wield control. In particular, he wanted to divide Negros Occidental into two provinces, Negros del  Norte and  del Sur -- and the entire North would be his. Gustilo was a KBL, a Marcos crony. He was one of the biggest sugarcane planters in Negros.

Today, we remember September 20th with an annual commemoration. During the first anniversary of the massacre, we organized all relatives of those who died as MARTYR – Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny.  We said we wanted to give meaning to the sacrifices of those who died and to continue what they started, so that their lives would not have been wasted. That was the driving force behind the annual reenactment.

The late Adolfo Maguate was one of the massacre survivors. He was a teacher who became councilor, and later a two-term vice-mayor. He was also a Bayan member. When he was vice-mayor, he had the town council declare the date of the Escalante massacre as an annual day of mourning and prayer for the townspeople. He has championed this cause and he was for a long time supporter of the annual commemoration of the massacre.

The monument was conceptualized by the Federation of Concerned Artists of the Philippines (FCAN).  We had to raise funds for it, so we were able to build it only later. Today, the annual commemoration is always celebrated with different cultural activities spearheaded  by the Teatro Obrero  (TO). Many people still cry and become emotional when they see it. Some years back, we invited some fisherfolk in Old Escalante who were at the massacre to join the commemoration. Twenty-five years had passed, but they continued to be afraid.

We hold a vigil and a torch parade every 19th of September. People from all sectors participate. The following morning, the 20th and the day of the massacre, we hold a people’s mass. We hold a caravan. At noon, we march, and on the exact time the massacre happened, we begin the reenactment. It is an event that usually attracts many visitors.

I am usually the director, so I can guide the actors to depict what really happened. It is ironic that now I serve in city hall, and I’m able to use real firetrucks for these reenactments. For so long after the massacre, just seeing a firetruck pass by was a traumatic experience. Today I can give the direction: fire the water cannons, and know that justice is on my side.

Everytime I tell this story, I cry again.

The Cordillera Resistance Against Chico Dam and Cellophil


(The following is from A History of Resistance: The Cordillera Mass Movement Against the Chico Dam and Cellophil Resources Corporation, a publication of the Cordillera People's Alliance.)

The tribal opposition to so-called “development” projects can be cited as early examples of organized people’s power in the Cordillera. It was the people’s power of the Kalinga and the Bontok that stopped the construction of the Chico dams, which threatened to displace thousands of people. Tinggian people’s power was the major factor in the shutdown of Cellophil Resources Corporation, the 200,000 hectare logging and paper-pulp concession, which was awarded to Marcos crony Herminio Disini in 1973.

And it was the inspiration from these two shining examples of organized people’s power in the Cordillera region, which led to a greater unity among the various ethnolinguistic groups, and tribes in the region.

Historical Background to Chico and Cellophil

The Kalinga and Bontok people’s struggle since the early 70’s against the construction of the Chico River Basin Development Project, followed soon after by Tinggian opposition to the Cellophil Resources Corporation, sparked off the people’s movement in the Cordillera.

The series of four large dams to be constructed along the Chico river was the priority project of the dictator Marcos in the late 70’s to the early 80’s. World Bank has committed funding to these mega-dams, and the National Power Corporation (NPC) was to implement the project. The Chico river is one of the major river systems in the Cordillera, passing though Mountain Province from its headwaters in Mount Data in Benguet, to the province of Kalinga.

Thousands of villagers rely on the Chico river for the irrigation of their rice fields and for domestic consumption. Series of Bontok and Kalinga villagers are located on both sides of the river. The construction of the four mega-dams will submerge several villages and hectares of rice fields. More than 100,000 Kalingas and Bontocs were to be adversely affected by this project. Thus, widespread opposition was the response of the dam-affected peoples.

To start with, the affected tribal communities signed numerous petitions and sponsored delegations to bring to the attention of numerous government offices their grievances that dam construction would mean the destruction of the communities and indigenous way of life. They even went to Malacaňang to plead with the dictator. But this was martial law and their actions did not meet with much success. Instead, they were given a scolding, labeled “sentimental” and told that the minorities would have to sacrifice for national “development”.

Malacaňang chose instead to set up the Kalinga Special Development Region (KSRD) and send the Presidential Assistant for National Minorities (PANAMIN), Manuel “Manda” Elizalde, to the Chico area, bringing with him truckloads of food, chocolate bars, basketballs, flashlights and other trinkets. His job was to “minimize opposition to the projects.” His methods were bribery, deception and coercion in the classic tactic of divide and rule. He was able to coopt a handful of elders, who were easily exposed and isolated by the majority. He selected several young women and took them away with him, allegedly to study or earn in the big city. He armed one tribe against the other and caused the outbreak of tribal wars (Basao-Butbut).

This was undoubtedly a big test on whether the tribal opposition would hold, but they met it head-on and dealt with the myriad problems as they came, with great self-respect and dignity. The story goes that Elizalde called Macliing Dulag to a meeting a posh hotel and offered him a thick envelope. Macliing replied: “This envelope can contain only one of two things – a letter or money. If it is a letter, I do not know how to read. And if it its money, I do not have anything to sell. So take your envelope and go.”

The people utilized their indigenous social-political structures and processes, such as the peace pact (Kalinga vochong/bodong, Bontok pechen, Tinggina kalon, although with dynamic modifications in the face of the new challenges. The traditional peace pact is a bilateral agreement (pagta) between two communities. There is a wide network of bilateral peace pacts among the binodngan communities in Kalinga, Mountain Province and Abra. In the opposition to both Chico and Cellophil, multi-lateral peace pacts were organized to forge intra-village and intra-tribal pagta agreements to unite the many different home-villages (ili) affected by these mega-projects. From the first Vochong Conference held in St. Bridgets in Quezon City in May 1975, multilateral bodong conferences were then regularly convened to widen and consolidate the opposition to the dams.

The people resorted to active civil disobedience, escalating in scale in response to the actions of the fascist dictatorship. The following are only a few among the vivid images of active civil disobedience against Chico and Cellophil.

In 1974, the NPC work camps, which were set up in Maswa, BAsao for survey purposes, were dismantled twice by the people. A number of tribal leaders were picked up and confined at the stockade, sparking off a long line of maltreatment, arrest and detention of Kalinga natives in relation to the project.

The people resorted to bodily prevention of the survey work by physically disallowing the NPC to unload their equipment in the survery sites. At Tomiangan, the site for Chico IV, the PC- Police and the NPC tried to set up their work camps four times under armed protection, and four times were these camps torn down by the people, even under threat of death. The fourth time, the people carried the materials from Tomiangan to the PC-Police camp at Bulanao, a distance of 35 kilometers, in a silent protest march of around 250 people, lasting through the night and the curfew hours.

The people’s resistance drew widespread support from inside and outside the country. There was broad solidarity and advocacy from academics, environmentalists, church groups, the mass media, NGOs and a wide array of solidarity organizations. The Free Legal Assistance Group of the late senator Diokno and Taňada offered their legal assistance. Anthropologists and academics wrote numerous treatises on Chico and Cellophil. Progressive media practitioners provided good press coverage.

The Marcos dictatorship, with its World Bank funding for the project, was caught flat-footed. They did not reckon with the strong communal ethos still existing then between the Bontok and Kalinga, which allowed them to forge agreements among the binodngan – peacepact – practicing communities along the Chico river in opposition to the project. Nor did they expect the people to muster widespread national and international support.

Because of the sheer determination and courage of the dam-affected peoples to stop the project by all means, the World Bank decided to withdraw its funding for the dam project. In fact, it was the experience of the World Bank on the Chico Dam that it formulated its operational guidelines of projects affecting indigenous peoples.

Yet there was an added vital ingredient in the people’s struggle. This was the threat and eventual resort to armed resistance after peaceful methods to seek redress of grievances had proved futile in the face of unbridled militarization in the project areas. This was but a logical step for these warrior societies in the escalation of the struggle for the defense of ancestral land and their self-determination to continue their existence as indigenous communities.

The cordillera increasingly turned into a battleground in defense of indigenous people’s rights. This meant that military operations were escalating, with a corresponding increase in human rights violations, as government troops vented their anger not only on the rebel army they were unsuccessfully chasing, but also on the civilian population, which they suspected as being New People’s Army supporters.

On April 24, 1980, military troops of the Marcos dictatorship gunned down Macliing Dulag, a Kalinga tribal chieftain at  the forefront of the Chico opposition in an attempt to intimidate the people.

The people refused to be cowed. Instead, Macliing’s death has since been commemorated with a bigger AND BIGGER celebration each year to remember the martyrs who have given up their lives for the Cordillera struggle and an occasion for solidarity with Cordillera advocates. Since 1985, April 24 has been commemorated as Cordillera Day, and is the annual regionally coordinated mass-action of the Cordillera People Alliance.

Historical Lessons

The period from the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties was a decade of ferment and upheaval throughout the Cordillera region as the indigenous peoples here drew on the lessons from Chico and Cellophil and learned to assert their rights. The decade of ferment led to increased coordination among the growing number of Igorot organizations and more concerted efforts towards defining a program for self-determination of the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera.

The Chico and Cellophil struggles were waged in uncompromising defense of ancestral land and the right to self-determination, or the right of the indigenous communities to freely determined their continued existence as distinct peoples, and the right to freely determine their political status, and their economic, political and socio-cultural development, at a pace which they themselves define.

This unfolding drama ignited dormant Igorot nationalism. Numerous activist and mass leaders espousing their rights as indigenous peoples emerge. The different cordillera tribes were challenged into the recognition of the pressing need for a greater unity among themselves if they hoped to succeed in the defense of their collective human rights as indigenous peoples.

This paved the way towards a Cordillera-wide movement for the defense of ancestral land and for self-determination. As the different Igorot tribes and sectors were increasingly exposed to each other in mass meetings, inter-tribal activities and bodong conferences, there was the opportunity for dialogue and mutual sharing and learning. From here, the different Cordillera tribes and ethnolinguistic groups realized that they shared a common history of national oppression; a common geography and territory – the Cordillera mountain range; a common persistence of their indigenous cultures, albeit in varying degrees; common problems and common enemies.

This growing unity found organizational expression in June 1984, when more than three hundred representatives from twenty-three organizations all over the Cordillera came together in a Cordillera People’s Congress in Bontoc, Mountain province and organized the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA) for the Defense of the Ancestral Domain and for Self-Determination. Many of the foregoing activities reached a better level of coordination and assumed Cordillera – wide scope after the CPA was organized. To date, the Cordillera Peoples’ Alliance has distinguished itself as the leading group and organized expression of the Cordillera mass movement in defense of ancestral land and for self-determination.

On a boarder scale, the Chico and Cellophil struggles served to inspire and motivate many people, both here and abroad, which made it possible to generate broad national and international support to sustain the  popular resistance.

In addition, Chico and Cellophil brought to the fore the fact that the present-day problems of tribal peoples and indigenous communities are much bigger and more complicated than any faced in earlier historical periods. More concretely, Chico and Cellophil showed the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera that their problems couldn’t be taken in isolation from the wider Philippine realities, and the incursions of imperialist globalization.

The Kalinga and Bontok tribes people managed to stop the construction of the four huge hydro-electric dams which were a priority energy project of the Marcos government throughout the long years of martial rule. They were able to stop construction against fearsome odds by asserting their tribal people’s power. In their steadfast and uncompromising defense of their ancestral lands and their indigenous way of life, they earned the respect and support not only of the other national minorities in the region, but also the progressive and democratic forces both here in the Philippines and abroad.

Inang Bayan

This mural which is available for viewing at the Bantayog Center is a donation of the family of Augusto "Bobbit" Sanchez to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation.

Lapiang Malaya

This undated photo (probably 1966) of the Lapiang Malaya is from the archives of the Bantayog Museum.

The Lapiang Malaya (Freedom Movement), composed mostly of Southern Luzon farmers, marched from Taft Avenue to Malacañang Palace to urge agrarian reform from President Marcos. On May 21, 1967: The Lapiang Malaya Rallyists were massacred. 33 men died during the confrontation with the police, while the rest were charged with sedition and then imprisoned.

CNN Philippines: Inside Bantayog Ng Mga Bayani

The Bantayog ng mga Bayani was built to honor those who fought for justice and freedom. A wall inside the memorial center also lists down 250 names of heroes and martyrs. This report aired on CNN Philippines' Headline News on August 31, 2015.

Watch it here.

Martsa Ng Bayan

Martsa ng Bayan is an iconic song of struggle against the martial law regime. Composed by Jess Santiago in the 1980s.

(From an article at Bulatlat) All through the rally, the Jess Santiago composition “Martsa ng Bayan” (People’s March) kept playing: “Tayo na at magsama-sama/Sa pagdurog sa imperyalista/Tayo na at magkaisa/Lansagin ang pasistang diktadura/Nasa atin ang tunay na lakas/Tiyak na nasa atin ang bukas...” The song was composed in the 1980s and became an anti-dictatorship classic.

Santiago, still the reed-thin bespectacled man that he was two decades ago but now with his still-long hair graying, would himself stir the crowd – numbering about 10,000 – with a passionate rendition of his song “Halina,” composed 30 years ago and telling tales of a unionist and a peasant slain by state agents, and an urban poor family driven from their “home” near a garbage dump. “Y’ong sinasabi nitong kanta, nangyayari pa rin ngayon” (What the song tells us about is still happening), Santiago told the audience in a calm but emphatic voice.


Jess Santiago wrote Halina in the late 1970s as a narrative against the abuses faced by ordinary people in the hands of the repressive Philippine government during the darkest years of Martial Law.
Si Lina ay isang magandang dalaga
Panggabi sa isang pabrika ng tela
Sumapi sa union, sumama sa welga
Biglang nagkagulo, nawala si Lina
Nang muling makita’y hubad at patay na
Halina, halina
Damitan ang bangkay at sa ating puso’y
Hayaang humimlay si Lina.

Isang magsasaka si Pedro Pilapil
Walang kaulayaw kundi ang bukirin
Nguni’t isang araw, amy biglang dumating
Ang saka ni Pedro’y kanilang inangkin
Tumutol si Pedro, at siya ay binaril
Halina, halina
At sa ating puso’y hayaang maghasik
Ng punla si Pedro Pilapil.

Si Aling Maria’y doon nakatira
Sa tabi ng isang bundok ng basura
Nguni’t isang araw binuldozert sila
Sapagkat darating ang mga turista
Nawalan ng tahanan ang isang pamilya
Halina, halina
At sa ating puso’y ipagtayo ng tahanan
Sina alingMaria.
Halina, halina.

ALTO, Leo C.

Alto, Leo C.

“Pinaglingkuran niya ang sambayanan, ang buhay niya’y isang bituing tatanglaw sa aming landas” are the words written on Leo Alto’s tombstone: He served the people, his life shines light on our way.

Leo Alto was a 4th year pre-med student at the University of the Philippines when he joined the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP) in 1970. He started attending discussion groups, teach-ins and rallies. He also joined workers'pickets demanding higher wages and better living conditions.

Later he joined the Panday Sining, a political theater group that was active in cultural campaigns denouncing the increasingly authoritarian Marcos administration. Then he joined the Rizal chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and started organizing a KM chapter among children of enlisted men and officers of the Philippine Army based in Fort Bonifacio. (Leo's parents owned a concession inside the army camp where the family also lived, his father being a retired soldier.)

He later became KM coordinator for Rizal, organizing the propaganda, education and mobilization campaigns of the various chapters in Rizal province.

At the height of a campaign to oppose oil price increases in 1971, Alto joined a barricade set up by students in the UP Diliman campus, later to develop into the historic Diliman Commune. Once he was arrested in Makati while putting up campaign posters.

As he got deeper into activism, Alto dropped out of college and immersed himself in the communities. He joined a team that undertook a survey of people's problems in the areas of Binangonan, Morong and Jalajala in Rizal. In 1971, under the banner of the Progresibong Samahan ng Rizal, he was part of a team that organized a trek from the Sierra Madre foothills in Jalajala, as part of a “people’s long march against poverty” that culminated in Plaza Miranda, Manila.

During the great floods of 1972, Alto turned his organizing efforts into helping the displaced families in Pasig, Rizal. Relief centers were opened, and the activists even managed to spark political discussions among the refugees.

When martial law was declared in September 1972, soldiers raided the home of the Alto family looking for him. Leo, eldest among eight siblings (he was Heracleo Jr.), managed to escape and decided to join the underground resistance to martial law.

He underwent training as an acupuncturist and paramedic under physician-activist Juan Escandor. In 1973, together with other student activists, he joined a Serve the People Brigade in the countryside. They would organize local farmers, mostly Bisaya and Ilokano settlers – as well as the Subanon tribal communities fighting for their ancestral lands. They called him”Doc.”

At the age of 23, Leo Alto was killed by a unit of the Philippine Constabulary on 1 August 1975 in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte. Another man, a Subanon, died with him. Alto’s body was buried in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte until his family had it exhumed eleven years later. He was laid to rest in Pateros, Metro Manila in 1986.

ALINGAL, Godofredo B.

alingal, godofredo 2

Born in the "Jesuit country" that was northern Mindanao, it was perhaps inevitable for this son of the soil and the sea to become a Jesuit priest.

Godofredo Alingal, called Fr. Ling by his flock, was ordained to the priesthood in 1953 in Woodstock, Maryland (USA). He was first assigned to the province of Bukidnon, then to Ateneo de Naga, Cagayan de Oro City, and in 1968, back to Bukidnon.

The Catholic Church was seeing dramatic changes as an aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The Gospel was henceforth to be preached beyond the walls of the church, in the fields, market places, the hills, and lived as a witness to give people back their dignity and their rights. Alingal embraced these new teachings.

Bukidnon was a land of great social divisions. Politics was rough, and bullets counted more than ballots. Peasants were oppressed by landlords, usurers and middlemen, and power was in the hands of a few. Conflicts simmered between the indigenous tribes, the settlers from the Visayas, and the ranchers and loggers who extracted the area's rich natural resources.

Alingal helped farmers start a credit union and a grains marketing cooperative. He helped organize the local chapter of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) in Kibawe, Bukidnon.

With the repression and militarization that characterized the martial law regime, Alingal redoubled his efforts in behalf of poor people. He started a community organization program, aimed at organizing farmers, vendors and mothers to protest abuses and defend their rights.

The gentle and soft-spoken priest nevertheless spoke out against electoral fraud, threats and harassments by the military, denouncing these from the pulpit and through the prelature newsletter Bandilyo. In 1977, the martial law government closed down the prelature's radio station DXBB, but Alingal started a Blackboard News Service instead. It was popularly known as “Kibawe Budyong.” He built a giant blackboard in front of his church, broadcasting news that was otherwise being suppressed and denouncing official abuses. The blackboard was repeatedly vandalized, but he merely put up another one to replace it.

Alingal started getting anonymous threats. "Stop using the pulpit for politics.... your days are numbered," went one. But, "what else is there to do—the priesthood is not a safe vocation," he said.

He had just gotten orders for reassignment to another parish when he was assassinated in 1981.

In the early evening of April 13, 1981, five men (three of them wearing masks) arrived at the convent in Kibawe, and demanded to see the parish priest. Alingal, who was in his room reading, opened the door; he was met by a bullet fired from a .45 caliber automatic handgun. The assailants then all fled on motorbikes. A physician living nearby heard the shot and rushed to Alingal's side. The murdered priest died in his arms.

At his funeral mass, two bishops and about 70 priests concelebrated. Thousands joined the funeral march, coming from the town proper and the surrounding barrios and towns.

Many brought with them placards painted with the angry query: "Hain ang justicia? (Where is justice?)" Alingal's killers were never charged.


aguilar, zorro

The common folk of Zamboanga del Norte loved human rights lawyer Zorro Aguilar because they could always count on him to take up the cases of poor people, especially those who suffered from oppression or were victims of persons in power.

They knew him as a simple man, “a far cry from the elegantly dressed, English-speaking lawyers of Makati.” His friends said: “He did not even have a typewriter, or a vehicle, and he lived in a dilapidated house.”

Yet it was Aguilar who consistently attended rallies, who was never too busy to go to the far-flung barrios when he was needed, and who gave free legal assistance to those who needed it. Of all the lawyers in Zamboanga del Norte at the time, he was known to have handled most of the cases of human rights violations, serving without discriminating the poor from the rich.

Although he was frequently invited to speak at protest actions even outside Dipolog (in Cagayan de Oro, Ozamiz, Pagadian, for example), he had no political ambition. He believed that elections would only legitimize the Marcos regime, and would not solve the nation’s problems.

Before martial law, Aguilar was already editing a local paper in Dipolog City, called Nandau (“Today’s News,” in the Subanon language), which often published articles criticizing the Marcos administration. For a time, he was also employed as a government social worker, mainly serving remote barrio communities.

Upon becoming a lawyer, Aguilar concentrated on human rights cases. He worked fulltime with the Free Legal Assistance Group, defending political prisoners and helping people assert their rights under martial law.

Aguilar joined the protest movement that erupted after the 1983 assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

He became chair of the Zamboanga del Norte chapter of the Coalition for Restoration of Democracy (CORD). He led a protest march (Lakbayan) that went around Zamboanga del Norte in May 1984. Three days before being killed, he was the main speaker at a Dipolog rally, where once more he denounced the militarization of his province.

At the time of his death, Aguilar was set to join a fact-finding mission that would look into the killing in July 1984 of a human rights researcher in Tampilisan town. The mission was also set to document the existence of seven “strategic hamlets” in Godod town.

Aguilar began getting anonymous threats to his life, which he shrugged off. "I'm prepared” to die, he told a friend. Until then, he said, “we can continue our service to the poor and exploited people."

On the night of Sept. 23, 1984, Aguilar was walking home with fellow human rights lawyer Jacobo Amatong when two men came up to them and shot them both at close range. Aguilar was hit twice in the chest and once in the nape, and died instantly. Amatong died in hospital eight hours later, but not before identifying their attackers as belonging to the military. Two soldiers were subsequently named as suspects by the National Bureau of Investigation. This was confirmed by the driver of the getaway vehicle, but he himself was killed by unidentified men one year later. Despite many appeals from family and friends, no hearings were conducted on the case.

About 10,000 people attended the funeral held for the two lawyers, an attendance unprecedented in Dipolog history.

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