SANTOS, Antero Guerrero

ANTERO Santos pic

Antero Guerrero Santos was born on January 3, 1948 to an upper middle class family in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. His father was the provincial agriculturist while his mother, who hailed from a landed family from the town of Paoay, owned a fashion and finishing school in Laoag City. Known to family and friends as Terry, he was the 6th of 9 children.

Antero grew up in a family where education was highly valued and encouraged by their parents. His passion for reading and the written word manifested at a young age and Antero spent much of his allowances on books and magazine subscriptions. A studious boy, he graduated from elementary and high school as salutatorian. He was passionate about philosophy, literature and poetry. He was a writer, orator and always a winner in local singing contests. Raised in a devout Catholic home, he also served as altar boy in their parish.

He displayed leadership at an early age, becoming vice-president of the student body both in elementary and high school.

History of political involvement

Antero entered college in 1964 as a Caltex company scholar at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna, then known as the UP College of Agriculture. While at the university, he was soon exposed to nationalist and progressive ideas, later on becoming one of the founding members of the campus chapter of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), a nationalist organization. He took active part in discussion groups and school activities that dealt not only with campus matters but also with national issues. The Vietnam War and the American bases in the country were at the center of activism at the time.

Antero was also active in the College of Agriculture Cultural Society which conducted weekly book review sessions on progressive and radical ideas such as the nationalist writings of Renato Constantino and the works of Mao Tse-Tung. The vigorous discussion in these sessions drew in many students to the activists’ cause. (Among Antero’s contemporaries in the SDK-UPLB Chapter and the Cultural Society were Bantayog martyrs/heroes Aloysius Baes, Leticia Pascual and Christina Catalla.)

An active campus writer, Antero became Managing Editor of the student paper Aggie Green and Gold in 1968, and later, Editor-In-Chief in 1969. He had a regular column, Stock and Scion, written from a nationalist and progressive perspective which incisively tackled a wide range of issues such as school facilities, student autonomy, campus press freedom, student activism, and Marcos government’s corruption and abuses, among others. He often criticized college programs that seemed to him to serve foreign interests, and urged for reforms in the system to achieve real agricultural development (Façade Mentality, AGG, October 1968). A contemporary of his said that as Editor-In-Chief, Terry made sure that critical issues landed at the front, center and back pages of the paper.

Antero fought hard for the independence of the student publication when there were attempts to put it under control. He challenged student apathy to the widespread exploitation and abuse that was happening, and exhorted the students not to “confine themselves within the walls of the academe” (Winning editorial, AGG, 1968). In one of his columns, he put forward the idea that for student activism to become a potent force for change, students must recognize the commonness of their cause with other oppressed sectors of society. Thus he wrote; “one can only be heroic and noble if one’s interests reflects that of society” (The students’ will, Stock and Scion, AGG, October 1969).

He also started a magazine supplement for the AGG, titled Pingkian, which more extensively tackled those issues that Antero believed UPLB students should know about.

Antero did not confine himself to writing. As one of his friends, Yolanda Catalla, put it, he was “making history while editor and eventually became a part of our national history.” Together with his SDK comrades and other campus activists, he also took active part in protest actions inside the campus as well as in rallies and demonstrations in Manila. He was among the leaders of the week-long UPLB boycott in 1969 which brought together students, non-academic personnel and faculty and presented 39 issues for school authorities to address, among them affordable education, academic freedom, greater participation in the drawing up of campus policies and regulations and affordable campus housing. The boycott paralyzed the entire campus, forcing school authorities to negotiate.

He was also among those who initiated a summer program for students called the Learning from the People Summer Work Camp. Students lived with farmers in selected areas near the UPLB campus – in Victoria, Laguna and Nakar in Quezon – and directly learned about their hard lives. This experience deepened Antero’s commitment to further work with the poor and help bring about meaningful progress in the rural areas.

As national politics headed towards a crisis after the highly-fraudulent 1969 presidential elections, Antero wrote about the growing specter of state violence, and government attempts to suppress civil rights. In 1970, after his editorship at the AGG, he wrote for the Philippine Collegian as Los Banos associate. Writing under the column Tagisan, he exposed instances of infiltration by the military of campus organizations and activities. That early, he urged for vigilance against a looming dictatorship. His columns became quite popular with students but earned him the military’s ire.

Circumstances of death
Terry was a people’s scholar, a good writer, a hard-working student leader, a passionate freedom fighter, and a kind-hearted friend. He had a lot going for him, but he turned his back on all these to serve the people in the way he felt most proper. What a rare privilege having known him. We commend him for his single-minded commitment to the ideals of our generation.” -Bonifacio Ilagan, award-winning director, colleague of Antero Santos

 In early 1971, Antero went to Isabela to join a group that was training to reinforce a fast-expanding resistance movement against the Marcos government. He wanted to gain experience there, and to bring this experience to his own hometown, to arouse local farmers to action.

In the bosom of the Sierra Madre range in Isabela, he learned to enrich his skill at providing political education to farmers who were often illiterate and had very little exposure to the world. He also learned techniques for organizing in villages.

Sometime in May 1971, the military got wind of the existence of the activists in the vicinity. Soon, they were surroundedby heavily-armed troops. In spite of the stormy weather, Antero’s group was able to get out of the area but was relentlessly pursued. While the group was crossing a river in Barrio Dipogo, the water started to rise. Most made it safely to the other side but the tail end, which included Antero, got caught by and was swept away by the raging torrent. Four of those swept away did not survive the tragedy. One of them was Antero Santos.

In the intensifying political scenario of the time, Antero’s family was not able to receive any word about his death. It was only in recent years that they were able to piece together a coherent picture of what befell Antero. His remains have never been recovered. He was 23 years old.

BELORIA, Vicente Laus

Vicente Beloria pic

Vicente “Vic” Beloria’s college education took place in the Baptist-founded Central Philippine University in Jaro, Iloilo City. He entered the university in 1970, a time of ferment and upsurge of student activism, not only in Manila but the rest of the country. In the university, he was introduced to continental philosophy and the Filipino nationalist ideas of Claro M. Recto and historian Renato Constantino. He had also read books like the Philippine Society and Revolution of Amado Guerrero and other Marxist tracts at that time.

Vic was a leader in the student government of the university, the CPU Republic. It was probably through campus politics that he joined the Movement for Democratic Philippines in 1970 that gave rise to the Federation of Ilonggo Students or FIST. It was under FIST’s leadership that a series of huge rallies and demonstrations were held in Iloilo City. It was also FIST, that Vic met student Ilonggo student leaders from Manila including Fluellen Ortigas and Alberto Espinas, who became his friends and mentors.

Vic’s activism allowed him to ask deep questions about society and change. He also joined the Iloilo chapter of Kabataang Makabayan (KM), As the student movement in Iloilo became more politicized and restive, Vic foresaw the impending threats on the persons of local student leaders, with the plan of Marcos to declare martial law. However Vic and other student leaders in Iloilo were undeterred; they continued to launch demonstrations and organize students in the Iloilo City and other provinces in Panay, in defiance of the government’s restrictions.

Vic set up a coordinating group that simultaneously led open demonstrations and clandestine organizing and teach-ins. This two-pronged tactic was intended to expand the ranks of student activists but at the same time ensure their safety in an event of a crackdown.

In January 1972, months before Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, Vic and other student leaders in Iloilo decided to abandon the open arena of activism by going to the countryside to join the underground resistance against the dictatorship.

Circumstances of death

Vic joined six others to conduct a research in the remote areas of Antique on July 1973, timed with the campaign to reject the Marcos’s Constitution seeking acclamation through a referendum. The group visited remote villages in Antique that were home to the sacada or seasonal sugarcane plantation workers in Negros Island. At the close of their field visits, they were arrested. They tried to escape, taking various routes but almost all of them were pursued and shot. Of the seven, five of them died. Vic and Ferdinand Arceo were the last to fall on July 29, 1973. They managed to escape the military that were chasing them for two days before they were caught in San Joaquin town. Vic and Ferdinand were summarily executed while another companion was captured and tortured.

His family brought Vic’s remains to Culasi, Ajuy town, for burial on August 3, 1973.

Impact of Death

Vic’s activism was a source of pride for his family because it demonstrated his selflessness and resoluteness. For Cesar Beloria, the brother of Vic, the latter was a hero and martyr, driven by his patriotism that he carried up to his last breath.

Despite their loss, some members of his family joined the anti- Marcos struggle. Cesar, who became a lawyer, was active in defending human rights cases. For him, Vic was a committed revolutionary who dedicated his life to educate the masses. The people that his brother met would fondly remember him for his ideals.

There were no public honors for Vic, except that he was recognized as among the martial law martyrs of Panay during the dedication rites for the monument of heroes at Plaza Libertad, Iloilo City, in 2007.

ESPINAS, Alberto Tuason

Alberto Espinas2photo

Alberto Espinas, also known as Bert, started his elementary education in the working class community of Rizal Estanzuela in Iloilo City. He completed his secondary education in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, as his father was with the Philippine Army. In college, he went to Lyceum to study journalism.

His first foray into student activism took place when he joined his fellow students to demand a stop to tuition increase in the late 1960s. As a student, he was an avid reader of political and philosophy books that he was considered by his friends as an expert on Marx, Lenin and Mao. He was also influenced by the writings of Filipino nationalist Claro M. Recto that he joined the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN). He also joined the National Students League, Student Power Assembly of the Philippines and the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in which he sat as member of the national council. In short, he attained a stature of a prominent student leader. Although it was not mentioned by his family and former activist-friends, journalism may have also shaped Bert’s values as an activist. Activism’s relentless search for truth, its predilection for free expression and its desire for a better society can be enhanced by journalism that also share the same values.

When the so-called First Quarter Storm (FQS) raged in Manila, Bert was one of the active leaders because of his involvement with KM and the Movement for Democratic Philippines.

When student activists in Manila were encouraged to help organize students in the provinces, Bert volunteered to go to Iloilo. The move was not only to expand the student movement. It also targeted organizing the countryside.

In August of 1971, after the Plaza Miranda bombing, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and restricted the right to assembly. Arrests took place and among those targeted were 60 student leaders including Bert. The repression did not stop student demonstrations from taking place because the leaders worked clandestinely in organizing their ranks. This was true in Manila and Iloilo City at that time. By the end of the year, the student movement in Iloilo had some 10,000 members whose presence in street protests challenged the controls placed by Marcos.

Circumstance of death

In July 1973 Bert joined the group of six that conducted research in Antique to learn about the conditions of peasants and the sacada, or the seasonal sugar workers in the haciendas or the sugar cane plantations of Negros. The workers were heavily exploited by plantation owners, in terms of wages and living conditions that were almost subhuman. The research was timed with the weeks leading to the referendum to get the approval for the 1973 Constitution that will grant extra powers and extended stay in office of President Marcos.

However the research team was arrested by the military on July 24. The students escaped but they were pursued by the military and shot. Bert died, on July 27, 1973, of multiple gunshot wounds but not before shouting “Mabuhay ang lumalaban.”

Impact of death

Bert was buried six days later in Antique. Five years later, on August 1978, his family recovered his remains and gave it a proper burial in Tangalan, Aklan. He died a hero, and this was recognized by his comrades and family alike.

On February 20, 1974 Bert’s father, Antonio, sent a typewritten note to Restituto Ortigas, who also mourned the death of one of those shot, Virgil Ortigas (Bantayog martyr). It went: “Our sons made a pledge that no matter what happens they will never surrender the principles they believed (in). Theirs was a paradox only a few will understand. (24 July 1973).”

LORCA, Napoleon Porras

Napoleon Lorca pic

Napoleon Lorca is the older brother of Rolando Lorca. Nap, as he was called, became a youth activist by joining the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in 1968. As KM members, Fluellen Ortigas said that he and Nap had common friends like Eugene Grey (Bantayog recognized martyr), Boy Ramos (died in Bicol) and Charlie Shin whom they met during a meeting somewhere in UP village. Nap traveled with Ortigas to Iloilo late in 1971 after Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus right after the Plaza Miranda bombing. Nap and Fluellen worked with the leaders of the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST) based in Iloilo that was organized by both Manila and Iloilo based student leaders. FIST was behind the huge student demonstrations in Iloilo in the summer of 1970 and until the months preceding the martial rule decreed by President Marcos on Sept. 21, 1972. From FIST’s ranks came the leaders of KM and the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK), which are the more prominent student groups at that time.

As early as 1971, student activists in Iloilo have been thinking about moving to the countryside to elude arrests and politicize the peasants and the rural poor. They eyed the foothills and remote villages situated along the Madia-as Range that once was the lair of guerrillas and revolutionaries of the Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan (Huk or HMB).

Before the end of January, Nap and two other companions, went to Daan Sur, which is a village next to Minan, Tapaz. They started organizing the mountain villagers through periods of hunger, bouts of fatigue and attacks of leeches. They organized the Tumandok or Sulod-Bukidnon, the indigenous people of Panay that were victims of extortion by forest guards and influential people from the lowlands who cheated them on their harvest’s share. The team also organized the Tumandok’s self-defense groups against roving bandits and cattle rustlers. When the locals got sick, Nap and his team helped secure their medicines. They taught the locals how to farm efficiently and establish safe water supply. These acts earned them the trust of the residents of Daan Sur. The word spread that the Tumandok of Daan Sur were able to defend themselves from bandits and cattle thieves, thanks to the students who helped organize the village defenders. Soon there were requests for the three to organize other areas as well and they followed the same tact when organizing the neighboring villages.

Circumstance of death

Nap died when government troops, led by second lieutenant Roberto Guillergan, raided their safehouse in Lapaz, Iloilo City.

When his friends at the BARC learned about the death of Nap and his companion, they were given honors during a ritual that remembered their contribution to the history of resistance in Panay Island.

Impact of death

Nap was buried in Dueñas. His death came five months ahead of his brother, Rolly, who is also a student activist and one of the leaders of the Border Area Revolutionary Committee (BARC) in Panay. Their involvement was not well received by their families, especially his father who was a Philippine Air Force personnel.

Another sad note on the death of Nap was that he never saw his son by Roseana Thompson who was pregnant when he died. Rose was a member of Makibaka, an underground feminist organization. She went to Italy and died there of breast cancer in 2006 but her remains were brought to Iloilo.

LORCA, Rolando Porras

Rolando Lorca pic

Like many young men and women of his time, Rolando “Rolly” Lorca activism started when he joined student organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM). The countless marches and student protests from January 30 to March 1, 1970 in Manila went down in Philippine history as the First Quarter Storm (FQS), a time when student spoke about problems that plague the country, from the tuition increases, government corruption and U.S. imperialism.

While Manila was the centre of political ferment, the issues carried by the student movement were not confined to the metropolis. Thus, Ilonggo student activists from various schools – U.P., Ateneo, Lyceum, FEATI, FEU and others – met to discuss organizing students in Panay Island. Rolly was among the core leaders and eventually leading the group from Manila that arrived in Iloilo before the end of March 1970.

The converged forces of Manila and Iloilo-based student leaders gave rise to the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST). The group was behind organizing, “teach-ins” or discussions and demonstrations that drew thousands of students. The demands were varied but not confined to student issues; they include fair wages for workers and rural laborers. Most of all, they called on students to defy government restrictions on freedom of assembly and expressions amid threats by President Marcos to impose martial law. The times were remembered as Iloilo’s summer of discontent.

Rolly was not only known among student activists circles, he was also an organizer of farmers in his hometown of Dueñas. The farmers eventually joined the student demonstrations in Iloilo City. But perhaps one of the major contributions of Rolly was his sense of history, in seeing the student movement as a historical moment in the long struggle of Filipinos towards emancipation from colonial and homegrown tyrants.

When summer has ended, the Manila-based student leaders decided to go back to school, but not Rolly. He decided to stay in Iloilo to organize FIST chapters in Capiz and in Negros Occidental. In Capiz, FIST was set up in the towns of Cuartero, Dumarao, Pilar, Ivisan, Maayom and Dao. FIST also formed student groups and worker associations in the central Iloilo towns of Calinog, Dueñas and Janiuay.

When Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus after the Plaza Miranda bombing on August 1971, FIST continued to hold demonstrations in Iloilo City. Some prominent Ilonggo student leaders in Manila were among the 60 student leaders that Marcos reportedly ordered arrest.

Circumstance of death

Sometime on the first weeks of January 1974, Rolly, along with Antonio Tagamolia, (Bantayog recognized martyr) trekked for three days to reach Taroytoy in Libacao, Aklan where they joined Antonio Hilario and Tomas Dominado for a meeting to assess their work of organizing peasants in Panay. However, a military and constabulary commando raided the hut they were staying on February 19, 1974. The military fire killed Rolly, Hilario and Tagamolila. Dominado was wounded but he was able to escape. There two other casualties include a pregnant woman and a local organizer, both still unnamed. Rolly died a hero defending the rights of the oppressed and the voiceless. He was buried at Taroytoy, side by side with Hilario and Tagamolila. Rolly’s family recovered his remains three months later and brought it to Duenas for proper burial.

The military tagged Rolly as one of the leaders of the revolutionary movement in Panay. Thus he was a prized catch, dead or alive. However it was odd that a 24-year old student activist could be among the hunted by the Marcos’s dictatorship when all that he aspired for was a society where everyone would have a better life and not be afraid to speak out.

Impact of death

Rolly’s activism and his death disturbed his family, especially his father who was an Air Force personnel. Part of their unease and sadness was also due to the fact that Rolly’s brother, Napoleon, also joined the revolutionary movement in Panay and died earlier, on September 3, 1973. In short, the family lost both Rolly and Napoleon in the span of five months. Rolly was recognized as among the martyrs of Panay during the dedication of the monument of heroes resisting the Marcos dictatorship in 2007.

Ferment and Student Activism in Iloilo and Other Provinces in Panay Island

Written by Ma. Diosa D. Labiste, Ph.D

Student activism and the subsequent revolutionary movement in the 1970s in Iloilo and the other provinces of Panay island probably emerged from a perfect storm of circumstances –the general dissatisfaction against the ruling elite and the authoritarian government of President Marcos, the palpable economic crisis that swept the country and, importantly, the emergent power of enlightened students who articulated social issues and the need for a radical social change.

These circumstances were present in the predominantly agricultural Panay island.

On examining student activism in Panay, one has to consider the circulation of ideas that saw the formation of critical minds among young people.

We cite student activism in Iloilo which was formally organized under the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST), formed on March 1970. FIST had benefited from the contribution of Ilonggo student activists from Manila who joined forces with Ilonggo student activists.

The Manila-based activists decided to return to Iloilo to conduct “teach-ins,” and organize students to join rallies and protests actions, just like in Manila in the summer of 1970. Thus a month after its organization, on April that year, FIST led hundreds of students in a demonstration that demanded fair wages for workers in Panay and Negros islands and called for resistance against the plan of President Marcos to declare martial law.

The Marcos martial law indeed drove many activists underground because they were subjected to manhunt by the military. In short, they didn’t have a choice. Many were arrested too. When Marcos intensified the crackdown soon after he declared martial law, the places where resistance organizing occurred were targeted. Curfew was imposed nationwide and the military might was palpable.

Panay was seen as one of the areas where defiance to the Marcos Constitution could take place, particularly in Antique province. Antique is strategic because it is where the sacada working in the haciendas or sugarcane plantations in Negros came from. The sacada, to this day, is one of the most exploited farm laborers in the country in terms of day wages, mandated benefits, and work conditions. Eduardo Legislador (Bantayog recognized martyr), a student activist exposed to the plight of the sacada, thought that Antique could provide a space in which the seasonal workers could be made aware of their exploitation in Negros. Organizing of the sacada has been taking place in Antique at that time and initiated by Evelio Javier (Bantayog recognized martyr). Javier organized roadblocks to prevent the hacienda laborers from leaving. His effort was supported by religious groups, led by Antique Bishop Cornelius de Wit, MHM, that also organized cooperatives and Christian communities of fishers and farmers who were being recruited as sacadas.

On July 1973, Legislador led a team of student activists that went to Antique to conduct research and investigation for possible organizing of the sacada, peasants and indigenous people of Panay, the Tumandok or Sulod-Bukidnon. It was timed when the campaign for “No” in the referendum was going on in Antique.

The violent treatment of the activists by the military by shooting them, exemplified the terror and repression under martial law. In the following days the death of five student activists, on August 11, 1973, four Western Visayas bishops, namely Jaime Sin (Jaro), Antonio Fortich (Bacolod), Antonio Frondosa (Capiz) and Cornelius de Wit (Antique) issued a pastoral letter condemning the harassment of church personnel and church-sponsored activities in Antique that took place on July 24 and the subsequent days. A priest was arrested and one of the churches was declared “off limits” to the public. Priests in Antique were also warned against doing pastoral work to the poor. The bishops’ letter said:
Why does all this take place? Is there resentment in certain circles that the Church of Antique has been taking side of the poor farmer and fishermen to give him a better share in the richness of our land and seas? Does the Church in her witnessing to truth and integrity provoke some who live by other values?

Although the pastoral letter did not make a direct reference to the death of five students, it was a sign that the Catholic Church in Western Visayas was vigilant enough to condemn the human rights abuses of the military and the harassment of Church people siding with the poor.

Pre-Martial Law Student Activism in Davao

Written by Macario D. Tiu, Ed.D

Student activism in Davao began with campaigns in the early months of 1970 calling for a non-partisan Constitutional Convention that was to replace the 1935 Philippine Constitution. It was part of a nationwide movement organized by the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP). In Manila, the rallies turned violent and became known as the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. The ripples of the FQS immediately reached Davao, with students from various schools taking the initiative to organize themselves or establish chapters of Manila-based organizations such as the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP), and Khi Rho, the youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).

By the latter half of 1970 the local students had become more politically aware. They began to be concerned not only with student and school issues, but also with the larger social issues concerning the plight of workers and farmers as well as the continuing foreign control of the economy. They organized in schools, communities, and expanded into the bigger towns of the region. They began to get involved in pickets of workers on strike, or in camp-ins of the farmers who demanded land reform. Whenever there were issues raised by the other sectors, the students would be there to help. The students might be divided into certain ideological camps, but they worked together on many common issues.

One of the most memorable events in Davao in 1971 was the so-called Battle of CM Recto that lasted for around three days and three nights. This was an off-shoot of the killing of student activist Edgar Angsingco who was manning the picket line put up by the striking students at the main gate of the University of Mindanao (UM). The student strike had dragged on for three months and tensions were running high. When Angsingco was killed, the city erupted into violence, with angry mobs battling with police and shutting down CM Recto and Oyanguren Streets. A special target of the attack was the office of the United States Information Service (USIS) on Recto Street which was trashed by the rioters.

Practically all the student governments and student papers in the City and major towns became very active. They did not only voice the concerns of the students, they also became vehicles to expose the ills of Philippine society and to demand reforms. There were frequent marches and rallies in 1971 and in the early part of 1972. The issues raised were both economic and political. The students held rallies to protest against oil price increases and landgrabbing of big ranchers and plantations, and to support workers’ strikes and peasant demands for land. The political issues included government corruption and the abuses committed by US servicemen in US military bases in the country and the US war in Vietnam.

This activism was fired up by the idealism of the students and youth to reform Philippine society and eradicate long-standing poverty in the country. When the venues for expressing their views were suppressed by the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, these idealistic youths were left with no choice but to go underground and/or go to the countryside to wage an armed struggle. It should be noted that there was no single NPA in Mindanao at this time.

Instead of responding to the demands for change, the government under President Marcos went after those who demanded change and social transformation. The students, youth, workers, peasants, and other sectors of society knew that they were going to be punished, imprisoned, tortured, or killed by the martial law regime, but they willingly faced these threats for the love of the Filipino people and nation.

ESPERON, Fernando Torralba

Esperon, Fernando Torralba photo

Fernando Esperon, or Nanding, as he was more familiarly known, was the youngest among the three children of Aquilina and Pablito Esperon. His father left the family home when Nanding was very young forcing his mother to take odd jobs to fend for her children. Nanding liked to read and play the guitar during his free time, compiling favorite songs into his own handmade songbook. A friend recalled that he had even composed a song or two that told of the pitiful condition of children living amidst urban blight.

“Very disciplined in his ways” was one trait of his that would immediately come to mind when friends describe Nanding. He was always on time for meetings and other activities and would buckle right down to work when the schedule called for it. Even at a young age, Nanding has shown good leadership skills. Many of the youth in his neighborhood were getting hooked on drugs. Nanding would talk with them, and organize activities like sports events and clean-up drives to take their minds off this habit.

History of Political Involvement

Nanding was in high school in the late ‘70s when Davao City and its surrounding provinces where gripped by growing militarization. Increasing instances of criminality, bombings and the proliferation of illegal substances were causing mayhem in the city. But that period also saw an upsurge of protest against the dictatorship, a protest that was unconcealed and widely- participated by the populace.

Growing up witnessing the hard life and squalor of an urban poor community, Nanding was drawn to the grave political, economic and social issues being raised by the protesters. In no time he was a participant in these mass actions too. He joined a community-based cultural group, Bantawon, which sought to raise the awareness of the youth to the problems of the country through socially-relevant songs and plays. Nanding acted, sang in, and sometimes even directed the group’s performances in community gatherings and in rallies and demonstrations.

Sometime in high school, he joined a workshop offered by the Days with the Lord (locally known as Basta Ikaw Lord), a Jesuit-initiated spiritual movement. The retreat aims “to enable the participant to realize more intimately the personal love of Christ so that he/she may be disposed to respond freely to that invitation of love”(from the site French-speaking Cursillo Movement of Canada). Nanding’s experience there so moved him, it ignited a desire to serve the people fully.

Realizing that he wanted to be a part of the solution to the country’s problems, Nanding was soon spending more and more of his time as an organizer, and later as chairman, of the Liga sa Kabatan-onan sa Davao (LIKADA), a nationalist youth organization. By this time he had decided not to go on to college after his high school graduation.

Nanding plunged head-on into the hubbub of mass actions that happened in Davao then. In 1983, he mobilized support for a series of strikes popularly known as Welgang-Bayan. He helped organize protest actions against the blatant abuses being committed by the military in the urban and rural areas of Mindanao. He campaigned for a boycott of the 1984 Batasan Pambansa elections. He supported calls for reforms in the educational system, and urged attention to the condition of poor people, of the youth, in particular. “He was selfless and indefatigable in his efforts to help fight for freedom and democracy,” his friend proudly avers.

Circumstances of death

In early 1985, Nanding led the slum community of Agdao to expose and decry the murder of five of its youth allegedly by the Alsa Masa, a vigilante group loyal to the Marcos government. Already under military surveillance, this caused him to be further drawn into the spotlight. On June 27, 1985, Nanding left his mother’s house to attend a meeting of the LIKADA. Witnesses recount that Nanding was on board a public jeepney when he was hailed by a known military agent. He got off and ran towards the Mabini Public Market, with the agent closely following. The man fired at him, hitting Nanding in both knee caps, and loaded him onto a taxi, going in the direction of the PC barracks. The next morning, Nanding’s lifeless and bullet-riddled body was found floating in the Toril river, thrown off Lizada Bridge.

Once heard to have said, “This is an all- too expensive struggle. We pay lives for a freedom that is inherently ours,” Nanding too, paid with his life. He was 23 years old.

BONTIA, Evella Villamor

Evella Bontia pic

Evella Bontia was born in Compostela Valley, the eldest of 5 siblings. She was a bright student. She graduated class valedictorian in elementary school, and salutatorian in high school. She qualified as an American Field Scholar and spent a year in Connecticut, USA, before graduating from high school. She was editor-in-chief of the high school paper Daluyong. She was an avid reader, borrowing books from her school library because the family could not afford to buy them.

The family being poor, the only hope for the bright Evella to get a college degree was for scholarships. So she took examinations and qualified for scholarships in five schools, including with the prestigious University of the Philippines in Diliman. She chose Ateneo de Davao, which was closer to home. She was very active in Ateneo. She became editor-in-chief of the school paper, the Atenews, when she was only in her junior year. She also became the university’s first female student council president.

As a student leader, she began writing articles critical of government. She also became active in organizing students to protest government policies. She joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) and participated in protest rallies. She became one of SDK’s regional officers for Southern Mindanao.

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, soldiers raided the Bontia house and ransacked it, searching for “subversive” documents everywhere, including in ceiling wells. Evella went hiding in friends’ houses. But one of her brothers, Ildefonso Jr, himself an activist, was arrested by martial law authorities. Evella once sent her brother in prison a siopao (dumpling), coursed through a group of visiting nuns and priests. Inside was a note, which her brother, reciting from memory, said:

“I am sorry for what happened to you. They might keep you in prison for a long time because you have a sister fighting for a principle, for the good of the many, for Filipinos and country. Bear this burden with strength, take care of yourself, our parents, and our siblings. I will never surrender even if they paid me millions of pesos.”

Like most activists who were caught by surprise by the declaration of martial law, Evella at first was unsure about what action to take under a martial law situation. She eventually joined a group of activists who left the city for the countryside of Mindanao, organizing resistance groups against martial law.

In interviews with Evella’s friends, they said of this period that activists like Evella would ask trusted friends to lead them to other friends or relatives who might want to shelter them. Often they would stay with farmers’ families, and if opportunity arose, they would discuss the political situation, and seek support for the resistance against the Marcos dictatorship.

This organizing work found fertile ground in the neglected but increasingly militarized Mindanao countryside. Nevertheless it was a constantly dangerous undertaking, and activists who did these were fuelled mostly by their vision of a better society, their youthful commitment, and sheer courage. If they grew faint of heart, they would stiffen themselves up by telling themselves, “Dare to struggle and dare to win!” But they rarely thought about the risks.

Evella, who spoke the local language, was better able to mix well with the people in the communities, and was thus an effective organizer, living with ordinary people, understanding their real conditions and sentiments, and explaining the nature of the Marcos dictatorship.

A brilliant writer who was fluent in both English and Cebuano, Evella led the task of producing educational materials and to translate English materials into Cebuano so these could be understood by workers and peasants. These educational materials were a very important component in the overall task of organizing the people to resist martial law. Those who worked with her said she was patient and industrious, bearing the rigors without complaint, and the dangers, with courage.

Her family would occasionally get bits of news about her and her whereabouts. They heard she sold street food (barbecue) at night in Cagayan de Oro to earn money for her expenses. They learned she spent time in the other smaller cities in Mindanao, including Ozamis, Zamboanga, and Butuan. Later they learned she had married a fellow activist, Efren Bulay. They also learned she had given birth but the baby died in hospital. Evella later mailed her family a picture of the baby’s grassy burial place, with the name Pamela on top of the grave.

 Circumstances of death

In 1974, the family heard she and her husband were killed somewhere in Lanao. With no proof or further details, they refused to believe the bitter news. But letters from Evella stopped coming. Then one morning in 1976 or 1977, the family opened the door of their house and on the steps was a small box. When they opened it, it contained several shirts and a sweater, all belonging to Evella. The box had no other markings and contained no letters.

Evella’s brother would later discover that Evella and her husband were in fact executed on the order of their leaders. Evella had been openly and sharply critical of certain senior leaders with whom she worked. She said they lacked political astuteness, among other failures. She also accused one leader of using the group’s precious funds for his own benefit. The leaders reacted violently to the criticisms, in turn accusing Evella of seeking to advance herself and of fomenting division among the ranks. These leaders then ruled her and her husband a serious threat to unity, and meted them the death penalty.

Those who had known her well and worked with her in those dark and difficult days say that while Evella had been vocal about her criticisms, the charges against her had little basis, and the punishment given was harsh as well as wrong.

“Evella is a true hero of the Filipino people. Her death is as weighty as the death of any hero who fought the martial law regime. She deserves to be remembered and honored,” says award-winning writer and Ateneo de Davao Literature and research professor Macario D.Tiu, a colleague.

Evella’s body has not been recovered by her family.

GONZALES, Nicanor R., Jr.

Nicanor R. Gonzales Jr. pic

Among his many involvements in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, Nicanor R. Gonzales is most remembered for his work among teachers in Davao and Southern Mindanao. Among them, he was venerably called “Sir Nick”.

Nonoy and Nick among family and friends, Nicanor was a native of Davao City, born on April 02, 1940. Born to a poor family, he was the eldest of nine children and grew up taking care of his siblings. He went through the public school system for his elementary and secondary education and went on to earn an Elementary Education teacher’s degree from the Harvardian College in Davao City.

It was as a young teacher at the city’s Calinan District in the 1960s that Nick’s concern for teachers began to show. A colleague recalls how Nick, during district meetings, voiced out his concerns about school policies. He later became a member of the nationalist organization Kabataang Makabayan and helped organize its chapter in Davao City. He was also involved with the labor sector through the Young Christian Workers and the Federation of Free Workers (FFW). Nick helped organize the employees of the House of Magno, the city’s first department store, which went on a yearlong strike in 1969. Among the employees was Camila Bacalla who later became his wife and life partner. They got married in 1971.

This was also the advent of activism and Nick joined rallies and demonstrations along with other students and workers organizations. The Gonzales family residence served as some kind of headquarters where activists met and congregated. When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in 1971, the local KM temporarily went underground as members contemplated going to the countryside as martial law loomed in the horizon. Martial law came a year later and Nick was forced to go underground in the countryside, leaving his wife and infant son behind. Initially, he organized the farmers and indigenous people in the mountains of Paquibato area and later, workers in Butuan, enlightening them on their rights and the evils of martial law. Eventually he found his way to Cagayan de Oro which became his base of operation. His wife and son were able to join him there but security considerations made the family move back to Davao City.

Nick was arrested by the Philippine Constabulary in Tagum on December 31, 1975. He was moved from one military facility and safehouse to another. For a month-and-a-half, he was kept incommunicado and subjected to interrogation and various forms of torture - beatings, water cure, insertion of needles on his nails, Russian roulette.

By the middle of February 1976, he was taken to Camp Alagar in Cagayan de Oro City where he was detained until his release in September 9, 1976. So severe was the torture that it permanently impaired his hearing and resulted in an abnormal growth on his skull. He was so traumatized by what he went through that many years later, he refused to allow the installation of window grills in their newly built house because these brought him memories of prison.

After his release, he started working with the Mindanao-Sulu Pastoral Conference but continued to work for the struggle against the dictatorship, contributing articles for underground publications and translating other articles to Visayan.

Eventually, he was able to return to teaching in Davao City. He started organizing teachers in the public schools, raising their consciousness towards defining their role in social transformation. With the deepening crisis of the martial law regime in the early 80s, the teachers’ struggles for educational reforms were linked to the bigger national issues. Nick led the conduct of study sessions, indoor forums, participation in street marches and pickets.

In 1982, despite warnings from the Education Ministry, public school teachers in sixteen school districts in Davao City joined a nationwide strike to press for salary increases. The strike was the first ever such activity in the city, a political statement from the teachers who did this not only to fight for their rights but also to show their defiance of the repressive Marcos regime. Nick always reminded them that fighting for their rights is not rebellion. His dedication and selflessness were an inspiration to the teachers. Parallel union organizing work was also going on in the private schools, with Nick among the moving spirits.

Worsening economic and social conditions, militarization and unbounded human rights abuses were arising in the province then. Nick   was instrumental in getting the ranks of the educators to support mass actions against the dictatorship. To keep him away from his organizing work among teachers, he was offered promotions, even monetary inducements by school officials but Nick remained steadfast in his commitment. His torture related hearing impairment was no deterrent in the pursuit of his commitment of freedom and democracy for all.

The teacher militancy soon spread to Southern Mindanao and to other parts of Mindanao and later gave birth to the Kahugpungan sa Magtutudlo ug Kawani sa Edukasyon sa Mindanao (Group of Teachers and Education Workers in Mindanao) or the KAMKEM, the local chapter of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). Nick became KAMKEM’s chairman. He helped organize the Davao City Public Elementary School Teachers Association (DCPESTA). The militancy continued until the end of the dictatorship and beyond as the teachers continued to press on for better benefits, salaries and other conditions. But real improvements in their lot came about after the ouster of the dictatorship

After the fall of the Marcos regime, Nick became active in the fight for justice for the victims of the regime. He helped organize fellow ex-detainees and document cases for the class action suit against Marcos and became the local chairman for Southern Mindanao of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban saDetensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA). He also became a director of the Nonoy Librado Development Foundation, a labor center.

Nick’s organizing work left little time for him to spend with family but his wife and children understood and were supportive of his work. He made sure that time with them were memorable. He always brings home pasalubong and would spend weekends with them, often at the beach. His children, too young to know at the time, realized the full import of his work much later when they had become professionals or activists themselves and became associated with the people Nick worked with.

Nick retired from teaching in 2005. Fragile health and age may have slowed him down but he continued to work for teachers, joining their meetings and lobbying for their benefits.

When he died in 2007, his family was surprised by the number of people who turned up for his wake and funeral. The biggest group were the teachers who mourned the passing not only of a colleague but a champion of their rights. People who came spoke glowingly of him and his work and various involvements. The KAMKEM awarded him with the Gawad Dakilang Guro “for leading with all humility the organizations he was in and working beyond the four walls of the classroom.” He was also given the honorary Gawad Diego Silang Award for his support of women’s cause and in his role for seeking social change. Writing for a local paper, a writer paid tribute to Sir Nick which highlighted his work for the teachers. The writer described his relationship with teachers as one “that defined a selfless activist whose wisdom and guidance are valued by those he served, whose commitment to social change is an inspiration to many.”

Nicanor R. Gonzales Jr. was 67 when he died on May 25, 2007. He left behind his wife and four children and several grandchildren.

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