Raymundo Ortega Petalcorin was born in barrio Mainit, Nabunturan town, Davao Del Norte. The town is now part of the eleven municipalities that comprise the province of Compostella Valley. His father was a peasant settler who managed to acquire his own land to till. The elder Petalcorin was also able to put up a small sari-sari store and a copra and gold-dust buying station. He also served as barangay captain of Mainit from 1972 to 1994.
Raymundo was fondly called “Rhyme” by family and friends. They recalled him as being a bit mischievous as a boy but grew up to be a respected young man with a deep sense of justice. He loved to sing and play the guitar and often volunteered in church activities, especially during fiestas and special occasions.
It was in the late ‘60s when Rhyme enrolled in the University of Mindanao in Davao City as a Criminology student. It was a time when glaring social inequities and repressive actions of the state were being criticized by an emerging politically-conscious populace. As in Manila, the students of Davao took to the streets to protest and organize people against this growing threat. This led to the creation of the Young Christian Liberation Movement (YCLM) a youth organization that worked closely with farmer organizations in their bid to institute reforms in the agrarian sector. Rhyme Petalcorin was one of its founders.
Rhyme led YCLM members in protest actions against the Marcos government. YCLM joined the Khi Rho, the youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers, in staging demonstrations, pickets, and other activities in an effort to bring to government’s attention the plight of the farmers. Among the issues they brought to fore were cases of land-grabbing and abuse of human rights in Mindanao.
When martial law was declared, Rhyme left school altogether and together with other YCLM members, spent most of their time with the villagers of Nabunturan, trying to explain the new repressive regime and building up the villagers’ will to resist abuses. They often went hungry, and Rhyme soon suffered from stomach ulcers. They lived under the constant threat of discovery and arrest.
Rhyme also did similar work in nearby Laac town, near Mt. Apo, among Aetas, Dibabawon and other indigenous peoples. Here he started writing songs to better put his message across. The songs told of the harsh life that people led in the Compostella Valley, the military abuses perpetrated against civilians, particularly women, a critique of the Marcos regime’s New Society, the harassment suffered by settlers from multinational corporations, how Mansakas were being driven away by bigtime loggers, and how the Marcos government favored the rich and trampled on the poor.
The songs had titles like “Alimacoy,” “Atong Composohon (Let us Write),” “Ay Ferding,” “Gitonto Mi (We were Cheated),” and “Ikaw Gidagmalan (You were Hurt).” They became popular locally.
As martial law took a deeper hold in the country, bigger military operations were launched in Mindanao, in particular in the Davao provinces, leading to an explosion in the incidence of human rights abuses. Rhyme and his group of students persisted in their mission, although it grew ever more dangerous. They believed that the need to resist the regime had become even more urgent. With his guitar and his songs, Rhyme was a popular presence, made even more so when he started to use newly-learned skills as paghihilot and acupuncture. To the perpetually poor people of the Davao hinterlands, such free medical help, offered so compassionately, was very welcome and much treasured.
Rhyme was killed with two others on February 27, 1976, in barrio Matilo, Compostela Valley, by members of the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF). The CHDF surrounded the house they were resting in and opened fire. By then 23 years old, Rhyme spent four years undertaking his unusual mission in the Compostela Valley. His family came to bring his body home for burial.
Rhyme Petalcorin was a much-loved son who urged the people of Nabunturan to defend their rights and whose songs gave them hope amid their despair. Engraved on his tomb were words he often uttered: “Maulaw ako nga aduna pay tawo nga pobre pa kanako” (I am ashamed that there are people much poorer than I am) and also this self-made acrostic which expressed his attitude of servility to the people: “Remember Human, You’re My Everything (RHYME).