Benedicto Pasetes was the eldest of seven children of a soldier couple, a US Army veteran of World War II who survived the Death March, and a nurse in the Philippine Army. After the war the elder Pasetes worked at the Bureau of Animal Industry while his mother went into the real estate business. The family lived in a middle-class subdivision in Mandaluyong.
Valedictorian in both grade school and high school, Pasetes enrolled for a degree in veterinary medicine at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. It was here where student activism stirred up his love of country, sympathy for the poor and oppressed, and his desire to contribute to social change.
He was in third year when he joined the UP Nationalist Corps and the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. He and his friends started conducting teach-ins and discussion groups in UP and top-ranked private schools such as in Ateneo, La Salle, Maryknoll and St. Scholastica’s College. They bolstered the picket lines of striking workers and went on extended visits to poor farming communities. During the First Quarter Storm of 1970, Benny Pasetes was a mainstay of the radio committee of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, with the program Radyo Pakikibaka running from 10-12 p.m. every evening. They attended every rally and demonstration.
Two particular incidents highlighted this period of his life. “During one rally,” his family recalls, “he proudly related to [us] that he was the one who brought down the American flag which used to fly side by side with the Philippine flag in Luneta.” The other incident was during a strike at a paint factory in Caloocan, when he saw the company’s hired goons fire their guns at the picket line, hitting one worker. Benny brought the wounded man to the hospital, a “turning point” for him, after which he became more deeply involved.
Towards the end of 1970, Pasetes quit school to join other student activists in Central Luzon. They helped farmers in Zambales and Nueva Ecija deal with land tenancy, usury, and carabao rustling, and farm workers who had no lands to till. Some of them were captured and detained by the military. Nevertheless, he continued his organizing work, notably among the workers in several textile mills in Bulacan and even in small factories manufacturing bihon and sotanghon noodles.
In time Pasetes, as Ka Willy, became part of a unit of the New People’s Army that operated in the area of San Ildefonso, San Miguel, Angat and Norzagaray in Bulacan. On January 26, 1976, he was captured and killed in a military raid in the sitio called Buhol na Mangga in the barrio of Sta Catalina in San Ildefonso town.
Led by a civilian informer, combined constabulary and police forces had surrounded the house where Pasetes’ group was staying, and called on them to come out and surrender. The guerrillas responded by saying that the farmer and his family must be allowed to leave the house first. When they had done so, the guerrillas tried to jump out of the window but were captured and immediately executed. Also killed with Pasetes was Salvador Policarpio, a Protestant minister.
Their bodies were laid out in front of the municipal hall of San Ildefonso. Pasetes was then buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery (and exhumed some years later for burial in the family’s own plot) while Salvador’s remains were taken home to Capas, Tarlac.