The Story of Negros and the Escalante Massacre of 1985

September 20, 2021
The Martyrs and the Massacre

In September 1985, thousands of implacable sacadas (sugarcane workers), fisherfolk, teachers, students, laborers and other people from all walks of life congregated in Escalante, Negros Occidental. To mark the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, they were going to participate in the nationwide Welgang Bayan to voice their own grievances and air their demands for fair wages, due work benefits, genuine agrarian and land reforms, and the cessation of militarization and human rights violations in their province.

The protesters, who merely wanted to cry out for an end to their suffering, exploitation and repression, were instead met with an unrestrained and reprehensible level of violence, as they were sprayed with bullets from high-powered rifles and machine gun-fire. Twenty were killed and many others were wounded in what came to be called the Escalante Massacre, one of the last major acts of brutality by the Marcos Regime. On its 36th anniversary, we look back and honor victims and their sacrifices for an ongoing struggle towards equality, justice, and peace.

Negros, The Pinnacle of Inequality

The photo shown is of Joel Abong, taken on May 4, 1985. Plagued by illnesses his whole life, Abong contracted pneumonia and tuberculosis and was suffering from severe malnutrition. He is but one of many children of Negros workers who suffered and died due to extreme hunger in the mid-1980’s.[1]

Joel Abong

A photo of the emaciated Joel Abong, as it appeared in the front pages of newspapers and magazines and became the symbol of the hunger and poverty that plagued Negros under the Marcos Regime. Photo taken by Kim Komenich on May 4, 1985 in Negros Occidental. Retrieved from LICAS News at:

Just a day after Marcos was overthrown, John Silva, who had been working with relief and development agency Oxfam, went to Negros to survey its situation and launch a feeding program. By his estimate, there were “over 100,000 children in various degrees of malnutrition.” He managed to take this photo of a nine year old girl south of Bacolod. Though the medical team was able to get to her in time, it was too late to save her; she died several days later.[2]

According to studies done at La Salle College, Bacolod and UNICEF that year, about eight to ten percent of the children of Negros was suffering from third-degree malnutrition. The dire situation worsened due to the plummeting of sugarcane prices, which drove hundreds of workers, including Abong’s father, to unemployment.[3]

The image of poverty and hunger painted life in Negros in 1980 and the dying children of toiling laborers and sacadas were the breathing testament to the worsening economic situation in the province. However, it may be remiss to attribute this crisis solely to the decline of the sugar industry. On the contrary, in the early 1970s, sugar was among the chief export products of the country. It was the lucrative aspect of the sugar industry that allured Roberto Benedicto, one of President Ferdinand Marcos’s closest allies and cronies. As recognition for his services and loyalty to Marcos, Benedicto was awarded control over industries he coveted. This included control over the international trading of sugar for local hacenderos (landlords).[4]

Victims of Malnutrition and Hunger in Negros

One of the many victims of malnutrition and hunger in Negros. Photo taken by John Silva in 1986. Retrieved from his Facebook page at:

Benedicto was made the head of the Philippine Sugar Commission (Philsucom), which took over for the Philippine Exchange Commission (Philex) in 1977, and later used its trading arm, the National Sugar Trading Corporation (Nasutra), to control the purchase and selling of sugar in the country. To aggrandize himself, Benedicto used these entities to purchase sugar at egregiously low prices from local producers and then sold at exorbitantly high prices for massive profit. Marcos signed Presidential Decrees (P.D.s) which made Philsucom the sole authority over the industry, providing it with exclusive control to determine prices, take over sugar mills or refineries as it saw fit, and manage the marketing cooperatives traditionally controlled by hacenderos.[5]

This economic practice generated massive profits that the tillers, farm workers, and sacadas would never see. Local hacenderos themselves initially got the losing end of the bargain as well, but were appeased when the Marcos government exempted the sugar industry from paying the minimum wage and other stipulated stipends for its workers. The hacenderos were also able to buy lands from their peasant laborers, who were forced to sell their lands at a loss to pay massive debts incurred by the lack of income. This meant that the primary benefactors were the heads of the government agencies that managed sugar trading; the hacenderos kept a decent profit in exchange for loose compensation for its workers, who were essentially vastly overworked and underpaid. By the mid-1980s, in the midst of a slumping industry, hundreds of thousands of workers lost their jobs and faced starvation. The workers who remained literally could not afford to quit their livelihood. Work was seasonal and difficult to find. Most of these workers had no land of their own, and were still impoverished and maltreated.[6]

Benedicto headed both Philsucom and Nasutra and installed other Marcos allies as directors. These included Fred Elizalde, Jaime Dacanay and known sugar baron Armando Gustilo.[7] Gustilo was among the biggest and most powerful sugarcane planters in Negros. He himself had been slowly consolidating his control in the local Negros sugar industry. As a Marcos ally, his loyalty and services were also repaid. He was a congressman, and later became the governor of Negros Occidental during the Marcos dictatorship. He was allowed to train and employ his own paramilitary group.[8] On top of the government forces, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and the Integrated National Police (INP), groups such as the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF) and the Reserved Special Action Forces (RSAF) were credited with the widespread terror in Negros, accussed of harassment, torture, illegal detainment, among others. The government also had plans to divide the province of Negros Occidental into Negros del Norte and Negros del Sur. This was viewed by many as a gerrymandering scheme by Marcos, Gustilo and other cronies to tighten control over Negros.[9]

The hunger and malnutrition that drastically affected about one in five Negrense children, the takeover of the sugar industry that led to thousands of workers becoming unemployed or being abused by the hacenderos and their private armies, as well as the political maneuvering of Marcos cronies and landlords – all of these became the kindling of the collective anger of the people. The Negrenses had long been patient. They had long been quiet. Their rage festered and built up over years of poverty and repression perpetuated by the men in uniforms and the men in power.

Roberto Benedicto

Roberto Benedicto, notorious Marcos crony and a powerful authority over the sugar industry during Martial Law. Photo retrieved from the Philippine Embassy in Japan’s website at

All of it came to a head in 1985, when a nationwide protest movement was organized to demand massive changes. It was slated for September to mark the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. There were large rallies set in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon, part of the continued resistance movement that escalated with the death of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. two years prior. Equally massive was a three-day demonstration to be attended by thousands of implacable sacadas, fisherfolk, teachers, students, laborers, and other people from all walks of life in Northern Negros. The rally was planned to raise the issues of fair wages and benefits, as well as to stop the militarization and rising prices of commodities. Protesters also urged for genuine land and agrarian reform to equalize the distribution of land among the powerful landlords and many landless tenants. Lastly, they also called out the recent spate of killings, such as that of Fr. Tullio Favali in Mindanao, and enforced disappearances, such as that of Fr. Rudy Romano and Rolan Ybañez.[10]

The Welgang Bayan

The three-day Welgang Bayan was supported and organized by several labor unions, church groups, and organizations in Negros. Though there were calls for massive changes, the protesters had one unifying call: the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos.[11] One of the organizing team leaders for the rally was Eddie Villalon, a teacher from the local Mt. Carmel College.[12] His wife, Alma Lazarte-Villalon, also took part in the rally to monitor the situation, being part of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) – Escalante Unit’s quick reaction team.[13] Other organizers were the leaders and members of labor unions such as the Association of Small Fishermen in Northern Negros (ASFINN) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW). Support for the movement was large. Unaffiliated workers, such as doctors and lawyers, also participated. Those who could not physically join the event extended their assistance through giving food or donation for the rallyists.[14]

Place of Incident

Layout of the place of incident, as recreated from the illustrations found in Political Detainees Update and Int’l Edition, Vol. 1, No. 2 and ICHTHYS, Vol. VIII, No. 34. Illustration by Reginald C. Coloma.

The first day was scheduled for September 19, so its culmination would fall on September 21, the day Martial Law was imposed.[15] However, activities began as early as the afternoon of September 18, when some 5,000 protesters began staging a noise barrage. Some children even participated, banging on empty cooking pots as condemnation of the neglect over the starvation and poverty tormenting the Negrenses.[16] Protesters like Nenita Orot, Maria Luz Mondejar, Romeo Suarez and Juanito Suarez, Jr., joined the activities later that night while their friend, a young NFSW member Robina Franco joined the following day.[17] The number of protesters swelled to around 10,000 that evening, and the night culminated with a torch parade and a cultural presentation at the town plaza. Though briefly disturbed by a drunken soldier who fired shots in the air, no one was hurt and the night passed relatively quietly.[18]

Early the next day, they began forming the barricades where the people could congregate and later block passing vehicles so even transport drivers could join in. Barricade 1 was located just by the town plaza, outside the rural bank of Escalante and facing the Escalante municipal hall. Barricade 2 was located in front of the public market located just around the rotunda. The first day of the three-day demonstration passed by quietly as well. However, the protesters already saw some fire trucks arriving, as well as paramilitary forces, the CHDF, which leaders like Villalon attributed to Armando Gustilo.[19]

In fact, two weeks prior, Radio Cadiz, which was owned by Gustilo, reportedly launched a smear campaign of the impending Welgang Bayan, labeling the protesters as “Communist-infiltrated,” and that the organizers of the movement, which included leaders of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), church workers and faculty members of the local Mt. Carmel College, were “communist tools.”[20] With the arrival of CHDF troopers, many felt a sense of danger. This event could benefit the people of Negros in the long run. Protest rallies in Bacolod prior to this had generally been peaceful so while there was some inkling of doubt, people were confident that they could push through without a hitch.[21]

More people started arriving on September 19 and in the early morning of September 20. Some protesters had to assuage the fears of their loved ones, like hacienda worker and NFSW member Cesar Tejones, who had to ask permission from his wife. She was six months pregnant and their family was financially restrained. Tejones, however, dreamed of a better life for his family, and thought this was one step towards realizing that. He managed to convince his wife and borrowed money from a neighbor to join.[22] There were some who could not be dissuaded regardless, such as hacienda worker William Alegre and farmer/prayer leader Rodolfo Mahinay, who left without their family’s permission to join the rally. Alegre went despite his mother’s objection, and Mahinay went with his uncle while his family was under the impression that he would merely be staying over at his grandmother’s house.[23]

There were also those who were already prepared to accept whatever might happen to them. Rodolfo Montealto asked his younger brother to take care of the family, telling him that “whatever happens, this is for the good of all.” Rogelio Megallen told his mother that “[he] must die for [his] native land,” hoping that one of his brothers could take his place in the struggle for the national liberation of Filipinos. Norberto Locanilao begged his mother that, should he die, she should “not become weak again [and] let the strong principles prevail.”[24] Perhaps these words were a portent of what was to come.

The Escalante Massacre

What was to come became increasingly apparent as the hours ticked on September 20. More fire trucks and soldiers continued to arrive. Villalon and the organizers got word that then-BAYAN chair Rolando Ponsica had been arrested in his own home, being instructed to order the people to disperse. By noon, more CHDF forces, as well as troopers from the PC and INP began stationing themselves in the plaza. This composite team of PC-INP-CHDF, including some members of the RSAF was in full gear and fully armed with high powered rifles and teargas canisters on their person. Policemen in the area asked nearby shops and stalls to close down for the day as the rallyists would be dispersed.[25]

Escalante Massacre

One of the photos of the Escalante Massacre, when the protesters were doused with water. Photo retrieved from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani’s article at

Villalon and the other leaders instructed the negotiators from their ranks to prepare in the event that they needed to communicate with the soldiers. According to a later report by labor groups Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF), one policeman inside his vehicle invited the negotiators inside the Municipal Hall. The organizers, already aware something was amiss, insisted that the negotiations be done outside instead. The police left and did not return. Protesters also saw a machine gun perched on top of the municipal hall.[26]

When the wife of Edgardo Salili, an ASFINN member and one of the organizers who had been in Escalante as early as September 17, brought him food and saw the machine gun, she pleaded for him to come home but to no avail.[27] The threats of dispersal and danger were imminent, but the demonstrators still wanted to continue. To counter the teargas, they prepared calamansi, collecting the juice in pails and wetting handkerchiefs. The frontliners started shouting “makibaka, huwag matakot!” and linking their arms.[28] The military offensive to disperse the protesters began minutes after town mayor Brauilio Lumayno and Armando Gustilo reportedly left the Municipal Hall.[29]

The protesters at Barricade 1 were bombarded by the water cannons of the fire trucks stationed nearby. Being doused by water failed to dissuade protesters, who even started joking with each other while refusing to let go of their linked arms. Some quipped about finally being able to take a bath; Juvelyn Jarabelo, one of the more vocal members of Villalon’s organizing team, wittily lamented about not being able to bring shampoo.[30] Two fire trucks exhausted their water supply bombarding those in Barricade 1, and the soldiers resorted to throwing tear gas canisters at the protesters. One canister landed close to Jarabelo, who picked it up and threw it back at the soldiers. At that moment, the soldiers singled out Jarabelo among the crowd and shot her multiple times, killing her instantly. They then began indiscriminately shooting the protesters. The machine gun started firing as well. The people forming Barricade 1 began running in all directions, but some were felled by the bullets and many people died on the spot.[31]

Some ways across the road, the people forming Barricade 2 were also doused with water and heard the gunfire, but assumed they were merely warning shots. They continued protesting until they saw people running, some of them wounded and bloodied. They had been eager not to disperse, but mass panic ensued. Many of the surviving protesters fled or hid. Those who remained to face the attackers saw some of the onlookers and their relatives picking up rocks and preparing to throw them at the soldiers. One of the protesters shouted at the soldiers that they were surrendering, but the armed troopers of the CHDF kept their guns aimed at the hapless rallyists. They were given respite when a PC commanding officer recognized his nephew among the crowd and ordered a ceasefire, upon which they ran inside a church convent.[32]

The Escalante Massacre

The Escalante Massacre’s first casualty, Juvelyn Jarabelo, according to the Support Committee for Negros and Political Detainees Update. Photo taken from “The Escalante Massacre,” in Political Detainees Update, Vol. 1, No. 2 (15 October – 14 November 1985), 13, Political Detainees Update (1984-1986), 1985, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Quezon City, Philippines.

The CHDF shot some of those who had already been lying down on the ground outside. When the shooting stopped, the survivors called for help to treat the injured. The dead were laid side by side in front of the town hall, later picked up by the 334th PC company to take back to their headquarters.[33] A local doctor who had tried to save the wounded concluded that many of those who died on the spot had been shot in the back, some of them while lying down.[34] Initial count placed the number of dead at 27, with 197 people missing, 30 seriously wounded and 21 others charged of inciting to sedition.[35] A later tally would place the number at 20 killed and 24 others wounded. Below are the names of those confirmed to have been killed:


ALEGRE, William                              18 Y.O.           

DAYANAN, Michael                           17 Y.O.

DEMEGILIO, Rodney                         27 Y.O.

FRANCO, Robina                              14 Y.O.

JARABELO, Juvelyn                         20 Y.O.

LABATOS, Alex                                 18 Y.O.

LAPE, Angelina                                 17 Y.O.

LOCANILAO, Norberto                      16 Y.O.           

MAHINAY, Rodolfo                            23 Y.O.

MEGALLEN, Rogelio Jr.                    21 Y.O.           

MONARES, Claro                              29 Y.O.           

MONDEJAR, Maria Luz                    16 Y.O.

MONTEALTO, Rodolfo                      21 Y.O.           

ORNOPIA, Aniano                            41 Y.O.

OROT, Nenita                                   20 Y.O.

SALILI, Edgardo                               24 Y.O.           

STA. ANA, Ronilo                             17 Y.O.

SUAREZ, Juanito Jr.                         20 Y.O.

TAN, Manuel                                     18 Y.O.

TEJONES, Cesar                              23 Y.O.


All but one of the victims were in their twenties or were teenagers, the youngest being 14. They were already hacienda workers, fishermen or laborers at their age, proof of how awful conditions were in Negros. Their deaths at the hands of the military was proof of how far the authorities would go to quell dissent during Martial Law.

Aftermath and Legacy of the Massacre

In the aftermath of the incident, the survivors faced crippling fear and trauma. The whirring of helicopters and reports of New People’s Army guerrillas coming to Escalante prompted them to constantly return to hiding places. The leaders and negotiators soon heard that they had been charged and were forced to disguise themselves before leaving the area. Some of the men, like Toto Patigas, went out dressed as a woman to further conceal themselves at checkpoints. Many fled to nearby provinces to escape the pursuit of policemen.[36]

Escalantae Martyrs

Available photos of the Escalante Martyrs. Photo retrieved from the “Escalante Massacre” article of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation at

In the following days, the town was quiet and people rarely left their houses, but they soon had to reopen school and businesses, albeit still monitored by soldiers.[37] Many were in disbelief about what had happened, but they were unequivocally enraged. Upon being asked about the incident, Lt. Gen. Fidel Ramos immediately commented that the composite PC-INP-CHDF force had only fired in self-defense, even before conducting any investigation. This was belied by witnesses and the victims who, as mentioned earlier, were shot in the back and while lying down, suggesting that they were shot while facing away from the shooter or already lying on the ground.[38]

The agony of the survivors and relatives of the victims did not end there. Most of the victims were killed on the spot, but there were some who had initially survived. Both Nenita Orot and Robina Franco sustained gunshot wounds but lived to reach the hospital. Though Orot eventually passed away, Franco remained in the throes of death due to blood loss. According to her mother, no doctor attended to her, as they were reportedly being prevented by the military, and she eventually died that night. They were continuously tormented even when they merely wanted to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones. The mother of Mahinay went to the 334th PC Headquarters to obtain the body of her son, but she was scared off by five warning shots. She had to seek the help of TFDP workers, as did many others, to retrieve the remains.[39]

Demonstration in Escalante

Demonstration in Escalante, Negros, September 1985, with a row of fake coffins commemorating the victims of Escalante. Photo taken from the FGN photo collection in the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

Even with the bodies being recovered and given proper burial, the Negrenses wanted accountability. They held demonstrations in protest against the deaths of their fellowmen. The military had turned the case against them, insisting it had been an act of self-defense and filing arrest warrants for many of the organizers. Armando Gustilo, for his part, insisted that he was not involved, despite the fact that he had been reported leaving the Municipal Hall, and his Mercedes Benz was seen nearby on the day of the shooting. He had also been in touch with Regional Unified Command VI Brig. Gen. Isidro de Guzman. When asked to comment on television about the incident, Gustilo said that “they are dead because they were induced and incited to make the moves against the government.”[40]

The groups who had facilitated the Welgang Bayan were equally enraged. BAYAN reportedly filed charges of genocide against the Marcos government before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).[41] TFDP-Escalante Unit’s Lazarte-Villalon personally attended to the victims and their families. She attended court hearings, fact finding missions and documented the massacre. She was eventually the one who facilitated the filing of the families to become claimants in the Human Rights Litigation Against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos (MDL No. 840, CA No. 88-0390). Lawyers Robert Swift and Jose Marie Velez, who was later replaced by Rod Domingo Jr. upon his death in 1991, battled for the recognition of the atrocities committed by the Marcos Regime and for the reparations of thousands of human rights violations victims (HRVVs).[42]

An invitation card to the Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes in 2013

An invitation card to the Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes in 2013, which prominently features the Escalante Martyrs. Photo retrieved from the docket files of Alex Labatos (Case No. 2014-06-00710). Accessed from the archives of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board.

The long protracted battle against the Marcos Estate resulted in a victory. By 2011, families received letters from Swift and Domingo, notifying them that they had been declared eligible to obtain a settlement fund of ₱50,000 or roughly $1,000.[43] Many of the families kept their copies of the letter, which they used to further establish their claim for the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) in July 2014. The HRVCB was created through the passage of Republic Act No. 10368, which similarly provided for recognition and compensation of the HRVVs of the Martial Law era. They were likewise also assisted by Lazarte-Villalon for this.[44]

The Escalante Martyrs’ names inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance

The Escalante Martyrs’ names inscribed in the Wall of Remembrance. Photo taken by Reginald C. Coloma on June 10, 2021.

The victims were also honored by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in 2013. All but one of the victims’ names were etched in the Wall of Remembrance. Juvelyn Jarabelo, the first casualty of the incident, had been honored as part of the Bantayog’s inaugural list of heroes and martyrs.[45] Until today, their names on that granite monument stand in remembrance of their invaluable sacrifice to champion the welfare and rights of the Negrenses.

Though many of the victims have been recognized and provided remuneration, the people have not yet forgotten about the horrors that unfolded on that day. After investigations and fact-finding missions were conducted, labor groups KMU and IUF reached out to the International Labor Organization (ILO)’s Committee on Freedom of Association with the facts of the case and asked for assistance. The committee submitted its report to the Philippine government and received a reply on April 28, 1986, two months after the People Power Revolution and the ouster of Marcos. In it, the newly installed Corazon Aquino administration expressed its commitment to pursue the case against the perpetrators, having mobilized the Ministry of Defense’s Fact-Finding Committee and the office of the Ombudsman to investigate and file charges. It also expressed its commitment to improve the working and living conditions in labor and employment.[46]

Ultimately, only 45 people were charged for the crime, including Mayor Braulio Lumayno and Governor Armando Gustilo.[47] Of the 45 people, who were members of the composite team of the PC-INP-CHDF, only 28 were arrested and tried, as the 16 others remained at large.[48] Furthermore, as with many powerful cronies and identified perpetrators of killings and abuses under the Marcos Regime, almost all escaped punishment. The case against Gustilo was never even pursued – or rather, it couldn’t be pursued. The Sandiganbayan dismissed them upon learning of his death in the United States in 1986.[49] The Supreme Court ruling of the case was made in 1996, during the term of Marcos’s former PC Chief, Fidel V. Ramos.

As stated in the ruling, of the 28 personnel who were tried, only three low-ranking policemen, T/Sgt. Generoso N. Subayco, C1C Alfredo T. Alcalde, and C1C Eleuterio O. Ibañez were convicted and jailed for the incident.[50] The ponente, Justice Reynato Puno, expressly denied the petition of the three insisting on their innocence and for their release. He further warned military and police authorities “that they cannot shoot people who are exercising their right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievance.”[51]

Though the court upheld the idea of implied conspiracy, it was “only on the part of all the accused who fired at the demonstrators.” Of those they determined to have fired at the demonstrators, only the aforementioned policemen were arrested and convicted, as the others were among those who were still at large. The remaining 25 officers charged were eventually acquitted, as the court found “the evidence against [them] to be insufficient to establish their liability.”[52] Despite Justice Puno’s words, the three convicted officers were eventually released on parole in 2003. One ranking member of the RSAF, also being pinpointed as one of the perpetrators, was redeployed and even promoted elsewhere. 

Justice Puno remarked that the ruling was not the end of giving justice, as 16 of the accused continued to elude arrest. He laments that “not until they have been arrested and tried will justice emerge triumphant for justice cannot come in fraction.”[53] No sources at present indicate that they were ever arrested or tried. Justice remains elusive for the Negrenses, in more ways than one.

The condition of Negros, even after the end of Martial Law, remained largely the same. According to Escalante Massacre survivor Toto Patigas, tracts of lands, beaches and sugar farms are still with the same old families, the poor still bear the brunt of gentrified modernization, and paramilitary groups still roam the area, many deployed for surveillance and peacekeeping.[54] Perhaps as a cruel validation of his observation of Negros remaining the same, Patigas himself was killed by a riding-in-tandem in April 2019. He had been the 48th Negros human rights advocate murdered since 2016.[55]

Patigas had been the secretary-general of the Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA), an organization formed and staffed by the families of the victims. They also formed the Negros chapter of Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny (MARTYR). As part of their efforts to honor the Escalante Martyrs, the Negrense mark the anniversary of the massacre every year with activities. Adolfo Maguate, a BAYAN member and massacre survivor, rose to the position of vice mayor of Escalante and declared September 20 as an annual day of mourning and prayer for the townspeople. Every September 19, the Negrenses hold a vigil and torch parade. A mass and a caravan are held on September 20, followed by a reenactment of the Escalante Massacre at noon.[56] They have not yet forgotten about the horrors that unfolded on that day, but perhaps they chose not to forget. Human rights defenders like Patigas have also laid their lives on the line to prevent Negros from relapsing back into how it was some 40 years ago.

The Escalante Massacre was one of the last major atrocities of the Marcos Regime. It was part of a dictator’s swan song, a bookend to nearly two decades of rampant human rights abuses. His absolute reign also allowed the siphoning of the country’s riches to favor a select few at the expense of struggling Filipinos. This may be no more apparent anywhere else than it was in Negros. Children were starving, workers were spent, and families were drowning in debt, while paramilitary forces exercised unbridled authority, cronies amassed wealth, and politicians consolidated control.

The monument dedicated to the Escalante Martyrs, in the form of three raised fists

The monument dedicated to the Escalante Martyrs, in the form of three raised fists, erected in the place where the shooting took place. Photo retrieved from Rep. Carlos Zarate’s Twitter page at

The people of Negros could only take so much. In September of 1985, thousands marched in the streets, clamoring for a political and social upheaval that could stop their descent into an irreparable crisis. Water did not dampen their spirit, smoke did not blind them, and bullets will not silence their cry for change. Some were prepared to lose their lives for the sake of the movement, optimistic that their sacrifice would set in motion the liberation of their people. And it did. The fight continues in their wake, but the situation in Negros has still been perpetuated by the people in power, and much still needs to be done. As Jesus Tan, father of one of the victims, aptly puts it, they will continue the struggle begun by their martyred loved ones to attain equality, justice and peace.[57] To ensure no one else, like Joel Abong, Toto Patigas and the Escalante Martyrs, suffers. To ensure no one else, like Marcos, Benedicto and Gustilo, can bleed people dry.

The Escalante Martyrs’ monument has a marker with words that perfectly encapsulate the lives they have led: “Ang magbuhos ng dugo para sa bayan, ay kagitingang hindi malilimutan. Ang buhay na inalay sa lupang mahal, mayaman sa aral at kadakilaan (Ang magula ug dugo alang sa katawhan, usa ka kabayanihon nga dili makalimtan. Ang kinabuhi nga gihalad alang sa pinanggang nasud bahandianon nga pagtulon-an ug dungganon).”[58]


[1] Inday Espina-Varona, “Under Marcos, the lush sugar lands of Negros Island turned red,” LICAS News, September 22, 2020, accessed September 14, 2021,

[2] John Silva, 2016, “I was in Negros last week,” Facebook, March 1, 2016, accessed September 14, 2021, This story is also included in Raissa Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines, 2016), 218.

[3] Espina-Varona, “Under Marcos.”

[4] Ricardo Manapat, Some Are Smarter Than Others: The History of Marcos’ Crony Capitalism (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2020), 85.

[5] Ibid., 88, 90-91. Philsucom’s authority was reinforced by P.D. 388 and P.D. 1192. Philex later folded due to purchasing sugar in massive bulk, failing to anticipate a crash in the international price of sugar. Much of the stock sugar deteriorated and they were forced to sell at a loss. They recuperated with their subsequent moves through Philsucom and Nasutra.

[6] Ibid., 107-108.

[7] Ibid., 91.

[8] “Escalante Massacre Victims,” Bantayog ng mga Bayani, March 5, 2015, 1, accessed from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Claims Board; Eddie Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account of the 1985 Escalante Massacre,” narration, Escalante City, August 2, 2013, translated by May Rodriguez, Bantayog ng mga Bayani, accessed September 14, 2021,

[9] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” This was later enacted through Batas Pambansa Blg. 885 in January 1986, but in July that same year, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional and abolished the newly created provinces.

[10] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” in Ichthys Vol. VIII, No. 34 (4 October 1985), 1-2, ICHTHYS 1985 (II), ICHTHYS II, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Quezon City, Philippines.

[11] Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 2.

[12] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[13] Alma Lazarte-Villalon, “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00359, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[14] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[15] Martial Law was officially declared on national television on September 23, but the signing of the document was officially dated September 21. See:

[16] Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 1.

[17] “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00407, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00637, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00918, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00982, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[18] Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 1.

[19] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[20] Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 3.

[21] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[22] “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00602, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. “Escalante Massacre Victims.”

[23] “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00359, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00542, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[24] “Escalante Massacre Victims.” The quotes are translated to English from Cebuano. This article was submitted as part of the claims of the relatives of Maria Luz Mondejar, Aniano Ornopia, and Edgardo Salili to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB).

[25] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” Karl G. Ombion, “19 Years After ‘Bloody Thursday,’ Terror Still Stalks Escalante,” in Bulatlat, Vol. IV, No. 33 (September 19 – 25, 2004). Accessed September 14.

[26] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” Committee on Freedom of Association, “Philippines (Case No. 1353): The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the International Union of Food and Allied Workers’ Association,” in Report No. 246, Vol. LXIX, 1986, Series B, No. 3, accessed September 14, 2021,

[27] “Escalante Massacre Victims;” “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00405, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[28] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[29] Ombion, “19 Years After ‘Bloody Thursday.’”

[30] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” “Jaravello, Juvelyn.” Bantayog ng mga Bayani, October 12, 2015. Accessed September 14, 2021. Jarabelo’s name is spelled differently in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani articles. Her name, along with those of the other victims, is spelled here according to how it is spelled in the claims their relatives filed with the HRVCB.

[31] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account;” Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 2; “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00847, Quezon City, 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[32] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[33] Ibid.

[34] Movement for Philippine Sovereignty and Democracy, “The Escalante Massacre: The Treachery of a Desperate Regime,” in Ichthys Vol. VIII, No. 34 (4 October 1985), 13, ICHTHYS 1985 (II), ICHTHYS II, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Quezon City, Philippines.

[35] Support Committee for Negros, “Fact Sheet: Escalante Massacre,” 3.

[36] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[37] Ibid.

[38] Movement for Philippine Sovereignty and Democracy, “The Escalante Massacre,” 13.

[39] “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00407, Quezon City, 2014); “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00918, Quezon City, 2014); “Affidavit” (Case No. 2014-06-00542, Quezon City, 2014); “Escalante Massacre Victims.”

[40] Manapat, Some Are Smarter Than Others, 109.

[41] “The Escalante Massacre,” in Political Detainees Update, Vol. 1, No. 2 (15 October – 14 November 1985), 12, Political Detainees Update (1984-1986), 1985, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection. Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, Quezon City, Philippines.

[42] Lazarte-Villalon, “Affidavit.”

[43] Robert Swift, “Re: Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, MDL No. 840,” February 14, 2011, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[44] Lazarte-Villalon, “Affidavit.”

[45] This is likely because it took quite some time to ascertain the facts about the case, such as the final list of confirmed victims. Nineteen of the names are grouped as the Escalante Martyrs on the leftmost part of the Wall of Remembrance while Jarabelo’s name (spelled as Jaravello) is included in the initial alphabetical list by the middle.

[46] Committee on Freedom of Association, “Philippines (Case No. 1353).”

[47] By December 1985, a fact-finding committee for the massacre had already submitted a recommendation for charging Escalante Mayor Lumayno, along with the town’s INP chief Capt. Rafael Jugan and PC Capt. Modesto Sanson, Jr. See:

[48] Subayco v. Sandiganbayan and People of the Philippines, G.R. No. 117267-117310, August 22, 1996, retrieved October 22, 2021,

[49] Gustilo died in December. In his final year, even under the new administration, Gustilo continued to contest for control and power in Negros, including frequent clashes with then-Cadiz City Mayor Rowena Guanzon: See:

[50] Ibid. T/Sgt. = Technical Sergeant; C1C = Constable 1st Class. This was in response to the petition of the three police officers who were convicted, as they contested their ruling against them.

[51] Ibid. As seen in the photo above, now-retired Justice Reynato Puno was invited as a guest of honor and speaker during the honoring of the Escalante Massacre victims at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in 2013.

[52] Ibid. As per the Supreme Court ruling, those identified by witnesses to have fired their guns were Alfredo M. Quinatagca, Elias Torias, Jimmy Mayordomo, Teddy Magtubo, Jeremias Villanueva, Jose “Boy” Parcon, Roming Javier, and the three petitioners Eleuterio O. Ibañez, Generoso W. Subayco, and Alfredo Alcalde.

[53]  Ibid.; “Jaravello, Juvelyn;” Ombion, “19 Years After ‘Bloody Thursday.’” 

[54] Ombion, “19 Years After ‘Bloody Thursday.’”

[55] Connie Fernandez-Brojan, “Escalante massacre survivor latest victim of Negros killings,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 24, 2019, accessed September 14, 2021,

[56] Villalon, “Eddie Villalon’s account.”

[57] “Escalante Massacre Victims.”

[58]  These were also words used as an epitaph for Edgar Jopson upon his death.