Magnifico Osorio had no political affiliations nor leanings, and he didn’t join rallies or openly defy the dictatorship. He only wanted to help the people he was serving – the indigenous communities of Palawan. Yet in being killed for his social justice advocacy against those in powerful positions to oppress and exploit the weak, he became a martyr of the struggle against the martial law regime.
He had aspired for the religious life even as a young boy. He achieved this dream, serving as pastor of the United Methodist Church, first in Masbate and then in Palawan.
Arriving in Palawan in the mid-1960s, he first settled in Bugsuk, a small island with a mixed community of native Palawans and settlers. The sea was so bountiful that fish would leap into the fishermen’s boats. This garden of Eden was destroyed when the residents were driven out to make way for a vast coconut plantation owned by Marcos crony Eduardo Cojuangco. Osorio helped the people fight the eviction but they lost, and the pastor himself had to leave Bugsuk.
Osorio continued his ministry in another Palawan town, Bataraza. There he started a special ministry for the indigenous tribes because he saw that they were losing their ancestral lands to big corporations. Some were actually being jailed for cultivating lands that had already been abandoned. Osorio opened literacy classes, where people learned reading, writing and farming techniques. He believed that this was the best way for them to protect their interests and to defend themselves from the rampant landgrabbing and other abuses to which the native communities fell victim.
As a pastor, Osorio was basically self-supporting. For his family’s needs, he tilled a tract of land (14 hectares), putting to good use the knowledge he had gained as an agriculture graduate of the University of the Philippines in Los Baños. But the land was later grabbed by another Marcos crony, his presidential assistant for national minorities, who believed that valuable minerals could be found in it.
Osorio became a dedicated campaigner for indigenous peoples’ rights. He gave his all to this advocacy, at his own expense often shuttling to and from the capital, Puerto Princesa, to accompany villagers facing court cases regarding land disputes or guiding them through government red tape.
On March 10, 1985, he accompanied a group of villagers to meet with then Palawan governor Salvador Socrates who promised that their land rights would be respected as long as he was governor. The villagers were so thankful for Osorio’s help, saying they wanted him as their adviser in all negotiations with government agencies as well as the big corporations that wanted to use their ancestral lands. Osorio himself was happy about this event, writing to his brother that “with God, we can accomplish something worthwhile.”
On the day he was killed, March 29, Osorio was in high spirits. He was still euphoric from the successful dialogue with the governor. A case against two Muslim men he had been helping had just been dismissed. He went to his farm to burn a clump of bamboos in order to expand his rice paddies.
It was late when his wife Florenda went out to call him for supper. She found him lying on the ground; he had been clubbed on the head and then shot dead. No witnesses came forward to tell what they knew, and no search was ordered to find out who killed Osorio. However, many believe that Osorio was eliminated to deprive the native communities of an effective defender. To this day the murder has not been solved.