Claro Cabrera, Lito as everyone knew him, lived all his life in the crowded community of Sapang Bato in Angeles City, on the edges of the huge American military base at Clark Air Base.
The people found intermittent employment as construction workers, tricycle drivers, bartenders and waitresses in the numerous small bars that catered to American soldiers. Many women washed clothes, the younger ones sold their bodies. Little children peddled garlands of flowers, or else they begged for coins.
With so few holding down decent, long-term jobs, no wonder there were so many broken families, and drug use further used up what little money people earned. Young people dropped out of school because they could not afford it, or because of teenage pregnancy, or simply because there seemed to be no point in continuing their studies.
Lito Cabrera grew up amid all these hardships. He and his seven brothers and sisters lived with their mother, who was separated from their father. He quit studying after two years of high school and worked on construction projects that usually lasted a few months. Other relatives also helped the family.
One day in the early 1980s Cabrera and some of his friends were drawn into the activities of the Concerned Citizens of Pampanga, said to be “the oldest cause-oriented organization in Central Luzon.” They began attending rallies, explaining to their neighbors and friends what the issues were all about. They were part of the nationwide Lakbayan-Sakbayan marches.
A change was noticed in Lito Cabrera: people found that he was good at working with the youth, getting them away from drugs, teaching them handicrafts, how to make and sell hand-printed shirts. He sang and played the guitar with them.
In 1984, the Marcos regime scheduled elections to be held for the Batasang Pambansa. Because the results were sure to be rigged, cause-oriented organizations campaigned nationwide for a boycott. As the campaign gained widespread support, the military and local officials mobilized to ensure the victory of the regime’s candidates. At a public meeting boycotters were openly threatened by the barangay captain (“I don’t know what will happen to you…just start praying.”)
In the early morning of May 28, 1984, Cabrera was picked up by constabulary soldiers near his home in Sapang Bato, together with Pepito Deheran and Rolando Castro. The three were taken to a constabulary camp in Angeles City where they were beaten and forced to say they were members of the New People’s Army.
After days of searching by their families, the bodies of Cabrera and Castro were found dumped on the bank of the Apalit river, one kilometer apart from each other. Both bore many stab wounds. Deheran managed to crawl away and had himself brought to a hospital. Before succumbing to his wounds, he signed a statement revealing the identities of two of their attackers, members of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force and soldiers in uniform with no name tags.
The parents of the three victims sued the persons named by Deheran, but nothing more happened after the initial hearings of the case. One of the two accused was found dead a year later, reportedly killed by the NPA, and the other one has not been seen or heard from since then.