Remembering Digos City’s 1989 gruesome massacre

By Che Palicte

June 25, 2020, 10:31 pm

<p class="p1"><strong>31 YEARS ON.</strong> Helen Dominguez, a survivor and eyewitness of the 1989 Rano Massacre speaks to members of the media on Thursday (June 25, 2020). Victims of the tragedy were remembered and given tribute in a symbolic rite in Digos City. <em>(PNA photo by Che Palicte)</em></p>

31 YEARS ON. Helen Dominguez, a survivor and eyewitness of the 1989 Rano Massacre speaks to members of the media on Thursday (June 25, 2020). Victims of the tragedy were remembered and given tribute in a symbolic rite in Digos City. (PNA photo by Che Palicte)

DAVAO CITY – Thirty-one years have passed and yet the June 25, 1989 gruesome massacre is forever engraved in the heart and mind of Helen Dominguez who lost five members of her family on that fateful day.

A survivor and an eyewitness of the incident, Dominguez recounted the tragedy on a Sunday morning (9 a.m.) when people were gathered for worship at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines in Sitio Rano Barangay Binaton, Digos City in Davao del Sur.

She emotionally recalled that there were about 73 people who were members of the Bagobo-Tagabawa tribe.

Just about five minutes when the fellowship started, some residents rushed to the chapel informing them that the notorious group of the New People’s Army (NPA) headed by ‘Kumander Bensar’ is approaching.

Dominguez said some of them managed to run away and go into hiding while the others, including her family, were left behind and mercilessly shot dead by Bensar’s group.

“I ran and hid through the squash plants with my four-year-old child and prayed to God that we be spared from harm. I heard people screaming and begging for help but Besnar ordered his men to fire at them,” she said in the vernacular.

She added that members of the NPA went to the houses adjacent to the chapel and killed everyone who were caught hiding.

After three hours of the armed men’s killing spree, the group went back to the UCCP chapel and started singing and laughing about the carnage.

“Gunfire stopped at about noon, but what brought shivers down my spine was when I heard the perpetrators singing and laughing inside the chapel,” Dominguez said.

Sensing that the perpetrators already left, Dominguez along with her child stood up and saw bloodied dead bodies.

A total of 38 lifeless bodies including children and women were scattered at the chapel and nearby houses.

She cannot describe her anguish when she saw the lifeless body of his pastor husband who was beheaded by the communist group.

“They beheaded my husband. I lost five members of my family. You just don’t know how painful it is,” Dominguez said.

Moving on

Marking the 31st anniversary of the 1989 Rano Massacre, the victims were remembered through a tribute on Thursday (June 25), with a traditional 21-gun salute to honor the death of the tribesmen.

Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Undersecretary and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) spokesperson Lorraine Badoy personally attended the commemoration activity along with other officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and the city government of Digos.

Helen Dominguez, a survivor of the June 25, 1989 Rano Massacre, offers flowers at the memorial marker during the 31st commemoration of the tragedy on Thursday (June 25). (Photo by Che Palicte)

She said for 30 years after the incident, she never shed a single tear every time they commemorated the tragedy except for the recent activity.

Badoy, in her speech, said the historical injustice has come about because of the treachery of terrorists who hide behind lies and deceit and use the innocent citizens as their shield as they go about in destructing people’s lives and home.

“These shameless bastards have managed to clothe themselves in respectability and walk the halls of the church, of media, of the academe, the halls of power in Congress and almost all agencies of government and are accorded the title "Honorable" while they crush dreams and break the hearts of our people,” she said.

She added that the journey from 1989 when the grave injustice happened has been a long and arduous journey where justice has painfully eluded them and where it seemed like the lives of the loved ones they lost on that tragic day seemed inconsequential and of no value.

A memorial marker with the etched names of the 38 victims, mostly children and women of the 1989 Rano Massacre in Digos City, Davao del Sur. (Photo by Che Palicte)

“I am standing here to tell you that this is no longer true. We weep with you and feel in our hearts the pain of your loss and the tragic end to each of those lives- innocent children among them whose lives were snuffed out even before they could begin to truly live,” she added.

Anti-Terror Bill to serve justice for Rano

Badoy mentioned that when President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Anti-Terror Bill of 2020 as urgent, he has the Rano massacre in mind.

“Hopefully, this bill will soon be made into law so that this tragedy will no longer be repeated because this gives us, in the government, a powerful weapon to wield so that we may defend and protect you from these soulless bastards, these terrorists Communist Party of the Philippines- New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF),” she added.

She said it will also move the country forward because the terrorists have gotten in the way of the country’s progress relentlessly and ruthlessly.

“And where they want us to be silent, we must speak out and be the voices of those who were forever silenced on June 25, 1989,” Badoy added.

Meanwhile, the Davao del Sur Police Provincial Office (DSPPO) strongly condemned the terroristic act of the communist rebels and further called on peace-loving people of the province of Davao del Sur to support the timely Anti-Terrorism Bill so that incidents such as Rano massacre will never happen again.

“I urge the public to support the Anti-Terrorism bill, so that these terrorists will rot in jail and justice will be served to the victims of Rano massacre,” said Police Col. Alberto Lupaz, DSPPO provincial director. (PNA)