‘Negros Nine’ survivors mark 30th year of freedom
BY CARLA GOMEZ
July 5, 2014
The Negros Nine, composed of three priests and six lay leaders, were jailed in the waning years of the Marcos dictatorship for what they called trumped-up charges for the murder of a town mayor and became the subject of international attention.
Members of Negros Nine (standing, left to right) Jesus Arzaga, Mrs. Nomy Muhal representing her late husband Condrado Muhal, Mrs. Jean Perez wife of late Geronimo Perez, Lydio Mangao, Peter Cuales and (sitting) Fr. Brian Gore at New Government Center for the facilitation of the application for the reparation and reconciliation of the victims of human rights violations during Marcos regime on July 3, 2014.
Tomorrow, their five surviving members will mark the 30th year since their release from the Negros Occidental Provincial Jail.
Three of the nine, Fr. Brian Gore, Lydio Mangao and Jesus Arzaga, are still closely working together as members of the Negros Nine Human Development Foundation Inc. engaged in projects to uplift the lives of the poor and to protect the environment in southern Negros Occidental.
Ernesto Tajones is living in Bukidnon and works as a part-time meter reader and volunteer at the Bukidnon Diocesan Social Action Center, and Peter Cuales works as project officer for an NGO called “Ilog Kinder Home Foundation Inc.”
Four of their members have passed away - Conrado Muhal in 1990, Fr. Vicente Dangan in 1998, Fr. Niall O’Brien in 2004, and Geronimo Perez in 2012.
The Negros Nine Human Development Foundation Inc. started in the year 2000 with five of their members as board members, Gore said. Two are now deceased, O’Brien and Perez.
Other members of the Board are lawyer Francisco Cruz and Milagros Villavicencio, both close friends of the Negros Nine. Paz Torres, an original member of the Board, passed away a few years ago.
Today, the NNHDF has a number of projects at its 12-hectare site in Bantolinao, Brgy. Tanawan, Kabankalan City, Gore said.
Adjacent to this site there is a reforestation project of 70 hectares of denuded watershed of Kabankalan City. Already, 40,000 plus native trees have been planted, he said.
An organic farm of various crops and animals is being developed. Goat, chickens and talapia are being cultivated, Gore added.
NUTRITION FOR PUPILS
Negros Nine feeding program at at Colambo Primary School
The NNHDF also has a nutrition program for 174 pupils at the nearby elementary school in Sitio Colombo, Brgy. Oringao. This a joint program with Jollibee Foundation and the local government of Kabankalan City, the priest said.
Each day, for 200 days, pupils have a nourishing lunch. The highlight each day for the pupils is lunchtime. There are eight teams of parents who do the preparing, cooking and serving each day, Gore said.
Seventy-five percent of the budget comes from the NNHDF through friends of Gore in Australia.
The Negros Nine Abaca Weavers
Recently, a weaving project, with a grant of P600,000 from the Department of Labor and Employment, was begun and we now have five fulltime weavers, Gore said.
“Our products of hand woven scarfs and shawls are being exported to Australia. Also, abaca is being planted in order to have a constant supply for future products,” he added.
The NNHDF also has an anti-human trafficking program extending over all of southern Negros, and there are two cases at present before the courts, Gore said.
Most of the towns and cities now have Anti-Trafficking Councils. Seminars and fora have been conducted in all these towns and cities on the laws on trafficking, he said.
NNHDF is also producing a book on the relevant laws regarding trafficking, to be given to LGUs and concerned government agencies, he said.
Gore said the Negros Nine will be seeking compensation and recognition, with many thousands of others, as victims of human rights violations committed during the Marcos dictatorship.
Republic Act 10368, an act providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime, is now being implemented.
While thousands will be compensated and their sufferings recorded for posterity, nevertheless, the perpetrators will go free, Gore said.
Human rights violations did not stop with the end of Martial Law. The next phase will be to compensate and recognize those who have been victims since Martial Law, he said.
THE SOLA MURDER
The plight of the Negros Nine under the Marcos dictatorship began following the ambush-murder of Kabankalan Mayor Pablo Sola and his companions. They were ambushed on March 10, 1982 on a deserted road on the outskirts of Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.
The ambush was claimed by the New People’s Army but on May 6, 2003, the Negros Nine were arrested and imprisoned, prompting the international news media to swoop down on Negros to cover the trial.
Aside from three of the accused being priests, the Irish and Australian government and media were especially concerned. O’Brien was Irish and Gore is from Australia.
The drama of the Negros Nine became an international nightmare for the Marcos regime over the next 14 months with pressure coming from the Australian, US and Irish governments, Gore recalled.
Fearful of what might happen to the lay workers, five were married men with families, the two foreigner priests, he and O’Brien, agreed to leave the country voluntarily if all charges were dropped against all, Gore said.
They would not compromise on their innocence but would be prepared to leave in the interest of the lay workers, he said.
Fr. Vicente Dagan had already been released when a petition to quash the case was presented a few months earlier, even though he had been “identified” as the leader of the liquidation squad by witnesses, Gore noted.
But the lying witnesses had been suitably demolished by their battery of volunteer lawyers, Gore added.
The Marcos regime jumped at the opportunity to end the case which had become an international embarrassment and on July 3, 1984, a less than magnanimous decision of the court freed the remaining eight, saying that there was not enough evidence to convict them, Gore recalled.
Gore said he and O’Brien agreed to leave within a month of the dismissal of all charges.
When the Marcos regime collapsed, Gore and O’Brien returned to Negros to resume their work for the poor of southern Negros.*CPG
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