EDSA began in the provinces – former Bukidnon governor

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 February) – People Power” did not just happen in that “get-together” in Manila, as the people in the provinces have long struggled against the abuses of Martial Law, former Bukidnon governor Ernesto “Boy” Tabios said.

For the businessman and accounting instructor turned activist during those dark years, people in Bukidnon had their own share of suffering under the Marcos dictatorship.

“Marcos was tagged as the root cause of the growth of the communist movement around the country,” Tabios added.

Human rights violations like illegal arrests and harassment were rampant, Tabios said, adding the list of victims included personalities like Fr. Vincent Cullen, who was involved in the church’s apostolate for the Lumads, and Glicerio Tan who was working with the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).

But he noted that most of the victims, mostly poor people, came from the Left and persons suspected of supporting them.

Tabios, who led the provincial chapter of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, recalled the role played by the late Bishop Francisco Claver, a Jesuit who served as bishop of Malaybalay from 1969 to 1984.

Claver used the Bandilyo newsletter and radio station DXBB in criticizing the dictatorship and its ilk in Bukidnon. Then defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile eventually ordered the two media outlets closed in 1976.

Claver went on criticizing Marcos through pastoral letters which were read during masses.

The church served as a refuge of the people during martial law, Tabios said.

In an interview in July 2010 after Claver’s death, Fr. Jojo Sumastre, a former aide, said that military abuses were the prevalent issue in Bukidnon during martial law.

Now parish priest of Lady of All Nations Parish in Gango, Libona town, Sumastre recalled that political prisoners and the poor sought and found refuge in Claver.

“He used the pulpit, the print media, and the radio to condemn the violations and admonish the abusers,” he added.

Claver also used the Basic Ecclesial Communities or BECs in educating the people about their conditions and what they can do about it, Tabios said.

He said the military became more repressive when the people started to resist the dictatorship.

Tabios cited the construction of the Pulangi IV hydroelectric power plant and dam in the early 1980s.

“It (Pulangui project) stood for the government. It stood for getting lands from the people without paying for it,” he said.

Officials of the National Power Corporation (Napocor), he said, were actually telling the rich to buy lands in areas expected to be affected by the dam project and sell it at a higher price to the government.

Some moneyed personalities bought lands at P4, 000 per hectare and sold it at least P20,000 per hectare, he said.

Tabios said those who held no titles were forced to sell their lands at a low price rather than risk receiving nothing.

Church workers fought for just compensation for the people displaced by the project and the people ran to their priests, but the absence of lawyers made things hard for them, he said.

In the early 1980s, Good Shepherd nuns opened a Task Force Detainees office in the province to attend primarily to political prisoners. The church allowed TFD to hold office inside the Bukidnon Catechetical Center, although Claver was known to be aloof toward groups that were perceived to be Left-leaning.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), Tabios said, also recruited to its fold local lawyers like Rube Gamolo, brothers Alfredo and Eusebio Aquino, and lawyer turned Regional Trial Court presiding Judge William Duhaylungsod.

Tabios, whose apartment in Impalambong became a venue for human rights trainings, said he was not spared from harassment.

He said that one Sunday after the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., he was picked up by military men in his house and he was taken on a helicopter ride to Cagayan de Oro City for the last flight to Manila.

He said he was supposedly summoned to a committee on national defense hearing at the Batasan but that he was brought instead to the house of a committee member. He believed the move was meant to silence him.

But Claver did not take it lightly, Tabios said. The bishop made noise and soon his search for Tabios was already in the national papers. He was released right away.

Tabios said that eventually more people got involved in the opposition against Marcos especially with the espousal of nonviolence as a way of fighting the dictatorship. He said the film “Gandhi” was shown in public areas to promote nonviolence.

Tabios, who was governor from 1988 to 1992, lamented however that the EDSA revolt had failed to deliver on its promise.

“Honestly, I believe God has done his share in getting us back to democracy in 1986. But we as a people should have done our share,” he said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)