Friday, September 16, 2022



Remembering (1): Las Navas massacre

 / 05:05 AM September 16, 2022

Marela looked around and saw an infant who had been grabbed by an SF man and then flung to the ground. She tried to nurse the crying baby, whose elder sister Elsa came and told Marela to put the baby down for it was already dying.” —from “The Las Navas Incident: A Village Weeps for Its Dead as the Government Prepares for Its Defense” by Roberto Z. Coloma (WHO Magazine, Dec. 5, 1982)

Many events are going on for the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21. There is no forgetting for many victims and survivors of that dark era. One of the events was the launching of the book that I edited and cowrote, “Press Freedom Under Siege: Reportage that Challenged the Marcos Dictatorship” (University of the Philippines Press, 2019), in Toronto, Canada three days ago. It was organized by Filipino-Canadian advocacy groups. The book received the 39th National Book Award, Journalism category, from the National Book Development Board and the Manila Critics Circle this year. UP Press is now preparing a second edition.


The Las Navas massacre is among the stories in the book. I remember the blood-curdling accounts that came in at that time. Here again, if you can take it, are excerpts from Coloma’s story that happened 40 years ago almost to the day:

“There was a cool drizzle in the early morning hours of September 15, when Marela and other sleeping inhabitants of Barrio Sag-od, Las Navas, Northern Samar were jolted awake by automatic rifle fire. The peasants heard men ordering them to get down from their huts and assemble in front of the barrio captain’s house for a meeting. Two lines were formed, one for the men and the other for the women and children.

“The barrio folk recognized the eighteen armed intruders as members of the Special Forces (SF) of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force, a paramilitary group of the armed forces. Their leader, who called himself Commander Brown, was allegedly the infamous Col. Charlie Lademora of the so-called Lost Command, which has been blamed for the grenade massacre at the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao last April 19, Easter Sunday…

“Some seventy SF men were reportedly brought to Samar in July 1980 by a timber corporation to enforce order in an area marked by the strong presence of the New People’s Army (NPA).

“Two of the SF men led the women and children toward the Malapanit stream outside the barrio. After fording the river, the women and children were made to sit for a while before being ordered to march again. A short distance out of Sag-od, they heard a burst of gunfire from the direction of the barrio.

“Reynalda Durian, 25, thinking that they were being shot at, tried to run away with her one-year-old son but fell on a mud puddle. One of the armed caught up with her and threatened to shoot her if she tried to escape a second time.

“The march continued even as the gunfire went on and off for some twenty minutes. When the firing stopped, Reynalda recalled later, one of the SF men winked at his partner and said, ‘Tapos na ang lahat’ (It’s all over.) Both of them tied red kerchiefs around their heads. Soon, the other SF men joined the marchers and went in front of the group. When the women and children were slowed down by a stream, Reynalda and two other mothers quietly slipped out of the formation with their children and ran until they reached an upland farm owned by the barrio captain.

“The remaining women and children were told to stop and sit on the ground in a forested area about a kilometer from Sag-od. They were divided into two lines facing each other and questioned about the whereabouts of a certain Kumander Racel, a supposed NPA guerilla. After the women denied having any knowledge of him, they were ordered separated from their children, some of whom had to be dragged away. Marela and a few other children clung firmly to their mothers.

“Then the shooting began.


“Marela’s mother, Aurora, five months pregnant and carrying her four-year-old son, Jumar, was one of the first casualties. (Eight-year-old) Marela was pinned down by her mother’s body and lay still, pretending she was dead until she was sure the soldiers were gone. When she got up, she saw blood oozing down her neck—and her mother’s brains splattered on her hair. She realized she had been grazed by a bullet on the top of her head. Marela also discovered that her brother Jumar’s body had almost been halved by Armalite bullets that ripped a hole across his belly….”

That is only the first part of the article. It is a story that cries out to the heavens for justice. A total of 45 men, women, and children died in the Las Navas/Sag-od massacre.

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