DINGCONG, Demosthenes

dingcongThe long and oppressive rule of the Marcos dictatorship would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of powerful civilian officials at the local level. The regime relied mainly on its military forces, and many of these civilian officials also had a military background. They maintained private armies who functioned as paramilitary units of the regular armed forces.

In such places, and especially during the dictatorship, violence ruled. Governance was not subject to the rule of law, but only to the wishes of the local tyrant who spent the people’s money as he wished, and controlled illegal activities such as gambling and smuggling. The government’s counter-insurgency program was frequently an excuse for the killing of political opponents.

Demosthenes Dingcong was a journalist who wrote about government and military corruption and abuses under the harrowing conditions of martial law. He was killed for it.

Dingcong was the provincial correspondent of the newspaper Bulletin Today. Like most community journalists, he wrote for several publications and hosted a radio program. Although he was a well-known personality, it was not easy for him to live a comfortable life; he and his family lived in a house that they rented for P70 a month.

Writing under martial law conditions was difficult enough, but Dingcong faced greater difficulties than most. Lanao was a stronghold of Marcos henchman, the warlord Ali Dimaporo, then Lanao governor. Yet Dingcong continued to do his job. “I have never been cowed [into exchanging] my freedom to write the truth,” he wrote just before he was killed.

He exposed anomalies committed by local politicians, military abuses, the plight of political prisoners, the existence of a military protection racket for big- time jai-alai bookies in Iligan, and corruption in public office, among others. City officials often threatened him, one of whom even pointed a gun at him once. In another incident, two men tried to shoot him in a market place.

In October 1980, Bulletin Today published his exposé on fund irregularities at the government-run Mindanao State University, where Dimaporo sat as chairman of the board. The article revealed the disappearance of a P1.35-million fund intended for students’ food and allowances.

Dingcong had to go into hiding after this exposé was published. Writing to the National Press Club, he said that certain persons had been roaming the city looking for him, ready to kill him on sight. After a few days, however, he went back home. But on December 5, a gunman crept from behind him inside his house in Iligan City and shot him in the head.

Journalists all over the country, led by the National Press Club and other professional organizations, issued statements expressing anger over his killing.

And although the local officials stayed away from Dingcong’s wake and funeral, thousands of ordinary people came to mourn his death.

In a tribute to the martyred journalist, the bishop of Iligan, Fernando R. Capalla, pointed out: “…[A]t last a poor person like Demy – one of your own in your poverty – was able to destroy the myth that the truth about Lanao and Iligan cannot be told and publicized.”

Because of the strong negative reaction, President Marcos had to promise an immediate investigation and justice for Dingcong. Four suspects, all constabulary soldiers, including a personal bodyguard of Dimaporo, were arrested. One actually admitted to being the gunman.

However, three were immediately cleared of charges. The confessed killer was released not long after and got hired as a bodyguard of another provincial official.