Remembering The Sag-od/ Las Navas Massacre

September 15, 2020 marks the 39th Anniversary of the Sag-od Massacre, also known as the Las Navas Massacre, in Northern Samar. In commemoration of this event, the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission is republishing online a news article of the killings released by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).

The article was originally published by the Political Detainees’ Update Monitor, a fortnightly publication of the TFDP.[1] Its reportage found that members of the Special Forces-Integrated Civilian Home Defense Forces (SF-ICHDF) indiscriminately killed 45 men, women, and children. One of the 13 survivors of the event recounted that “blood and bits of human flesh was all over.”

As the article was written shortly after the event, it does not fully shed light on the massacre’s perpetrators. Later investigations confirmed that 70 SF-ICHDF men were brought in by the San Jose Timber Corporation based in Northern Samar to counter the presence of the New People’s Army (NPA).[2] San Jose Timber at the time was owned by Juan Ponce Enrile, according to his autobiography and other sources.[3] Whether he had any involvement in the incident, however, remains to be fully determined.[4]

With the establishment of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, 35 of the 45 killed were officially recognized as Human Rights Violations Victims of the Marcos Administration. While reparations have been granted to them under Republic Act No. 10368, the individuals who perpetrated this incident have yet to be brought to justice.

Today, as we combat historical revisionism by those actively erasing its memory, #WeRemember.

The article as it originally appeared on the Political Detainees Update Monitor on 30 Sept. 1981

“SF-ICHDF raids barrio: 45 Samar peasants killed!”

 It was a quiet early morning of Sept. 15, in Bo. Sag-od, Las Navas, Northern Samar. Most of the peasant-residents of the barrio were still asleep when they were awakened by the shouts of a Special Forces-ICHDF team ordering them to assemble for a meeting. SF-ICHDF armed men knocked at the closed houses with their Armalite rifles. The barrio captain was told to gather the people, young and old. The peasants saw 18 SF-ICHDF headed by a Commander Brown. The assembled barrio residents were ordered to form two lines. One for the women and children, and another for the men. The women and their children were led away by two SF-ICHDF to a river. The barrio men remained with the other SF-ICHDF force.

When the women were already some distance from the barrio, they suddenly heard automatic gunfire coming out from the barrio. These, it turned out, were the shots that killed the barrio men. The women were then told to stop and wait.

The Massacre of Sag-od’s Women

Massacre survivor Reynalda Durian, as featured in the article, ‘Samar atrocities exposed’ on the issue of the Political Detainees Update Monitor on 30 Nov. 1981 Vol. V. No. 22 (5)

Fourteen SF-ICHDF, including 2 guides from the camp of San Jose Timber Corp., arrived from the barrio and joined the waiting group. The march continued led by the two guides until they reached a narrow trail. Here, four of the women captives were able to escape.

Upon reaching a forested area, the women were ordered to stop the march and to squat on the ground. The SF-ICHDF divided them into two groups. One group was led to an elevated area, the other near a brook. The women were ordered to face each other and were questioned about the whereabouts of a “Kumander Racel,” supposedly an NPA commander. Not knowing what their captors were talking about, the women answered in the negative. They were then ordered to separate from their children. Some of the children refused and started to cry while the others were literally dragged away.

Immediately thereafter, the SF-ICHDF force began firing at the women. A 41-year old woman named Rita pretended she was hit. She fell flat on the ground near her mother who was already wounded. When the second round of shots were fired, Rita’s mother was again hit, this time, on the head.

Blood and bits of human flesh splattered on Rita while bullets grazed her back. A bullet hit her on the right arm breaking two of her fingers. She remained lying on the ground until the SF-ICHDF stopped firing and started to leave. She waited. When everything was quiet, Rita saw her two children running towards her crying.

Inspite of her wounds, Rita managed to drag herself and her two children away to a safer place. After a while, they went back to the barrio. Rita entered their barrio and saw their menfolk, all dead, piled on top of each other. Blood and bits of human flesh was all over. It was deathly still.

In the barrio, Rita met thirteen other children who managed to survive the massacre.

The Children in the Massacre

A screengrab of Marela Yanay, the then eight-year old survivor of the Massacre, giving her testimony for the documentary, “To Sing Our Own Song.” This photo was taken from Alan C. Robles’ tweet (https://twitter.com/hotmanila/status/1042966401936314368/photo/1) and was also featured in the book, “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.” (143)

Most of the children in the Sag-od Massacre died with their mothers. Many were killed simply because they could not stifle their cries of fear and terror when the SF-ICHDF were marching them off from the massacre. A number of the children slaughtered were infants and toddlers. One of them, an 11-month child, was found dead near the river. Another, a four-month-old baby died still sucking at her mother’s breast.

There were a few others who survived the massacre. A nine-year-old child was grazed by a bullet on the head. He immediately fell flat on the ground, played dead, while the strafing was going on. With two other children, aged 11 and 8, the child survivors went back to the barrio. A 13-year-old child who managed to escape earlier, was able to reach the town of Las Navas and informed the people about the mass slaughter of the residents of Bo. Sag-od.

The Survivors

The only residents of the barrio who survived were those who stayed in their farms and those who were not informed of the “meeting” called by the SF-ICHDF. They, along with the massacre survivors themselves, indeed, were the only lucky ones!

The people of Bo. Sag-od long to go back to their homes and livelihood but they fear for their lives. The barrio has been declared a “no-man’s land.” Last Sept. 26, a farmer attempted to return but was shot at. Fortunately, he was not hit.

Bo. Sag-od is now only populated by domestic animals. The surviving residents could not go back to their homes since elements of the SF-ICHDF are still guarding the place. In their absence, the armed men have turned the barrio upside down, looting whatever valuables they could find, and even killing the remaining domestic animals.

It is the desire of the Bo. Sag-od’s survivors that justice be given to the massacre victims and that due punishments be rendered to the SF-ICHDF killers. They are appealing to the other citizens of the so-called New Republic to get hold of the true facts about the Sag-od killings. (An earlier killing of peasants near the town of Las Navas was reported by the national newspapers as the handowork of the NPAs.) They are demanding that the militarization of Samar and other parts of the country be stopped. They are calling on all concerned citizens to support them in their struggle for justice and peace.

(Note: This report was prepared by a team of the People’s Committee for Justice and Peace. The group interviewed the survivors, including relatives and friends of the victims. Other information were given by residents of the neighboring barrios where the survivors sought safety.

The Special Forces-ICHDF group (called “bungoton,” meaning bearded, by the residents) are reportedly under the payroll of a security agency assigned to guard the San Jose Timber Corp’s logging concession in the area. Most of its members are known to be criminal elements with pending cases in the military. The others are prisoner-recruits from the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa, Rizal.)

[The article was originally published by Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) thru the Political Detainees Update Monitor, Vol. V, No. 18, 30 Sept. 1981]

[1] Political Detainees’ Update Monitor. Vol. V No. 18, Sept. 30, 1981.

[2] Robles, Raisa, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (2016),Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines Inc. 144.

[3] Enrile, J.P., Juan Ponce Enrile: A Memoir (2012), Quezon City: ABS-CBN Publishing Corporation. 666.
Manapat, Ricardo, Some are Smarter than Others (1991), New York: Aletheia Publications. 169.

[4] Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never again, 144.