Nilo Castillejos Valerio
Nilo C. Valerio was an ordained priest of the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) that German priest Saint Arnold Jannsen founded. Having gone through the rigorous SVD training, Nilo imbibed St. Arnold’s spirit and sense of service, humility and passion to brave the unknown in the interest of the poor and needy people.
Nilo was born in Caloocan City, Metro-Manila on 20 February 1950. His parents were both government employees; his father, Epigenio Valerio, Sr., deceased, hails from Binmaley, Pangasinan. He was an employee of the GSIS in Manila and was later deployed to the GSIS branch in Dagupan City, Pangasinan, going home to his family only during week-ends. His mother, Candida Castillejos, is from Basco, Batanes. Lola Diday, as fondly called by her grandchildren, was an employee of the MWSS. Nilo, the second to the eldest, has two brothers and three sisters namely; Eloisa, Efren, Maria Elena, Aurora and Epigenio, Jr. Lola Diday, who lived with her children in Canada for more than a decade, died recently.
Before his ordination on 15 September 1975, Nilo dreamt of joining a foreign mission probably New Guinea or South Africa. However, his experiences as a seminarian in poor far-flung communities in the Philippines, among them the communities of Mangyans of Mindoro, the Tuinggians of Abra, the sugarcane workers in Cavite, and the landless farmers in Tarlac changed his mind. After his ordination, he requested to be sent to Abra province instead.
By the time Nilo arrived in Abra in 1976, the people have been struggling against the entry of a multi-million logging corporation, the Cellophil Resources Corporation (CRC). Its owner Herminio Disini, a dummy of then dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos was given the permit to operate in most of Abra’s total land area to cut huge pine trees in the uplands and put up a factory in the lowlands where the logs were to be processed into a special kind of paper for export.
From early 1970s to the mid-1980s, the Abra people went through an intense struggle with CRC and the military that has been supporting the company from the beginning. Nilo became one among three other SVD priests who closely stayed side by side with the people. The four priests facilitated dialogues among the CRC management, church leaders, military and local leaders. However, these led to nowhere as the company stubbornly pushed through with its plans. In response to the situation, the tribal leaders in Abra called for a Bodong (peace pact) with other tribes in different parts of the Cordillera. This was successfully held in Tiempo, Mayabo in the southern part of Abra.
In the pagta (agreement during the Bodong that all leaders signed), the whole of the Cordillera people vowed to continue with their struggle until the company will be forced to stop and leave the province in peace. With this development, the four priests and other local leaders became the targets of the military. Leaders and in some cases, children were abducted, detained and tortured; the military declared some communities as “no man’s land”. As the militarization intensified in the latter part of 1979, Nilo and his three confreres had no other option but to go underground and join the New People’s Army (NPA).
For the bigger part of his life in the revolutionary movement, Nilo was deployed to territorial work in the provinces of Abra and Ilocos Sur. All the while, Nilo was known as a persuasive and dedicated leader of the people. In the early 1980s, he was assigned to the regional education committee in northern Luzon. After a year or so, he was back to territorial work in Ilocos Sur. This time ,the militarization in this province had intensified pushing Nilo’s group to move to the province of Benguet. The boundary between the two provinces of Ilocos Sur and Benguet is known to be among the highest peaks of mountains in the Cordillera so that the group had to go through very difficult circumstances not to mention that they hardly had food along the way. However, there was no other way for the small group of eight including two women, Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador.
Upon their arrival in the small village of Beyeng in Bakun, Benguet, members of the group were accepted and blended well with the people joining them in their farm work in the mountains and in the open spaces near their houses. The group encouraged the people to form their cooperative that will take charge in selling their farm products. Not long after that though, militarization had once again intensified in the province.
On the early morning of 24 August 1985, a 21-men group composed of now defunct Philippine Constabulary, Integrated National Police and Civilian Home Defense Forces surrounded the hut where the group stayed during the night. A firefight ensued right away. While the other members of the group were able to escape, three freedom fighters were killed in that encounter namely; Fr. Nilo Valerio, Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador. Since Beyeng is such a far-flung village, it was only after a week that the killing incident was reported to the local and national dailies.
A fact-finding mission composed of church and non-government organizations as well as media people was organized and headed to Beyeng. The eyewitnesses from the community confirmed the killing of the three martyrs but their remains were nowhere to be found. The succeeding years of campaign for justice for the three victims bore no concrete results so that to the present, their remains are not found. Nilo, Resteta and Soledad have become among the documented cases of desaparecidos during the time of martial law. Nilo left behind his wife and two sons, Albert and Gerry, who were barely four and three years old at the time of his enforced disappearance. (Daisy Valerio)