At the head of the funeral for Ninoy Aquino Jr. on 31 August 1983, marchers carried a huge portable mural depicting the images of Aquino and four other victims that the agents of Marcos dictatorship murdered in cold-blood. Below the portraits, written in bold was the slogan “Justice for Ninoy! Justice for all victims of political repression and militay terrorism!”; one of the portraits was that of Dr. Juan B. Escandor.
The memory of the unspeakable savagery that Dr. Escandor suffered at the hands of his captors was relatively fresh in the public’s mind then. The regime’s failure to suppress news about the doctor’s death and concomitant disappearance of a female companion, due equally in part to their shocking and sensational details and to the growing courage and boldness of media practitioners at the time, led to both the further heightening of the people’s awareness to the brutality of martial rule as well as to the stoking of the flames of resistance.
The circumstances and details concerning the killing of Dr. Escandor, or Johnny as his peers and friends called him, were so muddled that until now, family and relatives are uncertain about the exact date of his death. Information in the newspapers that the police gave to reporters, entries on the death certificate that the Philippine Constabulary Crime Laboratory gave, and statements that personnel at the funeral parlor gave where the body was taken had all conflicted – a result of a botched cover-up job.
The report the military fed to the papers told of an encounter between a certain Jose Barrameda with the aliases Kumander Escandor and Ka Sidro together with another person and troopers of the Metropolitan Command. Barrameda and the unidentified companion were supposedly running after an NPA rebel-turned-surrenderee named Nepomuceno Manuel with the intention of liquidating the latter for treachery. A carload of soldiers who happened to be patrolling the area accidentally came upon the two. A gunfight allegedly ensued when Barrameda fired his weapon at the soldiers who accosted them. Barrameda, the report said, was instantly killed on the spot while his companion managed to escape.
It took a week or so before a relative could learn of and identify Johnny’s body in a morgue. When his family retrieved his corpse, they did not fail to see the tell-tale signs of inhuman torture that he underwent. His brother, Ireneo noticed a bullet entry wound below the ear, indicating that Johnny was shot at close range. Bruises covered parts of his face and body, patches of his moustache were plucked, there were cigarette burns on his face and his right eye was gouged out leaving the eyelid conspicuously depressed. Johnny’s body was taken to Gubat, Sorsogon— his hometown—and was buried on 11 April 1983.
Slowly, details surrounding Johnny’s death were uncovered and pieced together like a jigsaw puzzle. Johnny was with Yolanda Gordula, a province-mate residing in Manila when they were last seen on the night of March 30; they were hurriedly crossing EDSA from the direction of Caloocan. It appeared that Johnny had been under surveillance for quite a while and was being tailed shortly after he returned to the metropolis from the countrysides for some short-term tasks he had to accomplish. On that fateful night, the enemy saw an opportunity and pounced on them. They were then taken to a place that was under the total control of their abductors. Johnny’s corpse bore evidences of brutal torture; what happened to Yolanda remains unknown to this day for she was never heard from again.
Nagging questions spurred Johnny’s family and friends to conduct a fact-finding investigation. On May 21, his body was exhumed and autopsied notwithstanding the supposed autopsy that the Crime Laboratory concluded: that Johnny died beacuse of “cardio-respiratory arrest due to shock and hemorrhage secondary to gunshot wounds in the body.”
A pathologist discovered evidences of his tormentors’ bestiality: trash, plastic bags, dirty rags and a pair of briefs were shoved inside his skull while his brains were found inside his abdominal cavity. His internal organs suffered from hemorrhage and hematoma and x-ray results showed fractures of the occipital bone in the area where his brother noticed a bullet entry wound. To the pathologist, Johnny’s cause of death was due to cranio-cerebral injury.
The fact-finding team and a forensic specialist who reviewed the results concluded that Johnny could not have died in a gun battle. Of the six gunshot wounds he sustained, four were fired frontally at his abdominal area at a distance of two to three yards. It appeared that two of these were fired while he was standing and two others were fired when he was falling down. As he lay on the ground, a shot was fired at his right leg and another one at his head.
At the young age of 42, Juan B. Escandor was killed, a victim of “salvaging”, a euphemism for summary execution. Who was Johnny Escandor and what did he do to deserve such cruel and inhuman punishment from agents of the State?
Johnny was born on 14 November 1941 to Sotero Sr., a school teacher and Victoriana Barrameda. Johnny and his five brothers helped by doing farm work while the sisters tended the animals. At times, his parents would be forced to sell portions of their land to finance their education. But through sheer determination and hard work of the entire family, Johnny and his seven siblings were able to finish college to become professionals.
In school, Johnny was the good-looking, mild-mannered and soft-spoken student who studied his lessons and got high grades. He was also very active. At the Gubat High School, Johnny joined track and field competitions, running the 400 meter and 200 meter events plus the broad-jump and the half-step jump. In his college years at the University of the Philippines, he became a member of the Track and Field Varsity Team.
He took up BS Pre-Med in UP in his fervent hope of becoming a doctor someday. To earn extra income, he worked first as a waiter at the UP Drive-in and then as a clerk at the Office of the Registrar. He joined the Mu Sigma Phi, the first fraternity in the UP College of Medicine and the first medical fraternity in the Asian region. In his fourth year, he won first prize in an annual research contest that the Manila Medical Society sponsored with his paper entitled “The Effects of Antihistamines on Gastric Motility.” In 1969, he earned his medical degree.
After graduation, he took his residency in Radiology at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), later becoming the Chief Resident of the Department of Radiology from 1971 to 1972. After residency, he became a consultant to the department, and at the same time, serving as head of the Research Department of the UP-PGH Cancer Institute. Even while still taking up his residency, Johnny was already recognized as an outstanding doctor. He was sent as a Colombo scholar to Japan to attend the Third Seminar on Early Gastric Cancer Detection in July 1971.
Johnny’s social origins and close contact with ordinary folks made him sympathetic to the plight of poor people. He became one of the founding members of the Kabataang Makabayan when it was organized on 30 November 1964. He joined the Presidential Arm for National Minorities (PANAMIN) as volunteer and served the Mangyans of Mindoro. He also conducted free clinics in his frequent visits to his province of Sorsogon.
Johnny was not merely concerned about treating diseases of his patients; he was also working at ways that he believed could cure the chronic ills plaguing Philippine society.
In 1970, Johnny helped organize the Progresibong Kilusang Medikal (PKM) and served as an officer in its PGH chapter. He also organized the Sorsogon Progressive Movement in his province. During the great flood of 1972, Johnny rendered his services and participated in the Operation Tulong in Central Luzon.
When martial law was declared, mass organizations, such as those where Johnny belonged, were either outlawed or treated as enemies of the State. As it became difficult and dangerous for Johnny to pursue his activities, he decided to join the underground and fight the dictatorship in a more effective manner.
In 1975, he went to Cagayan Valley to link up with the New People’s Army and serve as Head of the Medical Section under the Regional Operational Command. Assuming the nom de guerre “Ka Mapalad,” he quickly attended to his tasks. Together with a few comrades in the medical field, he initiated the training of medical officers at different levels of the organization and in the different military formations. He gave attention to raising awareness and level of skill of the medical officers who he believed played an important role in promoting sanitation and the health of the fighters and the people in the barrios.
Cagayan Valley in the mid 70s was the subject of intense and almost continuous military campaigns being identified as a hotbed of insurgency. But even during difficult and dangerous times, Ka Mapalad remained the calm and jolly person that he was, never complaining about the lack of food, medicines and supplies, the long marches and heavy loads, and the general situation under which he had to treat his patients.
Ka Mapalad’s popularity among the fighters and the barrio folks tended to undermine his efforts at maintaining a low profile. It did not take long for the military to take interest in this “doctor from Manila” who had joined the rebels. But Ka Mapalad was easily recognizable too, he with the tall stature, fair skin and good looks. His was also the biggest, if not the heaviest, backpack with its contents of medical and surgical equipment in addition to personal articles and provisions.
There were times when he verbalized his wish that an x-ray machine be smuggled into the guerrilla zones. Surgery could then be more easily performed on wounded casualties instead of resorting to their evacuation to the city for treatment, a very dangerous undertaking. Nevertheless, he also recognized the difficulty, not only of transporting such machine, but also of keeping it in a safe location, or of relocating when the necessity arises.
He strove to overcome limitations through resourcefulness and innovations. He promoted the treatment of diseases with the use of acupuncture, moxibustion and locally-available herbs and medicinal plants. He experimented with the use of coco water as substitute for intravenous fluid and solvent for injectable powders. The medical section built kilns for baking anti-malaria and analgesic tablets made out of rice flour and extracts from medicinal herbs and plants.
Ka Mapalad’s responsibilities were not limited to medical matters. Aside from performing administrative tasks in the medical section, he was later designated to lead an entire district committee. When the regional leadership was reorganized due to the arrest of most of its members, Ka Mapalad was elected to the provisional action committee and replaced his nom de guerre with Ka George. Soon, it was Ka George whom the military was pursuing. His assumption of bigger responsibilities brought the need for him to go to other areas outside of the region. It was in one of his incursions to the city that the military caught up with him.