The case of Florencio Pesquesa, a workers’ union leader who disappeared in 1979, illustrates how under martial law, powerful forces colluded with each other in suppressing people’s rights and covering up abuses against the defenseless people.
Pesquesa was born in Canlubang, Laguna, where thousands of workers toiled on huge tracts of land to produce the sugar that was the Philippines’ no. 1 export commodity for most of the 20th century. His father worked there as a train machinist and the young Florencio was also employed for a time as warehouse checker. But employment at the plantation, from which its owners gained untold wealth, barely assured the survival of the farmworkers. The
Pesquesa family remained poor.
Seeking more stable pay, in the 1960s the younger Pesquesa enlisted with the Philippine Constabulary and by 1969 had been promoted to master sergeant, stationed in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. After learning that he was due for deployment in Mindanao – at the time heavy fighting was already going on in the rebellious Moro regions, and besides his wife was ill – he resigned from the service. To support his growing family, he began tilling a piece of land owned by his father-in-law. Not long after, however, the farm had to be sold. The Pesquesa family was forced to move to Inchican, Silang, Cavite, where relatives took them in.
Most of the people there worked for Hacienda Inchican, owned by Jose Campos, a crony of President Marcos who also owned a giant pharmaceutical and drugstore chain among other businesses. Seeking to defend their rights against increasingly oppressive management policies, the workers affiliated with the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW) in December 1974. Florencio Pesquesa, “Ka Pisyong,” was designated organizer of the local NFSW chapter. “He was a good man who devoted his time to the workers’ welfare. He was sincerely committed to his fellow workers,” attested his friend, vice president of the Inchican labor union.
When Pesquesa and more than 80 other workers were booted out for their union activities, they fought back by filing a case with the National Labor Relations Commission for union-busting and unfair labor practices of the hacienda management. They persevered despite delaying tactics by management, harassment of the workers and their families, employment of scabs on the plantation, further lowering of the daily wage, and more dismissals. After more than a year, the case was resolved in favor of the workers. Still, management refused to comply with full implementation of the decision. More reprisals against the workers followed. Two union members were killed under suspicious circumstances.
Pesquesa continued to serve the union, although he knew that it was dangerous to do so considering the company’s influence and resources. In January 1978, at the Inchican community fiesta, the hacienda’s chief “cane guard” openly vowed to kill him for his union activities, claiming that management had paid for this to happen. Ka Pisyong did take precautions while attending to his duties, but one year later the threat was apparently carried out.
On January 3, 1979, Pesquesa and a nephew were accosted by two armed men accompanied by two local barangay captains who knew Ka Pisyong. The armed men told Pesquesa they were agents of the Civilian Investigation Service of the Philippine Constabulary, and that they were taking him to Bicutan in Taguig, Metro Manila, for interrogation. They sent away his nephew, who was then able to inform Ka Pisyong’s wife of the abduction. She immediately went to look for him, starting with the two barangay captains, but they denied any knowledge or participation in the crime. Higher-level authorities similarly refused to cooperate.
After the dictatorship was ousted in 1986, some properties belonging to Marcos or his cronies came under the control of the new government. Thus, the workers of Hacienda Inchican petitioned for its transfer to the tillers, and lots were eventually awarded. They also asked for an investigation into the disappearance of Ka Pisyong, but the missing union leader was never seen again.
PARENTS Teodoro Pesquesa and Salome Salvador
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Florencia Patapat / 6
Elementary: Balagbag Elementary School, Canlubang, Laguna
Secondary: Tanauan High School, Batangas