Ceasar Jr., the eldest son, was 22 years old when his father died in 1969 and made him take up the role of family head. Then a criminology student in Manila, he often went back home to look in on the family and their livelihood. “He was persevering, energetic and he treated our farm workers justly,” his sister Rosario said. Graduating with a diploma in criminology, Ceasar planned to pursue law because he “wanted to be able to help the poor.”
History of political involvement
However he got caught in the political storm that erupted in the country in the late 1960s. The ferment was brought about by the shenanigans of the Marcos government, made worse by rampant inflation, tuition fee hikes, the country’s participation in the Vietnam War and increasing police and military brutality. The Marcos couple’s profligate spending amid worsening poverty riled the people.
Ceasar attended discussion forums and demonstrations organized by student groups like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and later the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). When he went home for visits, he would discuss these current issues with friends and townmates and with his brothers and sisters. He said he wanted them to understand the crisis that the country was facing.
The First Quarter Storm of 1970 affected Ceasar in a personal way. A massive rally was held on January 26, during the opening of Congress. This was followed by an even bigger protest rally on January 30. The rally was violently dispersed. It dragged on into the night, spread to other parts of Manila, including Mendiola, the street fronting the Malacañang palace. Four students were killed that night – Ricardo Alcantara from the University of the Philippines, Felicisimo Singh Roldan from the Far Eastern University, 17 year-old Bernardo Tausa from Mapa High School, and Fernando Catabay from MLQU.
Catabay was Ceasar’s schoolmate as well as good friend. Later Ceasar told his sister that the image of Catabay being felled by bullets kept playing over and over in his mind.
In the 1971 local elections, Ceasar came home from his studies in Manila to support the gubernatorial campaign of Juan Frivaldo who was running against a known Marcos ally. Ceasar’s political campaign included exposing Marcos’ growing corruption and degeneracy. He urged the people to elect honest and responsible leaders and to be courageous in letting their will be heard. Frivaldo won in the elections.
Circumstances of death and impact on family and community
In the weeks preceding the declaration of martial law by President Marcos, the family of Ceasar, sensing the coming political storm, asked him to come home permanently. Heeding the request, Ceasar returned to Sorsogon and found work as an administrative officer of by then Governor Frivaldo.
But he pursued his political work in the province. He attended a protest rally where he was picked up, detained illegally, and beaten up by a policeman. He sustained several cracked ribs from the beating. Ceasar managed to escape from his prison cell a few days later with the governor’s help. The governor also had his injuries treated and found him temporary shelter while recuperating from the mauling he received.
Not long after, Marcos declared martial law. Soldiers came every night to Ceasar’s house, looking for him and threatening and often insulting the family. The house was placed under constant surveillance. But Ceasar had not made any contact with the family since his escape.
After he had his strength back, Ceasar left the sanctuary offered by the governor, declaring his intention to seek out fellow activists to build a secret resistance against martial law in Sorsogon. But as it turned out, that was to be Ceasar’s last known location.
Not long after, the family was shocked to receive information that Ceasar had been killed and that his body had been dumped at the Bulusan Municipal Hall. Ceasar’s family quickly acted on the tip. At the municipal hall, they found his mangled remains. The body bore bullet wounds, his legs and ribs broken, and several teeth extracted. Townmates called the killing an act of brutality.
Today Ceasar is considered the first casualty of martial law in Sorsogon. In succeeding years, many more of the province’s youth were killed for their beliefs, including Ceasar’cousin, Tony Ariado and friend Nanette Vytiaco, whose names are now etched on Bantayog’s Wall of Remembrance. Many were also unjustly put in prison and tortured, among them three of Ceasar’s siblings.
To this day, Ceasar Gavanzo Jr.’s struggle for freedom continues to inspire many people. Emilio Ubaldo, the current mayor of Matnog town, says of Ceasar that “… he faced great adversity but took the courage to stand up and defend, not only his own, but the people’s rights…”
“Katulad ni Ginoong Rizal, ibinuhis din niya ang hiram na buhay sa pakiki-aklas na buong akala niya ay tamang paraan upang maisalba ang isang bansang naghihikahos sa kahirapan at pagmamalabis na pagpayaman ng pamilyang Marcos. Walang kasingtulad ang mga ginawa niya at dapat mailathala na isang huwarang bayani.” (Hilario U. Belo, Chairman on Temporalities, Sto. Nino Parish Pastoral council, Matnog, Sorsogon)
“He denied himself of the enjoyment of life, as young and handsome as he was, all taken by his conviction for the sake of our country’s welfare, even to the end of his useful life.” (Erlinda Garrido Hoffer, Matnog National High School)