The “beginning of the end” for the Marcos dictatorship’s oppressive rule, it may be said, was when Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. was killed at the airport as he returned to the Philippines after years of exile abroad. Suddenly, it seemed, the nation – including those who had previously kept silent – decided that the time had come to take action themselves and work actively for the regime’s downfall.
Nilo Evangelio had been working as an electrician at the Batangas city hall, earning the meager income on which his parents and younger siblings depended. But the shocking assassination of Aquino jolted him and his friends. They started attending rallies and organizing political meetings. Evangelio was designated as the provincial coordinator for the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA) chapter in Batangas.
In March 1984, a big protest march was scheduled to be held, the first of its kind, involving one column of marchers coming from the north of Manila and another from the south. Tens of thousands would walk for seven days, starting simultaneously on March 1 from San Pablo City (Laguna) and Concepcion, Tarlac. The two columns would meet at the Quirino Grandstand in Rizal Park and hold a culminating rally there.
The march was called Lakbayan, for “Lakad para sa Kalayaan ng Bayan,” the People’s March for Freedom. It was part of a campaign to boycott the elections for the Batasang Pambansa, to be held the following month.
Evangelio and his friends Ysmael Umali, Aurelio Magpantay and Ronilo Noel Clarete, all of them In their 20s, joined the Lakbayan. On March 7, the last day, they were at the site of the rally with the rest of the tired and hungry marchers. Early that evening, the four said they would be going somewhere for a while, but leaving their belongings with the others. Then they disappeared.
After three weeks of searching by their families, the bodies of Evangelio and the three others were accidentally found in a shallow grave in Silang, Cavite. They had been brutally tortured. To this day, their killers have not been identified, nor have the exact date and place of their death been established.
Crowds of sympathizers joined the funeral procession and wake of the four, who were buried in a single casket because, as their families said, they “disappeared together, died together and lived together for a cause.”