Ramon Maglasang discusses his childhood experiences during World War II, his career in goods transportation in several places, conflicts in Wao and Zamboanga, and his experience as a labor unionist at a warehouse in Cagayan De Oro.
Born in 1940 in Cebu, Ramon begins by briefly recalling his childhood experiences in WWII, hearing gunshots and having to hide under a cotton plant for safety during air raids. He began schooling in 1947 after the war in Negros Occidental, before moving back to Cebu to complete his elementary education. He had to wake up early, cook for himself, and walk seven kilometers to and from school in Cebu.
After completing elementary school, he found employment as a fish dealer in Cebu, and shortly after, moved to Mindanao to work in agriculture with his siblings. In 1966, he moved to Wao in Mindanao, where he worked in long distance goods transportation, and also sold Islamic mats in Cagayan de Oro for a profit. The following year, he got married.
In the 1970s, religious conflict broke out in Mindanao between the Muslims and the Christian militia group, ILAGA. Ramon recalls witnessing young ILAGA members burning Muslim households. He also suggests that ILAGA fighters were invulnerable against the Muslims’ retaliatory gunshots, as they carried protective amulets. Ramon was not significantly affected by the conflict. However, when he and his brother encountered the military in Zamboanga, the soldiers were brutal and indiscriminately used violence on suspects, even if they were innocent civilians. He recalls being beaten up by a soldier, and witnessing soldiers threatening to shoot civilians, in some cases even executing their threat. Ramon could do little but to hide and protect himself.
In 1972, the conflict was subdued, and he moved to Cagayan de Oro City to work as a cargo locator in a warehouse. He was able to provide for his 5 children by working overtime. In the 1980s, he joined two strikes at the company under the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) union, which successfully negotiated pay increases for the workers. Their third attempt in 1996, however, was suppressed by the military, and they were all fired. But Ramon notes that the strikers were not labeled as communists by the authorities. He opened a sundry shop in 2000, and continues to support himself through it.
Interviewee: Ramon Maglasang, born 1940
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya
Transcriber: Dominique Jonietz O. Lucagbo
Date: August 13, 1940
My name is Ramon Maglasang, 80 years old. I was born on August 17, 1940 in Bogo, Cebu City. I worked as a Cargo Locator in a warehouse where my job is to find the cargo or items in a roughly 500 square meter warehouse. I just finished primary school in Kalamboa Elementary School. My mother Teresa Tautoal Maglasang and her family worked as farmers. My father Jacinto Maglasang worked was a fisherman in Cebu. I have 11 other siblings and some of us were unable to go to school because of financial problems.
By 1944, I was about 4 years old when World War II affected Cebu. I remember hiding under a cotton tree to cover ourselves from air bombs and gunshots flying around. I was innocent and naïve that time and all I could remember was that I felt scared for my safety but still felt secured to be with my parents and siblings.
In 1947, the war was over, we moved to Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. I was 7 years old and entered school as a 2nd grade student. I was living in my older brother’s house in Bacolod and finished as a 4th grade student. I would sometimes help him to work as a fish transporter and would ride a train to deliver the goods. The train is loaded with logs and we would sit up on the top of them to have a free ride.
By 1950, we went back to Cebu and I continued my studies until 6th grade. I graduated elementary and stopped. My routine while studying was waking up at 4am and cook for my breakfast and pack my lunch. At 5am I would start walking 7km from my house to school. The school would start at 7am and finished at 5pm, and then I will go back to house again by foot. During my free time, I would help my parents by cleaning the farm and after that would eat dinner and sleep. It was tiresome but I don’t really have a choice. I am also quite proud that I’m a smart student that time. I got used to the hardships of life and this made me determined to keep moving forward.
After graduating, I went to the city proper of Cebu and hoped to find job there. Luckily, I was able to apply as a helper to a fish dealer in the market. But not long after, I moved to Molave, Zambangoa Del Sur, Mindanao. I helped my older brother working there as a farmer. My siblings and I got separated after each one of them got married. I then went to Damilag, Bukidnon by 1965 and worked with my sister at a tomato plantation, but I stopped not long after that.
By 1966, I moved to Wao, Lanao del Sur. I worked there as a fish transporter where we would travel from Wao to Cagayan de Oro City and back to Wao again. We would travel for almost 8 hours riding a truck in a rocky road and hot weather. I would sometimes buy mats which is a Muslim product and sell it in Cagayan de Oro for a higher price as a side line job. I was living in my sister’s house in Wao who is also a fish transporter that time. I met my late wife, Tarsicia Balicao, in Wao and in 1967; we got married and built our own family.
In early 1970s, a war in Wao sparked between two religions; Muslims and Christians. A group named “ILAGA” was already heard of in Cotabato City. But, that time, we felt their presence in Wao. I even witnessed a group of the youngest members of the “ILAGA” group burn one of the Muslim’s houses. Muslims fought back by firing gunshots at them. But what was unbelievable was none of the ILAGA were affected by it. It was like they were bulletproof, it was believed that they wore amulets that protect them. Before they invade our place, Muslims were already creating commotions in different places near us but we were not really affected by it.
The war went on for a year: Well, war was like on and off at that time. My most unforgettable experience was when my brother and I encountered the Philippine military in Tokoran, Zamboanga. We were doing our business in the market, but the military suspected us as Muslim rebels. They caught my brother and punched me until my body was weak to the point where I begin to think how I could survive that day. There was a lot of what ifs in my mind, what if something will happen to me? What if I die? Who would take care my children and my wife? I prayed that day and thank God I was able to pass that experience and lived to tell this tale. They were also abusive with their authorities. They would sometimes be seen pointing 45 calibre guns to innocent civilians and threatening them that they will kill them and would sometimes, for the unfortunate ones, pull the trigger and blow their heads off. It was tough for us; I was scared for my life and for my family. I felt like a little coward for just hiding and just watching them killing my fellowmen.
By 1972, the war ended and we moved to Cagayan de Oro City. I was working as a cargo locator in a 500 square meter warehouse. I work there from 7am to 5:30 pm but I always work overtime in hopes of a salary increase. My weekly salary was 1000 pesos which is really not enough for my children of 5. But still, I was able to provide their basic needs. In the 1980s, about 200 workers formed a labor union called the Federation of Free Workers (FFW) to do a strike against the company. The leader was named Dampalan. I became a union member in this context at the time of Cory Aquino, and participated in three big strikes: First time at the time of Cory Aquino, next time during the Ramos regime, and the last time during the Estrada regime. We were asking for an increase of 5 centavos in our salary and won the first two. But we weren’t successful at the third time in 1996, and got fired from the company. It’s because the management even paid the military and the mass media to show the public that we were in the wrong side. But, I was never labeled as “communist” or something like that.
I had no work up until 2000 and just started selling in a sari-sari store to have some income in the family. Time goes by, my children got married and my wife died of natural causes and I don’t have anyone to care but myself. I stopped selling and just stayed in my house here in Cagayan de Oro City. I just use my monthly pension which is PHP 4,600 but is already enough for myself and my happiness.
Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya
Interviewee: Ramon Maglasang
Sari-sari stores are neighborhood sundry shops, a form of convenience stores in the Philippines.
How does Ramon’s recollections problematize the conception of the conflicts in Mindanao as a binary clash between the military and Muslim rebels?
Consider how traditional beliefs and understandings shaped individuals’ responses to the conflict in Mindanao in light of Ramon’s reflections. What does that suggest about the nature of the Cold War in the Philippines?
What does the fact that Ramon and his fellow strikers were not labeled communists suggest about red baiting in the Cold War Philippines?