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MOPPIYON KAHI DIID PATOY: The Palera Massacre of 1971

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KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 10 July)—On the midnight of 10 July 1971, armed men killed a family of Meranaw farmers living in the remote sitio of Palera, in what was then Kidapawan’s Barangay Perez. Seven members of the Galaw family were killed, among them an elderly woman and two teenage boys. After the family was murdered, their house was burned down.

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The mass grave in Sitio Palera, now Barangay Balabag, Kidapawan City, where the seven members of the Galaw family are buried

The massacre of the Galaw family was just one of several atrocities committed on the Moro civilian population during the regime of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. (I had earlier written here about two other atrocities in Patadon.)

Like most of these atrocities, the memory of what happened is all but lost in Kidapawan, with only the surviving relatives of the victims refusing to forget.

But what makes the Palera Massacre unique is that the Monuvu of Kidapawan also helped keep the memory of the atrocity alive. Before I started documenting it, its only documentary mention had been in the Tribal History submitted by the Ilomavis-Balabag Apo Sandawa Manobo Ancestral Domain Claim (IBASMADC) for its application for an Ancestral Domain Title.

Datu Bakidnon Adang,” goes the IBASMADC History, “the grandson of Umpan by his daughter Ompayo, who led the tribe for years was imprisoned for four months. He became a suspect in the massacre of nine Muslims in Perez. It was rumoured that both Monuvu and Ilonggo (settlers) living in Balabag were involved in the said massacre. To avoid retaliation, the Monuvu evacuated to some areas especially those near Perez. Datu Adang denied any involvement in that crime. He believed there were political motivations behind it.”

From this brief mention I started investigating further, asking around in Perez until I was led by locals (who had heard of the incident) to a surviving relative of the dead, Delia Dumacon Hassan.

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Delia Dumacon Hassan, the primary source on the Palera Massacre

It is from Dumacon Hassan that I got the clearer picture: the date and time it took place, the names of the dead, why they were killed, and by whom.

The Galaws were the family of Dumacon Hassan’s sister, and the dead included her in-laws and nephews. The Dumacons are Maguindanaon, but the Galaws were Meranaw.

Dumacon Hassan lists the names and ages of the dead: Alim Adatu Galaw (60s, her sister’s husband), Harun Galaw (18, Alim Adatu’s son), Muhammad Salik Galaw (16, also Alim Adatu’s son), Tumutulong Galaw (63, Alim Adatu’s brother), Macasindil Galaw (30s, Tumutulong’s son), Liwa Galaw (30s, also Tumutulong’s son), and Banoc Galaw (67, Alim Adatu’s and Tumutulong’s sister). The rest of the family had been spared because they happened to be downtown when the incident took place.

Apparently the last to die, Dumacon Hassan says, was the teenager Harun, who fought violently against the armed men and whose body was in the worst state among the victims.

Asked as to why her relatives were killed, Dumacon Hassan unhesitatingly answered that it was land grabbing: the land in Sitio Palera the Galaws were living in had belonged to Dumacon Hassan, and she had asked her sister’s Meranaw in-laws to settle in the area to prevent squatters.

The perpetrators of the massacre, according to her account (and lending credence to the IBASMADC history), were elements of the Ilaga, the violent militia armed by the Marcos government ostensibly to help in the war against the Moro separatists.

In the wake of the killings, Dumacon Hassan had to take two courses of action: to file cases relating to the killings, and to take back the land that to her surprise had been legally claimed by someone else. Following her request, I will not give further details surrounding these cases.

Suffice it to say that while she was able to take back her land, nobody was ever persecuted for the deaths of the seven.

Some years after I interviewed Dumacon Hassan, I met Mustapha Sabino, son of Macasindil Galaw. It is from him I learned that the surviving members of the Galaw family not only had to hide the fact that they were Moros to avoid being killed, they even had to change their names (although he has since reverted to his Arabic name, Mustapha still uses his mother’s maiden name, Sabino).

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Mustapha Sabino, son of Macasindil Galaw (one of the dead), points at the mass grave where his father and six other relatives are buried.

The Palera Massacre was the first massacre I was able to document in detail. By the time I started work on it very few people had remembered it even happened.

It was also the first I managed to process into fiction, serving as inspiration for my 2019 short story “Lahadda.” Told from the perspective of food, the story highlighted how all three of Kidapawan’s tri-peoples played a part in keeping the memory of what happened alive.

“Lahadda” was the short story representing the Philippines for the ASEAN Short Fiction anthology that the Writers Association of Thailand and the Thai Ministry of Culture published that year. When the book was launched in Bangkok, I took the opportunity to talk about the Palera Massacre, bringing this long forgotten atrocity to an international audience.

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Talking about the Palera Massacre in Bangkok in 2019

Today, on its 53rd anniversary, I take the opportunity to once again bring the Palera Massacre to public memory, reiterating what I always say when I bring these atrocities up: if we cannot give justice to the victims in the courts, we who live today can at least give them the vindication of being remembered.

And if I am forgiven for being political, I also take the opportunity to assert that now is the time to start talking about not just Palera, but all the atrocities that the first Marcos regime perpetrated, encouraged, and tolerated in Mindanao.

Vice President Inday Sara Duterte Carpio resigned from the cabinet of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.—effectively positioning herself against her former running mate—on the anniversary of the Manili Massacre, an even bigger atrocity that took place on the same year as Palera.

Now that the Dutertes—Mindanao’s biggest political force on the national playing field—are opposed to the Marcoses, they and their supporters have the moral duty to bring to the national attention the many historical injustices committed by the Marcoses in Mindanao. Remembering the victims must be a major component of the Duterte ideology.

Under the presidency of Duterte Carpio’s father there was a movement to remember atrocities committed by the New People’s Army. Most prominent of these is the Rano Massacre in Digos, for which the National Task Force to End the Local Communist Insurgency (NTF-ELCAC) funded a memorial park. It will not be difficult for Inday and the Duterte camp to do the same for the over 20 documented Marcos-era atrocities.

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The Rano Memorial in Barangay Binaton, Digos City commemorates the 1989 Rano Massacre. The Dutertes and their supporters could fund similar projects for Marcos era atrocities like the Palera Massacre in Kidapawan. Photo courtesy of Kublai Millan

Yes, this would weaponize history for political goals. But if the result is to bring to greater public attention what has long been forgotten and ignored, it is a small price to pay.

We should talk and we keep talking about these victims, for only by using our words can we keep their memory alive. Because as Salomay Iyong once said, good words never die.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Karlo Antonio G. David has been writing the history of Kidapawan City for the past thirteen years. He has documented seven previously unrecorded civilian massacres, the lives of many local historical figures, and the details of dozens of forgotten historical incidents in Kidapawan. He was invested by the Obo Monuvu of Kidapawan as “Datu Pontivug,” with the Gaa (traditional epithet) of “Piyak nod Pobpohangon nod Kotuwig don od Ukaa” (Hatchling with a large Cockscomb, Already Gifted at Crowing). The Don Carlos Palanca and Nick Joaquin Literary Awardee has seen print in Mindanao, Cebu, Dumaguete, Manila, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore, and Tokyo. His first collection of short stories, “Proclivities: Stories from Kidapawan,” came out in 2022.)

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