Coming from a family of market vendors in Meycauayan, Danilo Aguirre had an easy childhood. He was an active member of a parish-based group and he liked to study Church teachings. When Marcos launched a dictatorship in 1972, Danilo, then in his late teens, joined church groups undertaking activities that made people aware of their rights, even joining protest rallies over some of the excesses of the dictatorship. He was a volunteer-watcher during the 1981 Batasang Pambansa elections.
At this time, the militant farmers’ alliance, Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), although still young, had launched a series of actions to demand the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program. AMGL had not reached Bulacan and was on the lookout for volunteer organizers from the province. In a way organizing was a dangerous activity. Martial law was in full effect and the military was the virtual power in Bulacan. Also, landowners in Bulacan felt threatened by AMGL and kept harassing farmers with their private armies. Danilo heard the search for volunteers from the church grapevine and regardless of his own safety, offered himself.
The Bulacan Martyrs
While most ordinary Filipinos were cowed by the repressive machinations of the Marcos dictatorship, a good number actually exhorted the population to defy the regime and struggle to reclaim their freedoms and see democracy restored in the country. Most of these courageous few came from the youth sector.
The youth had the advantage of exuberance, idealism, and a deep sense of love for country. They, particularly the students in schools, also had access to information and resources useful for understanding the situation the country was in. It was natural that the youth would be the least cowed by the dictatorship.
Testing the martial law waters, first they organized to demand reforms in the campuses, raising issues such as tuition fee increases and demanding the restoration of student councils and student publications. Then they spread out into the communities and the rural areas, where they engaged the rest of the working population in discussions and debates, seeking to sweep away apathy and fear, and bolster the people’s courage to fight for justice and freedom. In doing this, these young people often had to abandon lives of comfort and ease, risking discovery, arrest, jail, even death, for some higher purpose. Many survived these risky ventures but some did not. They fell on the wayside, never returning to their old lives or their waiting families, their bloods merging with the soil where they fell.
Among these young people who heeded this powerful call to give all for one’s country despite the risks, never to return and never even to see victory, are the five youths from Bulacan province being nominated for Bantayog’s roster of heroes and martyrs: Danilo Aguirre, Edwin Borlongan, Teresita LLorente, Renato Manimbo, and Constantino Medina.
Circumstances of Death
The group had been meeting to draft a program of action and to evaluate their initial work. Just this early stage had taken months to do. Then, one day in June of 1982, they were meeting inside a farmer’s house in Pulilan town when a huge group of soldiers came and took them away. The following day, all five were found dead.
A factsheet from the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (July 9, 1982) later gave an account of the incident:
They were six organizers, including a female, meeting at a farmer’s house to assess their work when suddenly they heard orders “not to move” for the house was surrounded. Then emerged some 30 heavily-armed soldiers from the 175th Philippine Constabulary (PC) Company led by a captain and a major. One of the six organizers inside the house managed to climb out of a window undetected and hide himself on the rooftop. The rest of the unarmed organizers submitted themselves without resistance.
Early the following morning, townspeople of San Rafael, some 20 kilometers away, were shocked to see five bullet-riddled bodies displayed at a corner of their municipal hall. Casualties from an encounter, the PC soldiers said. The municipal hall employees shelled out personal money to buy caskets, and for the female who was clad in pajamas, a pair of jeans. They had the bodies buried at the local cemetery in the afternoon of that same day.
The sixth member, still unaware of his friends’ fate, quickly told the victims’ families what had happened. Relatives immediately went to inquire at the camp of the 175th PC Company as well as in other possible military centers, but they were told no such detainees were being held in their camp. They learned of the deaths the following day.
The families of Rey Manimbo and Edwin Borlongan recovered their bodies on the third day. Those of the three others were recovered ten days after the incident, but only with the intercession with the military of the Bishop of Malolos. The bodies of all five showed heavy bruises and many bullet wounds.
Nine priests offered to concelebrate a funeral mass for the last three bodies to be recovered. The mass was said at the Barasoain Church in Malolos, after which the bodies were buried at the Meycauayan Cemetery. A campaign was started in Bulacan among various church and human rights groups to press for justice for the five youths. When Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. was himself assassinated a year later, many Bulakeños joined the protests, remembering the five unarmed youths whose lives were so harshly snuffed out the year before. Many poems, songs and stories would be written in memory of the five organizers. The AMGL itself began to take root in Bulacan. The perpetrators were not known to have been investigated nor punished.