The Isabelinos’ Struggle Against Warlordism and Political Dynasty

A Filipino migrant in the U.S. castigates Philippine media for “forgetting to mention historical events that led to the fall of Faustino Dy Jr. from power.”

By Arturo P. Garcia

After the much-delayed proclamation of the new Isabela governor Ma. Gracia Cielo “Bombo Grace” Padaca, the Philippine press harped and hyped about another classic example of “David and Goliath” struggle and the “end of political dynasties” and the triumph of the good against evil. Again, without bothering to study and analyze the history of Isabelinos’ struggle for freedom and democracy.

Padaca, a 40-year-old polio victim and radio broadcaster, is set to be proclaimed this week as elected governor of Isabela, a province in northern Philippines. The incumbent governor, Faustino Dy, Jr., son of Faustino Sr., the patriarch of the four-decade Dy dynasty, has contested the election claiming that Padaca was supported by the New People’s Army (NPA).

Historical antecedents

Media reports did not mention that when President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Isabelinos bore the brunt of the military dictatorship. More than 50,000 Isabelinos in the forest region of the province were dislocated when their farms and homes were declared as “no man’s lands.” Gov. Faustino Dy Sr. led this onslaught against the people as he consolidated his position as the premier warlord of Cagayan Valley.

Dy, a former Liberal Party ward of then Sen. Bengino Aquino Jr., at first cooperated with the NPA but turned against them even before martial law was declared in September 1972 in a classical example of opportunism.

Media did not even mention that in 1979, the tens of thousands of peasants from Northern and Central Isabela, especially from the two big plantations of Hacienda Santa Isabel and Hacienda San Antonio, launched mass actions against the Dy–Cojuanco monopoly that will turn the 14,000-hectare haciendas into an agri-business empire. Peasants in their tens of thousands finally showed their disgust against the landlords Dy and Cojuanco in 1981 when they boycotted the presidential elections and marched in the provincial capitol several times.

As a result President Marcos “declared the two Haciendas as land reform areas” the following year to prevent what could have been a peasant revolt that gained both national and international prominence and had made the Marcos regime looked bad all over the world.

Nine years later, the Catholic Church and the environmental movement led by then the Cagayan Anti-Logging Movement (CALM) and the Save the Sierra Madre Movement (SSMM) exposed the Dys’ control on logging and their wanton destruction of Cagayan Valley’s forests and natural resources. Dy Sr. even banned a national newspaper and several local reporters – even forcing a progressive journalist to exile in the United States – when the logging exposé gained prominence in the print media.

Politicians like Heherson Alvarez and Silvestre Bello III from Isabela tried to chip out some of Dy’s power but failed miserably. Two years following Dy Sr.’s death in 1993, Bello ran as governor against Dy Jr. He never made it.

But the people’s resistance showed their persistence again when the Isabelinos rejected the Dy–Albano’s plan to divide Isabela into three provinces in a referendum in 1995. This time, the Catholic Church led by then Bishop ___ Puruganan and Padaca figured prominently in opposing what many believed were the dirty tactics of the two Isabela warlord families.

By playing the solemn “Isabela Hymn” in Bombo Radio every hour, the Isabela voters were galvanized into rejecting Dy’s plan to turn Isabela into their political pie.

Continuing the struggle against warlordism

Exactly nine years later, the people of Isabela, with the confluence of a feisty lady advocate, an involved Catholic Church led by a pro-people bishop and laity, progressive groups led by the political party Bayan Muna (People First), peasant organizations and an angry middle class all bonded together to deal the political dynasty a big blow.

It is self-serving for political analysts to attribute solely to Grace Padaca or too sulking for Dy Jr. to accuse the NPA – his armed nemesis for the last 32 years – for his loss in the recent elections.

The people of Isabela have a glorious history of struggle against tyranny. Isabela was the last province that held the municipal elections during the American occupation in 1907. This land called “Tiera Virgen” was the refuge of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and Palanan, Isabela was the last capital of the First Philippine Republic where Aguinaldo was captured in March 1902.

This should be the lesson that the Dys and all tyrants and warlords must learn.

It was the people – not only Grace Padaca – who dealt the fatal blow to the dragon Dy Jr.

To simply attribute the Isabela people’s victory in the May 2004 gubernatorial race only to Padaca – although she is a prime factor – is a disservice to the memories of countless activists and martyrs who fought and are continuing the struggle against warlordism and political dynasties in the Philippines. (

* The writer is the Los Angeles coordinator of the Philippine Peasant Support Network (Pesante)-USA

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