REYES, Victor Dandan

Victor Reyes pic

Victor was a college sophomore taking up engineering in FEATI University when he became a political activist. At first he only sat in on some of the discussion groups that were being held around the FEATI campus, dealing with economic and political situationers inside the country as well as outside. Later he himself began to lead these discussion groups, often attracting students from outside FEATI to join in.

His first organization was the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). He was instrumental in starting FEATI’s SDK chapter.

Later he became interested in problems facing Metro Manila’s factory workers and so the SDK encouraged him to establish the organization’s labor committee, which he did.  In 1971, he met his future wife Agnes Calda, also a student activist also working on labor problems. Often they worked together establishing ties with jeepney drivers and shop workers in Malabon, as well as mobilizing support for troubled workers in a large knitwear factory in Caloocan.

His involvement led him to then labor leader Crispin Beltran, at that time active with the Confederation of Labor of the Philippines (CLP), a small federation of trade unions with offices near the Quiapo district in Manila. Victor joined Beltran on the latter’s visits and meetings with leaders of CLP union-members in Southern Luzon. Victor grew to admire the leader, who he thought was a genuine unionist, a true patriot and a nationalist. Beltran returned this sentiment, listening to the young activist’s advice, seeking his views on the critical issues that faced the country then.

Victor’s other activities in the SDK labor committee involved assisting in various union work, helping put up unions in un-unionized factories, or leading discussion groups with workers in their workshops. He started keeping vigil with workers in strike areas.

When Marcos declared martial law, labor organizing was one of the worse hit by the ensuing crackdown. By then already out of the university and a fulltime labor organizer, Victor pursued his commitment determinedly but quietly. He strove to build the spirits of those laborers who wanted to keep their unions working in defense of their rights and welfare. To further establish his legal credentials and learn more about the new regime’s labor laws, Victor attended labor education seminars at the University of the Philippines.

Labor lawyer Hermon Lagman (whose name is already in the Bantayog wall) became one of his close associates in those days.  During these very difficult and dangerous times, the two colleagues were often seen visiting workplaces talking and giving advice to worker leaders, strategizing on trade union and related issues.

Then one day, Lagman and Reyes were set to meet with certain leaders for another consultation. The two never arrived at the agreed-upon meeting place. Family and friends were alarmed, immediately fearful for their safety. Fellow labor leaders, as well as Lagman’s lawyer friends, together with human rights lawyers such as the late senator Jose W. Diokno (whose name is also on the Bantayog Wall), launched a search for the two activists. The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) also helped –to no avail.

The two labor activists had simply gone missing, with no trace having ever found of their bodies or their whereabouts.

Outside of the small circle of human rights advocates and champions of labor that Victor had worked with in those dark days of the martial law era, very few took notice of the disappearance of these two colleagues. It was 1977, and still too few dared to speak out against the Marcos regime. But the respective friends and families of these two martyrs for freedom continued their search tirelessly, hoping to learn of their fate.  Their disappearance has remained one of the many unsolved cases under martial law.