In Commemoration of the Bulacan Martyrs of 1982

The Aftermath

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THE AFTERMATH:

Retrieving the Bodies

A day after the massacre, as the residents of San Rafael were shocked by the five lifeless bodies lying near their Municipal Hall, the families of the victims were just getting word of what had happened. The sister of Danilo Aguirre, Leonora, averred that she only found out about her brother’s arrest at around 11AM. She was told to visit the PC Camp in San Rafael to ensure her brother’s safety, meeting the mother of Edwin Borlongan, Consorcia, on her way.[23] At the camp, she heard murmurs that her brother was already dead. In disbelief, she went to San Rafael to ask for recent reports of deaths. She was shown pictures of badly mutilated corpses due to their wounds, and when she could not identify her brother, she confidently signed a statement certifying that her brother was not among those killed.[24] However, after conversing with other residents, she grew more suspicious that her brother might indeed be among those slain.[25]

Carmelita Medina and Weng Llorente narrated similar experiences when they first learned that their loved ones had been arrested. The Medina and Llorente families marched to the San Rafael Camp to inquire about what happened to both Constantino Medina and Teresita Llorente.[26] When they were shown pictures, the family of Medina could barely recognize his badly disfigured face among the other slain victims.[27] On the other hand, the family of Llorente could only go so far as to take a quick glimpse at her picture, which depicted a big gaping wound on her chest along with bruises and contusions, leading to fears that she may have been raped before she was killed.[28]

The Medina family claimed that they were told to consult the commanding officer of the 175th PC company, Capt. Danilo Mangila, to request for the retrieval of Constantino Medina’s body. They were, however, made to wait the entire afternoon at the Malolos PC Camp. Sensing the military was only delaying and preventing them from getting the body, they left and accompanied the Llorente family instead to the Malolos diocese and requested assistance from Rev. Edgardo “Ed” Villacorte of the Church-Military Liaison Committee (CMLC), which served to facilitate dialogue with members of the church groups and the local PC units.[29]

The bodies of Borlongan and Manimbo were retrieved by their families on June 26, five days after the incident, after an arduous negotiation with local authorities. They were given the run-around and were made to comply with demands, including a hefty fee, before finally having the bodies of the two victims unearthed and given to them.[30] Recovering the bodies of the other three proved more difficult. The families were likewise made to go through lengthy bureaucracy just to see and obtain their loved ones’ remains.

On June 29, Malolos diocese bishop Cirilo Almario, Jr. invited the families of the victims for a dialogue in his residence at the Bishop’s Palace. Present during the meeting was Rev. Villacorte, former congressman Rogaciano Mercado and representatives from concerned organizations Buklod Lakas Kapatiran, Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP), the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), WE Forum publication and Luzon Times. During the meeting, the families provided their aforementioned testimonies and implored Rev. Villacorte to summon the implicated military officials for a special meeting.[31]

 

Fr. Cirilo Almario, Jr. (left) and former congressman Rogaciano Mercado (center) listening to concerned Bulacan citizens during a discussion on the so-called San Rafael Massacre. Photo taken from Alex Magno’s "A Feast for Worms in Bulacan," in Who Magazine 4, no. 65 (1982), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

The meeting, set for July 1, commenced with the victims reiterating their claims before a panel composed of PC’s Provincial Commander and Bulacan Police Superintendent Maximo Mejia, administering officer Maj. Estepa, commanding officer Maj. Hermogenes, along with other high-ranking officers Capt. Lampen, Capt. Sumortin, Capt. Saguilayan, Capt. Alzate and, one of the incriminated officers, Capt. Danilo Mangila.[32] Afterward, Supt. Mejia and Capt. Hermogenes spoke, asserting their original position. They insisted that the incident was an encounter between government troops and “terrorists.” As both parties’ accounts were starkly conflicting, the families despondently moved to request Mejia to just authorize the removal of the remaining three bodies from where they were interred, so they may at least be given a proper burial. This was belied by the military officials, who told the families that final authorization rested on the municipal or provincial health officer and not on them.[33]

Once the meeting concluded, the families of the remaining three victims whose bodies were yet to be found proceeded to the San Rafael Municipal Hall, where they consulted with the municipal health officer, Dr. Valemento. Upon being informed that Mejia delegated the final say on the release of the bodies to her, she asked the families for two more requirements – a certification from a municipal judge and a signed waiver relinquishing their right to ask for an autopsy of the body. Though both requisites were highly dubious, the increasingly desperate families felt they had no choice but to comply.[34]

They were then accompanied to the house of the nearest available municipal judge, Hon. Nestor Duran from Baliwag. Though he signed a certification all the same, Duran did so hesitantly. When confronted, he told them that his signature was unnecessary, since Dr. Valemento would still have the final say. He also told the families that he himself was witness to the bodies as they were laid on display on June 22. He noted that of Llorente, which bore the freshest marks, and alleged that she might have been the last one killed.[35]

With the requirements met, they brought along a sanitary inspector and a grave digger to the San Rafael Municipal Cemetery. Before the clock had struck midnight, the bodies of Llorente, Aguirre and Medina were finally exhumed for their families to see.[36] All three were unsightly and had been decomposing for quite some time. Medina’s body, the first to be found, had the left side of his skull blown apart, his teeth damaged on top of a gaping hole in his chest and bullet holes that exposed his innards. Llorente’s body also had a similar gaping hole, but also numerous black patches on her torso akin to bruises from severe blows. Aguirre’s body, noted to be the most advanced in the decomposition process, had the most bullet holes. Possibly the first of the five to be killed, the sanitary inspector also observed that his head was almost blown off from his body.

Though they were no longer allowed to ask for an autopsy to be conducted, the visible damage sustained by the bodies already suggests in gruesome detail how the victims were executed. The bodies were then removed from their caskets and placed into cadaver bags for transfer. They were then placed in sealed coffins at the Barasoain Church in Malolos for a short period of mourning for the relatives and sympathizers.[37]

Honoring the Martyrs and Lingering Calls for Justice

Though it took ten days since the incident, by midnight of July 2, the bodies of Llorente, Aguirre and Medina were finally with their loved ones. The families opted to stay for the night at the church and contacted their remaining relatives to visit the wake and mourn the three. Food supplies were furnished by visitors as well as people from the church, consisting of a priest, a seminarian and three lay workers.

At about 3 PM, the church workers left to go replenish the food for the people holding the vigil. Upon reaching the courtyard where their vehicles were parked along the pathway, they heard a shot ring out, followed by another four in quick succession, seemingly aimed towards them. As there was nothing hit behind them, they assumed the shooter was using an air rifle to scare them off. Knowing the families were in the church defenseless should they flee, they went back inside and waited for more people to arrive before departing.[38]

Later in the afternoon, a mass was concelebrated by nine priests, who exhorted the attendees not to weep for the untimely deaths of the five martyrs, for they had lived a fulfilling life nonetheless. The priests presented them the option of either remaining safe and silent or pursuing the ideals of and the path taken by the victims. Afterwards, the funeral march commenced from Barasoain Church ending at the Malolos Public cemetery.[39]

During the procession, as they turned towards the town center, witnesses claimed that a blue car was parked nearby with three uniformed PC personnel along with a plain-clothed man eyeing the funeral cortège. Two of the PC troopers carried rifles; one of them kept cursing at the marchers and attempted to raise his gun, seemingly to shoot, before being stopped by his companion. The grueling process of putting the three slain peasant organizers to rest reached its end at the cemetery, where relatives put up posters challenging the killers. “Pagpatay ba ang alam ng militar (Does the military only know how to kill)?,” “Wala na raw ang batas militar, bakit sila pinatay (If there is no more martial law, why were they still killed)?,” and “Katawang lupa ang mamamatay, hindi ang kaisipan (Their bodies may have died, but their ideals have not),” read the posters.[40]

Indeed, while the victims were laid to rest, their killers remained free. The victims’ families and relatives echoed the same questions all throughout their ordeal. The victims were meeting at a farmer’s house in Pulilan, yet their lifeless bodies were discovered at San Rafael, some twenty kilometers away. Despite surrendering without protest, they were reported to be killed during an NPA encounter and were supposedly found with arms and ammunition. Had it not been for their colleague narrowly escaping capture, the narrative espoused by the military might have been unanimously accepted as the truth.

On July 10, the Bulacan Lawyers on Human Rights (BLOHR), set up to investigate local cases of human rights violations and offer free legal assistance to the victims, were connected by congressman Mercado to the families to discuss the massacre. They aimed to launch an immediate investigation on the suspected perpetrators, their relief from duty and prosecution, and to give the families indemnification.[[41]] Unfortunately, the trail of information ended on this day, and the soldiers of the 175th PC Company, especially Maj. Bartolome Baluyot and Capt. Danilo Mangila, are not known to have ever been prosecuted. When Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated in 1983, residents of Bulacan took part in nationwide protests, integrating with it their calls of justice for the fate that befell the young martyrs.

Just as the five martyrs toiled greatly to advance the rights and welfare of farmers in Bulacan, their families also labored to uncover the truth on what happened to them on the day of their death; to recover their bodies after it had been buried unceremoniously; to pursue the perpetrators in the hopes of holding them accountable; and to give recognition to the victims.

The Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City, showing the names of Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Teresita Llorente, Renato Manimbo and Constantino Medina, who were all honored on November 29, 2012. Photo cropped and taken by Reginald C. Coloma on June 10, 2021.

On November 29, 2012, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation held its annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes. Headlining the list of honorees were a church activist, a market vendor, a driver-mechanic, a student activist, and a fisherman, all of whom helped the AMGL take root in Bulacan and led the farmers’ movement in the province at the cost of their young lives. Their names, etched in the Wall of Remembrance,were Teresita Llorente, Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Renato Manimbo and Constantino Medina — the Bulacan Martyrs.[42] With the creation of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HVRCB) through Republic Act No. 10368, the victims’ families filed a claim for reparation and recognition in 2014 and 2015, and were rightly approved to receive compensation.

40 years to the day of the Bulacan Massacre, the victims have been duly honored and their families compensated, but the perpetrators have not yet been brought to retribution. With the passing of years, the story of the massacre may be slowly fading from the collective memory of Filipinos. Many may not even be familiar with this incident in the first place. As such, malicious historical revisionists, who have recently pushed the narrative that human rights violations and massacres hardly occurred during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos, may take advantage and, as the massacre perpetrators once did, label the martyrs as mere casualties of an encounter with communist rebels.

Let not the hands of time erase the heroism exhibited by these five freedom fighters. Let not falsified narratives and fading recollections diminish the impact of their lives, and even their deaths, in the resistance movement against the dictatorship. The families of the victims were once given the choice to remain silent or to pursue the path they took. Today, we are faced with the same choice. The martyrs’ young lives were tragically cut short, but their legacy and the ideals they fought and died for live on through those who remember them and continue their struggle. For the Bulacan Martyrs, in pursuit of justice and truth, #WeRemember.

***END OF PART 2***

[23] “Bulacan Massacre,” 2; “Application Form,” (Case No. 2014-14-00348, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[24] Pumipiglas, 91; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 12.

[25] Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 12; “Bulacan Massacre,” 2.

[26] Ibid. The Medina family even brought some barrio officials along with them.

[27] “Bulacan Massacre,” 2.

[28] Ibid., 3; Pumipiglas, 92.

[29] “Bulacan Massacre,” 3; Pumipiglas, 93; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 12. It was also the Llorentes who learned that there were witnesses who saw three jeepneys containing the PC troopers personally commanded by Maj. Bartolome Baluyot heading to the farmer’s house where the five victims had been meeting.

[30] “Bulacan Massacre,” 3; Pumipiglas, 92.

[31] “Bulacan Massacre,” 3; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 13. The testimonies of the families were published in a write-up “San Rafael Massacre: The Truth Behind the “Pulo, San Rafael Encounter,” included in the fact-sheet by the Task Force Detainees Luzon, and published by Alex Magno in Who Magazine, all sourcing from documentation on the June 29 and the subsequent July 1 meetings.

[32] “Bulacan Massacre,” 3-4.

[33] Ibid, 4; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 15.

[34] “Bulacan Massacre,” 4; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 15.

[35] Ibid.

[36] “Bulacan Massacre,” 4. On their way to the cemetery, they also consulted the police station where a policeman showed them the logbook which detailed that the 175th PC company led by Mangila and Baluyot arrived at San Rafael with the bodies around midnight of June 22 and noted that these were from an encounter taking place in a field near Balagtas and Maronquillo.

[37] Ibid., 5; Magno, “A Feast for Worms in Bulacan,” 15.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.; “Profiles and Citations of Martyrs 2012,” 24. Initial sources published shortly after the incident claim that the bodies were laid to rest in the Malolos Public Cemetery, but the profile produced by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani placed their final resting place at Meycauayan Cemetery. Given that they began the funeral march from Barasoain in Malolos, it may be more likely that they were interred in Malolos. However, it is also possible that they — or at least some of them — were later moved to Meycauayan, especially since two of the three, Llorente and Aguirre, hailed from there.

[40] “Bulacan Massacre,” 6.

[41] Ibid.

[42] “Profiles and Citations of Martyrs 2012,” 6.

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