A man whose life story is the stuff that legends are made of, quietly passed away two days before National Heroes Day.
The man is Silvino J. Gallardo, better known as “Makaw” to friends and “Macao” to family and friends from college from Negros Island, and perhaps in the military files too. A scion of a prominent family, he joined the rebel movement in the ’70s, surrendered in the summer of 1991, and for 30 years pursued work that would give poor farmers a chance to get out of the cycle of poverty.
When he passed away, Makaw/Macao, 73, held the titles of administrative officer and corporate treasurer of The Doctors’ Hospital, Inc. and the chairperson, and later, the treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the Alter Trade Foundation, Inc (ATFI) which supported development programs for agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Perhaps only those in my generation who had met him a long time ago, and then heard stories of him leading the New People’s Army (NPA) on the island, still remember him. But I am sure many have been curious about the man behind the name who the news platforms called the “legendary ex-rebel leader” when they announced his passing.
I’ve not seen Macao since college days when he would be home in Bacolod City for a vacation from his classes at UP Los Banos. I saw him a few times at social gatherings which segued to “teach-in’s” where the socially-conscious guests talked about the unequal distribution of wealth in Negros.
During that time of idealism, Macao/Makao was one of the few student activists then who stepped out of his comfort zone to fight for the poor. It was after former President Marcos declared Martial law in September, 1972 when Makaw went underground.
Luck led me to Ted Lopez who told me the story behind that man with a shy smile. Makaw and Ted worked together at Alter Trade Foundation Inc. (ATFI) whose main project linked the agrarian reform beneficiaries to a stable market in Japan and Europe.
“I first met Makaw in March 1978, when I was documenting the human rights violations of the PC-INP’s Task Force Lapu-lapu in the CHICKS Area. (CHICKS is an acronym for the towns where the NPAs operated.) Makaw was leading an NPA unit. He told me about their hardships in a landscape where rubber shoes could only last a month because of the sharp rocks.”
“We again met in Alter Trade in 2004. Makaw was with the Diversified Organic Enterprise Inc. owned by Alter Trade in Calumangan, Bago City. He supervised the organic fertilizer plant of Alter Trade. Because of the multiple but inter-linked projects, Alter Trade was able to export organic certified muscovado to Japan and Europe under the Fairtrade Labelling Organization’s affiliates. Partner agrarian reform beneficiaries were benefitted with a stable market and fairtrade premiums as additional rewards per ton of muscovado traded directly to socially-responsible consumers.”
When former President Corazon Aquino initiated peace talks with the rebels in 1986, Makaw led the NPA-NDF panel who came down form the hills in December 1986, to participate in the peace negotiations with the government. Unfortunately, the peace talks were not successful and after the ceasefire in January 1987, Makaw went back to the hills.
Lopez said that in 1991, “upon realizing that the revolutionary war was heading nowhere, Makaw voluntarily surrendered and, from there, pursued the peaceful path of initiating change through social entrepreneurship.”
Outside the office, Makaw was seen as consistent with his commitment to the poor, even sharing his personal resources. Lopez related how Makaw converted his personal property located beside a prominent property development project in Bacolod City into a housing project under a community mortgage plan for the informal settlers there. “He could have sold that property for millions,” Lopez said.
He was also known to stand as guarantor for poor patients who needed medical care but did not have the money to pay for it. In one instance, the patient was the young child of the office driver whose bill was running at P500,000. Makaw’s help kept the treatment going, and the child survived.
What is the legacy of this remarkable man, I asked Lopez.
“Makaw’s legacy was his consistency in seeking justice for the poor in different situations. He braved the risks to his own life under the repressive regime, but did not hesitate to tread the peaceful path when democratic space allowed it. He was courageous in fighting for the poor, but maintained his humility and gentleness in relating with people and colleagues at work. That is how we will always remember him at heart and in mind.”
Makaw left behind programs on sustainable farming technology, affordable credit program and training workshops for former farmworkers in the management of their resources and production.
Ted Lopez is the executive director of ATFI.”We have engaged in initiatives to alleviate poverty in Negros rural areas — among agrarian reform beneficiaries, fisherfolk, coastal communities and upland communities. We promote community enterprises that enable farmers to process their farm products and market them with added value and longer shelf life,” he said.