AGATEP, Zacarias

From Bantayog ng mga Bayani (

“If it is a crime to love the poor and support them in their struggle against injustice, then I am ready to face the firing squad.” Fr. Zacarias Agatep had written this in 1980 just after he was released from a 4-month incarceration by the martial law government, two years before he gave his life for his beliefs.

Fellow seminarians remember Fr. Agatep as a serious person, whom fellow seminarians called Apo or Apo Kari. “Apo” is the local term of respect used for elders, leaders, or persons in position.

Fr. Agatep spent his summers as a seminarian helping poor families in their farms. After he was ordained, he took up parish duties for a short while. Then he served as fulltime chaplain of the Northern Luzon chapter of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). He helped organize farmers’ cooperatives and taught peasants about land reform. He campaigned for the reduction of land rent, working with farmers in the towns of Sta. Cruz, Sta. Lucia, Salcedo and Galimuyod in Ilocos Sur.

Fr. Agatep became estranged with FFF in 1973 when its leaders supported the martial law regime’s campaign for the ratifi cation of a martial law constitution. Fr. Agatep campaigned among FFF members to boycott the referendum called for this purpose. Fr. Agatep left FFF and returned to parish work, taking up the cause of poor tobacco farmers, and speaking against foreign and local control of the tobacco industry.

Later he joined the Christians for National Liberation (CNL) and began to secretly support the fi ght against the dictatorial regime.

He was serving as parish priest in Caoayan town when arrested on 4 September 1980 and charged with subversion and illegal possession of fi rearms. He was fi rst taken to Camp Diego in Ilocos Sur, moved to Camp Dangwa in Benguet, and fi nally to Camp Bagong Diwa in Metro Manila for a total of four-month incarceration.He continued to minister to his fellow prisoners, including those criminally charged, while in prison.

Fr. Agatep described his imprisonment as a frameup. “If this is the kind of justice we get from the so-called guardians of the New Society, then there is no wonder why there are some people who go to the hills to fight the government,” he later wrote in a letter to President Ferdinand Marcos. He was released on 24 December 1980, as part of the regime’s preparations for the coming visit of then Pope Paul VI.

Fr. Agatep faced death two years later when he and Alfredo Cesar, a former deacon who had been helping him in community activities, were shot dead by an unidentifi ed gunman. Fr. Agatep had just turned 46.

The military subsequently claimed that the two men were killed in an armed encounter with constabulary soldiers. Many doubted the claim. A reward for Agatep’s rearrest had earlier been posted by martial law authorities. Some villagers claimed that an assassin had actually been hired to kill the priest. Fr. Agatep’s body showed that he was shot four times from behind.

Many religious groups denounced the deaths of Agatep and Cesar. A memorial mass was held for them at the chapel of the Daughters of St. Paul in Manila, sponsored by a newly-formed Committee for the Protection of Church People’s Rights. Twenty-seven priests, Filipinos as well foreigners, concelebrated, and about 500 persons, including Protestants, attended the ecumenical rites.

October 27, 1982