For years, Luis Gabriel had been a konsehal (councilman) of his community, serving it well and honestly. The people were predominantly Ibanag, indigenous inhabitants of the Cagayan Valley. Theirs was a remote place located not far from the Sierra Madre mountain range, 10 hours by banca, upstream from the San Mariano town center.
Like his constituents, Gabriel was a subsistence farmer, planting rice, corn or peanuts on a two-hectare lot. Though he had had only four years of formal education, he was highly regarded and well liked (nalaing nga makigayyem, he easily made friends).
When the villagers elected him barangay captain of Ibujan in 1982, he took steps to stop petty crimes, particularly the stealing of farm animals. He was asked to settle family disputes and even personal quarrels. He introduced the idea of cooperative farming, where the farmers were able to cultivate larger areas and gain bigger harvests by pooling their resources. He met frequently with his constituents and quietly urged them to resist corruption and exploitation by those who would take advantage of their simplicity.
Militarization intensified in Isabela during the early 1980s, amid the intractable popular resistance to martial law. The authorities stepped up the recruitment of civilians to the local armed militia, then known as the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force or ICHDF. But Gabriel refused to cooperate: he was concerned about the record of abuses by the military, whose earlier operations in the village had resulted in looting and arbitrary arrests. Organizing an ICHDF unit in Ibujan, he felt, would cause more trouble and endanger more lives in the event of an armed encounter between the government forces and guerrillas of the New People’s Army (NPA). Because of his refusal, the military tagged him as an NPA sympathizer.
On October 7, 1985, heavily armed men led by an army sergeant took away Luis Gabriel and three other members of the Ibujan barangay council – Roger Baui, Antonio Bunagan and Juan Managuelod – saying they were needed as guides for a military sortie. After three days had passed without news from the four men, their families started looking for them.
At the home of a barangay official in Villa Concepcion, Cauayan town, the women were told that the four had been sent home the previous day. Then they went to see their mayor to report the problem, but he refused to be involved. They tried to see the constabulary commander in Exchange town but they were not received. They also tried to see the provincial governor, but they were told he was in Manila.
Human rights groups responded to the families’ call for help in locating the missing men. The Isabela Priests’ Assembly, led by their bishop Miguel Purugganan, sent letters of appeal to military and defense officials.
But Luis Gabriel and his companions have not been found to this day.