Jacobo Amatong belonged to a prominent family in Dipolog City. They owned a well-regarded school, his brothers were well-known in Mindanaoan politics, and Amatong himself was a respected lawyer and editor-publisher of a local paper named Mindanao Observer.
Besides serving as city councilor from 1971 until his death, he was active in many civic and community organizations, and received numerous awards from civic, charitable, government, professional, education and other organizations.
When the country fell under martial law and military abuses spread in his province of Zamboanga del Norte, Amatong took up the cause for justice and human rights, particularly the right to free speech and a free press. He espoused the cause of the common people. Mindanao Observer defied martial law restrictions on newspapers and published articles critical of the regime, especially the military. It exposed their involvement in protecting gambling operations, in extortion activities, and the fabrication of military reports by an intelligence officer for blackmail purposes. It reported on cases of summary execution of civilians and military bombing of communities. It also published appeals on behalf of political detainees.
Mindanao Observer gained the respect of many Filipinos, but it did not endear Amatong to the regime. He went further by taking up human rights cases and becoming an outspoken member of the Western Mindanao Alliance of Sectoral Organizations-Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD).
On September 20, 1984, eve of the anniversary of the imposition of martial law, Amatong again defied the authorities and spoke at a rally denouncing the military abuses.
That week, Amatong and his friend Zorro Aguilar, also a human rights lawyer, had been preparing to join a mission to document reports of military abuses in the province and to exhume the bodies of two individuals who had been summarily executed three months earlier in Tampilisan town.
The night before they planned to depart with the fact-finding mission, Amatong and Aguilar were walking along a city street when two men came up and shot them at close range. Aguilar died on the spot, while Amatong was brought to a nearby hospital by someone who recognized him. Asked three times if he recognized the attackers, each time Amatong replied:”…Army…” He died in the hospital eight hours later.
Two soldiers were identified as the killers by a key witness, the driver of the getaway vehicle; the latter was himself killed by unidentified men a year later.
Family and friends demanded justice from the government but no hearings were ever conducted on the two killings. Few doubted that the order to kill came from martial law authorities.
Some 10,000 people came to attend the funerals held for the two lawyers, a sight never before seen in Dipolog.