bantayog.foundation

bantayog.foundation

CABARUBIAS, Tranquilino D.

cabarubias

It was a hard life that Tranquilino Cabarubias had: a struggle to make the land productive, to defend his community. Yet he had plenty of faith to keep him going: faith that freedom would be achieved, that one day “God’s kingdom shall reign forever.”

Cabarubias, better known as Trank, was born in Bohol and he migrated to Mindanao hoping to find new opportunities in the “land of promise.” He farmed a plot of land in the northeast, and raised a family of 12. Despite his years of toil, however, he never managed to have the land titled in his name.

What’s more, as time went by, and especially when the martial law dictatorship was imposed in the 1970s, settler communities like his in Sangay, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, came under threat from big, Manila-based corporations wanting to take over the lands themselves, with the support and encouragement of the Marcos regime.

Cabarubias, who had become a respected community leader, was also a lay worker in his parish which was administered by the Sacred Heart Missionaries. It was he who organized the settlers' resistance against the entry into their villages of a powerful lumber firm. The company sent armed goons who demolished the people’s houses with chainsaws, and stole farm implements and carpentry tools. Cabarubias and the other leaders were arrested and detained for 14 days without charges. But they succeeded in keeping their village safe and intact.

Another time, in the 1980s, a giant paper manufacturing company was all set to turn their farms into a tree plantation. Cabarubias and his neighbors again mobilized to protest against the encroachment. The corporation backed off.

Cabarubias served in the barangay council for many years until his death in 1983. He took principled positions on national issues. In 1981 he led his community in boycotting the presidential election, believing that it had been rigged to make the Marcos regime appear legitimate. He publicly criticized the abuses of political and military officials and spoke out against the greed of capitalists who amassed profits at the expense of poor people.

Repeatedly warned to stop being so “hardheaded” or else suffer the consequences, Cabarubias knew his life was in danger. He asked his older children to look after the family and the farm should anything happen to him.

In October 1982, New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas ambushed a vehicle in barangay Sangay, killing three policemen and two civilians. Although Cabarubias was one of those injured in the attack, the military interrogated him and tried to make it appear that he was somehow involved.

Then on the night of October 9, 1983, armed men barged into his house, pretending to be from the NPA and asking for medicine. When Cabarubias refused, he was shot in front of his terrified children and wife, who had just given birth.

Soldiers in full battle gear came to the funeral, apparently in an effort to scare away the big crowd of mourners. "They cannot leave Trank alone even in death," observed one resident.

But Trank had not been afraid to die. In a farewell poem, he visualized the day of victory “when the shadows of sorrow shall pass away, for there shall be justice in the land, / All will be free and happy…” When that day comes, he wrote, “Come visit our graves / And behold the flowers dancing in the wind….”

BUCAG, Renato L.

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In 1971, Renato L. Bucag, a member of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr.’s Liberal Party, was elected to the municipal board of Gingoog, Misamis Oriental; he was the only oppositionist to win. Martial law was imposed in 1972, but he was able to continue serving until 1978. Though local governments under the dictatorship were controlled by the Marcos-party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, he was known for being independent-minded, and particularly concerned to ensure that public funds would be well spent.

When he was no longer a municipal official, Bucag lent leadership and support to the antidictatorship opposition, until the 1984 elections for the regular Batasang Pambansa, when he assumed the helm of the Pilipino Democratic Party-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) in Gingoog City. By that time resistance to the Marcos regime was becoming bolder and more open, and forcing the latter to make political concessions such as elections.

Bucag was an effective campaigner since people knew him to be upright and honest. Family and friends feared for his life, especially since lawless paramilitary groups had been terrorizing the area with the support of the military and civilian authorities. Locals say that the years 1982 to February 1986 were Gingoog City’s “bloody era,” when numerous heinous killings were carried out by paramilitary groups, notorious religious fanatics.

Still, Bucag went around without bodyguards, even to remote areas of the city. He believed in fighting for what he believed to be right for himself and for the country:

"Living an aimless life is useless,” he once wrote. “A man, if he wants to be called a rational being, has to commit himself to a common goal. Because whether you like it or not, there will come a time when you have to choose between a meaningful death and a meaningless life."

He had been running a 41-hectare farm in Lunotan, on the outskirts of the city, where he planted coffee and citrus using scientifically based methods. He started the Gingoog Farmers' Association in the late 1970s, holding Sunday community prayers with his farm workers and fellow farmers.

Bucag and his wife Melchora both loved the simple life on their farm, though he had the means and the education to provide a more comfortable life for themselves and their four young children. Renato (called Dodong) graduated with honors in elementary and high school and excelled as a debater in college. He took up two years of law, stopped, then reenrolled while working as a court interpreter; but he did not complete his law degree.

Two weeks before the 1984 elections, husband and wife, with their youngest son Renato Victor Jr., 11, were brutally killed by members of the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force (ICHDF) and the Tadtad, a group of religious fanatics being used and protected by the local military for counterinsurgency operations.

Witnesses said the killers forced themselves inside the Bucags’ farmhouse on the night of May 1, 1984. The following day, neighbors found the three bodies hacked almost beyond recognition. Four of the killers who were positively identified were arrested but later released by the military. Witnesses had to go into hiding.

Over 20,000 people joined the funeral march held for the Bucag family. Cagayan de Oro Archbishop Patrick Cronin publicly denounced the massacre and demanded speedy justice from the government. Members of the political opposition, including then Assemblyman Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and Bucag’s sister Helen Canoy, called for the disbandment of paramilitary groups operating in the province.

In July 1986, two years after the killing and several months after the dictatorship was dismantled, four of the Bucag killers were convicted. The KBL mayor at the time of the massacre was subsequently implicated and included as co-accused. But in 1988, the main suspect escaped and the case has been pending in court. Four of the suspects were never arrested.

BERNARDO, Pepito V.

bernardo

Pepito Bernardo, Catholic priest, was not a person to follow the easy road.

Though he knew, even as a child, that he wanted to become a priest, after entering the seminary he criticized its formation program for not being relevant enough to the people's needs. As a result, he and 10 other classmates were asked to transfer to another seminary. He did finish his theology studies, though, and was ordained priest in 1974.

His first assignment was to serve the Dumagat communities in Gabaldon, Nueva Ecija and in Dingalan, deep in the mountains of the Sierra Madre in Luzon. As parish priest, he tried to integrate his own worldview and that of the Dumagat, who live very close to nature. Apparently he was able to touch their hearts, for it was said that some of them were willing to walk days, even weeks, to hear Bernardo – Father Pites to them – give one of his simple sermons.

Bernardo also organized adult literacy programs, urging the Dumagat to think critically and to speak out against injustice. The problems of body and soul had to be tackled together, he said. By then he had become a member of the Christians for National Liberation.

In 1977 he joined the Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos and Rural Missionaries of the Philippines where he served as coordinator for the Sierra Madre area.

Twice, Bernardo was detained by the military. The first time was in 1980, in Isabela, when he was questioned for being in possession of a slide projector which the local police authorities said was banned in the area. He was taken to Bicutan Rehabilitation Center and from there released a few months later, on Dec. 24, 1980, in time for the visit to the Philippines of Pope John Paul II.

It didn’t take long for the police to rearrest Bernardo, this time in Baler, Quezon, in August 1981. The torture he underwent while being interrogated was unusually harsh for a priest – "water cure," suffocation with a plastic bag, electric shocks, being made to lie on a block of ice, being burned with live cigarette butts, and solitary confinement.

His arrest was denounced by many, and petitions for his release and those of other political prisoners poured in from various groups abroad. Eventually, the military released Bernardo into the custody of Pampanga Bishop Oscar Cruz. He went on to serve as chaplain of the Pampanga parochial hospital and as seminary instructor. He also continued to minister to the needs of poor people. He left for a heart bypass in the United States, but returned to resume his pastoral work after the operation.

Bernardo died in 1985 at the age of 35. He was on board a vehicle with three companions when their vehicle was rammed by a six-wheeler truck. His companions survived their injuries but Bernardo died on the spot. No investigation was made about the incident.

BEGG, William Vincent A.

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Born in the Bicol region to an American father and a Filipino mother, William Begg renounced his American citizenship when he turned 21. “He believed that this was his country and the Filipinos were his people,” his mother explained.

William, or Bill, was a good student, graduating as salutatorian of his class in high school, and getting excellent grades in college. He wanted to be a priest, and entered the seminary where college courses were taken at the Ateneo; in his third year there, he began engaging in social action work among poor communities in Barangka, Marikina, near the school campus. His political views grew increasingly militant until school authorities eventually asked him to leave the university and the seminary.

Begg was first arrested in 1971 for putting up posters in Marikina. And shortly after the declaration of martial law in 1972, he was again arrested, then detained in Fort Bonifacio.

After his release in April 1973, Begg went back to school to fulfill a promise to his father that he would finish college. He enrolled at the University of the Philippines, taking up history. He tried to live a normal student's life, joining a fraternity and helping organizing a history majors' society.

He did not stay long in the university, however. In September 1974, Begg left for the countryside to join the underground.

"I cannot in conscience continue my academic studies, nor do I have any ambition to live a nice, peaceful and secure life. For this in effect would mean a compromise of inaction in the face of intensifying economic crises and repression as well as monopolization of political power by a fascist dictatorship," he explained in a letter to his parents.

Through letters, Begg kept in touch with his family. As he described adjusting to his new life as a rebel guerrilla, he also wrote eloquently about the need for basic changes, for humanitarian service; for “I think all of us deserve a more humane and democratic social order.” He was learning acupuncture, and his group was starting a medical clinic for a poor community. He asked his parents to send him a medical encyclopedia –which they did.

In March 1975, Begg was with a team of guerrillas that had gone to meet a doctor in Villarey, Echague, Isabela, when they were attacked by a battalion of AFP troops. In the exchange of fire that followed, four of his comrades were killed, while Begg himself was hit in the leg. Assessing his situation, he urged the others to leave him behind so he could cover their escape. He was apparently captured alive; when his body was eventually recovered, it bore the marks of severe torture.

In a tribute to his heroic sacrifice, his family engraved the following words on his tombstone: "He laid down his life for his friends."

Gerilya's Lorena Barros Mural



Gerilya is an artist collective formed in 2008 involved in various art related activities and experimental ventures such as comics, street art, graffiti animation, fine art exhibitions, and illustration commissions. Their work is inspired by Philippine culture and history, exploring socio-political issues and national identity. They seek to make their art as relevant as possible and draw influence from Philippine popular and mass culture.

This mural of Lorena Barros is located at the Lorena Barros Hall in University of the Philippines Diliman. Photo courtesy of Gerilya. Browse the posting at the Gerilya Tumblr.

BARROS, Maria Lorena "Lorie" M.

barros

Maria Lorena Barros remains today one of the most well-known heroes of the antidictatorship struggle: a charismatic leader, gifted writer, icon of modern Philippine feminism, the “gentle warrior” who defiantly confronted death at the hands of government soldiers, deep in the forests of the Sierra Madre.

From early childhood, Barros showed keen intelligence, a searching mind and precocious social awareness, nurtured by her mother Alicia Morelos. The latter, granddaughter of a Katipunero and herself a member of the Hukbalahap guerrilla resistance, would become her daughter’s closest friend and confidant.

Earning honors from grade school through college, Barros graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1970 with a degree in anthropology. She started teaching after graduation, while taking up masteral courses at the UP. She was already making a name for herself as a writer, publishing poetry and essays in various publications and eventually being elected president of the UP Writers Club.

By the end of the 1960s, Lorie Barros was being drawn into political activism. She joined exposure trips to the rural areas and immersed herself in the emerging political literature. She organized the all-women Makibaka (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) and became its first chairperson. Makibaka chapters quickly spread across the country, in factories, in villages, and even in exclusive girls' schools.

Yet she was someone who refused to be confined to the stereotypical image of a student activist, or a feminist activist. She did not repress her natural charm and kindheartedness, and she was proud of her long shapely legs.

When President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, Barros was one of 63 student leaders charged with subversion. She went underground, married and had a son, all the while keeping up a stream of correspondence with family and friends. She was arrested in Bicol in November 1973, and jailed at Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna, then transferred to Fort Bonifacio's Ipil Rehabilitation Center from where she escaped one year later with three other political prisoners.

She rejoined the underground, helping to fight what by then had become a full- blown dictatorship. She continued to write poems, songs and essays from the underground. In 1974, the regime announced a P35, 000 reward for her capture.

On March 24, 1976, Barros was seriously wounded in an armed encounter with constabulary soldiers in Cagsiay II, Mauban, Quezon. A companion was killed instantly. Medical treatment was promised by her captors if she would cooperate with them, but she said she would rather die for her beliefs. She was shot in the nape. She was 28 years old.

Lorie Barros was given a heroine's wake and burial by family and friends.. In a tribute to her courage and principled life, her comrades marched with her coffin singing revolutionary songs, risking arrest themselves. A well-attended necrological service was held at the UP campus.

BALANDO, Elsa

balando

Elsa Balando was one of the earliest casualties of the people’s struggle for their rights under the Marcos regime.

Little is documented of her personal circumstances before she left her hometown in Catubig, Samar in 1968 to try her luck in Manila. Her friends only knew that, like them, she needed to help her family survive.

First she worked as a housemaid for one year, then as a tindera (sales assistant). Later she found a job at a garment manufacturer in Caloocan City, Rossini's Knitwear Factory; for her work as a seamer, she was paid three pesos a day. The other women there also came from poor rural families in Misamis Oriental, Agusan del Sur, Bohol, Pangasinan, Ilocos, Samar, Bicol, Nueva Ecija.

Eventually, Balando, called Liza by her friends, became a union organizer at Rossini's. She was gifted with an inquiring mind, seeking answers to vital questions that bothered her. She was already living the deep injustice of the situation where factory owners squeezed their profits from the labor of the people they employed, forcing them to work in miserable conditions and for very low wages. She joined study groups where she was able to connect the problems of working people like her with the broader problems facing the whole of Philippine society.

When Rossini's workers went on strike for the first time in March 1971 to demand better working conditions, Balando hardly left the picket line. She was among those who laid their bodies on the ground trying to prevent a company vehicle from leaving the factory compound. The city mayor’s goons harassed the strikers, but they refused to retreat.

On May 1, 1971, Balando was among 4,000 demonstrators, mostly students and factory workers, who gathered in front of the Congress building in Manila, at a rally marking that year’s International Labor Day. Combat troops from the 55th Company of the Philippine Constabulary and the Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) were deployed to “guard” the mass action; machineguns were positioned on top of the building, and a military helicopter hovered in the air.

The rally was underway when explosions were heard and shots were fired. Balando tried to seek safety, but bullets hit her three times in the chest before she could do so. She was among the three persons who were killed in what would be known as the May Day Massacre of 1971. Richard Escarta and Ferdinand Oaing also died, while fifteen others were wounded.

Balando's co-workers and friends chipped in to buy her a coffin, pay for her funeral expenses, and send her body home by boat to her family in Samar. Hundreds came to Manila’s North Harbor to see her off, turning the leave-taking into a protest action against the repressive Marcos government. In Samar, thousands came to her burial, including poor farmers from neighboring barrios and towns.

A wave of indignation in and out of the country met the violent dispersal of the May Day rally. Labor unions, members of the political opposition, and student groups all expressed their dismay and anger at the incident. Australian demonstrators stoned the Philippine consulate in Canberra.

Two months after Liza Calando’s death, the union at Rossini's won its demands from management.

ASUNCION, Filomena G.

asuncion

As a freshman student in Manila when martial law was imposed, Filomena Asuncion concentrated on her studies and shunned any political involvement. Like many other youths hoping to finish their education, find jobs and help their families, she refused to be diverted from her goal.

When they tried to include her in their activities, she would tell her schoolmates at Harris Memorial College, where she obtained a BA in Christian education in 1976: "Let others do it. Our work is the work of religion, work of the soul."

After graduation, she returned to Isabela as a deaconess of the United Methodist Church. She took the post of Christian education and music director, and taught Sunday school, conducted Bible studies and led the church choir. A natural leader and cheerful organizer, she became the president of the district-wide United Methodist Youth Fellowship in the district and made many friends.

In 1979 she was drawn into an ecumenical movement of Catholics and Protestants called Timpuyog dagiti lglesia or TIMPI. One of the group's aims was to address the plight of exploited farmers. TIMPI wanted to help tenant farmers by organizing cooperatives as a defense against farm cartels. Land and politics in Isabela were monopolized by a few families, who controlled access to capital, farm machinery and buying stations.

That was the time when Asuncion, a small farmer's daughter, realized that her calling was to address the needs of the many who were not necessarily members of her church. Her direct interaction with them convinced her so, more than any study groups or theoretical discussions. In her Sunday sermons, she began speaking out against the oppression suffered by local peasants. This did not please the landlord members of her congregation. She was soon branded a "subversive."

But the young deaconess was determined to continue acting on her beliefs; in fact she blamed herself for not having been an activist earlier in life, for she could have done more. In 1981 she was among those arrested at a farmers' protest rally in Ilagan and jailed from April to October. That was when she came to the conclusion that the military would never see the legitimacy of protest actions, and that her church might not defend her if she pursued her commitment to the farmers' struggles.

Asuncion thus left her post in the church and joined the revolutionary underground then operating in the area; she now worked fulltime in organizing the local farmers in defense of their rights. She now saw them as being part of her extended, spiritual family. "The time has come,” she wrote a friend, “when real involvement is needed for me to prove that I am indeed on the side of change."

Known in the area as Ka Liway, she was killed in 1983 after an armed encounter between armed guerrillas and government forces in Ilagan. Witnesses said she was captured alive, maltreated and abused before being killed.

Although she had despaired about the lack of support from her church, hundreds of church members and friends gathered at the Central Methodist Church in Manila in July, one month after her death, to give recognition to the work of Filomena Asuncion, the deaconess who believed in giving her life for others.

DEL ROSARIO, Nimfa "Nona"

del rosario

Nimfa del Rosario, or “Nona,” was the third of 8 children. Her parents were both government employees, with her mother a teacher in a public elementary school and her father serving with the Department of Public Works and Highways. Both parents wanted to give all their children a good education.

Nona’s family was large, and so she grew up in an atmosphere of fun and noise, squabbling and socializing. She was always cheerful and gregarious, never timid about expressing her opinion, or shy about striking a conversation, even with older people or with strangers. People usually noted her affability. Her brothers and sisters regarded her as some kind of peacemaker. On one occasion, Nona helped an alienated older brother make peace with the rest of the family. Nona was barely nine years old when her mother died, and in that occasion, relatives remember how she showed maturity and fortitude in dealing with the family loss.

Even as a child, Nona showed signs of leadership when she would organize programs and events at the Colegio de Santa Isabel where she completed her grade school. She also showed academic excellence when she passed competitive examinations for admission to the elite Philippine Science High School in Quezon City, and when she won several highly-respected scholarship admission tests for college.

It was at the Philippine Science High School where activist ideas captivated Nona’s intellectual curiosity. She became involved with the Serve the People Brigade (SPB), and later she led the Philippine Science High School Chapter of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). In college, she joined the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and led in discussion groups, participated in rallies and other political mass actions, organized youth groups, recruited members, and advocated for socio-political reforms. She quit the university after her second year and started to work full as a political writer for the various organizations she served.

Nona and fellow UP activist Alex G. Torres started a relationship during those turbulent months of 1970 to 1971 which saw the First Quarter Storm and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by then president Ferdinand Marcos. When universities were temporarily shut down during the early days of martial law, Nona, with Alex, went into the communities in various parts of Quezon City and Marikina, helping organize clandestine opposition to martial law among the community youth.

In June 1973, Nona, Alex and Alex’s brother Boy were arrested by intelligence operatives in a combined operation of the 5th MIG-CSU-NISA. At the time of their arrest, they were conducting a teach-in with a group of laborers. The brothers were detained at the CSU headquarters in Crame, where they were tortured under interrogation, then later transferred to Fort Bonifacio’s Ipil Rehabilitation Center, where Nona was also detained in the center’s women's quarters.

Nona was released after a ten-month detention, as were the Torres brothers. The three friends kept in contact with the comrades they left behind in detention, and even secretly supported their escape plans.

As former political prisoners, Nona and Alex, together with Boy, had to report weekly to camp authorities. At that time, Alex and Nona were living with the Torres family in an apartment near Katipunan in Quezon City. After a few weeks the activists felt stifled by their post-detention conditions, and decided to pursue their activist commitment in the countryside.

Alex and Nona moved to the Hapao-Hungduan area in Ifugao, Alex as political officer of an armed unit, and Nona as propagandist.

Although city-born, Nona adapted quite easily to the harsh physical conditions in the mountains, showing none of the usual urban sensibilities. She seemed to revel, in fact, in the new conditions. The local people loved her and her mostly male comrades respected her because she asked for no special treatment as a woman and as a city-bred activist.

She became a writer-contributor to the local newsletter Dangadang. One of the reports she made involved the senseless shooting by soldiers of an 11-year-old boy harmlessly resting in a hut after a days’ work. Nona’s report later became the basis of an incident report on the same case at the TFD Monitor of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines. She also learned to do first aid, herbal and acupuncture treatments, and basic medical work for her comrades and local residents who appreciated the rare medical attention they were getting.

The armed propaganda unit faced danger all the time because they worked in expansion areas where conditions were unpredictable. Around 1975, Alex was taking a trip outside of his work area when he was captured in Kabayan in Benguet. Witnesses claim to have later seen him in military camps in Benguet province and in Quezon City.

When Alex went missing, Nona left her unit for sometime to help in the search, but Alex was never seen again. As the search stretched on indefinitely, Nona returned to Ifugao to pursue her own work. A few months later, Nona herself died in a violent incident.

A village road was being widened near the famous Banaue terraces, mainly to encourage tourism. The project threatened the residents, however, because it would bury ricefields and no compensations were offered. As the tension rose in the area, the New People’s Army sent two propaganda units to investigate the conflict. Nona’s unit was sent to do interviews near the roadside, a particularly risky endeavor. The interviews were made every evening, after residents came home from work, and often long into the night.

Nona had the dawn watch the day she died. It was still dark when she completed her watch, and Nona was preparing to return to sleep when an alarm sounded that soldiers were coming. Nona and a female comrade prepared to flee but shooting erupted at once. Nona got separated from her companion. When her comrades regrouped they could not locate Nona. Upon further investigation, they learned that she had been killed in the attack and that her body had been brought to the Banaue town center by the soldiers.

The death of Ka Mia (Nona’s alias) was mourned by the local people as well as by her comrades. Nona’s body was retrieved by family members and buried in Manila after a long funeral procession attended by scores of friends and relatives.

Nona and Alex left no offspring.

MESINA, Pastor "Sonny"

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Pastor “Sonny” Mesina was the youngest in a brood of six. He was born in Davao where his father was then a government building official. When Sonny was five, the family moved to Pasay, and here Sonny studied at the Jose Rizal Elementary School where his mother taught music and home economics.

He liked to do scientific experiments, and in 1966, won a scholarship for admission to the Philippine Science High School (PSHS). Students in this school were chosen through exacting examinations. Sonny was among PSHS’s second batch of graduates.

The young Sonny was meticulous, whether he was cleaning his father’s shoes, helping in the kitchen, arranging his clothes, or creating a daily schedule of activities. He had a time set for study, play, watching television, and sleeping. He was also a practical person. He ran a neighborhood comic-book rental and he sold quiz paper to classmates.

Sonny loved the Beatles, and had a collection of Beatles songs as well as of other singing groups.

Once when he was five years old, and watching his sisters go up a stage to receive honors, he said he would himself get up that stage and receive a medal of his own.

At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Sonny took up Chemistry thinking it was a good preparation for becoming a doctor. By then he had become more people-oriented. Friends recall how once he said he would not enroll in ROTC because “it did not serve the people.”

The university was roiling in protest and criticism. The last week of January 1971 marked the first anniversary of the historic First Quarter Storm. The dollar-peso rate had been devaluated, inflation was rocketing, militarization was rising, and civil rights were being brutally suppressed. The suspicion was rife that Marcos planned to declare martial law. When oil prices, which had stayed steady for several years, were raised from 30 to 33 centavos per liter, a whopping ten-percent increase, the public reacted with outrage.

The university swirled with even greater turmoil. Students joined activist groups, held teach-ins, rallies and marches. Protest posters flooded the campus. Sonny, then a freshman, was attracted to the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK).

On February 1, a huge multisectoral rally was planned. Education officials cancelled classes in an attempt to forestall organized protest. But Marcos remanded the order, refusing to show fear or weakness. With classes uncertain to be held in the university, some of Sonny’s friends planned to see a movie, asking Sonny to join them. Instead, Sonny joined his SDK friends in a protest march that proceeded to the University Avenue. The protesters put up a barricade along the avenue to try to enforce a boycott of classes. The air was militant but festive.

Then, without warning, a mathematics professor named Inocente Campos, whose sympathies were known to be for Marcos and against activists, brought out a rifle, took aim at the students standing in what is today the CP Garcia crossing, fired, and in the next instant, Sonny Mesina fell bleeding to the ground.

Sonny was taken by his friends to the university infirmary (he didn’t want to be taken to the nearby Veterans’ Hospital because it was a “military hospital”). Sonny fought with death but succumbed three days later. His death shocked the entire UP community. The UP student council issued strong protests. What was at first a protest against oil price increases had grown into a full-blown student revolt against authorities and for academic freedom. As the outrage in the university spread, the government sent in soldiers and helicopters, agitating even the then UP president Salvador Lopez to protest the “violations in academic freedom.”

The turmoil in the university rose to what would become the historic Diliman Commune of February 4-9, 1971. Sonny and the Diliman Commune would always be linked together in history, with Mesina earning the honor of being considered UP Diliman’s “first martyr.”

Sonny’s death and the Diliman Commune would open up reflections by the whole UP academic community of what “serving the people” meant to people in the university – to instructors and students of medicine, engineering, fine arts or theatre, journalism, literature or law. The events of January and February 1971 forced many to rethink their academic assumptions. Sonny did not live to join these debates that followed after his death. But he gave his life for academic freedom, and he gave a meaning to what people in academe would refer to whenever they said that academics and professionals should “serve the people.”

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