A daughter remembers the Negros Famine of 1985


By Inday Espina-Varona

Mas masarap daw ang buhay ng panahon ni Marcos?

Our Nanay was head of pediatrics at the Neg. Occ. regional hospital during the sugar crisis caused by a) monopolies given to Marcos cronies b) the dissolute and unjust hacienda system in Sugarlandia (and in the Cojuangco-owned Hda Luisita).

Nanay and other doctors worked very long hours as the first batch of severely malnourished children from the haciendas came… a trickle that soon became a flood of children, from a lush tropical island, looking like famine victims from sub-saharan Africa.

Nanay would come home, in despair, furious at the plight of her patients; outraged that some of them were dying of preventable diseases. Doctors then — and now — would cover some of the costs of medicines.

“It’s just the price of a lipstick,” Nanay said, wiping tears from her eyes.

I was a very young journalist then, covering the rising civil unrest in Negros, infamously knows as “The Social Volcano” because of the obscene gap in lifestyles between the rich and poor.

I covered Joel Abong and his peers.

We saw him die. We were at his burial.
And I almost spat out food as some friends — good people, bright people, but ignorant of the lives the other half of Negros lived — bewailed foregoing trips to Europe and settling for a tour of Asia, as children died in our hospitals and in rural hamlets.

Massacres aplenty happened on our island. I recall a summer excursion cut short when we happened on a the grotesque sight of four men hanging, semi crucifixion-style, on the grounds of a military camp.

I covered the immediate aftermath of the Escalante Massacre, which happened a month after my first child was born.

We saw the huge pockmarks left by the machine gun bullets that tore into a sea of unarmed folk protesting — rightly — the hunger spawned by an unjust system.

We saw the dead, and the survivors screaming and weeping in the hospitals. And we froze as the machine gun that had just killed dozens were aimed at us journalists as we tried to approach the municipal hall that was the murderers’ roost.

Do not talk to me about the good life under Marcos.

Death was what he brought to tens of thousands, whether by bullets or the slow killing caused by unjust systems he created and/or propped up.

Anuman ang pagkamuhi ko sa mga abuso sa ilalim ni Noynoy Aquino ay hinding-hindi magiging dahilan para magbulag-bulahan sa kasamaan ng Batas Militar.

An expatriate responds:

By Ted Alcuitas

It was this picture of Joel Ablong that appeared on the cover of Ms. Magazine that a friend brought back from Negros that moved me and friends to launch ‘Alay Kapwa’ back then in Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

We were able to arouse our own community that while we were shaken by the famine in Africa and ‘We are the World’,  in our homeland, there was even more famine – and it was man-made!

We were chided then for donating the monies raised to the late Bishop Fortich – the man who coined the ‘Social Volcano’ and demonized as a Communist.

Yes, Indeed the military is the same then and now – the power behind every president and the perpetrators of the impunity that engulfs our nativeland!

Didn’t the Mendiola Massacre followed Escalante? and Hacienda Luisita? And the Maguindanao Massacre? Who did all the shooting, tell me!