One year after its burning: Radyo Cagayano Rises from the Ashes

It was the first of July, a Sunday. People were rushing over to the public market after the Mass in Barangay San Jose, Baggao, Cagayan. A van parked amid the many tricycles and the farmers’ kuliglig (generator-powered vehicles). Several people alighted and started the sound system up. Within minutes, Radyo Cagayano’s voice went back on air. Literally rising from the ashes Baggao’s peasant community radio station was heard once more.

Contributed to Bulatlat
Vol VII, No. 23 July 15-21

It was the first of July, a Sunday. People were rushing over to the public market after the Mass in Barangay San Jose, Baggao, Cagayan. A van parked amid the many tricycles and the farmers’ kuliglig (generator-powered vehicles). Several people alighted and started the sound system up. Within minutes, Radyo Cagayano’s voice went back on air.

Literally rising from the ashes Baggao’s peasant community radio station was heard once more.

“Naimbag nga aldaw, gagayem ken kakabsat ditoy Baggao! (Good morning, townmates and friends here in Baggao!) As of today, Radyo Cagayano is back on air—the voice of the poor, the voice of peasants! A year after our station was burned down it is rising once more to serve the people. Agbiag ti Radyo Cagayano!” (Long live Radyo Cagayano!)

Two speakers on the vehicle carried the announcer’s voice far and wide. Many stopped on their tracks. Even more listened.

Attack before dawn

July 2, 2006. Six Radyo Cagayano staffmembers were sleeping soundly inside the small station at two o’clock in the morning. They stayed overnight to have an early start the next day, hoping to broadcast the station’s first Catholic Mass at Baggao’s St. Dominic Church. The station was located a few steps from the church itself.

DWRC disc jock and technician Eric Ayudan said a man in fatigue uniform suddenly kicked the door open and pressed a .45 caliber pistol at his neck. He grappled with his assailant as more armed men barged inside. He was then subdued. The other attackers were armed with M-16 rifles and wearing combat boots and military-style wristwatches. They addressed one of the attackers as “commander” and “sir”.

The five other radio personnel were rudely roused from sleep, Eric’s cousin Joy Marcos, station manager Susan Mapa, Arnold Agraan, Arlyn Arella, and Armalyn Baddua. More armed men entered the room. They ordered the victims to sit on the floor, blindfolded and tied them up using the station’s microphone and headphone cables.

The assailants ransacked the station and took the victims’ money and seven cellular phones. They were then dragged out of the station and ordered to sit just three steps from the station. Through his loose blindfold Eric counted no less than eight assailants, some of whom stood around the station near the surrounding trees and the station’s antenna. Meanwhile, two of the attackers poured gasoline on the station’s equipment and set it on fire. Eric said the explosion was so huge it reached the top of the old narra tree nearby. The perpetrators did not know there were gallons of paint and thinner, which the staff intended to use to spruce up the station, inside the room. The fire also reached and singed the victims, burning Joy’s left cheek and Armalyn and Arlyn’s legs and feet.

The attackers fled after the explosion. The victims managed to free themselves. Susan then dashed to the nearby convent to seek the parish priest’s help.

Baggao Police, led by SPO3 Jose Durwin, visited the burnt station at nine o’clock in the morning or seven hours after the attack. The town people were already gathered at the site as they came in droves after hearing about the news of the attack. What the victims can not understand was why the police left the evidences like bullets, shells and magazines inside the station. “It was as if they want to make it appear that we were armed ourselves,” Joy said.

International condemnation

Condemnation of the attack from local and international media organizations was swift. The very next day, a press conference was held in Manila. It was attended by Susan, Jose Torres Jr of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Bianca Miglioretto of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (Amarc), and Isabelo Adviento, secretary general of the Alyansa iti Mannalon iti Cagayan (Cagayan Peasant Alliance) or Kaguimungan. Kaguimungan built and operated Radyo Cagayano.

Miglioretto said that community radio stations give voice to the voiceless. Preventing people to air their sentiments are grave violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she added.

Torres said the attack was a knife thrust on the hearts of all journalists and broadcasters worldwide. He challenged the Arroyo government to investigate the incident and punish the perpetrators.

It took Kaguimungan five long years to save enough funds, buy equipment and build the community radio station. DWRC Radyo Cagayano had its initial test broadcast on April 28, 2006. After three weeks, lightning struck its antenna. Undeterred, the peasants took what remained of the antenna and attached it to a nearby tree. They resumed broadcast in the third week of May 2006. Effectively, DWRC’s humble station was in use for only a month. Then it was attacked and burned.

Through Amarc’s network of 3,000 community radio stations worldwide, the incident was reported in many countries. Local and international news networks fired stories about the attack left and right. And why not? During the dark days of Martial Law, stations were merely closed not burned.

Many are convinced that the perpetrators were elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. AFP Civil Relations chief Brig. Gen. Jaime Buencaflor was swift to deny it.

Why the AFP is being suspected

The Philippine Army had long persecuted the peasants of Baggao. In the late 70s five farmers were beheaded by suspected elements of the 21st Infantry Battalion, then of the Philippine Constabulary before it was transferred to the Philippine Army. The farmers waged protest actions that drove the unit out. The 21st IB was then transferred to Mindanao where it was nearly wiped out by Moro rebels. Curiously, this unit’s slogan is “Invincible.”

In its place, the 17th IB now terrorizes the people of Baggao. Like its predecessor, the 17th IB is part of the notorious 5th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.

When the station was still being built by the peasants themselves, Kaguimungan leaders and members suffered unrelenting harassments from the soldiers. In May 2003, then Kaguimungan president Joey Javier was walking home after working on building the station all day. He and his companions were accosted by soldiers and Joey was hacked on his left arm.

Joey was killed on November 11, 2006. His widow Dominga and daughter Helen Joy are convinced the 17th IB had a hand in the killing. On November 27, 2006, Anthony Licyayo, who took over from Joey as Kaguimungan president, was himself killed. Anthony was carrying his two-year old son on their way to his farm when he was shot.

“They (soldiers) were the only ones who were angry at my husband. His assassins fled toward their camp’s direction. It is impossible for them not to have seen them. They also killed Anthony. They also burned our station down!” Dominga said.

“The day they killed my father was the day they ended my future,” Helen Joy, 15 years old, said.

A year after the burning

Cousins Eric and Joy never went back to the station since the attack the year before. They are afraid. They feared they might lose their lives if they did.

We visited them at the farm they were working on to convince them to come with us. At the site Joy went directly to the corner where he left his first-ever leather shoes. There it was, already hardened and glued to the floor.

“We are simple peasants. We just wanted to have our own radio station. What was wrong with that?” Eric asked.

There is nothing wrong with a community radio station that wanted to discuss farmers, women and youth sector issues. What was wrong was a military that was not comfortable with an empowered citizenry.

“We had lots of visitors here when we were on air. They asked us to greet their friends and families, even broadcast messages on air. Baggao was much livelier then. We had our own radio station,” Joy remembered.

Now, only rusted steel and ashes remain of what was once a lively radio station.

Radyo Cagayano is back on air

Kaguimungan is weathering the station’s burning and the killings of its leaders and members. Their active campaign produced support from fellow broadcasters in Germany who sent donations for basic equipment. These were the equipment used in the “Live Broadcast” last July 1 to announce Radyo Cagayano’s rebirth.

Lina Dagohoy was “on board” that day. Lina’s husband, Isabelo Adviento, is one the remaining Kaguimungan leaders. But he can not go home because of relentless military harassment and threats. Lina took over from Isabelo’s duties as Kaguimungan spokesperson—not unlike how Gabriela Silang led the Ilokos Revolt after the death of her husband Diego. Lina’s first husband, Reynaldo Dagohoy also offered his life to the struggle for land for the people of Baggao.

“This is how we started anyway,” Lina said. “We made the rounds of the market, the milling place, wherever there were people, using the public address system. We did that regularly until we were able to build Radyo Cagayano. We do not mind going through it all over again,” she added.

The van drove around Barangay San Jose’s market place a couple of times. The vendors were delighted to hear their radio station is back on air. Not a few asked about the date of the regular daily broadcasts.

Lina repeated the announcement over and over again. “Kamannalon ken kamarigrigat.. (fellow peasants and poor people) Radyo Cagayano is here once more to serve you. It is back as the voice of the peasants, the voice of the poor, the voice of the people of Baggao. Long live Radyo Cagayano!” (

* Raymund B. Villanueva is head of the Radio Cluster of Kodao Productions. Kodao trained Radyo Cagayano staffmembers prior to the test broadcast.

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