Pacete: Lessons learned from Kumander Dante

Ver F. Pacete

BERNABE Buscayno alias “Kumander Dante” may not be in the consciousness of the youth. Those who have not tasted the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos (living and dead) could not understand the sacrifices of this peasant who fought the dictatorship not for himself but for the marginalized Filipinos.

“Abe,” the nickname of Bernabe Buscayno, belonged to the family of transient sugarcane workers (the “sacadas”) in Tarlac. As a small boy, he saw how the soldiers burned their houses because the hacienda workers were suspected to be anti-government. They were like wandering Jews roaming around Tarlac looking for a place where they could work. Abe’s father sent him to work as a helper in the hacendero’s house. He was maltreated like a slave and given a food par below the dog’s food.

He ventured to work in a machine shop in Manila but he was disgusted together with other workers. The daily wage has to be cut off as part of the protection game. After having been involved in some rumbles to protect the rights of the workers, he went back to Tarlac to work as cane cutter in the hacienda. (This was in the 1960s. Anti-government and hacendero groups were starting to form clusters that later evolved to become the New People’s Army.)

Many resisting labor groups were formed. They started to question the inhuman treatment of workers working in the haciendas. They started to realize that hacienda workers are not receiving the salary based on the minimum wage law. Unrest among workers started to brew. Sugarcane fields were burned. The hacenderos asked help from politicians and the soldiers. That started the bloody witch hunting. Many innocent workers became suspects. They were picked up and castigated in military camps. Some went home with broken bones. Many were missing.

The hacienda workers who were once in the labor groups started to realize that in order to fight back, they have to organize armed groups. Bernabe Buscayno, after having been enlightened by an elderly mentor on social justice based on the Red Book of Mao that explains the essence of Communism, joined a group and later on he was chosen to lead that group to fight the hacenderos and soldiers.

At first, they were intimidated by local politicians who wanted to use them as private army.

Abe adopted the war name Kumander Dante or Ka Dante to hide his identity. Dante was the name of the son of his elderly mentor who was killed by the soldiers.

“Kumander Dante” became a byword in Tarlac and later on spread in entire Luzon. It is synonymous to “protector of the oppressed.”

He was able to have a life partner who gave him a son.

Kumander Dante was a victim of circumstance. The choice of the oppressed during that time was to join the NPA to fight the persecution of the military, the feudalism of the hacenderos, the dictatorship of Marcos … and their alliance with America. Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972 to save the Philippines from nationwide crime and violence.

Dante’s guerilla group raided detachments and ambushed soldiers. His men defended the rights of the oppressed not only in Luzon and Metro Manila. There are NPAs in all the islands … Negros Occidental included.

The NPAs found partners who are in organized labor groups and street parliamentarians composed of anti-Marcos politicians, student leaders, professionals, and religious groups.

The enlightened elites and the high society ladies who are not comfortable with Marcos and Imelda were joined in by artists, businessmen, and millions of awakened citizens. The fugitive Dante who could not be easily identified was cornered one day. He got no choice but to submit himself to battering.

He was brought to Camp Olivas in Pampanga on August 27, 1976. Later he was sentenced to die by firing squad with Senator Ninoy Aquino, and renegade Victor Corpuz.

The rest of the story went a long way. I am telling you all these because we are pushing for peace. Even Ka Frank Fernandez would want to have an end in the struggle for peace between the government and the CPP-NDF-NPA.

We do not want Filipinos to be killed in the process. We do not want to breed more Kumander Dantes.

I just want to leave some questions for Negros Island Region. How are our hacienda workers now? Have they improved economically, physically and socially? Are our factory and commercial workers comfortable with the treatment of their employers? Is their salary within the minimum wage law? Do we have good plans for our squatters? Are there no more street children, flowers of the night, and solvent users in our streets and plazas?

How are the Negros hacenderos now? Have they considered the welfare of their workers in their Save-Sugar Industry Movement? What is Sugar Regulatory Administration doing to alleviate not only the planters but the workers as well? Hail to labor! Blessed be it!