Published: December 20, 2020
It was less than a week before Christmas in the Municipality of Culasi, Antique when more than 400 farmers, fishermen, and their families woke up early in the morning of December 19, 1981 to protest. They assembled at 7:00 AM in Barangay Condez, a few kilometers south of the Municipal Hall, and marched on foot northward to meet then Mayor Romulo Alpas.
The word “crisis” was no understatement for what these families were experiencing – some of them were living on only one meal a day and were barely earning enough to meet the ridiculously high prices of basic commodities or to send their children to school. Transporting their root crops and vegetables from farm to market and paying exorbitant municipal taxes at the town market every Sunday was an expensive process that often disabled them from buying fertilizers and insecticides. They wanted their grievances against existing economic policies to be made known, starting closest to home; that meant speaking face to face with the local government.
Culasi and its roads as shown in maps from Wikimedia Commons and Google Maps
Fear was another impetus for their gathering. News had come that the Philippine Constabulary (PC), predecessor of the Philippine National Police, arranged the deployment of a new company to the municipality. Close to a decade had passed since Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under a state of martial law. With Culasi sandwiched between the Sulu Sea to its west and the high peaks of Mt. Madiaas to its east, the PC suspected that the New People’s Army (NPA) was recruiting some of its locals into the peasant movement. To the residents of Culasi however, the deployment of a new PC company was an omen of abuse, mass evacuations from barangays suspected of NPA infiltration, and the illegal confiscation of property and farm animals.
Thus, the marching contingent had in its frontlines the farmers and fishermen of the town. Following them about five rows behind were their children and the other concerned youth of Culasi, individuals who have lived to bear witness to the tragic incidents of that day. Some of them recount that the PC and the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) fired warning shots when their group reached Barangay San Antonio. They were approached and asked to identify their leader, to which they responded, “All of us,” before proceeding unabated to the next barangay.
It was at Barangay Malacañang, as they were crossing the bridge over Bacong River, that they saw a makeshift barricade of two bamboo poles laid horizontally at waist level. Standing on each side of the barricade was a member of the military with his gun aimed at the ready. The municipal hall was just two kilometers away. No form of obstruction was going to deter the group from carrying out their goal. Tensions then rose as some men in the frontline walked forward and attempted to shift the barricade.
Bullets were fired upon the crowd. Five fell on the spot and seven others were injured. Among the latter, seventeen-year-old Cecilia Dalisay took a bullet to her left foot and plenty of shrapnel on her legs. Upon hearing the shots and feeling the first pangs of pain beneath her, the teenager crawled to the middle of the bridge, shivering in fear. One of the PC soldiers shouted at the crowd to raise their hands and to either challenge them, or run. In a flurry of terror, the crowd dispersed. Some jumped over the edge of the bridge and others ran, stumbling and stepping over each other.
Photo from “Culasi Massacre: Small Town in the Crossfire” by Roberto Z. Coloma, WHO Magazine, February 6, 1982, republished online by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation
Cecilia was brought to the hospital at around 3:00 PM. She learned after about twenty hours of lying unconscious that her father, Fortunato M. Dalisay, was one of the five who died on the bridge. The other four were Leopoldo A. Anos, Aquilino M. Castillo, Remegildo P. Dalisay, and Joel B. Plaquino – all husbands, fathers, and breadwinners, and all proven to have in no way provoked the soldiers on Bacong Bridge that morning.
Mayor Alpas’ report to Manila stated that the five who were killed were members of the NPA; that they, with their own guns, initiated an exchange of gunfire. And yet, no soldier died or got injured during the incident. A 1986 publication by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines identifies the leader of the involved PC company as Lt. Policarpio Segobre while files submitted by the victims’ families to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) in 2014 implicate a certain Sgt. La Dublan.
Norberto Castillo was among the rallyists who were injured during the incident. He later bore witness in the implication of the PC and CHDF as the perpetrators of the massacre. Photo from Pumipiglas: political detention and military atrocities in the Philippines, 1981-1982 by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.
The victims’ families recall that few people attended the wakes of the five men for fear of being linked to the NPA. Their wives were left to raise their children, some still very young, in the same unforgiving economic climate that ultimately cost their husbands’ lives. A sworn statement by the wife of one of the victims summarizes what she and her children endured years after the event – “I did not know what to do. . . . My children were not able to go to school. I was very angry against the government and the way it was being run under Marcos. This is what I cannot forget while I am alive.” Another sworn statement, from one of the victims’ daughters, says that she and her siblings had to work as domestic helpers in Manila to pay off the people they owed for their father’s burial.
No form of support or apology was issued to the affected families throughout the dictatorship. Four out of five of them joined thousands of human rights violations victims in the Hawaii class action suit entitled
“Human Rights Litigation Against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos” (MDL No. 840, CA No. 88-0390), under which they received reparations. One family did not join for fear of further involvement with the injustices of the era. 
Anos, Castillo, Dalisay, Dalisay, and Plaquino have been officially recognized by the State as Human Rights Violations Victims (HRVVs) under Marcos’ martial law regime for having been killed by state agents while exercising their right to peaceably assemble and demand the government for redress of their grievances. Pursuant to Section 4 of R.A. 10368, their heirs have been given reparations sourced from a portion of the Marcos family’s ill-gotten wealth. Their names have also been etched on the Bantayog ng mga Bayani’s Wall of Remembrance, in recognition of their sacrifice in defiance of the dictatorship. The state agents who committed the crime have yet to be brought to justice.
Thirty-nine years have passed since the massacre on Bacong Bridge, but human rights violations against farmers is no less an issue today than it was then. Still, amidst the issues of the present times, we do not lose sight of the hard truths that shaped the past, for their ill effects linger to this day. In pursuit of justice and freedom for all, #WeRemember.
 “Affidavit” (Case Nos. 2014-06-00013, 2014-06-00015, 2014-06-00032, 2014-06-00112, 2014-06-00125, Republic of the Philippines, 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Bantayog ng mga Bayani, “The Bacong Bridge Massacre of 1981”, bantayog.org, Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, 19 December 2019, http://www.bantayog.org/the-bacong-bridge-massace-of-1981/.
 “Sworn Statement” (Case Nos. 2014-06-00013 and 2014-06-00125, Municipality of Culasi, 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Pumipiglas: political detention and military atrocities in the Philippines,
 -1982 (Quezon City: Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, 1986).
 Cecilia Dalisay, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00015, Province of Antique, 2014), 1.
 Cecilia Dalisay, “Sworn Statement” (Case No. 2014-06-00015, Municipality of Culasi, 2014), 1.
 “Resolution” (Case Nos. 2014-06-00013, 2014-06-00015, 2014-06-00032, 2014-06-00112, 2014-06-00125, Quezon City, 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 TFDP, Pumipiglas.
 “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition” (Case Nos. 2014-06-00013, 2014-06-00015, 2014-06-00032, 2014-06-00112, 2014-06-00125, Republic of the Philippines, 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 “Statement” (Case No. 2014-06-00125, City of Iloilo, 2014)
 “Resolution” (Case Nos. 2014-06-00013, 2014-06-00015, 2014-06-00032, 2014-06-00112, 2014-06-00125).
 “Statement” (Case No. 2014-06-00125).
 Bantayog ng mga Bayani, “Martyrs and Heroes 2019”, bantayog.org, Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, 19 December 2019, http://www.bantayog.org/martyrs-heroes-2019/.