Eliseo Dapog was the eldest son of a farming couple in Quezon province. His parents just had enough to feed nine children, but not to send them to school after the elementary grades. His father was ailing and Eliseo began early to take responsibility for the family, and their six-hectare farm where they grew rice and corn.
Even as a teenager, Dapog already involved himself in community affairs, joining a campaign against cattle rustling when he was only 15 years old. He also started a family early, getting married at age 16. Eliseo taught his four children the values he himself lived by, foremost of which was to defend the rights of the powerless against a powerful few.
Chosen to serve as barangay captain in 1978 and reelected in 1981, Dapog was disturbed by the human rights violations occurring in his community and in the nearby barrios. Villagers were being detained and tortured, even worse, summarily executed by the military, on mere suspicion of being opposed to the dictatorial regime and siding with the rebel guerrillas. He spoke openly against these abuses.
He helped organize a rally on February 1, 1981 to protest the highly intensified militarization of his province. Soldiers opened fire on the marchers, killing two farmers and wounding scores of others. The incident came to be called the Guinayangan massacre.
Still, Dapog continued to defend the people’s rights. Twice in 1984, he hosted a factfinding mission of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, organized to document the continuing abuses. In preparation for their arrival, the barangay captain went around, encouraging people to overcome their fear and to tell the truth.
Dapog was one of the signatories to a resolution asking the Batasang Pambansa, the martial law parliament, to investigate the widespread abuses and violations of human rights in Quezon. Many other barangay leaders in the province remained silent, fearing for their lives.
Only death stopped Dapog. In the early afternoon of July 6, 1985, he boarded a passenger bus on the way to Los Baños, Laguna, to speak at a protest rally. In Gumaca, just after Guinayangan, three armed men, wearing face masks, stopped the vehicle and forced Dapog to go with them. Moments later, gunshots were heard. Dapog was later found dead with wounds in his forehead, neck and chest.
The body was brought to the municipal hall of Guinayangan, and a memorial mass said in his honor. Thousands from all over Quezon came to pay their respects during the four-day wake that followed. People crammed the municipal hall and overﬂowed into the streets, mourning for this leader who spoke for them, gave them his life, and died for them.