Kumander Ligaya: Digging a tunnel for freedom

Ernesto M. Hilario
Maning Dimatulac vividly remembers how he and several other political prisoners dug the tunnel at Fort Bonifacio

CLEAR RECOLLECTION. Maning Dimatulac, alias Kumander Ligaya, vividly remembers the plot hatched 40 years ago. Photo by Melvyn Calderon

TARLAC CITY, Philippines – The leader of the team that dug the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC) tunnel, Maning  Dimatulac, hails from Concepcion, Tarlac. At the time of his arrest in 1970, he was 34 years old. Today, at 79, he lives in Tarlac City. (READ: The NPA, a tunnel, and a prison escape plot)

Fluellen Ortigas offered to take me and photographer Melvyn Calderon, another former political detainee at YRC, to Maning’s place, which is located very close to Hacienda Luisita, a huge property previously owned by the Cojuangco family but recently subjected to agrarian reform.

Tarlac City is about 140 kilometers from Manila. We picked up Fer Borja before proceeding to Maning’s house. Fer informed us that Maning was already hard of hearing while his eyesight had dimmed somewhat because of cataract.   

But Maning surprised us with a clear recollection of events that happened 40 years ago. He narrated to us in detail how he and several other political prisoners actually dug the tunnel and the problems they encountered along the way. 

Although Maning was sent to Death Row for murder, he was released in 1986 soon after the EDSA People Power Revolution, along with other political prisoners. He spent a total of 17 years in prison. 

NOTHING TO LOSE. Maning Dimatulac was eventually jailed in Muntinlupa after YRC. File photo courtesy of Maning Dimatulac

We moved to the house of one of the pioneer NPA members, Rey Galang, who was also detained at YRC in the early 1970s. He is now 86 years old and he no longer recognized us even as we told him that we were detained at the same prison 4 decades ago. We took his picture alongside Maning and Fer for posterity.  

As it was already lunch time, we were invited to the nearby residence of Fer Borja’s father who graciously treated us to lunch consisting of caldereta, grilled hito, pancit and assorted boiled vegetables.  

At around 2 pm, with the hot tropical bearing down on us out in the open, we moved to the nearby house of Maning’s son and daughter, in the same place where he was arrested. We continued the conversation in a covered outhouse that offered a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat. 

Maning told us that prior to his arrest, the Marcos government had announced a bounty of P25,000 for his head. The military finally captured him in 1970 after an intensive manhunt in Tarlac. Two army helicopters and scores of troops backed by armored personnel carriers took part in the operation.

He tried to elude arrest by hiding in the shallow waters of a swamp and nearly drowned from taking in so much water. His daughter showed us a newspaper photo of Maning’s arrest that was too dark and blurred to be reprinted 40 years later. 

Before we left, Maning asked Fluellen for assistance in filing a claim for compensation with the newly created Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board. He had earlier sought compensation for torture in the hands of the military when he was captured in 1970. But this claim for compensation from the Marcos estate was denied, as only those claims for human rights violations during the period of Martial Law from September 1972 to February 1986 were covered by a Hawaii court ruling that awarded US$2.1 billion to 10,000 human rights victims. 

FORMER TARLAC-BASED NPA REBELS. From left: Maning Dimatulac, alias Kumander Ligaya, Rey Galang, and Fer Borja. Photo by Melvyn Calderon

Before we left for Manila, Maning expressed the hope that he would soon get compensation from the government for his long years in prison during the Martial Law period so that somehow he would be able to still support his family during his twilight years. –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.