Martyrs from Melchor Hall

(Written by Ramon Ramirez, BSEE’66 for the UP Alumni Engineers 2012 Yearbook and UP Alumni Association 2013 Yearbook)

Forty years ago in 1972, then President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law throughout the country.  This impacted on the lives of many, including students and alumni of the UP College of Engineering who responded to the situation in various ways.  Thousands were imprisoned in detention camps. The list included students and alumni of the College, such as former Engineering Dean, Reynaldo Vea who was a student then and a spokesman of the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) and Prof. Dominador Ilio who was arrested at his home in the UP campus and detained in Camp Crame because the military was looking for Dominador, Jr.  Failing to find the son, the military took the father instead; Prof. Ilio was released a month later upon the capture of his son.

Roque Magtangol SayasAt the Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a memorial center built to honor individuals who fought against the martial law dictatorship, there are presently 207 names of martyrs, 77 of them from UP, of which 11 came from the College of Engineering. Names are being added every year. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani martyrs from Melchor Hall is a remarkable group of Engineering alumni and students. One of them is Magtanggol Roque of Davao. From the Ateneo de Davao High School, he enrolled at UP and earned his Chemical Engineering degree in 1965. He was an active member of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. He worked with Marsman, Bristol Myers, Johnson and Johnson and Mobil Oil. He was linked to the ship MV Karagatan which allegedly brought arms for the NPA in 1971.  He was charged with subversion, and he joined the underground.  He was killed by soldiers in 1981 at age 40. The Magtanggol Roque Command of the NPA in Mindanao is named after him.

Ortigas Gaston ZavallaAnother engineering alumnus is Gaston “Gasty” Ortigas who took up Mechanical Engineering.  The Bantayog ng mga Bayani has this to say of him: “Gasty also became associated with the Light-A-Fire Movement, an urban guerrilla group where some of Gasty’s former UP and Harvard classmates were also involved. When all but two members of the movement were captured in December 1979 after barely eleven months of operation, Gasty decided to leave for the US. He reached the US in May 1980, continuing his work with the MFP and, especially after the assassination of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, with the National Democratic Front (NDF).” He died at age 59 in 1990 after a lingering illness.

The Wall of Remembrance also honors Floro Balce of Camarines Norte who was an honor student from elementary to college, graduating valedictorian in grade school and salutatorian in high school. He obtained a government scholarship to study Electrical Engineering at UP Diliman from 1973 to 1978. He joined the UP Student Catholic Action in 1973 and the Kabataang Makabayan. He was also a founding member of UP Ibalon, an organization of Bicolano students in UP.  Floro or “Poloy”, as he was fondly called by classmates, quit his studies in 1978 to do organizing work among the farmers in his home province. While in the countryside he also dreamt of building schools, for which he wrote to a friend: ”If I could teach little children the values of kindness and nationalism, that would be pure happiness.” His countryside work was very brief: he was killed in a firefight with government troops that same year and on the day he was marking his 23rd birth anniversary.

hilarioAntonio “Tonyhil” Hilario of Quezon City, enrolled in Electrical Engineering in 1965. He joined the UP Nationalist Corps, helped found the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan, and became its first Secretary General. Together with these groups, he actively engaged in organizing SDK chapters in Metro Manila. Tonyhil was captured in a military raid in a remote village in Kalibo, Aklan in 1974.  Although already wounded, he was tortured by soldiers and was forced to dig up a grave for himself and two other comrades who were killed instantly during the firefight. He was only 25.  The epitaph on his grave reads: “Behind the words, ‘contradiction’, ‘dialectics’, ‘struggle’… lies the desire to see man become human again.

Molintas, Wright Jr. picWright Molintas, Jr., a scion of two prominent Ibaloi clans of the Cordillera, enrolled in 1979 in a Geodetic Engineering course after graduating from the University of Baguio Science High School. He joined the Gamma Sigma Pi fraternity. He dropped out of the college in 1981 to join the NPA in Kalinga province, assuming the nom de guerre, “Ka Chadli”. He died in an encounter in 1987 in La Union. The Cordillera Peoples Democratic Front enshrined Ka Chadli as “a Hero of the Cordillera Peoples” and named the New Peoples Army’s Regional Operational Command after him – the Chadli Molintas Command.

Laguerder, edwin C. picEdwin Laguerder (1961-1987), or “Nono” to his family, was a Civil Engineering student at UP Diliman where he became a member of Pi Sigma fraternity batch 79. He was an organizer and an adviser of a farmers’ organization in Davao when he was brutally killed. On the inclusion of his name in the Wall of Remembrance, his family made this response, which we quote in part: “Though it has been 25 years, the pain of Nono’s tragic and brutal death has never left us.   The arrogance of brute military force was revolting in the way he was forcibly driven out of the jeep he was riding, and shuttled to where he was killed.   His hands were poked with heavy pistols, para mawala ang mahigpit nyang pagkapit sa sasakyan, pinagsisipa, at sinisigawang animo’y kriminal.  According to bystander accounts, pinagsigawan pa nga raw ng mga pulis na nanghuli sa kanya na: “adik to, adik to, huwag kayong lumapit. …..We reckon Edwin was murdered on the night after he was captured.  His lifeless body was thrown to the sea – blindfolded and hogtied with weights behind him, siguro para mabaon na siya sa dagat. But his murderers only cut short Edwin’s mortal life – not his spirit and legacy. Today, we honor this spirit and legacy he shares with Madge, Nick, and Roz, and thousands of other known and unknown martyrs in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Hindi nila hiningi ito I am sure.  But precisely martyrdom is about this – selfless sacrifice in pursuit of what is just, so that all may live with dignity and pride.….In closing, I’d ask you to join me in a moment of silence to whisper a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for lives well-spent.”

Vergel Landrito of Quezon City was a Civil Engineering student (up to 3rd year) and a member of the Beta Sigma fraternity.. He joined the  SDK UP Area 2 chapter.  In 1971 he joined the NPA operating in the Tarlac-Zambales boundary. He did organizing work in the Aeta communities, sometimes even inside the Crow Valley which was then under American jurisdiction. In 1972, his group clashed with government troops, and he sustained fatal gunshot wounds. He was only 22.

Bayani Lontok of Mauban, Quezon first enrolled in UP Diliman College of Engineering in 1966 but transferred  to UPLB for his Agricultural Engineering course from 1967 to 1970. A member of the SDK, he worked full time with the farmers in Mt. Banahaw. In November, 1972, at age 22, he and three activists were killed in an Army raid. Their bodies were buried in unknown graves and have never been recovered.

Mariano “Rak” Lopez of Bataan was a graduate of the Philippine Science High School batch 1969 and was an NSDB (now DOST) scholar from 1968 to 1972 while studying for his BS Electrical Engineering degree. Rak was active in the UP Nationalist Corps, SDK and later the cultural group Gintong Silahis. In 1972 he dropped out of school to become a full time organizer in urban poor communities.  Upon the declaration of martial law,   Rak was arrested and detained until February 1974. He worked for a time at the Daily Express where he organized a union. He later left to join the NPA in Isabela. He was gunned down by military troopers in 1976.

Lunas, Ruben M.Ruben Lunas was an electrical engineering scholar and member of the Epsilon Chi fraternity and the activist group SDK. He was a veteran of  the Diliman Commune of 1971. When martial law was declared, Ruben joined his comrades in the underground in his hometown in Bicol where he did organizing work among the farmers. He was killed in a military raid in Oas, Albay in 1975. He was 25.   Several months before his death, Ruben had written to his brothers and sisters upon learning that a younger brother was picked up and tortured by the military because they could not find him: “Don’t forget that you have a brother who is fighting, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all the suffering masses. You may have been suffering too for the consequences of my actions. Don’t let the monsters of today frighten you.”

Arnulfo “Noli” Resus of Lipa City enrolled in Geodetic Engineering in 1969 as a full scholar. After a year, he transferred to the Philippine Christian University, and later studied at the Philippine College of Commerce.  Noli became a member of KM and the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, becoming an active member of the Christian for National Liberation. When martial law was declared, Noli joined the anti-martial law underground to continue his organizing work. He was arrested in Quiapo in 1974, severely tortured, held incommunicado in a bartolina cell and imprisoned for 8 months. Upon his release, he joined his comrades in Isabela to work as community organizer for the underground. He was killed by soldiers in 1977 at age 25. The Student Christian Movement of the Philippines conferred posthumous honors on Noli on December 27, 1985.

The names of these patriotic and brave alumni and students from Melchor Hall are now immortalized in the granite Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. We are very proud of them for rising up to the call of the time.