CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/19 Sept) – When Hugo “Ka Jerry” Orcullo shared lunch with close friend Eliseo “Ely” Patlunag in his house in downtown Cagayan de Oro on October 14, 1983, little did he know day his life was about to take a painful detour that day.
Patlunag was a district population commission officer and the district chair of Makabayang Alyansa. Orcullo was the spokesperson. Both were known human rights advocates which in 1983 did not sit well with the entire country still under martial law. Makabayang Alyansa was the forerunner of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance).
After lunch, they both went to the Makabayang Alyansa’s office.
A few minutes past 4 p.m., they left the office and went their separate ways: Patlunag to his office, Population Commission, Orcullo to Divisoria.
That was the last time Orcullo saw Patlunag alive. At around 6:30 pm, that same day, Patlunag was gunned down by unidentified assailants inside his home in Dulong, Libertad, Misamis Oriental.
The following day, the Daily Tribune carried a news story of Patlunag’s murder saying he was killed by the urban partisan squad of the New People’s Army (NPA) – the Sparrow Unit.
Patlunag was to be one of the political dissidents listed to be seized and assassinated by state forces under “Operation Mad Dog.”
That same day, Orcullo was arrested and tortured for the second time.
The year 1970 was a particularly turbulent page in Philippine history.
Before that, the country’s economy has had repeated boom-and-bust cycles since the United States granted the country’s independence in 1946. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Philippine economy ranked as the second most progressive in Asia, next only to Japan.
However, when Ferdinand E. Marcos became the 11th President after 1965, the country experienced economic problems and social unrest brought about by corruption, cronyism — the practice of appointing friends to juicy posts regardless of their actual qualifications — and oligarchy — a debased form of aristocracy.
It was because of these that Filipinos, especially the youth, started to protest the ruling elite.
The leftists were riding high and launched a series of demonstrations, protest, and marches against the government from January to March in the first quarter of 1970. It has since been known as the “First Quarter Storm.”
During his privilege speech on September 13, 1972, Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. exposed “Operation Sagittarius.” Aquino claimed that he got wind of a top secret military plan purportedly authored by President Marcos to place Metro Manila and adjacent areas under the control of the Philippine Constabulary as an overture to martial law.
In the plan, Marcos was going to use a series of violent incidents, including the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and the August 21, 1971 Plaza Miranda Bombing in Metro Manila, to justify a takeover and subsequent authoritarian rule. In the September 14 entry of his own diary, Marcos wrote that he informed the military that he would proceed with declaring martial law.
Marcos then issued Proclamation No. 1081 on September 21, that year, placing the entire country under martial law. It was supposed to lead to the foundation of his “New Society.”
Francisco Tatad, who served as the information officer of Marcos, insists that martial law was necessary because of the alarming “communist threat.” It was also the height of the “cold war” between Russia and United States. He believed in the “domino theory” where communists were supposed to take over Southeast Asia.
The domino theory was a popular theory from the 1950s to the 1980s, which posited that when one country in a certain region came under the influence of communism then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect.
Having suspended the Writ of Habeas Corpus, Marcos gave the country’s military apparatus—mainly the Philippine Constabulary—invincible powers.
As a college freshman at the University of the Visayas, the then 18-year old Orcullo was already active in the protest movement against the Marcos dictatorship.
It was during one of their protest rallies in 1972 when Orcullo along with 200 other student activists from Iloilo, Negros Province, Bohol, Samar, Leyte, and Cebu were arrested and detained at the Headquarters of the 3rd Philippine Constabulary Zone in Jones Avenue, Cebu City.
It was to be his first experience of being a political detainee.
“Security was tight and we were treated like army trainees. We had curfew hours…no books or any publication were allowed inside,” Orcullo recalled in his affidavit for reparation.
Orcullo was detained for one year and three months and because of his record as an ex-political detainee, had become a high profile political dissident in the entire Visayas region.
He went straight back to his hometown in Padada, Davao del Sur after his release. Orcullo finished his studies, found work and got married to a public school teacher.
However, in 1982, the place of Orcullo’s fledgling family in DDF Village, Mandug, Davao City was suddenly militarized.
“A list of names of suspected sympathizers of the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) was floated with my name and my brother Alex in it,” Orcullo recalled.
He decided to leave Davao City and his work as a social worker for a non-government organization, Mindanao Research and Communications Foundation and migrated to Cagayan de Oro City. Seven months later, his wife and only daughter followed him.
Not long after, Orcullo found a job at the Provincial Capitol at the office of then Gov. Homobono Adaza as his spokesman and political officer of Adaza’s political party, the Mindanao Alliance. Orcullo rented a modest apartment downtown.
Made to sit on ice naked
“On October 14, 1983, while walking along the busy street of Velez…at 5:30 pm, elements from the 421st PC Company led by then Capt. Filipino Amoguis and Lt Jose Ramos, in front of stunned people, physically and forcibly threw me into their vehicle,” Orcullo’s affidavit for reparation reads in part.
Orcullo was brought to a safe house where his captors started torturing him.
Stripped of his clothes, Orcullo was made to sit on a block of ice.
“They even covered my head with a plastic bag. There were even times when they used my ears and face as an ashtray,” recalled Orcullo.
He said his interrogators would fire their guns close to his ears and force him to drink his own urine. Through all these, his interrogators kept on asking about a certain Romulo Kintanar.
Orcullo was detained in Camp Vicente Alagar in Barangay Lapasan for two years before he was transferred to Misamis Oriental Provincial Jail upon the intervention of Gov. Adaza.
A press release by the Mindanao Alliance, dated October 21, 1983, noted that had it not been for the eyewitnesses who immediately informed Orcullo’s friends and relatives that he had been forcibly taken by the Constabulary, “Orcullo would still be missing today, or worse, may have already been salvaged by his captors.”
On October 17, local radio dxOR aired a news story that the “secretary general of Northern Mindanao NPA guerrilla unit was arrested in the city.” The day after, the front page of Bulletin Today carried a report about the “arrest of the top communist guerrilla leader in Southern Mindanao.”
The Ministry of National Defense described Orcullo in an order of battle as the secretary of the front guerrilla unit no. 7 of the NPA which operates in Davao provinces, including parts of Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Sur, and North Cotabato. He had a P70,000 bounty on his head, dead or alive.
Born on February 1, 1954, Hugo “Ka Jerry” Lavisores Orcullo Jr. Originally hails from Padada town in Davao del Sur.
Ka Jerry, now 61 years old, is the incumbent president of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club. He has served as club president seven times. He is also the regional chair of the Samahan ng mga Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda-NMR) for three years now.
He was an undefeated barangay chair of Taguibo in Butuan City from 1989 to 1994 where he earned the moniker “Bocap Ocong.”
During his underground days, Ka Jerry used different names in different places: Doroy, Bronson, Ambo, Ponce, Daday. But he is known in Cagayan de Oro as Jerry Orcullo and Dondon in his hometown.
His elder brother, Alex—a journalist—was killed by state forces on October 19, 1984 in front of his wife and two-year old son, Merdeka. The assassins chose to kill his brother on his 38th birthday in Tigatto, Davao City.
Like him, Alex was suspected as a member of the National Democratic Front-Davao. His brother’s death sparked the biggest protest action in the history of Davao City that drew the largest and longest funeral march of about 30,000 mourners.
Ka Jerry has since survived the First Quarter Storm (FQS), cancer of the larynx, and an assassination attempt in 1982 in Davao City where he managed to escape. A slug embedded between the upper and lower lobes of his right lung is a morbid reminder of martial law. (Cong B. Corrales /MindaNews contributor)