Rev John W Caughlan
American Committee for Protection of Foreign Born
Immediately after the 1981 murders of Seattle labor leaders Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes had died, supporters were able to piece together the political motivations for the assassinations. Three weeks after the murders, Elaine Ko, Terri Mast (Silme’s widow and herself a newly elected Local 37 officer), Domingo’s siblings, Nemesio Domingo and Cindy Domingo, and other leaders from Seattle’s International District, formed the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV). Like Gene and Silme, some CJDV leaders were members of the Union of Democratic Filipinos (known by its Tagalog initials, KDP), an organization of radical Filipinos which had been instrumental in building the anti-Marcos movement throughout the U.S., and the Line of March, a national Marxist organization.
The CJDV rallied broad support from politicians, labor, and church and community leaders from diverse populations including the Filipino community. This was crucial to breaking the atmosphere of intimidation that had threatened the Local 37 members in pursuing the goals of the Rank and File committee. In addition, the CJDV provided the connections in the Filipino community necessary to build the legal case against Tulisan gang members.
At the same time, Terri Mast, David Della, Lynn Domingo, and other members of the Rank and File Committee courageously stepped forward to take Gene and Silme's posts in the union, even as the blood of their fallen comrades still stained the union floor and despite grave threats from the Tulisan.
In 1982, backed by the Committee for Justice, the families of Domingo and Viernes brought a civil suit in Federal Court charging that the murders were committed at the direction of officials of the Marcos government in the Philippines. It also alleged that agencies and individuals of the U.S. government (including Alexander Haig and William French Smith) cooperated with Marcos' surveillance and harassment of U.S. citizens who were activists against the Marcos regime. However, all U.S. government officials and agencies were later dismissed as defendants in the case due to "national security" considerations.
From 1983 to 1986, the civil suit wound its way through the appeals process while the team of lawyers, composed of Mike Withey, Jim Douglas, John Caughlan, Elizabeth Schott, and a small army of others including Gary Iwamoto and other law students continued the legal course and discovery.
It wasn't until 1986, following the assassination of Philippine opposition hero Benigno Aquino that the U.S. government began to see Marcos as a liability to U.S. interests in the Philippines. When a mock election stole the Philippine presidency away from Aquino's wife, Cory, the island nation erupted in civil disobedience, leading the Marcoses to flee to Hawaii under U.S. protection.
Seeing the small window of opportunity, Cindy Domingo and attorney Mike Withey traveled to the Philippines hoping to encourage the Philippine government to cooperate in the Domingo/Viernes case. Although Philippine Solicitor General, Sedfrey Ordonez promised help, supporters of Marcos and the U.S. government undercut him.
By the time that the case finally made its way in front of a jury in 1989, Ferdinand Marcos had died, leaving his notorious wife Imelda as the main defendant.
A six-member jury, two alternates, and a packed federal courtroom listened to opening statements by plaintiffs attorney Jeffrey Robinson as he meticulously laid out the plaintiff's case, recounting the details of the June 1, 1981 murder, the identities of the murderers by Domingo, the connections to the Tulisan gang, to the connections to the Philippine government ruled by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.
- ACFPFB Letterhead, undated Hugh DeLacy paper Acc 3915,Box 3 Folder 20
- ColorLines, Unknown Heroes Chong-suk Han JUL 20, 2001