RICAFORT, Leo Adriatico

Leo Adriatico Ricafort : Zamboanga Peninsula’s First Red Warrior

by Mario L. Cuezon

Leo Adriatico Ricafort of Estaka, Dipolog stands as Zamboanga Peninsula’s first red warrior, opening up the first New People’s Army guerrilla front of West Mindanao and ultimately becoming its first ever martyr.

He was honored by his comrades through naming after his code name, Plako, the first section (equivalent to the political division of a provincial district) of the front (equivalent to a province) called BBC, Big Beautiful Country.

There are reports that Plako section had since been renamed Martirez by his comrades. Such move seeks however to obscure the history of the man who started it all, the guerrilla warfare against the Marcos dictatorship, the darkest period of modern Philippine history.

If history is to be rewritten to fully account for what had really happened in our country in that period, the life of this man who is a hero to the Left or the Philippine revolutionary left is worth studying. If those who fought against Marcos legally are now considered heroes, how much more with this man?

Child of Dapitan

Dapitan is the place of origins of the Adriaticos, Leo’s maternal kins. The Adriaticos would always be identified with Dapitan where they are known to have long noses. Dapitan is known as the Shrine City, where national hero, Jose M. Rizal, was exiled for four years for writing his novels against Spain. The city whose name originated from the word “dapit” to invite or to call was the place of exile some six hundred years ago to Boholanos. This was long before Ferdinand Magellan arrived in the Philippines.

The grandfather of the maternal grandfather of Leo was Donato Adriatico who married Paulina Dalmacio. The couple had seven sons: Agustin, Candido, Orvillo, Apolinario, Carlos, Tomas and Pablo. The descendants of Candido and Carlos are in Dapitan. Donato was taken by Spanish friars to Manila and never returned to Dapitan. No one knew whatever happened to him. They were raised with the help of a kin, Castro Mercado and Tranquilina Dalmacio, sister of Donato’s wife.

Donato’s oldest son, Agustin married first wife Ambrosia Empremiado and they bore Juanito and Hugo. 

Family legend has it that Hugo was still a child when Rizal was exiled to Dapitan. The national hero always wore formal clothing when he goes out for a walk. He wears a neck tie, a hat and brings along a cane. In his walks, he would stop at Agustin’s house for a talk with the owner. He would come near the patio and seeing the pant-less boy, Hugo, Rizal would palyfully tickle the child’s penis with his cane. Hugo would not cry with this playful nudging.

Juanito married and had a son, Concordio Adriatico, who became a three termer Vice-Governor of the province.

Hugo Empremiado Adriatico, whose penis was tickled as a child by the hero, married Maria Acopiado Saldariega and they had five children : Araceli (Lingling),Remedios,Catalina (married Macuse),Socorro (single), Zelieta (Dondoyano).A male child died. From Putol, near the Ilihan ( a hill), they transferred to Dipolog and built the house in Lapu-Lapu Street.

Maria Acopiado Saldariega is the daughter of Maximiano Saldariega and first wife Lucia Acopiado who lived in Dipolog. Lucia was reportedly of Muslim blood and “has big feet”.

Maximiano’s first wife Lucia died so he remarried a widow, Maria Soleria with whom he never had any child. Maria Soleria, however, had two children with her first husband named Marta and Magdalena. Magdalena married a Lacaya and bore Virgilio Lacaya who became mayor and twice governor of Zamboanga del Norte. Governor Lacaya became blind in his later life.

Child of Lingling Adriatico and Stranger Ricafort

Leo’s mother is Araceli “Lingling’ Saldariega Adriatico. She had the height and the strong feature of the Adriatico, with a long nose that can never be identified with a native blooded Filipino. She married Pedro Mendoza Ricafort, a stranger to the city, brought by a contractor who made lighthouses and bridges. Lingling said that Pedro looks like his son Dongdong. Pedro is an orphan from Balayan, Batangas province. He met Engineer Adriatico in Iloilo and came with him to Dipolog, bringing his porfolio. When there is no more work requested by Engineer Custodio, Pedro would help in the road construction.

Engineer Custodio is a distant cousin of the Adriaticos. Pedro who always comes along with Custodio came to befriend the cousins of the Adriaticos. His closest was Pilar Adriatico-Dalida and then he courted Araceli. The two got married and Pedro would come to be known as a good cook in big feasts held by politicians and the wealthy families of Dipolog. The flair of cooking was to be an asset of all his children. But it will be Dongdong and Gardo who would follow their father’s footsteps in making a living out of foods. They are the only Ricaforts in Dipolog City. The only other Ricafort they met are those from Jimenez, Misamis Occidental.

Child of Dipolog

Leo, like many other modern-day revolutionaries, was a child of Dapitan and Dipolog. He was descended from families who started in Dapitan then moved to Dipolog. He grew up in the hills and rivers of the city, studied in its public and private schools and became a revolutionary in its milieu and blossomed in the hills and mountains of his province.

Leo was the third child of the couple. The eldest, Arturo, was born in 1943. The second, Beethoven, named after the great Austrian musician, was born the next year. After a year, came Leo, born during the year the Second World War came to the country.

He was born during in 1941 in the Adriatico house which stands in Lapu-Lapu Street, built in 1956. The street was named after the first Filipino who repulsed a foreigner in 1521. The house is a two story wooden house that bears resemblance to other houses built during the period.That house was built by his grandfather, Hugo, helped with a loan from RFC, the forerunner of the Development Bank of the Philippines. The loan was secured with a guarantee from the salaries of Hugo’s daughter, Socorro (Mamay), who taught at the elementary schools in Polanco, Zamboanga del Sur. Mamay said that part of her salary went to the payment of the loans but the greater part was paid when a four hectare family estate was sold upon the urging of the governor, a relative, who wanted the land to be the site of the provincial capitol.

Lingling and her family live in the first floor of the house with single siblings. Cousins occupied the second floor.

Because of the war, his parents and kins had to hide in New Pinan (now Del Pilar), Pinan, Zamboanga del Norte. The fear generated during the war was that Japanese soldiers kill everyone they saw or meet. New Pinan was a land of coconuts, hills and a big river ironically called Gamay River. There, she wove clothes made of abaca thread. for her kins. They live in a big house with cogon roofing and with pensa. They planted corn and camotes. Her husband plowed the fields at night so the carabao would not easily get tired because of the heat. There were times in the war when airplanes dotted the skies like crows. They cook early before darkness sets in. When there are planes, they cover the lamps with cans for fear they can be seen by plane pilots above and bombs would be dropped on them.

In 1945, they returned to Lapu-Lapu Street when Leo was already grade one. It was in this house, which is home to two Adriatico families that Leo spent his childhood, teenhood and the first years of his adult life. No doubt it was a happy childhood among family and kins. The yard had enough space for plants and for children games. Part of the lot later gave way to a building for Leo’s siblings. Near the house is a big santol tree which stand to this day, even with a small restaurant built around it.

About five hundred meters from the house is the green deep river of Dipolog. Some hundred meters more is the steel bridge connecting the city to its outskirts. The old church of the city and the city hall is just a few blocks away.

The child Leo was a wise saver. When his uncle asked him to get firewood, Leo gets some money. This he would never spend. He gave the money to his mother. But aside from that, he never showed any seriousness in his other activities. Like other children of his age, he engaged in children’s games.What his mother could remember well is Leo’s passion for using bamboo sticks as swords. With fellow boys from Estaka, they would engage in fencing matches against those from other places, like those from Baybay or seashore community which includes boys from the market.

He studied at Estaka Elementary School which then has more space for playground. Then he went on to Saint Vincent’s College for his secondary schooling. Then on to Saint Vincent’s College in the city for his Bachelor of Science in Education.His auntie, Remedios, describes him as “good in class.

Regular. But not very bright.” His mother remembers that he reads well.

He then taught at Zamboanga del Norte Provincial High School (now ZDN National High School). Leo became the president of the teacher’s association of the school. Remedios remembers fondly that when he gets his salary, he would show off his money in his wallet to his mother. His mother would asked from him and he would willingly give.

How does Leo look like?

Remedios describes him as like Dongdong. But he is a bit taller and “tambok-tambok” (is heavier) than Dongdong. Dongdong seems to have taken after the good profile and the white skins of the Adriaticos. He is shorter though than the “average” 5’4”. He has smooth skin and pearly white teeth.

Leo also had a girl friend surnamed Purlas, a teacher in Dipolog of the branch of Jose Rical Memorial College. He had visited his girlfriend during the time he went up the mountain. The girl never married.

Remedios “Tia Biding” Saldariaga Adriatico-Jalandoni, 82, in an interview in 2005, claimed that his nephew Leo, was the “kinabuutanan sa tanang bata ni Lingling” (the best in terms of goodness of all of his sister, Lingling’s children). Why he became a rebel is instructive of the kind of government or national leaders that we have at that period, that breeds rebels or leaders of rebels, rather than leaders who would be in the forefront of reforms in the bureaucracy.

Their division superintendent then was Mr. Eleno Razo, who would be angry if the teachers tell of their grievances. Razo is said to have been heard saying, “If you don’t like,..... (leave).” It must have been this attitude of authoritarian office heads plus the rotten systems in the government that had driven to the other end of the political pendulom.

Remedios summed it up. “He was disgusted with the government. Their complaints are not listened to.”

Man of the Mountains

It took seminars and the teach-ins from activists that led to the blooming of the protest movement in Dipolog. Mamang said that a seminar was held at Saint Vincent’s with young speakers from UP. Her husband attended the seminar but did not finish it.

On September 21, 1972, activists rallied in the public market with red streamers. The midnight of that day, Martial Law was declared by President Ferdinand Marcos. Instead of cowing these provincial activists, they went to the hills.

A cadre of the movement, said that before Martial Law was declared, top ranking cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines already came to Dipolog City and talked with top local cadres of the possibility of setting up mountain bases to start the guerilla fight against the government. These leaders brought out maps and choose the “triangle” where boundaries of three provinces meet, where the political base is to be built. These cadres had gone up the mountains of Zamboanga peninsula looking for the triangle.

The declaration of Martial Law just pushed the cadres to move faster with their plans.

Leo told his family of his leaving to fight in the hills. His father calmly accepted his decision and gave him his caliber 38 gun. Mamang said that since he left their house, he had only come home twice. But never at their house. He was too hot with the military. Going home to their house would endanger him and his kins.

Remedios said that Leo would never tell where he was assigned. He brings guns that look more like toyguns than real ones. She taught at Sianib, a barrio eight kilometers from Polanco town, where she had a house. Sianib can be reached via a road passable by vehicles 20 kilometers from the city.

One time, Leo and his companions came to their house in 1978 or 1979 with two companions. She was shaking with fear then because a policeman, who got married to a local, comes to their house to fetch water at their well. The policeman even asked for firewood. It was Leo who answered, Pagkuha lang mo sa kamalig.

After dinner, Leo and his companions would leave. He said he would go to Donsulan. But actually, he just slept at their tenant’s house across the river.

As it turned out, Leo would roam the mountains bordering Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboanga del Sur. He would actually be among the first to found the first section or the first guerrilla front in Western Mindanao. For his feat, the first section was called Plako, his code name in the underground-guerrilla movement.

When the NPAs started organizing, they copied the style of Che Guevarra, where the guerrillas would come in complete fatigue uniform with boots. They would meet with barrio folks and asked on “demons”, the rustlers, killers, robbers, rapists or bad elements who had escaped from the law and had become pests to mountain folks. These people were killed after hearing in people’s tribunals, which were called kangaroo courts by their enemies. The executions of these bad elements that were not punished in the government’s courts prove to be a come-on for the mountaineers.

The first recruit of Plako said that he came from a mountain barrio that was known to be a haven for rustlers, robbers and rapists from the two Zamboanga provinces, where the arms of the law could not touch them. The residents of these far flung barrios had problems with their farms and the sanctity of their women and their lives as these criminals came to wrest their farms away, steal their crops, rape their women. With the coming of the guerrillas, these criminals were swept away in one stroke and they had a defender of the poor.

This anti-demon campaign would however gave way to solid organizing and the first agrarian revolutionary reforms that would solidify the hold of the movement among the masses.

The First Guerrilla Hero

Plako would not only be the first guerrilla and political organizer of what later came to be Big Beautiful Country. He also became the first guerrilla hero, the first martyr of the revolution in the West.

In an ambush of the military, he was hit by a dying soldier. His body was never retrieved by his comrades.It was the military who got his body and brought his cadaver to Midsalip, Zamboanga del Sur.

In 1975, the Ricafort-Adriatico family received a note written in red ink. It was unsigned. It said that Leo Ricafort died in an encounter in Midsalip. He died on June 9, 1975. His cousin, Franklin Realiza, brought the letter to the family. Franklin also became an activist, went to the hills but went down and surrendered.

His elder brothers went there to get his body. But he was already buried when they arrived. Cursillistas who took care of his body said that he was buried in the old cemetery. His family got his death benefits. Comrades reportedly planted a tree in his grave and this tree had grown so large with the passage of years.

The sacrifice of Comrade Plako or Leo Adriatico Ricafort would serve as a beacon for other revolutionaries in the years that followed. Thousands joined the revolutionary forces as the worse turned to worst during the Marcos years. Despite the debacles that beset the movement in the eighties, still his example stands out, and his life would always serve as an illustration that the youths of this land would always heed the call for sacrifice to attain better life for Filipinos, wether we come from various political persuasions or with differing ideological viewpoints.