Interview With Leo Mabaquiao

Leo discusses his school life, having both Christian and Muslim classmates, his career as a salesman, as well as his family members’ connections to the police, student activism, and ILAGA (the Christian militia group).

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Born into an Illongo family in Davao in 1959, Leo recalls growing up in a relatively affluent household. His police officer father was the sole breadwinner, but owned a cattle ranch and could afford helpers in the home. Leo and his 3 brothers were raised by the homemaker mother, and had a joyful childhood riding horses in their ranch. 

    When their father died at 56, Leo’s oldest brother took over his father’s role and cattle ranch. Though his father had served as a police officer, the oldest son was involved in the Kabataang Makabayan student movement that opposed the government, exiting it only after his father’s passing. 

    While at high school, Leo was aware of the ongoing conflict between Christians and Muslims in Mindanao. His high school president was a Muslim, despite having a Christian-majority student body. Muslim students were emboldened by this and bullied their Christian peers, leading Leo to keep his distance from them. He also heard of the Christian militia group ILAGA that fought against the Muslims, in which his relative was a member. It was said that ILAGA leadership often recruited Illongo fighters for their drive to never back down.

    Leo then majored in Agriculture at university to take over the family ranch. He later established a lifelong career as a salesman, retiring at age 60. The job allowed him to travel across the Philippines. He eventually reconnected with his former neighbor and married her. Now a grandfather, Leo is continuing his battle with cancer through prayer.

Interviewee: Leo Mabaquiao

Born: August 30, 1959

Interviewer and writer: Kisho Tsuchiya        Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya & Dominique Lucagbo

Transcriber:Dominique J. Lucagbo

Date: February 25. 2020

Language: Bisaya


I am Leo Mabaquiao, I was born on August 30, 1959 in Davao City. My parents were Ilonggos. My father was an ex war veteran during the World War II and became the chief of police soon after the war. My mother was a housewife and raised 4 children all being boys and me as the 3rd child. I studied primary education in Davao City just a walking distance away from our house. Life was easy for me back then because I had nothing to worry about. We were considered a middle-class family and had helpers around our house. We also had a cattle ranch in General Santos, just a 3-hour bus trip from Davao. Our ranch had cows, goats and even horses for transportation. My childhood was filled with me horseback riding around our ranch and watching the workers stamp a mark on cows.  Davao was a peaceful city back then and even had Japanese people around the neighborhood.

Unfortunately, my father died at 56 years old due to heart attack.  I was still in my first year in secondary education that time. My eldest brother had to take over my father’s role and was already a working student in his 4th year in High school. He filled in the role of a father even though he wasn’t in good terms with my father when he was still alive. My eldest brother was a student activist despite my father being a police officer. He was a member of Kabataang Makabayan which is an activist movement to take down the government but he stopped soon after my father died even though he was really dedicated to that group. 

There were already conflicts between Muslims and Christians back then. In fact, our school president in high school was a Muslim but majority of the students were Christians. My Muslim schoolmates took advantage of this and would often bully the Christians because they knew we were afraid of them. That is why I kept my distance from them. Muslims would carry guns and raid Christian’s lands and steal harvests from them. That’s why the Christians armed themselves for protection. I was also heard about a group named ILAGA. They were against the Muslim and one of my relative was also a member. It was said that Commander Inday and Bukay recruited mostly Ilonggos to fight against Muslims. Ilonggos were known to be fighters and never backed down. I guess that made them recruit Ilonggos. For now, Mindanao is at peace because the current President is making amends with the Muslims and I am very much satisfied with his governance.

I moved to North Cotabato to continue my tertiary education. I took Agriculture as my course to take care of our ranch. After I graduated, I started working as a salesman and was able to go different parts of the Philippines. I worked in a Retail Distribution Product and rode a truck to deliver goods from store to store. I was also able to work in a grocery store but I was a salesman most of my life. I spent years as a salesman and was able to go to Samar, Pagadian, Iligan and Butuan. I retired last year when I turned 60 years old and got my retirement pension. Along that journey, I met my wife and married her in 1985. She was a neighbor from Davao and already knew her in my adolescence. We were in a relationship for a year and decided to marry each other.

Currently, I am already diagnosed with cancer for 10 years now. I’ve been having nose bleeds every now and then and can only breathe through my mouth. I’ve also been in radial therapy sessions and I receive medical assistance and my retirement pension. I’m in stage 3 now but I still stay positive despite the cancer. If I let it get into me, it will just depress me and would further damage my body. The cancer was caused by smoking but I was never the heavy smoker. I guess it was because I was surrounded with friends who smoked a lot and I didn’t take care of my body. I physically abused it and I regretted that now I am still trying to be positive. I am happy now surrounded with people I love especially my grandchildren. I am the happiest with them and I’m still hoping to survive the cancer through praying.

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya

Interviewee: Leo Mabaquiao

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Transcript Notes

  1. Ilonggo is the colloquial term for the Hiligaynon people, a Visayan ethnic group in the Philippines

  1. How does Leo’s testimony challenge traditional understandings of the inter-religious conflict in Mindanao during the Cold War?

  2. Consider how Leo’s socioeconomic background shapes his views of the Cold War in the Philippines