Nilo Valerio wanted to be a priest, probably because he was inspired by two uncles who were priests (one of them a bishop), and his own father, who was a former seminarian and who raised his six children in piety. He had the disposition for it, being a quiet and serious boy, happy to spend his time reading, in Pangasinan where his family lived a while, even by candlelight.
Entering the minor seminary of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in 1962, for the next 13 years he lived and studied to become a priest. The First Quarter Storm saw him a college student at the major seminary in Tagaytay. Talk about theology of liberation had seeped into his consciousness. He started to spend his free time with the rural folk around the seminary and his summer vacations in distant parishes in Mindoro with the Mangyans, in Batangas, Tarlac and the mountain province of Abra.
After his ordination in 1975, Valerio’s first assignment was as assistant parish priest in upland Abra. He knew that trouble was brewing in the area. People were gearing to resist a takeover of their ancestral lands by the Cellophil Resources Corporation. His mission would not be easy: Cellophil was owned by a crony of President Marcos. It had been granted 250,000 hectares of land to use in producing cellulose from tree plantations, and the Presidential Security Command was even said to have escorted its personnel in the beginning.
Valerio’s work included running a grade school and a high school, helping in community projects such as a rural cooperative and a ricemill. He visited far-ﬂung villages, trekking up and down rugged mountains, sometimes on horseback or on foot.
By 1978, a full-blown rebellion had erupted in the province. Villagers were arming themselves to protect their land and their way of life. Valerio, now the parish priest, urged them to exhaust the legal means of defending themselves, but also he chose to support them openly in their struggle against the powerful corporation.
It was not long before the military suspected him not only of being a sympathizer but an actual leader of the rebellious villagers. Government spies tailed him and monitored his activities. His safety had come into serious risk.
On the advice of his friends, Valerio took temporary refuge in Manila. There he spent long hours in soul-searching and in talking with fellow priests and friends, his priesthood in a crisis. Finally he decided that it would be suicidal to return as parish priest. He left the SVD and continued working to serve the people’s interests, this time in the underground guerrilla movement. This commitment took him back to Abra and other Cordillera provinces.
Valerio was killed in 1985, with Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador, during a raid by soldiers in sitio Beyeng, Bakun, Benguet. The bodies of the three were reportedly dumped in a single grave after having been beheaded. Government troops took their heads, attached them to poles and paraded these around several villages. Despite all efforts by the victims’ families, none of the bodies have been found.
PARENTS Epigenio Valerio and Candida Castillejos
SPOUSE / CHILDREN Erlinda Timbreza / 2
Secondary: Christ the King Minor Seminary, Quezon City
College: Divine Word Major Seminary, Tagaytay City