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The amazing lives of the “Lacub martyrs” give their loved ones the courage, hope and inspiration to seek justice.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – For activists and revolutionaries, the whole always has two parts: the thesis and anti-thesis. The yin and the yang. The positive that goes with the negative, the life that precedes death. It is the amazing lives of the “Lacub martyrs” that now give their loved ones the courage, hope and inspiration to seek justice.
The nine “Lacub Martyrs” refer to the two civilians and seven members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who were killed in the military operations of the 41st Infantry Battalion in Lacub, Abra province on September 4 to 6. Their families believe that the military violated international humanitarian law, which cover the rights of combatants who were unable to fight or were captured, as well as of civilians caught in the armed fighting.
The two civilians killed were NGO worker Engineer Fidela “Delle” Bugarin Salvador and Lacub farmer Noel Viste. The slain NPA rebels were: Arnold Jaramillo, Brandon Magranga, Recca Noelle Monte, Pedring Banggao, Robert Beyao, Robert Perez and Ricardo Reyes.
On October 24, Bulatlat.com talked to the families for a brief interview as they were filing complaints at the office of the Joint Monitoring Committee of the government of the Philippines (GPH).
Fifty-one year-old Nelson Salvador described his wife Fidela or Delle, 50, as a “motivated person.”
Delle, a native of Mangatarem, Pangasinan, met Nelson, who is from Ilocos Norte, at the Technological Institute of the Philippines in Manila. The college sweethearts married in 1990 and decided to settle in Baguio city in the Cordillera region.
Nelson recalled Delle’s changing song preferences, which encapsulated her developing socio-political awareness. He said that early in their relationship, Delle loved the song “You” by Basil Valdez and always asked him sing it to her. Then, her favourite song became “Ang Pagsamba at ang Pakikibaka” by Gary Granada, which reflects on a Christian’s role in the people’s struggle. When they got married, their wedding song was the revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio’s “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa.”
Nelson said that they were both largely influenced by their affiliation with the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), which teaches that “salvation is not only personal, but also social.” One is not only saved by grace, but also has a prophetic ministry, he said. Delle took this to heart, when she worked in the mining communities of Itogon, as an organizer of the Women Workers’ Program and the Mining Communities Development Center.
Benguet Corporation was subjecting the communities to open-pit mining, but the organizing work was so successful that only one village out of the whole of Itogon acceded to open-pit mining.
Nelson said Delle worked for more than 10 years in Itogon, then went to help in the communities resisting the San Roque dam in Pangasinan. Even though the dam pushed through, there were gains in unifying the communities, gathering broad support from other sectors, as well as getting the dam proponents to indemnify the affected population.
“She was a really cheerful person… always has a ready smile,” he said. “She was someone who doesn’t know how to show anger to anybody.”
“Even when things get difficult in the community, she would tell her colleagues, ‘We can do this,’” Nelson said.
Nelson said that when she comes home from the community, no matter how tired she was, she would still have the energy to cook a special meal or brew lemongrass tea for her children. They have three sons, with ages 21, 20 and 12.
From Nelson’s words, one can picture Delle as a bubbly optimist, a ray of sunshine who gave hope to those around her. And to her family and friends, she still does.
Pauline Viste, 19, said her older brother Noel, 33, was preparing for danon, an occasion for meeting his fiancée’s parents on Sept. 20, before their wedding. She said her whole family, including Noel’s fiancée, was shocked and in disbelief when they learned what happened to him.
Pauline’s cousin Ruby Anne, 22, said their “Kuya Noel” was a kind and funny guy. He was so hardworking that he didn’t have time to court women. He and his fiancée Noribel had only been together for less than a year.
Pauline said that aside from working on the farm, planting rice, Noel was also a village guard, and also engaged in small-scale mining in Selsel. He was the one who provided her weekly allowance of P500 ($11), as she studies at the Abra State Institute for Science and Technology (Assist).
Ruby Anne said they first learned that Noel was missing, so the family went to the 503rd Brigade camp in Barbarit, Lagangilang. The soldiers refused to let them in, but one of their cousins whose husband is a soldier got in, and she confirmed that Noel was among the dead bodies.
They lost a loving, big brother, whose heart was as generous as the land he tilled.
Cynthia, 50, described her husband Arnold Jaramillo or “AJ”, as “an amazing and exceptional person.”
The two met in the 80s, both were prominent student leaders and organizers.
“He was highly-skilled and he could’ve chosen a life of comfort, but he chose to work in the countryside,” Cynthia said. AJ was a BS Biology graduate of the University of the Philippines-Baguio. All of his family members have migrated to the US, but AJ chose to stay in the Philippines as an organizer.
In 2000, AJ joined the NPA.
Cynthia said one of the turning points for AJ was the death of a one-year-old baby in a village that was so depressed that the mother couldn’t afford any medicine for the baby’s prolonged fever.
In her Sept. 18 Facebook post, she said AJ explained that the electoral process was not enough, and that “radical changes” were needed “to dismantle the system that is perpetuating the oppression and exploitation of majority of the Filipino people.”
“He firmly believed that it is only through revolution that substantial changes in society can be realized. So he decided to take the path of armed struggle and to live and work among the masses in the countryside. He said he wanted to be part of sowing the seeds in building an alternative society that is democratic, free and just, where genuine peace reigns and where children no longer go hungry and are provided their basic needs in life,” Cynthia said.
Their children, Alexandra, 22, and Pocholo, 18, were only eight and four, respectively, when their father went away. In spite of the physical distance and rare visits, they said their father kept close to them through constant communication.
“Proud,” was Alexandra’s one word for her feelings for her father. “He endured the hardships and sacrifices,” she said.
Pocholo, a second year Fine Arts major at UP-Baguio, said his father and the cause he advanced now serves as inspiration to his art works.
“I am a proud father of a proud member of the New People’s Army. I have never been prouder of my daughter as I am now,” said Noel Monte Sr, father of Recca Noelle, as he spoke at a gathering at the UCCP on Oct. 24.
“There’s social injustice, that’s why there’s a resistance. Many are so impoverished, and then, we learn about government officials who pocket government funds. She said that I have to do this, because the poor need education,” Noel Sr was quoted in a post on the Facebook page “Justice for Recca, Justice for Lacub.”
His daughter, Jang Monte-Hernandez, in her Sept. 18 Facebook post,also said she is so proud of her younger sister, “who along with her unit of the NPA in the Cordilleras led campaigns on literacy and numeracy; on harnessing water resources to give indigenous homes electricity; on protecting mineral resources in ancestral lands.”
Noel’s wife, Dr. Rebecca Monte, told Bulatlat.com that they raised their children to think freely and make their own stand. They were worried about her safety when Recca decided to join the NPA 12 years ago, but they didn’t stop her.
“We are getting involved now because we want to get retribution. Why did they have to do that to them?” she said.
Dr. Monte said it was only now that they learned about international humanitarian law, which gives rights to combatants in an armed conflict.
“It’s also our way of expressing our anger at what happened…a way of easing our pain,” she said.
The pain is even double for their family, as Recca’s husband, Kennedy Bangibang, a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) has been in detention in Tabuk, Kalinga since 2013.
Epifania Magranga, 66, said she considers her son Brandon “a true warrior, a martyr, a hero.”
Brandon, who belonged to the Balangao tribe of Natonin, Mt. Province, was only 18, a third year college student at the Baguio Colleges Foundation when he joined the NPA in 1995.
“He was with us for 18 years, and he served the oppressed poor for 19 years,” his mother said. Brandon spent more than half of his life in the armed struggle. He left behind a wife and two young daughters.
Epifania said two of her sons became activists, and they must have gotten the fire from Fernando, her late husband, who was a student leader in Nueva Vizcaya. Fernando was the elected Natonin vice mayor when he died in 2002.
Brandon was also into “public service,” but one without a salary, Epifania said. “I salute him, because he endured all the hardships. He could have backed out. But he didn’t, for 19 years, he served the people.”
Epifania said Brandon’s work with the poor lives up to the teachings of the Bible. “Jesus Christ died for our sins. They (the NPA rebels) died for the oppressed poor,” she said. “I am proud of that.”
Prof. Jose Maria Sison, the chief consultant of the NDFP, said in an Oct. 20 tribute posted on the Philippine Revolution Web Central: “Let us honor the memory of the Lacub Martyrs by carrying on with greater resoluteness and militancy the revolutionary struggle for national democracy and socialism.”
Sison said the Lacub Martyrs are “models of being proletarian revolutionaries who took up the challenge of self-less sacrifice and dedicated struggle in the service of the exploited and oppressed classes.”
“They came from different class backgrounds, and they underwent the process of remoulding themselves in order to contribute to the revolutionary struggle for national liberation and genuine democracy. In the various functions that they undertook, they showed unrelenting dedication to fulfilling their tasks however great the difficulties and sacrifices,” Sison said.
“Their supreme sacrifice will inspire countless people, especially the youth, to follow their footsteps in the service of the oppressed and exploited,” said Sison.
Jang, in her FB post, said the revolution that her sister Recca waged “shall live on,” and only through its success “can genuine justice be attained.”
“I shall honor my sister’s memory, her struggle, her legacy, in this fight for justice. The status quo may not give us much to hold on to, but we grasp and fight with determination to give Recca and the martyrs of Lacub, Abra justice. We will fight.”