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Soledad Salvador: A Life of Adversity Worthy of Admiration
Note: This article was originally published on August 24, 2021
Soledad Salvador was born in Ilocos Norte on March 10, 1957 to Guillermo and Pacita Salvador, who were tenant farmers. Though they could get by from day to day, a life of poverty and hardship was not what Salvador wanted for herself. Growing up, she took on odd jobs in order to finance her schooling, working as a housemaid, then later on as a parish worker. As opportunities were scant and bleak, Salvador pinned her hopes of a better future on getting herself educated.
Salvador’s family, as with many families of tenant farmers, did not possess the luxuries of wealth as Ferdinand Marcos, who also hailed from Ilocos Norte and became the President of the Philippines when Salvador was only eight years old. While she did not enjoy financial security as the elites of the society, she managed to put herself through school, albeit with help from sympathetic relatives, colleagues and friends. She graduated secondary school at the Araullo Vocational School and was able to obtain a degree in industrial education at the Mariano Marcos State University.
Aiming to use her college degree to land a job, Salvador pursued teaching and took the licensure exam. Her path to a life of comfort, however, took an unfortunate turn when she failed the said exam. She was forced to work again as a maid in Manila to finance herself in the meantime. Eventually, Salvador opted to return to Ilocos Norte and taught catechism at the Badoc parish church instead. Here, Salvador was exposed to more progressive views of society, grounded in the belief of more proactive social action work by religious groups. Salvador was able to better grasp the historical struggles of the Ilokano peasants against landlessness and militarization. She was easily able to visualize the betterment of the lives of the Ilokanos should they actively resist against the oppressive mechanisms of society. Having lived a life of poverty as well, empathy towards the hapless farmers came easily.[]
In 1983, she joined a guerilla network and was tasked to be a messenger to facilitate communications between groups in the villages and town centers. Despite the constant danger she faced with this role, Salvador eagerly played her part and remained optimistic. She was able to shrug off encounters with the military and got along with the people she worked for and worked with.[
By 1984, the Catholic priest-turned revolutionary Nilo Valerio was transferred to Ilocos Sur for his organizing work for the New People’s Army (NPA). Previously assigned in Abra, his group had successfully demonstrated the justness of their cause to the native Tingguians and proved their commitment to the people’s cause in defending their ancestral lands. More and more became encouraged to join the revolutionary movement. With the NPA’s growing membership and capable younger leaders prepared to continue the struggle, Valerio accepted his reassignment to another guerrilla zone, leading a small group of freedom fighters.
Salvador became part of this small group of eight as they continued their work while avoiding troopers of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the Integrated National Police (INP) and the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), which abounded Marcos’s hometown and its neighboring localities. The group was eventually transferred to Benguet to continue their work there.
As the life of rebels, the group usually remains hidden, eluding the attention of military forces, which had significantly increased in Benguet due to heavy militarization. As they did in Abra and Ilocos, to gain the trust of the native Kankanaeys, the NPA rebels must justify their cause to bear arms and convince them that they mean well. Valerio and his comrades were able to do so with the residents of Kayapa in Bakun as early as 1984. The guerrilla group taught the locals to plant bananas and introduced them to acupuncture treatment for illnesses. They also encouraged them to petition for a soil technician to determine the best crops for their land and to form a cooperative so they could sell their crops and buy food and supplies for the best prices.
The residents accepted the eight freedom fighters into their community and assisted them in their endeavors. They would let them rest and sleep for the day in their own homes, and they would even warn the group if there were approaching military troops in the area and help them escape. It was thus no surprise for the villagers of Sitio Beyeng when on August 23, 1985, the group paid them a visit. They were no strangers to the residents for they had already visited the distant sitio previously, traversing the dangerous mountain trails beginning from Kayapa to visit the home of some 20 Kankanaey families. They had likewise given advice on the residents on how to best handle their farming and their crops as well as given them acupuncture treatments.
Valerio’s group was there to seek refuge, forced to find a place to stay the night because one of their comrades fell ill. Salvador, Valerio, and Fernandez, known to the people as Ka Gina, Ka Bobot, and Ka Senyang, along with their comrades, were accommodated in two adjacent houses. They again provided acupuncture treatments for their hosts, who in turn kept them safe for the night.[] The following morning, however, the villagers had been quietly going about their morning business and chores when gunfire disturbed the peace. Some twenty soldiers had fired upon the houses occupied by the resting guerrillas. Panicked, the group was not able to properly retaliate and amidst the mayhem, Salvador was shot while attempting to escape, allegedly in the forehead. Valerio and Fernandez were also shot dead, while their other five comrades were able to escape.
What happened in Sitio Beyeng that day became subject to much debate and controversy. Due to its remoteness, news of the incident took some time before it painted the headlines of national dailies. Initially, the newspapers ran the story based on the report by Brig. Gen. Tomas Dumpit of the Region I Unified Command, who confirmed that an encounter took place between the PC and the NPA, resulting in casualties. However, soon after, a letter from a “concerned Igorot” was forwarded to the Cordillera News Agency, providing horrific details on the incident.[]
After the incident, the bodies of Ka Gina, Ka Bobot, and Ka Senyang were dragged off by the military and reportedly beheaded by Sgt. Henry Dayag and Sgt. Jose Panganiban. The head of Ka Gina — Soledad Salvador — was even allegedly used by the PC soldiers for target practice because it was “too ugly.” The heads were then placed in a plastic bag tied to a pole, which the soldiers have three men carry and parade around the neighboring sitios to terrorize and intimidate the residents. The bodies were then buried in Sitio Beyeng, though some ways away from the location of the incident, while the heads were buried in the neighboring Sitio Sadel.
These were the gruesome elements of the case that were detailed to the family of Salvador by a human rights worker in September that same year. According to Melchor Salvador, brother of Soledad, the family was invited by said human rights worker to the fact-finding mission being organized by the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP) and the families of Valerio and Fernandez, the other two victims, to verify the reports and to retrieve the body to give them a proper burial. Unfortunately, the Salvadors had no financial means to join the fact-finding mission and regrettably begged off, opting to just quietly offer their well-wishes and wait for the results of the investigation.
Upon the return of the fact-finding mission, it confirmed what had been reported initially. The victims were indeed Fr. Nilo Valerio, Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador. However, what they did not expect was to discover the gravesites empty. They were not able to exhume the bodies and heads of the victims, and the holes in which they were supposedly buried in showed signs of having been hastily dug up and covered back up. Residents told the team that they witnessed a helicopter and a military jeep in the vicinity of the gravesite some three days before they arrived, and the mounds on the site which signified something was buried underneath had been leveled off.
The Salvadors were included in open letters and petitions of the victims’ families urging for a deeper investigation into the incident, as they had begun to suspect that the military had taken the bodies themselves. They reached out to Ferdinand Marcos, Juan Ponce Enrile, Fidel Ramos and Tomas Dumpit, demanding the surfacing of the bodies of their loved ones. Though initially cooperative, the military was not able to produce a significant report on their investigation that would help recover the bodies or hold the culprits accountable for the desecration of said bodies. Even a request to the succeeding Aquino administration for intervention in the red tape was met with silence.
The families of the victims decided to write a book in honor of the three victims, who were collectively known as the Bakun Martyrs. This book was published in 1987 as Bakun: Three Martyrs for the People, detailing the lives of the three freedom fighters and the circumstances of their death on that day. In 1992, the name of Soledad Salvador was inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, giving honor to the many heroes and martyrs who gave their lives up during Martial Law.
In 2014, Melchor Salvador filed a claim on behalf of his late sister to the newly established Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), designated by Republic Act No. 10368 to provide for reparation and recognition to the human rights violations victims of the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. In 2017, the HRVCB “[found] Soledad Nacional Salvador a human rights violation victim” under the ambit of enforced disappearance, as her body was never found.
It has been 36 years since August 24, 1985, the day Soledad Salvador lost her life. Acutely aware of the struggles of the peasantry and the minorities, Salvador opted to set aside her lofty ambitions for herself and selflessly offered her life in service of her fellowmen. The death of the Bakun Martyrs left a profound influence on the community and the people they had served, and the ideals for which they lived and died linger through those who remember them.
 “Salvador, Soledad,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, July 13, 2016, accessed August 16, 2021, https://www.bantayog.org/salvador-soledad-n; “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition,” (Case No. 2014-16-00152, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 “Salvador, Soledad.”
 Ibid. The theology of liberation had been emerging as a popular ideology amongst the more progressive religious groups at the time.
 Ed Maranan, ed., Bakun: Three Martyrs for the People (Metro Manila: Bakun Martyrs Committee, 1987), 35, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Ibid., 36. Valerio, Salvador, along with Resteta, had five other comrades.
 Ibid., 6.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 5-6.
 Jo-ann Baena Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies,” Veritas, October 13, 1985, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Melchor N. Salvador, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-16-00152, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 “Bakun NPAs beheaded,” Ichthys, Vol. VIII, No. 35 (October 11, 1985), 1-2, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies;” Nonoy Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?” (Mr. & Mrs., October 4-10, 1985), 13.
 “Bakun NPAs beheaded,” 1.
 Salvador, “Affidavit.”
 Cruz, “The Case of the Missing Heads and Bodies;” Nonoy Fajardo, “Where are the Bodies of the Headless?”, 13.
 Maranan, Bakun, 103-104, 107.
 Ibid., 106, 108.
 Nievelena V. Rosete, “Certification,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, n.d., accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition;” “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-16-00152, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
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