Seattle has long been a haven for both trade unionism and immigrants from troubled countries across the Pacific Ocean — especially Filipinos. Both of these elements of our city’s unique history came together on the date in focus here in a fascinatingly tragic event that demonstrated the deep roots that Filipinos have planted here during many decades.
Two noteworthy local Filipino Americans, Silme Domingo (b. 1952) and Gene Viernes (b. 1951), were living in Seattle circa 1981 and working as organizers for Local 37 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), which was then focused on improving conditions for Filipinos working seasonally in Alaskan fish canneries. While working to reform Local 37 — then rife with corruption and bribery — Domingo and Viernes were both shot by intruders inside the Local 37 offices in Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle.
Viernes died immediately, but Domingo was taken to Harborview Medical Center, where he spent 24 hours before dying — long enough to provide clues to medics about the identities of the gunmen, which led to the arrests of two suspects the following day. The suspects, Pompeyo Benito Guloy and Jimmy Bulosan Ramil, were acquaintances of both Domingo and Viernes and had previously been dispatched by Local 37 to work in Alaska. They were both found guilty of aggravated first-degree murder on September 24, 1981, and sentenced to life in prison. A third suspect, Fortunato “Tony” Dictado, was convicted on May 12, 1982, of ordering the murders and he was also sentenced to life in prison. Dictado was the leader of a local Filipino street gang named Tulisan whose members were often hired by Local 37.
While it was immediately assumed that the murders were motived by a local dispute within Local 37 (possibly involving disgruntled members of Tulisan), the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes (CJDV) eventually determined that it was Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda who had ordered the murders in retaliation for the victims’ anti-Marcos activities in Seattle during the 1970s, and a federal jury agreed with the CJDV in December 1989. On March 8, 1991, a King County Superior Court jury found the former president of Local 37, Constantine “Tony” Baruso (1928-2008) — a supporter of the Marcos regime — guilty of aggravated first-degree murder in the death of Viernes. Baruso was acquitted of a similar charge in the death of Domingo.
Using the awards won from both the Marcos family and the four convicted murderers, the Domingo/Viernes Justice Fund was created through Seattle’s Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office (now known as LELO) in memory of Domingo and Viernes.
Sources: Larry Lange, “Union aide shot dead by gunman,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 2, 1981, p. A1; Tomas Guillen and Dave Birkland, “Union official slain, another hurt; hiring dispute probed,” The Seattle Times, June 2, 1981, p. A1; Gil Bailey, “Dying man’s clues lead to union slaying arrests,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 3, 1981, p. A1; Tomas Guillen and Dave Birkland, “2 arrested in union shooting; second man dies of wounds,” The Seattle Times, June 3, 1981, p. A1; William Gough, “Job dispatching hinted as death motive,” The Seattle Times, June 3, 1981, p. D1; “Union killings are more than ‘routine’ homicides” (editorial), The Seattle Times, June 4, 1981, p. A14; Chong-suk Han, “Unknown Heroes,” ColorLines magazine, Summer 2001.