VILLACILLO, Venerando D.

venerando villacillo picWhen the student ferment of the early 1970s reached Iligan City, Venerando’s older brothers joined the Kabataang Makabayan. He too joined later. Owning a booming voice, he was soon making fiery speeches before crowds. He was tall at 5’11”and he carried himself well, and so was easy to see in a crowd.

Hoping to become a detective, he enrolled at the Philippine College of Criminology in Manila. He also studied the martial arts. He continued to be active with the KM. As the political turmoil intensified he decided to leave school and join the underground. In 1972 he left for Isabela with a batch of other activists from the Visayas and Mindanao. He went through a short military training, and was later given the task of developing new recruits. He was also assigned to help organize barrio people to undertake health and education projects, give political lessons to the local community, and help the locals work out solutions to their local problems. He also gave occasional lessons in the martial arts. He became proficient with Ilokano and used it during his political lessons.

Under the martial law regime, Isabela became heavily militarized. It became the relentless target of daily artillery bombings, ground attacks, and intelligence and psywar operations, all seeking to destroy the fledgling rebel force in the province. The military declared a part of the province’s forested areas as “no man’s land,” and ordered more than 50,000 residents out in order to deprive the guerrillas their means of support. The guerrilla force had to undertake constant evasive action, and became isolated from the local population. When they decided to escape the encirclement, Venerando, then called Ka Ibarra, was one of several leaders who organized the retreat, getting the guerrillas, armed activists and barrio people out of immediate danger. The escape took an entire year’s march, a trek of 370 kilometers, across three provinces and 25 heavily-militarized towns.

Throughout this difficult journey, Venerando kept up the spirits of the evacuees, telling them not to lose hope because they had supporters in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. He helped comfort and care for the sick and wounded and often shared with others his own limited ration of food.

After this phase, Venerando moved to Mindanao, where his family hailed. He took up political work that included building the people’s strength so they could launch protest actions and responses to agrarian problems among farmers and farmworkers in the banana plantations of Davao and in the coconut industry. One of the strong campaigns that resulted was the campaign against the coconut levy, a tax taken from coconut farmers but mainly benefiting Marcos cronies. Venerando took the names Ka Benny and Ka Miguel.

Again in Mindanao, Venerando witnessed the forcible relocation of tens of thousands of people into hamlets in the military’s effort to deny mass support to the rebel guerrillas. Rather than escape, however, they decided that the proper response this time was to rise in protest. As a result, huge demonstrations were organized to protest the displacement and the worsening militarization. Venerando and his group of activists helped in the mobilization in the Compostela Valley region. Protest actions were also organized against the Catalunan Grande massacre, the bombing of the San Pedro Cathedral, the hamletting in Davao del Norte, the killing of Edgar Jopson, and the arrests and torture of Fr. Dong Tizon, Karl Gaspar and Hilda Narciso.

Venerando also became a part of the protests that erupted in the aftermath of the assassination of the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr., helping build the Justice for Aquino and Justice for All movement in Mindanao, preparing streamers, placards and leaflets with slogans such as “Oust the dictator!“ “Marcos resign” and “Dismantle the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.” On occasion Venerando’s baritone voice would be heard calling on people not to be afraid of the dictatorship.

Venerando became one of the dictatorship’s most wanted men in Mindanao.

In the mid-1980s, Venerando spent some time again in northern Luzon, leading military resistance as well as expansion efforts in that area.

In 1985, he and his small family were on a trip to Manila when Venerando was abducted. He tried to resist his abductors until one of the men stuck a barrel of a gun to the head of his daughter, at which point he allowed himself to be taken away. His wife, family and friends launched a long campaign that even extended overseas to have him found. The regime denied having him in custody although the family was surreptitiously told that the team that undertook the abduction was led by Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo of the Philippine Constabulary. Venerando was never found.