Human brain the size of a man’s fist fell on Boyet’s left shoes, an unexpected horror that made the usually calm and composed journalist wail near the foot of Mendiola Bridge in Malacanang nearly 30 years ago.
No, I was not a direct witness like Perfecto “Boyet” Caparas to the terrible murders that apparently were committed by Cory Aquino’s soldiers and police on January 22, 1987 when about 20,000 farmers demanded genuine land reform, which the sainted one had promised after overthrowing Marcos 11 months earlier.
This writer was nowhere near where the carnage happened, being some distance away as mainly a writer for a Quezon City-based political digest and a freelancer with the Sunday Magazine of the “alternative” newspaper Malaya, for which I wrote about the Mendiola killings later.
Boyet was then covering what would eventually be known as the Mendiola Massacre (13 killed in cold blood, hundreds injured and thousands probably traumatized for life by how armed men can rain bullets on unarmed citizens and later reportedly helped themselves to personal belongings of the victims and other spoils of the bloodbath).
Last time I heard, he was in the United States, in Indiana, where he was teaching at a university there.
A few years after 1987, Boyet became a lawyer and, maybe in the mid-1990s, he represented me in a labor case that I had filed against the editor-in-chief of a broadsheet for constructive illegal dismissal.
He delivered on his promise that he would win the case for me.
It’s a pity that he quit being a reporter for The Manila Times right after passing the Bar in his first take but journalism’s loss was the legal profession’s gain.
Our connection was that Boyet and I were both, okay, mountain climbers who had conquered, among other peaks, The Rockies (Mount Maculot) in Batangas when this writer still had some fuel left in the tank.
I bet my other close friend and equally unflappable Mat Villavicencio, who was then also covering the Mendiola rally but for activist newspaper Kalatas Paggawa, still does not know where Boyet was in the last two decades but, maybe, after reading this piece he will.
Mat, a photographer, was Boyet’s “buddy” during the rally, a temporary bonding at protest actions that is necessary, at least to know if one of them has been arrested or worse.
And their mothers had the right to know to what police precincts or funeral parlors their sons had been brought, at least for them to identify the bodies.
My personal opinion is that police and soldiers don’t make a distinction between political dissenters and legitimate members of the Fourth Estate during demonstrations, thus the needless collateral damage.
I am not sure if Mat and Boyet were friends in college at the Manuel Luis Quezon University in Quiapo, Manila,
or if they even knew each other there but I am quite certain that they were staff of The Quezonian, the university paper, at one time or another.
A few days before coming up with this “commemorative” story, Mat told me that he and Boyet must have carried at least eight wounded farmers to a car or a truck—Mat told me that he does not remember anymore—after gunfire and the shooting stopped.
Looking back, he said he was convinced that none of the wounded survived “dahil puro sa ulo ang tama ng mga ito [all of them had been hit in the head].”
The deadly incident was never officially investigated, partly because Cory was too popular for having “restored” democracy in the Philippines.
Some of those suspected of having followed the order or orders to shoot anything that moves even became successful politicians who were supposedly voted into positions of power by the “people.”
The 13 farmers died in vain, apparently, because what could be the remaining symbol of landlord domination in the country still is basically untouched despite a supposedly leading participant in the Mendiola rally—Rafael Mariano—having become the Agrarian Reform secretary of President Rodrigo Duterte.
That monument to cacique power is the Hacienda Luisita of the Aquinos and the Cojaungcos.
Presumably, it would take the lives of more than 13 farmers for genuine land reform to succeed.