Would Her Children Understand?: The Death of Angelina Sayat
Published on March 17, 2022
This is an article about a Human Rights Violation Victim of the Martial Law era. To view the rest of the Roll of Victims see this link: Roll of Victims
This article can also be read in Filipino. Click this link to the Filipino version.
An artist’s illustration/s of Angelina Sayat when she was alive. Illustrated by Ray-an C. Coloma on March 11, 2022.
Talk of the atrocities of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law regime deals heavily with statistics. How many people were killed or tortured, how many were displaced from their homes, how many were forced into exile? While identifying accurate numbers for each is an important task, it is equally important to understand that each number embodies a life that was deeply affected, if not shaken to the core. Lost in the statistics are the vivid stories of its victims, many of whom are unheard of as well. Few know of their deaths, and even fewer know of their lives.
Angelina Sayat has one of those stories. In October 2014, her daughter Rina Cepillo filed a claim on her behalf to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), seeking recognition and reparations. Supporting her claim were testimonies of individuals who took part in the painful process of finding Angelina’s body to seek justice for her death.
According to Rina’s father, Marcianito Sayat, in 1983, his wife Angelina was appointed in Norzagaray, Bulacan to a unit of a Barrio Organizing team to visit, care for, and organize the barrios. During one of their visits to a house in Norzagaray, members of the Philippine Air Force conducted a raid and opened fire. Angelina, who was badly hit on the waist, insisted that her colleagues leave her behind so they could escape. Attempts to hide Angelina created a blood trail that only gave away her location. Seeing as she could no longer carry on in her state, they decided to heed her advice to leave her.
Witness reports say that when the military found Angelina, they forcibly interrogated her, shooting her again, this time in the shoulder, and striking her with the butts of their rifles when she refused to give them answers. They brought her to Villamor Air Base Hospital in Manila so they could keep trying to extract information from her, but Angelina passed away in the middle of the questioning. Not once during the interrogations did she admit that she was a fighter for the New People’s Army (NPA). She even gave them a false name.
An artist’s illustration of Angelina Sayat during her physical torment and interrogation in Norzagaray in 1983.
Illustrated by Ray-an C. Coloma on March 9, 2022.
A photo of Angelina Sayat in her casket. Photo from Filipino Women in Struggle (Task Force Detainees Metro Manila, 1984), p. 27.
A couple of weeks later, Angelina’s sister, Engracia Roque, and sister-in-law, Ruby Zara, learned of the encounter. With a certain Sister Angie from the Task Force Detainees Metro Manila (TFD-MM), they went to Villamor Air Base to search for her body, but to no avail.
The hospital staff simply told them that “Ka Lina” was no longer there. After about a month of searching camp hospitals and funeral parlors nearby, they finally found her body at a funeral home, already decomposing and embalmed. They requested the funeral home to give them her body, cleaned it, and bought a cheap coffin for her burial. Engracia, Ruby, and Sister Angie, along with a missionary friend, were the only ones who attended Angelina’s lonely burial in Bagbag Cemetery in Novaliches, fearing the tense situation at the time. Marcianito and his two children, who were not there, might still have been under surveillance by the military. 
Seeking justice and remembering her story
Angelina’s husband and children went to great lengths to seek justice. Marcianito pushed to have Angelina included as a plaintiff in the Human Rights Litigation against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos” (MDL No. 840, CA No. 88-0390). She was, however, included in the delisting group who were considered victims but did not receive reparations. Rina submitted this claim to the HRVCB hoping to give her mother her overdue recognition.
Much is not known about Angelina Sayat. The bulk of what is documented about her is that she was shot in an unarmed encounter with the military while she was simply seeking to help other people in the barrios of Norzagaray, and that she died in the hospital after being forcibly questioned by her captors. Not much is known about the life she led prior to her death. It cannot be said with full clarity why “Ka Lina” joined the NPA, leaving her two young children behind to join the revolution against the Marcos regime. Clues can only be picked up from the sociopolitical context of her life.
The TFD-MM, which wrote a profile on Angelina back in 1984, posed the question “what kind of a system pushes peasant mothers to leave their children and take to the hills?” Referring to Angelina’s children, they also asked “would they understand that their mama had fought and died for little children just like them? Would they understand that their mama sought to make a better world for them to grow up in? When the little children have understood, who can stop them from being proud of a mother who stood steadfast in her beliefs till death?”
Rina may have already answered these questions. She writes that whether or not her mother is recognized, their family knows that she sacrificed and gave up her life to fight the oppressive Martial Law regime.
Many Martial Law victims become simply part of the numbers as our collective memory of the period fades to time and revisionism. However, we must remember that stories, like that of Angelina, exist. Many victims were Filipinos who suffered, who were pushed to the brink and were compelled to take up arms, and who ultimately died for their ideals. Though few of us know of their lives, they lived these lives nonetheless and played a part in the Filipinos’ struggles. Angelina’s memories live on through her family. May their memories live on through us as well.
A photo of Engracia Porto (left) and Ruby Sayat (right) during the burial of Angelina Sayat in Bagbag Cemetery in Novaliches in 1983. Photo submitted by Rina Cepillo as part of her claim on behalf of her mother. Taken from the archives of the Human Rights Violations’ Victims Memorial Commission.
 “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-4A-00288, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Marcianito might be referring to the barrio organizing committees established by the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) in various areas in the country. Barrio organizing committees are formed after the CPP-NPA has conducted thorough social investigations, assessing grievances and problems, and has grouped elements from the masses for potential membership. This committee is a preparatory committee in setting up the barrio revolutionary committee, which actively seeks to eliminate the aforementioned grievances and problems. See: Amado Guerrero, “Summing Up Our Experience After Three Years,” Ang Bayan, March 3, 1972, accessed March 13, 2022,11.
 Marcianito Sayat, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-4A-00288, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. One other was also injured, and she opted to remain to allow her colleagues to escape.
 Ibid.; Rina Cepillo, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-4A-00288, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; Filipino Women in Struggle (Task Force Detainees Metro Manila, 1984), 25. Villamor Air Base is referred to as Nichols Air Base in the latter source. The name she gave was Lucille Cea, a combination of one of her best friends’ name and a relative’s name.
 Filipino Women in Struggle, 26; Sayat, “Affidavit;” Ruby Sayat Zara & Engracia Porto Roque, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-4A-00288, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. They also learned from a certain Major Laserna that an NPA woman by the name of Lucille Cea did die of blood loss in Villamor Air Base, but suggested they look elsewhere.
 Filipino Women in Struggle, 26-27; Zara & Roque, “Affidavit.” Rina also shares that their father is a living memory of how they fought back then, suggesting that Marcianito may have also taken up arms alongside his wife during Martial Law. Perhaps this was partly the reason why they did not attend the burial. Afterwards, Marcianito and his children Rina and Malaya continued visiting her grave for five years until they decided to have her cremated in December 1988 so her ashes can be kept in an urn closer to her family.
 Rina S. Cepillo to Lina Sarmiento, October 28, 2014 (Case No. 2014-4A-00288, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Filipino Women in Struggle, 26-27.
 Rina S. Cepillo to Lina Sarmiento, October 28, 2014. Original in Filipino: “Kilalanin man po siya o hindi, alam namin na nagsakripisyo at nagbuwis ng buhay ang aming ina sa paglaban sa mapanupil na Martial Law ni Marcos noong 1972-1986.”