The PRIESTS began to expose 'random murders and brutality...'
SOLDIERS CARRYING ON A REIGN OF TERROR
In 1980 the mayor of Kabankalan town on Negros Island, Pablo Sola, a comparatively wealthy planter, was charged with conspiracy in mass murder. Seven men from nearby mountainous country had been brutally bashed and buried alive on the mayor’s property. Sola was at the top of the list of 14 men identified as killing the seven.
The mayor’s cook, Alberto Caunca, in hiding told a church lawyer that he had seen three of the seven tied-up captives being dragged by armed military men from the mayor’s piggery towards his sugarcane plantation. The cook said he later heard moaning noises and groans. The soldiers then returned to wash their hands and shovels, which were covered in mud. Few of the soldiers were charged.
In early 1982 mayor Sola was out on bail for the mass murders. A pick-up truck containing Sola, two of his employees and two patrolmen rounded a bend near Sola’s plantation and immediately came under a hail of heavy gunfire, killing them all.
‘MAYOR, FOUR OTHERS, AMBUSHED’ reported the front page of the Visayan Times on March 12. But another sheet was to have more significance:
‘AWAY WITH FASCIST BUTCHERS!’ was the heading on a propaganda document distributed within a few weeks. It was dated March 20 and signed ‘New People’s Army’, the then military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
‘The death penalty was carried out on the butcher and his companions when fulltime guerrillas of the New People’s Army ambushed and riddled them with bullets last 10 March…’ the NPA announced.
Father Brian Gore left the region to go on leave in Australia soon after the shooting.
Gore and other Columban priests in the region had come under increasing criticism from the ruling class for their local ‘activism’ and a petition had been circulated seeking the deportation of the ‘white’ priests, most of whom were Irish.
Stand up against oppression...
Gore had helped to establish a ‘Basic Christian Communities’ group, a movement aimed at encouraging local people to stand up to oppression, expose injustices and help their communities. He had recruited loyal church layworkers, mostly young married men from his mountainous parish at Oringao, to assist him. They began to expose random murders and brutality at a church-military liaison group.
One case involved the discovery of Carlito Orchida. When his grave was opened, the man’s ribs had been broken and alongside his remains was a brutal whip, with nuts and bits of metal tied at the end.
As Irish Columban priest Father Niall O’Brien, now deceased, said: “Nothing was done. Like all the other cases that have been brought up involving the military. You ask any priest, can he remember a case in which the people got justice as a result.”
Towards the end of September 1982 when Father Brian Gore returned from Australia to his parish at Oringao, near Kabankalan, his convento was surrounded by armed troops at night. They broke into his office but left the priest alone. Gore refused to come out.
But the next day the soldiers returned and told Gore he was under suspicion for subversive activities. He was told they had found a hand grenade on his filing cabinet in his office the previous night. He was also questioned about ‘voluminous subversive literature’ which was allegedly found in his office.
It was the start of the efforts to end Gore’s work among the people. A week later he and his six trusted young church layworkers were charged with inciting rebellion, which carried the death penalty. Soon 7,000 people came down from the mountains in support of their priest and layworkers.
But that wasn’t to be the end of the military harassment on the sugar island. Father Brian Gore, Irishman Father Niall O’Brien, Filipino Father Vicente Dangan and six of Gore’s layworkers were all charged with the multiple murders of Mayor Sola and his men, whom the Communists had claimed to have killed.
When I met Gore up in that little convento at Oringao out in the bush, he had worked on Negros island as a missionary for 13 years. ‘That’s where they reckon I keep my armoury’, he laughed, pointing to an area under the convento. As darkness settled we sprawled on the veranda talking of military raids and Gore’s seemingly uphill fight against the local authority.
Cameraman Sebastian Phua filmed as I interviewed Gore the next day:
‘The soldiers are carrying on a reign of terror,’ he said, ‘of persecution of the people. Anybody who shows any signs of not kowtowing to them is immediately brought into submission by these humiliating punishments and anybody just a little bit suspect – in that he may be kind of friendly to the rebels or something like that – he’s taken in and tortured and killed.’
It would be a two-year long legal charade before the Gore’s Negros Nine, as the media called them, were freed of the mass murder charges. There had not been a shred of evidence to convict the priests and the layworkers.
Extracts from Justice in the Philippines, ABC Books, 1985, by Bob Wurth.