Jose Doton: People’s Champion Vs. San
No assassin’s bullets
could dam up the struggle of the people inspired by
LYN V. RAMO
Posted by Bulatlat
Pangasinan - Frail Jose Doton, or
(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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
inspiring impact on the people. The struggle he led will continue to flow.
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