In 1971, Renato L. Bucag, a member of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.’s Liberal Party, was elected to the municipal board of Gingoog, Misamis Oriental; he was the only oppositionist to win. Martial law was imposed in 1972, but he was able to continue serving until 1978. Though local governments under the dictatorship were controlled by the Marcos-party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, he was known for being independent-minded, and particularly concerned to ensure that public funds would be well spent.
When he was no longer a municipal official, Bucag lent leadership and support to the antidictatorship opposition, until the 1984 elections for the regular Batasang Pambansa, when he assumed the helm of the Pilipino Democratic Party-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in Gingoog City. By that time resistance to the Marcos regime was becoming bolder and more open, and forcing the latter to make political concessions such as elections.
Bucag was an effective campaigner since people knew him to be upright and honest. Family and friends feared for his life, especially since lawless paramilitary groups had been terrorizing the area with the support of the military and civilian authorities. Locals say that the years 1982 to February 1986 were Gingoog City’s “bloody era,” when numerous heinous killings were carried out by paramilitary groups, notorious religious fanatics.
Still, Bucag went around without bodyguards, even to remote areas of the city. He believed in fighting for what he believed to be right for himself and for the country:
“Living an aimless life is useless,” he once wrote. “A man, if he wants to be called a rational being, has to commit himself to a common goal. Because whether you like it or not, there will come a time when you have to choose between a meaningful death and a meaningless life.”
He had been running a 41-hectare farm in Lunotan, on the outskirts of the city, where he planted coffee and citrus using scientifically based methods. He started the Gingoog Farmers’ Association in the late 1970s, holding Sunday community prayers with his farm workers and fellow farmers.
Bucag and his wife Melchora both loved the simple life on their farm, though he had the means and the education to provide a more comfortable life for themselves and their four young children. Renato (called Dodong) graduated with honors in elementary and high school and excelled as a debater in college. He took up two years of law, stopped, then reenrolled while working as a court interpreter; but he did not complete his law degree.
Two weeks before the 1984 elections, husband and wife, with their youngest son Renato Victor Jr., 11, were brutally killed by members of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force (ICHDF) and the Tadtad, a group of religious fanatics being used and protected by the local military for counterinsurgency operations.
Witnesses said the killers forced themselves inside the Bucags’ farmhouse on the night of May 1, 1984. The following day, neighbors found the three bodies hacked almost beyond recognition. Four of the killers who were positively identified were arrested but later released by the military. Witnesses had to go into hiding.
Over 20,000 people joined the funeral march held for the Bucag family. Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Patrick Cronin publicly denounced the massacre and demanded speedy justice from the government. Members of the political opposition, including then Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Bucag’s sister Helen Canoy, called for the disbandment of paramilitary groups operating in the province.
In July 1986, two years after the killing and several months after the dictatorship was dismantled, four of the Bucag killers were convicted. The KBL mayor at the time of the massacre was subsequently implicated and included as co-accused. But in 1988, the main suspect escaped and the case has been pending in court. Four of the suspects were never arrested.