Remembering the Daet Massacre of 1981

PART 1: THE MARTYRS’ MOTIVE AND THE MASSACRE
Published on June 14, 2023

This article on the 1981 Daet Massacre contains stories of Human Rights Violations Victims of the Martial Law era. To view the rest of the Roll of Victims see this link: Roll of Victims

This article is Part 1 of a series of articles on the 1981 Daet Massacre. To read part 2, press this link: Daet Massacre Part 2 (EN)
To read this article in Filipino, press this link: Daet Massacre Part 1 (FIL) | Daet Massacre Part 2 (FIL)

Header photo of Daet Massacre article part 1

42 years ago, on June 14, 1981, coconut farmers from Camarines Norte marched to the provincial capital at Daet to protest. The marchers were protesting against the unjustly low price of copra and the coconut levy they believed was being misused by Marcos’s crony capitalists. At the same time, they were calling for a boycott of the 1981 Presidential Elections.

They were stopped mere kilometers away by elements of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), who began shooting at them. Four would be killed and some 40 to 50 others wounded in what has since been called the Daet Massacre. It occurred just a few months after President Ferdinand Marcos announced the lifting of Martial Law. The massacre served as a testament that the repressive regime still bared its fangs on its own citizens.

A picture of a 1982 Situationer produced by the Bicol Concerned Citizens’ Alliance (BCCA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) - Bicol Region, and Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace (CCJP) on the Daet Massacre (note the year shown as 1982; the massacre actually occurred in 1981). Photo from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation.

A picture of a 1982 Situationer produced by the Bicol Concerned Citizens’ Alliance (BCCA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) - Bicol Region, and Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace (CCJP) on the Daet Massacre (note the year shown as 1982; the massacre actually occurred in 1981).
Photo from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation retrieved at  last June 10, 2021.

The "lifting" of Martial Law

An overwhelming sense of terror has gripped the Philippines since Martial Law was declared in September 1972. Marcos, through Proclamation No. 1081, wielded the power to issue and enforce laws, decrees, orders, and regulations. He also had the complete support of the country’s armed forces.[1] Within hours of the declaration, Marcos ordered the arrest of his fiercest critics and political rivals. He placed his most trusted allies in positions of power as his cronies. He also deployed his armed forces to patrol the streets and police the citizens nationwide.

Screenshot from Marcos’s declaration of the lifting of Martial Law. Taken at 0:17 of “Lifting of Martial Law, January 17, 1981.” GovPH YouTube channel. February 11, 2016. Accessed May 10, 2023.

Resistance dimmed greatly but was never extinguished. Some soon overcame this fear. They were able to slowly express their opposition to the growing number of atrocities and human rights violations. A large number from the Catholic Church in particular challenged the regime for its suppression of dissent and brutality. This placed Marcos in a precarious situation in 1981.[2]

Pope John Paul II was to visit the country on February 17 of that year. In response, Marcos sought to maintain a veneer of peace and order. Thus, on January 17, 1981, Marcos publicly issued Proclamation No. 2045, formally lifting Martial Law. In his speech, Marcos highlighted the achievements of the New Society in what it sought to accomplish some nine years prior.[3]

Marcos’s Powers Remained

The end of Martial Law, however, was not met with thunderous applause, but rather with silent apprehension and skepticism. Many believed that the lifting of Martial Law was merely ceremonial, as Marcos’s powers were neither diminished nor weakened. Included in Marcos’s 1973 Constitution was Art. XVII, Sec. 3. This stated that “all proclamations, orders, decrees, instructions, and acts promulgated, issued, or done by the incumbent President shall be part of the law of the land, and shall remain valid, legal, binding, and effective even after the lifting of the Martial Law.”[4]

The day before Martial Law ended, Marcos also promulgated Presidential Decree No. 1836. This gave him the capacity to issue Presidential Commitment Orders (PCOs) or arrest orders, detaining anyone for however long he sees fit.[5] Later, his Letter of Instruction No. 1125-A further supplemented this. This gave him the authority to issue commitment orders even without martial law or the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.[6]

This meant that Marcos could still freely issue decrees, proclamations, and orders, while previously issued ones remained in effect. Many media stations were still shut down, and the only ones operating were under the hands of his cronies and allies. It can be said that things remained mostly unchanged.[7] The plights of many continued after this ceremonial lifting of martial rule and so their struggles continued. Protests that had been going on in the 1970s continued in the early 1980s. Other than decrying the continuing atrocities of Martial Law, protesters also lobbied for their welfare and rights. Among these were coconut farmers protesting the unfair situation of an otherwise profitable industry for them.

Cronyism in the Coconut Industry

In 1973, through P.D. No. 232, Marcos created the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) “to promote accelerated growth and development of the coconut and other palm oils industry.”[8] Subsequent presidential decrees allowed the government to take complete control over most aspects of the industry. This included financing, planting, milling, processing, marketing, and trading. On top of it all, Marcos placed at the helm of the PCA his Minister of Defense Juan Ponce Enrile. Along with another crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, as a board member, Enrile placed a stranglehold on the coconut industry. Virgilio David, a PC colonel who served as the military administrator of the coconut industry, bared this truth.[9]

Key to their scheme was the infamous Coco Levy, imposed on coconut produce, especially the dried coconut flesh known as copra. The levy was originally imposed through Republic Act No.6260 in 1971. This law created an investment fund and required the levy collection of 55 centavos per 100 kilos. This was to be funneled for three institutions — the Coconut Investment Company, the Philippine Coconut Producers Federation (COCOFED), and the subsequently created PCA.

The Truth about the Levy

The collected fund was supposed to be allocated to various support activities for the farmers since they supposedly owned shares. When it was eventually enforced, however, the levy collection gave the opposite effect. Farmers experienced significantly lower prices paid for their copra produce.[10] Their share of the fund, certified in the form of receipts that they would need to register, barely reached them. According to David, only about 5% of the farmers ever got the receipts for the coconut investment fund. Worse, only 28% of the receipts got registered.[11]

The Coco Levy fund was thereafter seen by many as a ruse to control the industry and siphon their funds. At the same time, farmers, who never got their share of the money, suffered from decreased produce prices. Most of the funds went to the PCA, which oversaw collection, the Coconut Investment Company, and other organizations controlled by Enrile and Cojuangco. Notably, it also went to COCOFED, the supposed organization for farmers.[12] The farmers were heavily taxed and massively underpaid.

Coconut farmers nationwide were understandably incensed. Tensions escalated and protests erupted nationwide. People campaigned against the low price of copra, the dubious Coco Levy fund, and COCOFED. In particular, coconut farmers in Camarines Norte, along with their families and allies, staged a massive rally on June 14, 1981.

Prelude to the Massacre

Farmers’ protests began even before the arrival of Pope John Paul II. One ill-omened demonstration happened on February 1. Coconut farmers from Guinayangan, Quezon marched to the town plaza to protest against the Coco Levy and COCOFED. On their way, they were met with government troopers who opened fire. Two were instantly killed and over twenty were wounded. The incident, subsequently dubbed as the Guinayangan Massacre, received little media coverage. It was even dismissed as a New People’s Army (NPA) encounter. It was an indication that people should remain wary even after martial law was lifted.[13]

The day before the Daet protest itself, Benjamin Suyat was pacing in his house. His daughter saw him and asked what was wrong. Suyat revealed that he and some other farmers were planning to convene at an elementary school near their house in Matnog, Camarines Norte. They would be staying the night there to join a rally early the following morning. Before leaving, he asked his daughter to take care of her mother and siblings.[14]

Just a few blocks away, Rogelio Guevarra was talking to his son-in-law about the same meeting. Though the latter wanted to join, Guevarra refused. He wanted his son-in-law to remain in the house to care for the family, including Guevarra’s then-pregnant daughter. He left afterward but returned briefly around midnight to check on his family. His wife asked if he had eaten and that he should bring a spoon and fork for his meals. Guevarra said he would just be using his hands.[15]

The Protests

The others were visited by fellow farmers inviting them to the said meeting. They congregated at the school and the nearby barangay plaza where most of them stayed for the night. They also prepared food for dinner as well as packed meals for the next day.[16] According to a 1982 situationer, they were one of the groups planning to stage a rally across the Bicol region on June 14, 1981. This was mere days before the 1981 Presidential Elections. Other rallies were also staged. This included Sipocot, Camarines Sur with some 2,500 participants; Iriga, Camarines Sur with about 1,000; and Daraga, Albay with about 2,000 more. These were all organized and sponsored by the Kilusang Mamamayan para sa Tunay na Demokrasya (KMTD).[17]

Other than expressing their complaints about copra, they were also calling for a boycott of the 1981 election. Though it was the first election in over a decade, most were confident that Marcos would not be unseated. It was merely a performative election with a pre-decided winner. It was designed to maintain the facade of a democracy that has long been silenced by the regime.

The Massacre

News paper clipping entitled Remembering Daet Massacre. The article depicts the events of the daet massacre referred to as "Black Sunday"

Page 2 of the 1982 Situationer with an illustration depicting the rallying farmers and the bloodshed that occurred. Photo retrieved from History of the PAST’s Facebook Page on December 23, 2018.

At about 8 AM on June 14, 1981, the delegation from Matnog, composed of about 4,000 marchers, began marching. They were heading to Freedom Park near the Provincial Capitol of Daet, Camarines Norte, carrying streamers. Some of these read “down with Cocofed!”, “increase coconut/copra prices!”, and “boycott fake elections!.”[18] They were, of course, aware of possible military interference and danger. Camarines Norte had been subject to intensifying militarization during that time at the hands of the PC. Just two days prior, government forces dispersed some 1,300 protesters from the nearby areas of Labo and Paracale. During this very march, 1,600 rallyists from Mercedes and 500 more from Talisay were supposed to join them. They were all turned away by intercepting soldiers.[19]

The group took unconventional routes to minimize military encounters. Reaching a diversion road in Brgy. Camambugan, a parked yellow fire truck blocked their path. Though a foreboding and unwelcome sign, as they were close to their destination, they soldiered on. As they were trying to go around the obstruction, the fire truck moved, revealing a nearby military truck coming closer.

The fire truck blasted the protesters with water in an attempt to scatter them, but they steeled their resolve. They reformed their ranks, linked their arms, and pressed forward.[20] However, some 35 PC-CHDF troopers of the 242nd PC Company, led by a captain and a lieutenant colonel, immediately alighted from the truck and shouted “dapa (on the ground)!”[21] One of the marchers, Jaime Molina, recalled that they and the military were held to a standstill as neither side budged. He also remembered that soldiers frisked the frontliners in search of guns but found only spoons.[22]

News paper clipping entitled Remembering Daet Massacre. The article depicts the events of the daet massacre referred to as "Black Sunday"
Page 2 of the 1982 Situationer with an illustration depicting the rallying farmers and the bloodshed that occurred. Photo retrieved from History of the PAST’s Facebook Page on December 23, 2018.

At about 8 AM on June 14, 1981, the delegation from Matnog, composed of about 4,000 marchers, began marching. They were heading to Freedom Park near the Provincial Capitol of Daet, Camarines Norte, carrying streamers. Some of these read “down with Cocofed!”, “increase coconut/copra prices!”, and “boycott fake elections!.”[18] They were, of course, aware of possible military interference and danger. Camarines Norte had been subject to intensifying militarization during that time at the hands of the PC. Just two days prior, government forces dispersed some 1,300 protesters from the nearby areas of Labo and Paracale. During this very march, 1,600 rallyists from Mercedes and 500 more from Talisay were supposed to join them. They were all turned away by intercepting soldiers.[19]

The group took unconventional routes to minimize military encounters. Reaching a diversion road in Brgy. Camambugan, a parked yellow fire truck blocked their path. Though a foreboding and unwelcome sign, as they were close to their destination, they soldiered on. As they were trying to go around the obstruction, the fire truck moved, revealing a nearby military truck coming closer.

The fire truck blasted the protesters with water in an attempt to scatter them, but they steeled their resolve. They reformed their ranks, linked their arms, and pressed forward.[20] However, some 35 PC-CHDF troopers of the 242nd PC Company, led by a captain and a lieutenant colonel, immediately alighted from the truck and shouted “dapa (on the ground)!”[21] One of the marchers, Jaime Molina, recalled that they and the military were held to a standstill as neither side budged. He also remembered that soldiers frisked the frontliners in search of guns but found only spoons.[22]

The marchers were mostly coconut farmers with their spouses, relatives, and even children. They were naturally taken by surprise when soldiers suddenly pulled out M-16 rifles and began shooting. Molina was reportedly the first hit, struck by the captain below his right ear and exiting his lower left jaw.[23] Molina passed out from shock. He woke up minutes later to see most of his friends and companions on the ground. Many of them were injured. When some soldiers passed by him, he overheard them saying that none should be left alive. Upon hearing this, Molina stayed still and played dead.[24]

The soldiers asked the remaining survivors to kneel on the ground with their hands behind their heads. They were preparing to shoot when Grace Vinzons Magana, a KMTD coordinator, placed herself between the marchers and the soldiers. She shouted, “Why did you do this? Those people were unarmed and could not defend themselves! You should have given them firearms!”[25]

The soldiers finally relented and ceased fire. Those unharmed were allowed to leave. The soldiers then loaded the wounded and dead onto their trucks to carry to the hospital. Though the shooting was brief, it was systematic. Four died on the scene and some 40 to 50 others were severely wounded. The survivors lived to tell the tale, easily identifying the lieutenant colonel and captain who gave orders to the PC troopers.[26] The family of the victims soon received word of what happened. They decried the merciless killings of their loved ones, who were merely protesting for the betterment of their livelihood.

This is part 1 of a series on the Daet Massacre. To read part 2, press this link: Daet Massacre Part 2 (EN)

Footnotes

[1] “Proclamation No. 1081, s. 1972,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, September 21, 1972, accessed May 4, 2023. Just a few days later, he signed General Order No. 1, which allowed him to “govern the nation and direct the operation of the entire Government, including all its agencies and instrumentalities, in [his] capacity,” essentially giving him full control of all three branches of government.

[2] Manuel L. Quezon III, “The Road to EDSA: The Fabric of Freedom,” Today Newspaper, February 25, 1996, accessed May 4, 2023, reposted in Quezon’s Tumblr account.

[3] Robert L. Youngblood, “The Philippines in 1981: From “New Society” to “New Republic”,” Asian Survey 22, no. 2 (1982): 226, 229, accessed May 4, 2023, doi:10.2307/2643950; “Proclamation No. 2045, s. 1981,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, January 17, 1981, accessed May 4, 2023.

[4] “1973 Constitution,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, 1973, accessed May 4, 2023.

[5] “Presidential Decree No. 1836, s. 1981,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, January 16, 1981, accessed May 4, 2023. Sec. 1: “During a state of martial law or when the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is suspended, the President may issue orders of arrest or commitment orders as to any person whose arrest or detention is, in the judgment of the President, required by public safety and as a means to repel or quell an invasion, insurrection or rebellion, or imminent danger thereof.” Sec. 2: “The person so arrested or detained shall not be released until so ordered…”

[6] “Letter of Instruction No. 1125-A, s. 1981,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, May 25, 1981, accessed May 4, 2023. Sec. 4: “…the President may issue a commitment order against the accused who shall thereafter be kept under detention in the appropriate institution specified in the commitment order until the final disposition of the case unless sooner ordered released by the President or his duly authorized representative.”

[7] Jesucita Sodusta and Artemio Palongpalong, “The Philippines in 1981: Normalization and Instability,” Southeast Asian Affairs, 1982, 285-86, accessed May 4, 2023.

[8] “Presidential Decree No. 232, s. 1973,” Official Gazette of the Philippines, June 30, 1973, accessed May 4, 2023. It is now more colloquially known as PHILCOA.

[9] Ricardo Manapat, Some are Smarter than Others: The History of Marcos’s Crony Capitalism, annotated edition (Quezon City: Bughaw, an imprint of Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2020), 155. The coconut industry at the time, according to David’s research on the industry in the 1970’s, was the most important economic activity, providing income for about a third of the population and covering a fourth of the country’s total croplands.

[10] Ibid., 153, 156. David’s research also indicated that the levy collection increased over the years, peaking at $13.00 per 100 kilos. With the conversion of roughly $1 = P7, the peak was at about P90. From 1977 to 1981, the levy remained at around $10, or roughly P70.

[11] Ibid., 157.

[12] Ibid., 159-62, 166-74. Through P.D. No. 961, which created the Coconut Industry Investment Fund, utilizing the collected levy, Cojuangco purchased a bank, later called the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB), and later bought firms and mills, all under the investment funds, supposedly for the benefit of the farmers.

[13] Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, “Martial law massacres,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 22, 2016, accessed May 4, 2023; Pumipiglas: Detention and Military Atrocities in the Philippines, 1981-1982 (Quezon City: Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, 1986), 94, selected pages accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Doyo was part of this publication. The first source states that 27 were wounded, while the latter tallied 21.

[14] Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-5D-00732, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[15] Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-5D-00736, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[16] Claimants’ affidavits (Case Nos. 2014-5D-00728, 2014-5D-00741, 2014-5D-00742, 2014-5D-00743, 2014-5D-00928, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[17] “Massacre in Camarines Norte,” in “1982 Situationer,” Bicol Concerned Citizens’ Alliance, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines – Bicol Region, and Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace, 1982, 14-15, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. The situationer was produced by the Bicol Concerned Citizens’ Alliance (BCCA), Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) – Bicol Region, and Concerned Citizens for Justice and Peace (CCJP)

[18] Ibid; Witness’ affidavit,” (Case No. 2014-5D-00744, Quezon City, 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Resolution,” Claimants et al v. Lt. Colonel, Captain and John Does, I.S. No. 96-5959 (1996), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. The source names have been altered for data privacy purposes and according to the standards set by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) in anonymizing the names of the perpetrators. According to the resolution, there were only about 3,000 marchers. It is to be understood that both figures are estimates due to the sheer number of participants.Furthermore, as explained later, many of them would be turned away while en route to Freedom Park.

[19] “Massacre in Camarines Norte,” 15. The rallyists in Mercedes tried to elude capture, but only around 300 were able to escape and rejoin their fellow farmers. The rest were forced to go home.

[20] Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-5D-00723, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[21] Claimants’ affidavits (Case Nos. 2014-5D-00728, 2014-5D-00741, 2014-5D-00742, 2014-5D-00743, 2014-5D-00928, Quezon City, 2014); “Massacre in Camarines Norte,” 16.

[22] Claimants’ affidavits (Case Nos. 2014-5D-00728, 2014-5D-00741, 2014-5D-00742, 2014-5D-00743, 2014-5D-00928, Quezon City, 2014). As mentioned above, Guevarra did not even bring a spoon and fork to eat. It is believed that a fork and other similar utensils would be construed as weapons so a few chose to bring only a spoon while the others ate their packed meals barehanded.

[23] “Massacre in Camarines Norte,” 16.

[24] Claimants’ affidavits (Case Nos. 2014-5D-00728, 2014-5D-00741, 2014-5D-00742, 2014-5D-00743, 2014-5D-00928, Quezon City, 2014).

[25] Ibid.; “Alcantara, Jose Esteban,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani, July 6, 2015, accessed May 4, 2023 . Originally in Filipino from the affidavit of Jaime Molina: Bakit kayo bumaril sa mga taong walang armas at walang kalaban-laban? Sana binigyan ninyo sila ng armas. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani pages for the victims, Alcantara, Guevarra, Lagarteja, and Suyat all contain mostly the same information for all four of them.

[26] “Resolution,” Claimants et al v. Lt. Colonel, Captain and John Does, I.S. No. 96-5959 (1996).