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Vol. VI, No. 17      June 4-10, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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Pangasinan Martyr

Jose Doton: People’s Champion Vs. San Roque Dam

No assassin’s bullets could dam up the struggle of the people inspired by Apo Jose’s leadership.

Northern Dispatch

Posted by Bulatlat

SAN NICOLAS, Pangasinan  - Frail Jose Doton, or Apo (grandfather) Jose had a weakness for coffee and cigarettes at three o’clock in the morning.  But it was not the smoker’s cough and stomach ulcer caused by such weakness which killed him.  Doton was felled by an assassin’s bullets on May 16, a martyr in the people’s fight against the San Roque dam.

Doton, 62, or Apo Jose, as he was known to his comrades, was at the town hall to get the barangay officials’ honorarium a few hours before he was gunned down, serving others up to his last breath

Tatay, diak pulos awaten ti ipapatay mo! Anya’t nagbasbasulam, apay a pinatayda ‘ka?” (Father, I can’t understand why you were killed?  What wrong have you done to have cost you your life?) Doton’s daughter Cristy repeatedly cried over her father’s coffin.

Although Doton’s assailants monitored his daily routine for days before he was killed, they did not care that his children Cristy and Rey will muchly miss their Tatay (father), or that his wife Juanit hated being alone in the house that he built for her and her children.  They couldn’t have cared that even as Doton was laid to rest in the San Nicolas public cemetery on May 27, his grandchildren still call out his name.

Doton’s family is more than just his wife and children.  He was secretary general of the Pangasinan chapter of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (new patriotic alliance or Bayan) and chairperson of several organizations, among them the Tignay dagiti Mannalon a Mangwaya-waya ti Agno (Peasant Movement to Free the Agno River or Timmawa), San Nicolas Farmers Federation and San Nicolas Gold Panners Federation, Inc. He was also the barangay treasurer of Cabuluan village where he was born. 

Throngs of peasants and other activists from other western Pangasinan towns San Manuel, Asingan, Tayug, Sta. Maria, Balungao, Villasis came to pay their last tribute. 

During the wake, coins wrapped in aluminum foil and plastic trickled in.  A peasant whispered to Nanay (mother) Juanit, “These are from two more tanggal (irrigator’s group).” 

The collection bag is heavy with coins and peso bills.  Two more envelopes full of bills were handed to Nanay Juanit.  But more than the contributions of money, peasants who were organized and led by Doton expressed how much they would miss the selfless leader.

Remembering a “little brother”

Among those who returned to Cabuloan for Doton’s wake and burial march were his two sisters, 80-year-old Rosita who lives in Laoag City, and 79-year-old Aurora who lives in Pasig City, Metro Manila.  While viewing a documentary film on Doton’s political involvement, Rosita and Aurora cannot help but wipe their cheeks of tears. 

He also worked at the US Tobacco factory and the Ideal Synthetic Industries, Aurora said.  In the 70s he joined the US Tobacco workforce but the factory closed down after it was paralyzed by a strike.  He went home to till the fields but his meager earnings was not enough to support his family.  When Aurora, then a labor union official, saw how skinny he was, she invited Doton to the Ideal Synthetic Industries. 

The leader in Doton easily made him become a union officer like his sister.  Aurora recalled how they led a strike which paralyzed the plastic rope factory until the management recognized the collective bargaining agreement.  The strike succeeded in getting benefits for the workers but the management chose to close shop afterwards. 

In 1986, the Doton brood returned to Cabuloan, where he tilled a half hectare of inherited rice land, and a hectare more which his wife got from her  parents.  Doton also serve as a tenant for a local landholder, tilling a hectare. 

Native irrigator

Doton organized many irrigators’ groups locally known as tanggal, also Iloco for “irrigation canal”. Farmers use the overflow of the Agno River to irrigate their fields. 

Awan to ti kadwak nga agpasurong nu awan ti danum ti talonmi,” (No one will accompany me to check up the irrigation when no water comes to my field) a farmer whispered at his body.  He was fondly remembered as the only one who could chide National Irrigation Administration (NIA) personnel on issues of unkempt irrigation services. 

Oras nga agpasurong isuna, umayen ti danum,” (Once he goes to the irrigation, water comes) his colleagues exaggerate. 

Local San Nicolas farmers chose Doton to head the farmers’ federation because they knew how much he has cared for the native irrigation system.

When the construction of the San Roque Dam started in 1998, San Nicolas farmers at the Agno River’s floodplains were deprived of the river overflow for irrigation.   The construction site had to be dried up and the river had to be diverted.  In addition, the diggings made the Agno riverbed so deep causing the irrigation canals to dry up.

Doton led Pangasinan peasants in opposing the San Roque dam, ably explaining hydraulics in layman’s terms.  He could ably explain to ordinary peasants the workings of a huge irrigation system that would eventually wipe out all the rice lands along the Agno River.  The project promises irrigation, but then, there would be no more fields to till by the time the multi-purpose mega dam pushes through with its irrigation component. 

As a village official, Doton also received an award as the most outstanding public servant of San Nicolas on March 4 this year.  Peasants in San Nicolas agreed that no one else deserved the award but him. 

Even San Nicolas Mayor Leoncio Balbin could not help but tell anecdotes on how Apo Jose has inspired him to work for the people.  “Dakkel ti respeto ken bain ko kanyana.” (I have high respects for him)

“There are times when I would be too lazy to work but when he comes to me, my adrenalin to work harder is activated. Here comes a man who does not even receive any pay for his efforts, yet he works so conscientiously on his projects, he said.

His predecessors in the farmers’ federation, the agriculture and fishery council and the gold panners’ federation all but accepted the responsibilities left by Apo  Jose.  However, they all agree that they might not be able to dispose of the tasks as efficiently as Apo  Jose did.   

Among his accomplishments were the construction of a farmers’ training center, a federation office, the maintenance of all irrigation systems and the livelihood project for displaced small-scale miners along the Agno River. 

Ti inararapaapna a maikkan ti nasayaat a panagbiag dagiti naawanan ti kabiagan iti San Manuel ken San Nicolas ket inkam itultuloy inggana magun-od daytoy,” (We will pursue the struggle until we attain his dream to give a decent living to all those who have been displaced in San Manuel and San Nicolas (due to the San Roque Dam project), Nora Luzano, acting president of the San Nicolas Gold Panners’ Federation, Inc.  She could not hold back the tears as she went on with her eulogy.  Twelve San Nicolas barangays have been identified beneficiaries to a project after Doton’s group Timmawa asked the San Roque Power Corporation to compensate displaced small-scale miners.  

Beyond the dam

The anti-dam campaign led by Doton would go beyond the province and the issues were no longer confined at opposing the dam project.  In between the dialogues against the mega dam, which he referred to as salot (menace), he would painstakingly explain peasant exploitation by landlords and traders.  He would discuss the price of palay (rice) and gold in the local market. He would say traders took many of what the peasants could have brought home to their own families.  

He dreamt of a genuine agrarian reform, meaning not just land distribution or the emancipation of tenants from their landlords, or the lowering of usurious practices.  He dreamt of a decent life of every farm household. 

The one who pulled the gun and killed Jose Doton on could not have cared to know that he was loved by the people.   But no assassin’s bullets could prevent Apo Jose’s inspiring impact on the people. The struggle he led will continue to flow. Bulatlat 



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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