Nilo Valerio

Man of the Cloth, Revolutionary for the People

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One of the rare photos of Nilo Valerio. Enhanced and taken from Azarcon, Pennie S. “In Memory of Fr. Nilo.” Midweek, November 6, 1985. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

It was an early morning in January 1985 when Nilo Valerio bade goodbye to his family. He promised his sons Albert and Jerry that he would be back home by Christmas; and his wife Daisy that he would take care of himself. They eagerly counted down the days until his return. Valerio, however, never came back home. He was killed, alongside two others, by military forces on August 24, 1985 in Sitio Beyeng in Bakun, Benguet.[1]

Valerio’s death was mourned by many who knew him. He was not only a family man, but also a former priest, a friend of the people, and a revolutionary fighter. After news of his death reached them, they immediately organized to attain justice, a struggle that they still carry to this day.

Valerio grew up a reserved and well-read boy with aspirations to become a foreign missionary priest but died as a man organizing the people and fighting government forces in the far-flung communities of upland Cordillera. 36 years after his death, we revisit the life of Fr. Nilo Valerio, and trace how he turned from a man of the cloth to a revolutionary for the people.

 

Early Years and Priesthood

Nilo Valerio was born on February 20, 1950 in Caloocan to Epigenio Valerio Sr. and Candida Castillejos, both of whom were government employees. He grew up as a model son. He loved and cared for nature. He excelled in school. He was tidy, disciplined and quiet, often found in a corner reading or drawing. He also enjoyed the company of his family, especially whenever they would go to church on Sunday, followed by a trip to the park or a movie theater.[2]

He also grew up an admirer of his family’s religious pursuits. He looked up to his father, who was an ex-seminarian, and to his two uncles — Fr. Jose Valerio of Pangasinan and Bishop Simeon Valerio of Mindoro — for their advocacy of service to the poor. As such, he aspired at an early age to become a missionary and do the same abroad.[3]

With his parents’ approval, Nilo entered the Christ the King Minor Seminary in Quezon City in 1962. He began his formation under the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) before moving to their Major Seminary in Tagaytay in 1968 to complete his training. Despite an outward display of a serious intellectual, Valerio could often be seen cracking jokes with his fellow seminarians and participating with them in other activities such as drawing, swimming and playing basketball.[[4]]

It was a mutual love of sports that brought Valerio even closer with two of his colleagues, Bruno and Cirilo Ortega. Both were part of the Tingguians’ Binongan tribe from the province of Abra. Also sharing Valerio’s desire to serve the people, the Ortegas spent many a night with Valerio telling him countless stories of their own people, their aspirations as well as their continuing plight.[5] These stories left a profound imprint in the mind of the young Valerio, who began viewing society and his foreign dreams under a different lens.

As part of his apostolate work, Valerio chose to immerse himself within the communities he was working for, enriching his knowledge not through written work, but through listening to the peasants, the marginalized, and the poor, and experiencing life alongside them. Even on vacations, Valerio elected to be sent to distant areas to help in education and organization projects for local parishes.[6] He worked with the Mangyans of Mindoro, the sugarcane workers of Batangas, the farmers of Tarlac, and the Tingguians of Abra.[7]

He was again sent to Abra in 1971 to serve his one-year regency period. He taught religion, economics and land reform to Tingguians at a high school SVD parish church overseeing the upland municipalities of Sallapadan, Bucloc and Daguioman. He tirelessly spent his off-days and vacation staying with the families of his students so they could tell him stories, learning more about their way of life, their culture, as well as their dreams and struggles. He also learned how they valued the land, as it was important for them spiritually, politically and economically. Gradually, the community grew fond of Valerio and looked forward to his visits.[8]

He also learned how the local farmers and community were greatly burdened by exploitation from merchants and corporations, being forced to sell at a loss or accept a job elsewhere where they were easily maltreated. At the time, the Cellophil Resources Corporation, a multinational company, was laying down the groundwork of their plan to take over some 200,000 hectares worth of land, a staggering two-thirds of the province’s overall land area, leaving it, along with much of the other Cordillera provinces, severely affected. Valerio was acutely aware of how destructive this would be for an already impoverished and challenged community.[9]

After the end of his regency, Valerio returned to Tagaytay, equipped with an unquenchable desire to continue his work there and help the people he had grown fond of. In line with this goal, Valerio reached out and established contacts with several organizations such as the Kilusang Seminaristang Makabayan (KISEMA), UP’s Kabataang Makabayan (KM), and Ateneo’s Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK). He spent his time poring over books and learning about the ideology of the resistance movement and their calls for revolution. As was the situation with many priests at the time, their progressive ideas clashed with the church’s conservative views, and they leaned more towards the theology of liberation, seeking for more active ways to address societal concerns. This theology of liberation seeped into the consciousness of Valerio.[10]

By the time he was ordained in 1975, Valerio had all but realigned his lifelong goal. Rather than overseas, when choice came at hand, Valerio unhesitatingly opted to return to Abra, whose people were waging a war against a multinational corporation for their land, their livelihood and their lives.

Leading the People and the Revolutionary Movement

When Valerio returned to Abra to become an assistant parish priest for the municipalities of Lacub, Licuan and Tineg, Cellophil had become firmly established in the Cordillera region, allegedly being reinforced by President Ferdinand Marcos’s own Presidential Security Command (PSG). Government officials, military troopers and even some complicit church officials took turns between persuasion and coercion to convince the locals to sell their lands at a measly rate. They offered jobs in exchange for the concession area, and offered residents compensation if they could show proof of ownership, a legal custom the Tingguians and Kalingas did not practice. When they continued resistance, Cellophil and the soldiers became more aggressive.[11] Families were forcibly ejected from their own homes, bulldozers plowed their fields, and leaders were tortured. All this, while their trees were being cut, rivers widened and lands taken. The farmers lost their livelihood, and the people lost their fishing and food source.[12]

During his off-days, he led a collective within his parish to do what he once did. They lived with the locals in far-flung barrios to learn more about their current social, political and economic issues. This group included Erlinda “Daisy” Timbreza, a former convent sister with whom Nilo closely worked and eventually developed a romantic relationship. They also became very close with the locals, who treated them as if one of their own. While they did tasks for the parish, Valerio’s group also worked throughout the province doing organizing work. In turn, the village elders began turning to the priests aligned with their cause more often.[13]

However, of the some thirty priests stationed in Abra, only four were vocal in their opposition to Cellophil’s project. Bruno Ortega, who was stationed in Malicbong, Cirilo Ortega in Luba and Tubo, and Conrado Balweg in Sallapadan joined Valerio in helping the Tingguians organize mass action.[14] This culminated in the bodong of 1978, held in Tiempo, which united peace pact holders and leaders from Abra, Mountain Province and Kalinga to lay down their pact of non-acquiescence with the demands of the government, non-violent forms of resistance and to continue doing so until the government withdraws their projects from Cordillera.[15] Though Valerio sympathized with the people, he urged them to focus on non-violent and legal means of defending themselves against Cellophil’s encroachment.[16]

 The cooperation of the priests with the locals, however, placed them in the sights of local military forces, who consequently labeled them subversives. As Cellophil intensified its work in the region, the military also began focusing on the four, perceived to be the leaders of the entire anti-Cellophil movement. Fearing for his life, the troubled Valerio’s confreres and friends convinced him to return to Manila, as his activities had been increasingly monitored by unwanted elements. Upon briefly reuniting with his family in late 1979, Valerio was faced with a difficult choice. He had greatly enjoyed his time as a man of the cloth, but he knew that his efforts to improve the lives of Tingguians were falling short in his current capacity.[17]

He had tried to negotiate and petition with Cellophil officials, but this yielded nothing. On the contrary, government troops had begun actively antagonizing the people opposed to the project. Tribal leaders were arrested and questioned for their motives. Rivers were silted and widened for transport of vehicles and materials. Valuable trees and crops were bulldozed and chunks of lands were closed off for access. Valerio knew he could no longer return as a priest, and, having exhausted all legal means to help the Tingguians, he would not make a difference if he did so. Nonetheless, Valerio adamantly wanted to return to Abra. He and Timbreza did so by mid-1980, this time to be part of the underground guerrilla movement.[18]

They joined some twenty guerrilla fighters of the New People’s Army (NPA), most of whom were Tingguians and Valerio came to be known as Ka Romy. Life proved difficult away from the comforts of his parish, as it often rained, food was scarce and military checkpoints and blockades forced them to traverse dangerous mountain roads. Valerio encouraged the people to organize, take up arms and wage war against the repressive enemy. Cellophil attacked by recruiting the youth to work for them and by bribing the people with money and employment, but the people retaliated by burning plantations, pushing trucks and tractors over cliffs, and stealing equipment, among other tactics. The progress of Cellophil was successfully crippled with the emergence of the NPA and people’s resistance in Abra.[19]

Valerio proved to be a capable leader for the revolutionary movement, skillful in organizing and planning for operations. He kept a low profile and relegated himself in the background when possible. Though he focused on organizational and educational work, he also fought when needed. As the locals grew fond of Valerio and his group, they also came to accept the NPA’s presence in their barrios, with some of them joining the movement themselves.[20]

Valerio was likewise committed to Timbreza. With the blessing of a comrade, who was also a priest, the two were married in April of 1980 in the hills above Bugnay in Kalinga, the hometown of local hero Macli-ing Dulag. The ceremony was attended by their colleagues from across the province as well as elders from five communities of the Butbut tribe.[21] The two vowed to become “revolutionary husband and wife” and to build a family within the framework of the movement. As part of this vow, they gave each other new names: Rommel and Dahlia.[22] By the next month, Timbreza was pregnant with their first child. After much contemplation, the couple committed to continuing their work as part of the Armed Propaganda Unit while caring for their baby.[23]

Valerio’s group continued working with the Tingguians to find solutions to their current problems. The natives did not have advanced tools for more efficient farming and the remoteness of their barrios impeded their capabilities to sell crops. Due to food scarcity and lack of resources, many are forced to move to the cities and accept jobs with exploitative employers. Epidemics are also common due to their situation.[24] To assist the disconcerted locals, Valerio’s group taught them how to plant bananas, petitioned for a soil technician to help them determine the best type of crops, and encouraged them to form a cooperative to buy and sell crops at wholesale prices. They were also introduced to acupuncture as an alternative cure for body pains and illnesses.[25]

Valerio and his comrades continued trying to help as much as they could, but they also began worrying for their own mobility and safety. By the early 1980’s, the government intensified its militarization of the province, and soon they found barrios constantly being patrolled by Constabulary troopers. Unable to seek refuge, Valerio’s group often found themselves spending the night in the treacherous mountainside and forested areas nearby. They often ran out of food, which they had always prioritized giving to the pregnant Timbreza.[26]

As months went by and Timbreza got closer to her due date, it became more difficult for the company, which had been growing bigger due to new recruits, to include her in their undertakings. It was decided that she temporarily join another group in Baguio City to handle clerical work until she could deliver the baby. She gave birth to her firstborn, Albert, in January of 1981.[27] Valerio briefly left work to tend to his wife and newborn child while comrades in the city helped Timbreza. After three months, Timbreza left Albert under the care of her mother to rejoin the movement.[28]

Timbreza was reassigned to the guerrilla zone with Valerio. Her time with him and the group, however, came to an abrupt halt when she found herself pregnant once again later that year. By this time, membership of the NPA had tripled and there were concrete mobilizations taking place in the barrio and municipal levels. They had gone far too deep to pull out and bear the burden of helping Timbreza through her pregnancy again. With this, Timbreza bade Valerio goodbye and returned to Baguio City, where she settled with her mother and child while hosting the movement for its newsletter publications.[29]

In March of 1982, Timbreza gave birth to her second child, Gerson. The mother and child faced great difficulty as arrests and raids of comrades forced them to constantly move from house to house. To move her to safety, Valerio again left his work briefly to formally introduce his wife and children to his family in Manila. Under strict military checkpoints, Valerio went against the advice of his comrades and disguised himself as an old woman to evade detection.[30] Though the family was taken aback to find Valerio married and with kids, they quickly came to accept the new members of the family and readily welcomed them to their home. For the next couple of years, Timbreza stayed with Valerio’s family and was able to become an ordinary mother for their two children.[31]

During the passing years, however, Timbreza increasingly felt that she could not abandon the cause for which she and her husband had fought for years. Valerio discussed it with her and his family, and the two decided to rejoin the Education Propaganda Committee of the NPA.[32] Timbreza returned to assisting in writing, translation and reproduction of materials for the movement. After resuming work, Valerio was transferred to Ilocos Sur, then later in Benguet for his organizing work.[33] After one consultative meeting with higher ups in the city in August 1984, the increasing military presence on the return route rendered Valerio briefly unable to go back. This allowed him to stay with his family, living with his mother-in-law, his wife and his two children, for a few months.[34]

To make a living for his family, Valerio made Christmas cards to sell to friends and relatives. They were able to save enough to buy their two children their own bicycles as Christmas gifts. They managed to live life normally during these otherwise tumultuous times for the movement. They were able to enjoy outings in places such as Wild Life Park and the Gubat sa Syudad Resort. The immeasurable happiness the couple felt during their time as a complete family convinced them to remain as such. Valerio decided that he would return to work in the provinces for one more year before asking for a transfer of responsibility so he could work in the city with his wife. The two also began planning to start a small business to support their children.[35]

One morning in January of 1985, Albert awoke to find his father packing his things and immediately asked him if he was leaving. Valerio promised his children that he would be back soon. Pained by being separated once again, Timbreza followed Valerio out of the house as he was escorted by a comrade to the bus station. She watched her husband’s figure grow smaller and eventually fade into the horizon. This was the last time the family would see Nilo Valerio.[36]

Timbreza kept contact with Valerio through letters, and these informed her of worsening military activities in Benguet. Due to their constant presence, their group often had to travel at night, making it extremely dangerous for the bespectacled Valerio, who had poor eyesight. Letters came less often, but Valerio had assured his wife of his safety and cautioned her not to believe reports in the newspapers of NPA encounters and casualties without confirmation.[37]

This was what Timbreza grappled with when, on September 5, 1985, one of her sisters-in-law came bearing a newspaper, which reported that an encounter between the military and NPA on August 24 in Sitio Beyeng in Bakun, Benguet resulted in the deaths of three rebels, one of whom was suspected to be the Abra priest-turned revolutionary Nilo Valerio.[38] The news originated from a “concerned Igorot” who then wrote a letter to the Cordillera News Agency and Bulletin Today correspondent Isidro Chammag.[39]

The letter was in response to an earlier declassified report run by some national dailies, from Regional Unified Commander I Brig. Gen. Tomas Dumpit, who told of an encounter wherein three rebels were killed, identifying them as Ka Bobot, Ka Senyang and Ka Gina.[40] The letter added that while it was usual for guerrillas to die in their struggle, the witnesses found it difficult to accept that the bodies were beheaded. One of the victims’ heads was allegedly used for target practice because it was “ugly.” It also identified Ka Senyang as one “Cristeta Fernandez,” and Ka Bobot as none other than Fr. Nilo Valerio.[41]

Shortly after, the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) and the Promotion of Church People’s Rights (PCPR) condemned the beheading and desecration of the dead as the “most brutal form of violation of human and civil rights.” Even AFP Chief-of-Staff Fidel Ramos denounced the incident as barbaric and called for an impartial investigation. A fact-finding mission team was organized to verify and retrieve the bodies for a proper burial. Family members of Fernandez and Valerio joined the team, which was sponsored by the Northern Luzon Human Rights Organization (NLHRO) and the Cordillera Consultative Committee (CCC), human rights organizations based in Baguio City. The mission, composed of 26 members of the media, church and human rights organizations, and the victims’ relatives went to Bakun to investigate for themselves. Fernandez’s family was represented by her brother Jose “Ding” Fernandez, and Valerio’s family was represented by his brother Epigenio “Jun” Valerio, Jr.[42]

Upon arriving in Benguet on September 8, the fact-finding team immediately ran into obstacles. In Camp Dangwa, they sought an audience with military officers to ask for their assistance in recovering the bodies, but they merely were given the runaround. A regional commander general of Benguet also tried to dissuade them due to the dangerous trail they have to go through to reach the incident site. They turned to the provincial health office to ask for a permit, but were told they had to refer to the Ministry of Health instead, a deviation from normal procedure. They again ran into problems with the Ministry of Health, as it requested an NBI and police clearance.[43] Undeterred, the team decided to push through without a permit and finally found recourse through Benguet Governor Ben Palispis, who offered to pay for their food and send a representative to assist them in their investigation.[44]

The group interviewed the native Kankanaeys of Sitio Beyeng to obtain eyewitness testimonies. The elders attested that the NPA rebels arrived long ago, teaching them techniques in farming and acupuncture. Nilo Valerio, along with seven others, stayed in the sitio for the night because one of their companions had fallen ill. The group confirmed that one of the victims was indeed Nilo Valerio when residents singled out Jun Valerio among them and noted that he closely resembled Ka Bobot. He was described as bespectacled, tall and slender, and bearing a rifle.[45]

Jose “Ding” Fernandez (left) and Epigenio “Jun” Valerio, Jr. (right) during the dig of the purported graves of their loved ones. From a newspaper clipping from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission

Valerio and his group slept in two adjacent huts, which were raided by some 20 government troopers, led by a certain Sgt. Henry Dayag and Sgt. Jose Panganiban, early in the morning. Taken by surprise, the guerrillas were not able to return fire. Fernandez and Salvador were killed trying to escape, and Valerio was struck as he was running to the back of the house. Their five companions were able to escape, but were forced to leave their comrades’ lifeless bodies behind.[46] The soldiers descended upon the bodies and dragged them near the hut of a village elder. The elder narrated to the families of the victims how they tearfully and angrily castigated the soldiers. Viewing the three as friends of the community, he worried that their relatives would blame the residents for what happened and vowed to declare the truth should he be asked.[47]

After the incident, the soldiers called upon the residents and chose three men to cook for them. After they had gone, the three men were instead brought to a gravesite where the bodies were and were commanded to carry the heads of the victims, which had been placed in green plastic bags and tied to a pole.[48] As was also mentioned in the letter of the “concerned Igorot,” the heads were paraded in nearby sitios Dada, Tabbac and Sadel, as the military taunted the scared residents that these were heads of NPA rebels. The heads were then buried in a shallow grave in Sitio Sadel, near the house of one Alfredo Sucabit.[49]

The fact-finding team then proceeded to the first gravesite where the bodies were supposedly located. To their shock, they were only able to uncover shreds of skin, a severed toe, and a fingernail, along with eyeglasses and keychain Jun Valerio confirmed were his brothers’.[50] The following day, they went to the other gravesite in Sipitan and also found nothing other than twine and nylon cord, which they assumed had been used to tie the plastic bags to the poles as the heads were carried. Witnesses noted that the gravesites, prior to the arrival of the team, had visible mounds. This was what Alfredo Sucabit saw near his house the day after the incident. After learning of what transpired and that it was human heads which were buried there, he immediately protested to Sgt. Panganiban, Bakun’s Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police (PC-INP) station commander. Shortly after, the mound was gone.[51] Residents also revealed that three days before the fact-finding team arrived, they saw a helicopter flying above the area and a military jeep full of soldiers going down to the gravesite.[52]

A photo of the site where the heads were allegedly buried as Ding Fernandez (left) and Jun Valerio (right) pray for their loved ones. Photo by Luis Liwanag, enhanced and taken from Nonoy Fajardo’s “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?” in Mr. & Mrs., October 4-10, 1985.

 Seeking Justice

 

All evidence and testimonies point to the bodies and heads being buried and hurriedly being exhumed, the perpetrators leaving behind bits of their remains. Seeing no other party who could benefit from such an act, the families of the victim started suspecting the PC-INP for having a hand in the disappearance of the remains of Valerio, Fernandez and Salvador. On September 7, Gen. Tomas Dumpit, together with Bakun Mayor Nicolas Pulicay, had gone on air with the MBS Channel 4 TV station to address the reports of beheading, and Pulicay confirmed having attended the “decent burial” given to the three. Dumpit reiterated this in the issue of the Times Journal the following day.[53]

If the bodies were indeed taken by the PC-INP, the matter becomes even more complicated. Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyer Pablito Sanidad, who accompanied the fact-finding team, noted that it would be difficult to file a petition against the perpetrators because the writ of habeas corpus only applies to living people.[54] The family then turned to the Special Action Committee, an investigative body created by Fidel Ramos and led by Lt. Col. Berlin Castillo to belie the claims of a decent burial and to seek help on the next steps to be done in seeking culpability for the alleged perpetrators before they returned to the city.[55]

The family members of the victims meet with the Special Action Committee, led by Lt. Col. Castillo. From a newspaper clipping submitted by Erlinda Timbreza-Valerio to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB). Retrieved from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission

On September 16 and 17, funeral masses were held in Baguio Cathedral and Christ the King Seminary to pay respects to the victims. Valerio’s uncle, Simeon Valerio, delivered the homily. He described his nephew as a product of “the age of discontentment, of disillusionment, the age of rallies and demonstrations,” recalling how he took up the rebel cause because, in helping the Tingguians defend their land against encroachment, he was pushed to a point of no return. He also condemned the desecration and cruelty towards his nephew and the other two victims.[56]

Valerio, Espiritu and FLAG lawyer Ed Abaya shows what they retrieved from the gravesites. Photo from Desiree Carlos’s “Victims kin’ seeks dialog with Ramos” in Malaya, Vol. IV, No. 265, October 8, 1985. Retrieved from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

The families of the victims continue reaching out to the authorities to assist them in recovering the bodies, gathering signatures for petitions, and writing open letters addressed to Ramos, Dumpit, Enrile and Marcos. On October 2, Jun Valerio and his colleague Gabby Espiritu met with Lt. Col. Castillo for an update on their investigation, and to their dismay, they were informed that the Special Action Committee had nothing new to report. They found it difficult to summon Sgt. Dayag, Sgt. Panganiban and the other suspects, since they were operating in the mountains; and they could not reach Sitio Beyeng because they had no helicopter available.[57]

On October 7, the families conducted a press conference at the National Press Club which was attended by several media personnel. The fact-finding mission team released its report on the incident and confirmed that they only managed to retrieve pieces of flesh and some belongings of Valerio.[58]

Dissatisfied with how the investigation had been going, the families then sought a personal audience with Fidel Ramos, which the latter granted on October 12. Ramos expressed his willingness to provide assistance to the families. As part of this, he formed a second Special Action Committee, led by Col. Federico de la Cruz and Lt. Col. Albano, and invited representatives from the family to join the investigation. This second committee, accompanied by Jun Valerio and Gabby Espiritu, went to Bakun on October 17 and focused on interviewing witnesses, including Satur Daplian, one of the three men who carried the heads. After concluding the investigation, de la Cruz and Albano expressed their concurrence that a beheading likely took place, and the perpetrators were likely the raiding PC officers.[59]

Valerio and Espiritu relayed to the victims’ families what the two had confided in them, optimistic that the committee report could help them seek accountability against Dayag and Panganiban, the two allegedly responsible for the beheading of the victims and parading of their heads. After a week, Valerio reached out to Ramos to obtain a copy of the military’s fact-finding report.[60] According to Ding Fernandez, however, the families were never able to get a copy of this report, nor was a formal charge against the suspects ever filed. They continued petitioning and writing to concerned authorities, but no longer got a response.[61]

Feeling increasingly helpless and hopeless, the relatives of the victims channeled their grief into writing. In December, they got together once again to discuss writing a book to pay tribute to the three freedom fighters, detailing their lives and their commitment to the struggle, which ended on that fateful day in August. Timbreza herself coped with the loss of her husband by writing a book addressed to their sons, which she hoped would help explain to them when they grow older why their father left them so early.[62]

The families continued writing open letters and petitions addressed to government officials, and ramped up their efforts following the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos on February 25, 1986, hopeful that the new administration of Cory Aquino would be more accommodating, but they were met with similar radio silence.[63] Relatives patiently focused on finishing the book, which would eventually be released in January of 1987 as “Bakun: Three Martyrs for the People.” Timbreza was able to release her in 1992 as “The Story I Will Tell My Children.” That same year, on November 30, as part of its inaugural honoring of heroes and martyrs, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation commemorated the Bakun Martyrs and had the names of Fr. Nilo Valerio, along with his other fallen comrades Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador, inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance in Quezon City.[64]

Nilo Valerio’s name inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City. Photo cropped and taken by Reginald C. Coloma on June 10, 2021.

After their efforts on the book, the relatives and friends of the victims mustered the strength to continue working on the case of the Bakun Martyrs, and on September 15, 2002 founded the Nilo Valerio Foundation (NVF), an organization dedicated to continue seeking justice and accountability for the deaths and disappearances of three freedom fighters, and to devoting their effort to campaign against human rights violations, a festering culture of impunity, and increasing cases of involuntary disappearances throughout the country.[65] Timbreza, who was a board member of the NVF, also served other organizations aimed towards the same. She became Secretary General of the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) from 1995 to 2001, of the Peace Advocates for Truth, Justice and Healing (PATH) from 2002 to 2005, and was council member of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearance (AFAD) for a time.[66]

In November 2003, Timbreza visited Sitio Beyeng with her two sons, and the elders cried upon seeing the children of Nilo Valerio all grown up. They told the family that the community itself has also not recovered from the incident because the remains of the victims have not been returned to their families. The Kankanaeys have sought to recover the bodies of the Bakun martyrs, for it will be the only way to heal their bodies, set their spirits free, and finally liberate the community from the lingering pain and trauma from which it has been long suffering.[67]

Pursuant to Republic Act No. 10368, Timbreza was able to have Nilo Valerio recognized as a victim of enforced disappearance and receive partial compensation through the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) in 2017. However, the wounds have not yet fully healed, for until today, the bodies of Valerio, Fernandez and Salvador have yet to be recovered and accorded a proper burial long overdue.[68]

Nilo Valerio was a soft-spoken and meticulous young man with a passion for service to God and to people. He pursued this passion through priesthood, but, having exhausted legal and peaceful means of effecting change for the people he vowed to help to no avail, he chose to join the struggle in the frontlines. Nilo Valerio was killed on August 24, 1985, but his ideals survived beyond his death. He taught the people to fight for their life, and the people continued the battle in his memory. In a eulogy for the priest, Fr. Edicio de la Torre, who had once been his teacher, remarked that Valerio’s death was not in vain, as he gave his life for the ultimate pursuit of serving the people. “Those who held onto their life will lose it; those who risked their life in the service of the people will find it,” said de la Torre.. He ends with the message: Nilo, hindi ka malilimot. Kasama ka hanggang sa dulo ng landas. Hanggang sa tagumpay.[69]

[1] Dahlia Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children (Northern Luzon: Polaris Publishers, Inc.: 1992), 38-39. “Dahlia Castillejos” is a pseudonym used by Erlinda “Daisy” Timbreza-Valerio, the wife of Nilo Valerio. It is a combination of “Dahlia,” the name given to her by Valerio while they were part of the underground movement, and “Castillejos” from Candida Castillejos, her mother-in-law (and Valerio’s mother)’s maiden name. Albert and Gerson are fondly called Chris and Jeng by their parents.

[2] Ed Maranan, ed., Bakun: Three Martyrs for the People (Metro Manila: Bakun Martyrs Committee, 1987), 12-14, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. The Bakun Martyrs Committee is composed of families and friends of the three victims.

[3] Ibid., 14; Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 6; Pennie S. Azarcon, “In Memory of Fr. Nilo,” Midweek, November 6, 1985, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[4] Maranan, ed., Bakun, 14-16.

[5] Ibid., 16-17.

[6] Ibid., 17-18.

[7] Daisy Timbreza, “Nilo Valerio,” Martial Law Files WordPress, November 25, 2012, accessed August 16, 2021, https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/nilo-valerio.

[8] Maranan, ed., Bakun, 18-19. A regency is a period under which seminarians must go engage in apostolic work before they are ordained.

[9] Ibid., 20-21; Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 11.

[10] Maranan, Bakun, 16, 22-24.

[11] Richie Benavides, “How Cellophil made a Rebel Priest,” WE Forum, September 24-30, 1985.

[12] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 11.

[13] Ibid., 12. Timbreza left the convent because she felt the social action work they were doing was not enough to actuate changes for the communities they were helping.

[14] Maranan, Bakun, 26-27. The people of Cordillera were also dealing with the similarly destructive Chico River Basin Development Project (CRBDP), which threatened to submerge Kalinga lands underwater and displace hundreds of families to pave the way for its construction.

[15] Daisy Timbreza, “Nilo Valerio.”

[16] “Valerio, Nilo,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, July 8, 2016, accessed August 16, 2021, https://www.bantayog.org/valerio-nilo-c.

[17] Maranan, Bakun, 30-31.

[18] Ibid., 28-29, 31.

[19] Ibid., 31-33.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 15. This was attested to by Wilfredo Sibayan and Grace Viray, whose affidavits were submitted by Timbreza to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) for her husband’s claim, though they place the year of the marriage as 1981.

[22] Timbreza’s name was originally “Daria,” but there were women they were working with who could not enunciate the “r,” so it was changed to “Dahlia.”

[23] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 17.

[24] Ibid., 20.

[25] Maranan, Bakun, 6.

[26] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 19.

[27] Daisy Timbreza, “Nilo Valerio.”

[28] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 26-27, 29-31.

[29] Ibid., 31-33.

[30] Erlinda Timbreza-Valerio, “Pregnant Mom on the Run,” in Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law by Ferdinand Llanes, ed. (Mandaluyong: Anvil Publishing, Inc., 2012), 165-166.

[31] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 31-33; Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, “Nilo and Daisy Valerio: Love in a time of war,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 20, 1998, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Gerson, or Gerry, was so named by Valerio and Timbreza after the places they worked in: guerrilla zones.

[32] They would shortly be reassigned to different lines of work.

[33] Maranan, Bakun, 35-36.

[34] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 35-36.

[35] Ibid., 4, 37.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid, 39. Maranan, Bakun, 35

[38] Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, 40. The story was published in other dailies the following days. Timbreza recalled national dailies carrying this same report on September 7, 1985. Later reports confirmed the encounter but categorically denied the alleged beheading.

[39] Maranan, Bakun, 99.

[40] “Bakun NPAs beheaded,” Ichthys, Vol. VIII, No. 35 (October 11, 1985), 1-2, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[41] Nonoy Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?” (Mr. & Mrs., October 4-10, 1985), 11; Jo-ann Baena Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies,” Veritas, October 13, 1985. Cristeta Fernandez was actually Resteta Fernandez, and Ka Gina was later on identified as Soledad Salvador during the investigation.

[42] Erlinda Timbreza-Valerio, “Building on Nilo’s Legacy,” Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, October 2006, accessed August 16, 2021, https://afad-online.org/voice/oct_06/buildingonnilo.htm; Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?,” 11. The CCC is identified otherwise as the Cordillera Consultation and Research (CCR) by Maranan. Salvador’s family, due to financial reasons, did not participate in the fact-finding mission and simply waited for the results.

[43] “Bakun NPAs beheaded,” 1-2.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.; Maranan, Bakun, 6.

[46] Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?,” 12. Other sources, like Maranan’s book, state that Valerio’s group was still able to fire off some shots, but some cite witnesses saying that they were panicked and could not fight.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid., 13.

[49] “Bakun NPAs beheaded,” 1; Jo-ann Baena Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies,” Veritas, October 13, 1985, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[50] Desiree Carlos, “Victims’ kin seek dialog with Ramos,” Malaya, Vol. IV, No 265, October 8, 1985; Jose A. Fernandez,“Affidavit,” (Case No. 2014-14-08100, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. The skull fragment is believed to be Valerio’s.

[51] Ibid; Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies.”

[52] Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?,” 12.

[53] Ibid., 11.

[54] Maranan, Bakun, 102.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Simeon Valerio, “Homily,” Ichthys, Vol. VIII, No. 35 (October 11, 1985), 3-4, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[57] Maranan, Bakun, 103; Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?,” 13.

[58] Carlos, “Victims’ kin seek dialog with Ramos.”

[59] Maranan, Bakun, 104-105. The military men present during the meeting floated the idea about the NPA retrieving the body and concocting the idea that the victims were beheaded to malign the military.

[60] Ibid., 106.

[61] Fernandez,“Affidavit.”

[62] Maranan, Bakun, 106; Castillejos, The Story I Will Tell My Children, viii.

[63] Maranan, Bakun, 107-108.

[64] Nievelena V. Rosete, “Certification,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, n.d., accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. This tradition became annual for Bantayog.

[65] Daisy Timbreza-Valerio, “The Nilo Valerio Foundation’s Coming to Being,” Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, April 2003, accessed August 16, 2021, https://www.afad-online.org/voice/april_03/nf_the_nilo.htm.

[66] Erlinda Timbreza-Valerio, “Building on Nilo’s Legacy,” Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances, October 2006, accessed August 16, 2021, https://afad-online.org/voice/oct_06/buildingonnilo.htm. FIND focuses on state-perpetrated cases of involuntary disappearances while PATH focused on non-state perpetrated cases during the so-called purges within the CPP-NPA-NDF in the 1980s.

[67] Ibid.; Jun Lopez, “Priest’s remains sought by tribal groups,” Malaya, August 27, 1986.

[68] “Resolution,” (Case No. 2014-14-02473, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[69] Ed de la Torre, “Consummatum Est,” Ichthys, Vol. VIII, No. 35 (October 11, 1985), 1-2, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

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