CAYON, Cesar Tiaga

CayonCesar Cayon’s fight against the Marcos dictatorship began with the disappearance of his Manoy Fred, his elder brother. Fred Cayon, a seminarian from Saint Francis Xavier Seminary, Davao City, was one of the original Davao activists who went to the hills to fight the Marcos regime.  He was later abducted and killed in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley along with three other activists during the earliest fascist attacks of the regime.  But Cesar would know of his brother’s death much later, when he was already at the front, and grappling with the pressing concerns of the Higaonon lumads of Northern Mindanao

Cesar, or Titang to his family, was the happy-go-lucky child who grew up in a middle class district of Davao City. Totally unaware of the social ferment surrounding the city, he would be seen going around with his street friends, with a bottle of lapad (bottle gin) in his back pocket which he got from the family’s sari-sari store.

At that time, Cesar did not show any particular interest in politics, nor of his Manoy Fred’s activism.  He was simply the ordinary tambay of Brgy. Obrero who took up the cause of his barkada and defended them to the teeth, which usually ended up in street brawls.  He was known as a faithful and reliable friend.  Once, he even took the entrance exam for one of them. Cesar, however, did not finish high school because he thought there was so much more to learn from his friends than from school.

It was his Manoy Fred who gently chided him to change his ways and painstakingly explained why Philippine society had so many problems and why it was important to change it.  Since Cesar had a very high respect for his elder brother, he tried to listen to his advice.  However it was Fred’s lifestyle and exemplary courage in the face of martial law that struck a sensitive chord in the heart of the younger sibling.  So when Fred was missing and was vaguely referred to as one of the Nabunturan victims, Cesar went to the hills to search for the answers.

History of Political Involvement

Cesar’s first few days in the hills were difficult.  In his young life in Obrero, in Davao City, he had never known the “wilds” of the rural countryside. When he started his first trek up the mountains, he almost could not withstand the needle-like pain from stepping on the roots of the cogon grass.  His feet and legs were all cuts and bruises. (At that time, the NPAs went around barefoot, just like ordinary poor peasants.)  Cesar didn’t know what real hunger meant far up in the mountains with no sari-sari store in sight. And since alcohol was prohibited, life in the hills became a radical departure from his early days.

His comrades and the peasant masses around him, however, made everything worthwhile. With characteristic good humor, they would tease him about his city legs and promised to provide him custom-built shoes that would put all the weeds to shame.  The camaraderie, kindness, and joie de vivre of everyone seemed a thousand times more meaningful than the happenings he had with his barkada.  Cesar began to understand what his Manoy Fred meant.  More importantly, he was starting to get a feel of what it meant to be with the masses; what they were going through under the dictatorship.

Cayon with the Lumad

Ka Andy (Cesar Cayon’s nom de guerre) was first assigned in Agusan Norte of Northern Mindanao, in the forest areas of Butuan and Nasipit.  These forest areas are part of the original ancestral domain of the Higaonon lumads who had lived in these areas since time immemorial.  Unfortunately, a timber license agreement was awarded to the Nasipit Logging Company (NALCO) by the Marcos regime, totalling 98,000 hectares.  NALCO was a big and powerful logging company which was responsible for the eventual denudation of the mountains in Northern Mindanao.

When Ka Andy entered the Higaonon territory, Datu Mankalasi, the great tribal chieftain of the Higaonon had just been killed by NALCO’s forest guards because of his open resistance to the logging company. His death unleashed the pent-up anger of the tribe.  It would mark the beginning of decades of struggle of the lumads and the peasants who were being evicted from their homes by the logging company.  It would also mark the recruitment to the underground movement of practically every able-bodied lumad in the village

With the Higaonon mountain tribe, Ka Andy found his callingas a fighterfor the cause of the oppressed.  Now he understood what the Filipino people, and particularly the lumads, were going through under the dictatorship.  Everything that his elder brother tried to teach him began to make sense. Feudal oppression, imperialist control, liberation, democracy—theories that were previously vague and abstract to him now suddenly took on meaning and became clear.  All the questions, and the meanderings of his young life were answered by three important letters in the alphabet — STP – Serve The People.

Serving the People

Under the fighting banner of STP, Ka Andy learned to be an exemplary activist. Lumads, peasants, farm workers and the poor people of Northern Mindanao came to know the dashing young man who was in the forefront of the resistance movement. He seemed to be everywhere, at the right time:  at education meetings, in the formation of mass organizations.  He facilitated the formation of the revolutionary autonomous governments of the lumads.  He encouraged peace pacts (dyandi or husaya) which forged unity among the tribes. He joined workshops, group discussions and cultural programs where he strummed the guitar and sang revolutionary songs.

His wisdom, sense of humor and total dedication to the cause of the oppressed endeared him to the people. His mass line was so powerful and so charismatic that people thought he had “extraordinary powers” when he figured in an encounter in the busy streets of Butuan and miraculously escaped.  He later showed up, all muddied and full of cuts and bruises, in a remote village of the neighboring Buenavista town.   It was learned that he had to hide in the swamps for quite a while and brave the open fields in order to evade the martial law troops who were after him.

The activists that Ka Andy led were special to the lumads of Northern Mindanao, from the mountains of Agusan Norte and Misamis Oriental and to the hinterland villages of Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon. The group was dubbed the Pulang Bagani (red warriors) with most of its members coming from the ranks of the Higaonon tribe. Its mass work was notable for its being so culturally attuned and sensitive to the needs and interests of the tribe. Since ancestral land was at the heart of the lumad struggle, the group spent many hours educating and organizing them on how to defend their lands from plunderers, thieves and the destructive projects of the dictatorship.  Pulang Bagani also helped the lumads cultivate the land in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency and not depend on the system of aids and dole outs that the PANAMIN was famous for. (PANAMIN then was headed by Manda Elizalde, a Marcos loyalist, who became notorious for the Tasaday hoax and for his manipulative abuses of the lumads.)

In 1981, Ka Andy met a young student who was doing a social investigation of the mode of production in Mindanao. They discussed and argued for many hours trying to decipher the data of rice, corn and coconut cultivation; and how to simplify the facts of political economy so the lumads and peasants would understand what feudal and semi-feudal exploitation meant.  She was argumentative, difficult and full of abstract theories but open to a lot of ideas that he found challenging and engaging. And then he realized she exemplified everything that the struggle was: courage, beauty, selfless sacrifice, and the will to fight against so many odds in order to serve the people.  Yes, serve the people.  It was this chemistry that fused them in a way that proved stronger and more binding than any contract could ever do.  In January 1982 they were married; in November of that year she bore him a healthy baby boy.  These were the happiest hours of the young father who proudly introduced his son to the lumad and peasant communities. It was a season of celebration.

Circumstance of Death

But the happiness was fleeting. In June of the following year, Ka Andy met his death during an early dawn raid of the village of Hinundayan in the mountains of Nasipit.  At that moment, the military could not identify their victim, but they wanted the reward. Greedily, they cut off his head to be brought for identification in the AFP headquarters of Cagayan de Oro.  The lumads wailed in protest of this desecration of their beloved son.  They all vowed to avenge his death and continue the fight against the dictatorship, against plunderous logging companies and against exploitation and oppression.

Up to this time, after almost half a century, the Higaonon tribe that Ka Andy first organized still flourishes and struggles and celebrates life.  It is ready and willing to embrace all the young activists who want to serve the lumads and be part of the continuing people’s history.