The Bacong Bridge Massace of 1981

To the Marcos regime is attributed some 900 massacres,perpetrated by military and paramilitary forces, primarily to instill fear on communities or groups raising a voice of protest against certain issues or policies, or against the regime’s growing abuses.

In 1981, six massacres were recordedby the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, three taking place against people taking collective protest actions: in Guinayangan, Quezon (2 killed on February 1), in Daet, Camarines Norte (4 killed on June 14) and in Culasi, Antique (5 killed on December 19).

The municipality of Culasi lies 92 kilometers north of the provincial capital, San Jose de Buenavista. From a thin coastal strip that faces Sulu Sea, the land rises to form the foothills of the majestic Mount Madyaas. One-fourth of Culasi’s barangays live on these foothills. Kinaray-a is the language spoken. Most residents fish and farm, mostly growing palay, corn, abaca, coffee, cacao and coconuts. As in most rural areas in the country, the people are poor, eking out various livelihoods for survival.

Life in Culasi seemed slow in 1981. It still had no electricity and only a few stores. But new disturbing things were happening. A curfew prevented people from leaving their homes after dark. The people were uneasy with the increased presence of Constabulary men in the villages. No abuse had been recorded but they had heard how soldiers in other areas stole chickens, burned houses or drove people out of their homes.

Activists, mostly students who had left the universities to work against the dictatorship, were living in these villages, trying to organize residents to resist the dictatorship. Small teams from the New People’s Army (NPA)were also doing political work and taking in local recruits.

Protest rally. The upland barangays planned a march to town to raise several concerns with the mayor, Romulo Alpas. They wanted to ask the mayor to stop collecting taxes on goods they brought down from upland to sell in town. Every mat spread on the market grounds offering goods for sale was issued a ticket to pay. It was nearing Christmas. With life as hard as it was, any bit of earning would go a long way. Another of the residents’ demands was to ask the mayor to stop more soldiers from coming. The people wanted a worry-free holiday season.

On December 19, a Saturday, around 500 residents, men, women and even children, started the march. They came from six barangays. Some young people had made rough placards and they were taken to the front of the marchers’ columns. It was a noisy but jovial bunch of villagers that started out from Barangay Condes. A few kilometres down the road, three constabulary men stopped them and asked for their leader. “We are all leaders!” they cried, and marched on. In barangay Balabago, more soldiers came up, again asking to know and see their leader. They got the same happy, confident response. The marchers had absolutely no inkling death was waiting at the next stop.

They had reached the Bacong bridge when soldiers stopped them a third time. The soldiers had built a bamboo barricade at the center of the bridge. They told the marchers to stop or be killed. Again the soldiers asked for the leaders.

But the townhall was barely two kilometers away. The marchers meant to reach that goal. See the mayor. Some men in the front moved closer to the barricade to try to get the poles out of the way.

Shots rang out. The marchers dispersed in disarray. Some jumped off the bridge. Some hid in the rice paddies nearby. But five lay dead.

Those who fell that day led fairly simple plain lives.