Ed, as he was fondly called, was a son of a District Engineer assigned in the provinces of Region 3 – Bulacan, Bataan, Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Aurora. Thus at an early age, he helped his mother care for his younger brothers and sisters. His father was usually assigned to work in the provinces leaving Ed and his mother to look after the younger children.
Ed was a college engineering student at the Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT) in Manila when he got involved in the student council. He helped the Kaisahan Party, a progressive student party, win an overwhelming victory over their rivals in the campus election.
There, he was recruited into Gabay ng Kabataan, an association of student activists in civil engineering and architecture. With Ed’s new involvement, he was exposed to issues like tuition fee hike, students’ rights among others.
He started joining protest actions and rallies inside and outside the campus. He would usually head the MIT contingent and would always carry a banner. Whenever there was violent rally dispersal, Ed and a few daring souls would respond by throwing rocks against the pursuing armed troopers of the Metropolitan Command. This was done to prevent arrest of more students and rally participants. He was in the forefront of the First Quarter Storm in the 1970s.
Before his activist’ days, Ed was a typical “Amboy” (American boy) wearing “Hush Puppies” and “Levi’s” jeans and jacket. In between classes, he would hang around with his fraternity brothers at the campus main quadrangle. He was the envy of many because of his good looks and fashionable style.
Perhaps in the beginning, joining rallies was merely an exciting “trip” for him. Defying the authorities, singing protest songs, shouting slogans and engaging in skirmishes against anti-riot policemen, was the “in” thing to do then. As he gained a deeper understanding of the students’ issues and later the national peoples’ concerns, he embraced their cause with his heart and soul.
He joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and became very active in its Pasig and Quezon City chapters. He became good friends with KM Quiapo chapter members, a known group of toughies from Manila’s most feared neighborhoods.
Ed was present when Francis Sontillano, a UP freshman was killed near Feati University during a rally. He was one of those who would always safeguard students’ leaders like UP Student Council president Eric Baculinao and Philippine College of Commerce (at present PUP) Student Council president and Students For National Democracy (STAND) chairman Crispin Aranda.
Ed was also present at the historic May Day rally in 1971. When the government troopers started firing indiscriminately at the rallyists, Ed and several others stood their ground. Ed responded with his sling shot. A fellow student tried to pull him but Ed stayed until he had used up his arsenal of stones and pillboxes.
Because of his passion for the students’ cause, he was expelled from MIT. He finished his engineering degree at the Central Colleges of the Philippines.
When the writ of habeas corpus was suspended in August 1971, Ed together with some student leaders left Manila. To evade arrest, they went to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija to do some organizing and consolidation work. There, Ed met Emma Viseno, who became his girlfriend. Their relationship lasted until his death.
In Cabanatuan, he created and led discussion groups. He discussed not only students’ issues but also the causes and the role of the state in perpetuating poverty and the impending martial rule. He related the widespread and deeply rooted poverty in the province to the “hacienda system” wherein only a few families owned the thousand hectares of rice land in Nueva Ecija.
Most of the time, Ed was left on his own with no guidance and direction. However, he managed to link with Dumagat communities. He organized the Dumagats (Nueva Ecija’s indigenous people) although he knew very little about rural organizing work.
Members of his group would remember him buying and cooking food for them. The Dumagats would always expect “pasalubong” from him. His own allowances from his parents were shared with his new found family.
Circumstances of death
Ed left Cabanatuan City when Marcos declared martial law in 1972. With nowhere else to go, he moved to the mountainous town of Pantabangan. There he joined the New People’s Army where he became a political officer of an armed propaganda unit (SYP). The unit’s primary work was to engage the community in discussion about issues surrounding the Marcos dictatorship and the need for an organized movement to resist the dictatorial regime.
Ed was barely in his 9th month in the mountain when he was killed during a military raid in Mount Buntis, Bongabon. His group was preparing lunch inside a hut when they were fired upon by PC soldiers. Ed told his four companions to escape as he covered them. Unfortunately, only one survived to report the incident.
To his last breath, Ed took care of others before himself. Countless were touched by his commitment and sacrifice. His siblings, fellow students, comrades and especially those in Cabanatuan and Pantabangan where he spent his final days know that “Ka Nards” was a hero forever engraved in their hearts.
Ed’s remains have never been recovered by his family. But Ed’s legacy was passed on to his younger sister, Juliet Cupino-Armea, also a Bantayog honoree and other siblings who continue to fight poverty and injustice in their own noble way.