Legal bytes: Untold story of killing of teachers and Manobos during Martial law referendum

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | March 22,2022 - 09:06 AM

They deserve to die. They are activists and the noisy ones. Philippines is peaceful without them.

Comments one can read after stories of human rights violations under Martial Law of the Marcos dictatorship are posted in social media.

Oscar Labastilla narrated a true story that happened in Barangay Tagapua, San Franciso, Agusan del Sur in January 1973.

Labastilla shared his story in a virtual session called an Evening of Truth where survivors tell their stories. His daughter, Skeeter, then wrote his story on what living in fear and violence feels like.

In 1973, a Manobo tribe lived in a small barangay called Tagapua, San Francisco, Agusan del Sur.

Around 300 tribesmen, women and children tended a farm, raised animals, did their weaving, and lived a peaceful life.

When the Philippine Constabulary (PC) grew their power, they would harass the tribe by taking their harvest and animals.

The Manobos were helpless and furious for 12 months of constant abuse and harassment before the Martial Law Referendum on January 10 to 15,1973.

Filipinos were  given a “choice” to vote if they wanted the Martial Law to continue or not. One classroom was assigned for the Manobos of Tagapua where they all voted NO. 100 percent.

However, all the assigned teachers to oversee a referendum voting  were instructed by Presidential Assistant on Community Development (PACD) that regardless of the results, they must report at least 90 percent YES, and 10 percent NO.

The helpless teachers assigned in voting precincts, including that in Tagapua, followed the instructions, and reported 90% YES on the Martial Law Referendum.

In anger, the Manobos almost beheaded a teacher right there and then. His head was not fully cut off as it was cut at least halfway by a bolo.

The senior member of the tribe was named Aporto, a known cult member from Leyte who was believed to have possessed a power that no bullet can go through him.

Someone reported the incident to the town priest, Dutch Fr. Engelbert, who then ran to the school supervisor, Mr. Porfonio Lapa, pleading for him to come along.

The school supervisor was the  father of Baltic Lapa, Labastilla’s former roommate in an apartment while they were both working at the Provincial Assessor’s Office.

Mr. Lapa went to confide with his son Engineer Baltic Lapa at the Romana Pol Building which was the temporary Capitol of Agusan del Sur at that time.

Labastilla was with Baltic when Mr. Lapa arrived. It was around 5:00 p.m.

Mr. Lapa told his son Baltic that there was an emergency in Tagapua where the teacher was killed by the Manobos.

He was hesitant in going as he had high fever that time. Baltic gave the blue jacket he was wearing to his father along with some medicine.

Off they went to Tagapua, Mr Lapa, Dutch priest Fr. Engelbert  and a policeman.

They never came back.

It was past midnight when Baltic and Labastilla was visited by the police, who asked them to immediately go to the morgue.

Mr. Lapa’s head was hanging on the table, barely connected to his neck. He was still wearing the blue jacket Baltic gave him.

He too, took the brunt and the rage of the Manobos for the abuse and atrocities they suffered for generations.

The following week was a bloodbath.

The PC stormed Barangay Tagapua and murdered at least eight (8) members of the tribe who were helplessly fighting with their bolo against guns and automatic rifle of the PC.

This incident was not reported then for fear of their lives.

Sketeer then asked: who was to be blamed?

“Who created the monster out of the Manobos but the Philippine Constabulary?  Who created the monster out of the PC but the unquestioned power of Martial Law? ” she asked.

Many argue that the era of Marcos’s reign as a “golden age” offhandedly saying that martial law was beneficial to the country as Filipinos at that time were the most disciplined they have ever seen.

However, many Filipinos  fail to see and understand what really went on behind the “discipline” that the Marcos administration forced upon every individual curfews, veiled threats, detainment, torture, disappearances and even death.

Life under the dictatorship was deadly, especially for those who stood against Marcos.

“Our martial law experience bore strange unwanted fruits xxx the colossal damage wrought under the oppressive conditions of the period. The cries of justice for the tortured, the murdered, and the desaparecidos arouse outrage and sympathy in the hearts of the fair-minded, yet the dispensation of the appropriate relief due them cannot be extended through the same caprice or whim that characterized the ill-wind of martial rule.” the Supreme  Court said in the case of Mijares vs Ranada (G.R. No. 139325 April 12, 2005). 

(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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TAGS: Agusan del Sur, Cebu‬, Cebu Daily News, cebu news, Manobos, Martial law referendum, pc, philippine constabulary, San Francisco, Tagapua, Teachers

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