Sabino Garcia Padilla Jr., known as Abe, was an academic, anthropologist, artist and organizer who got involved in important activist struggles during the Marcos regime.
Born in Davao City, Padilla was the son of a devoted teacher and a surgeon in the U.S. military during the Commonwealth period. Although the family had the option of immigrating to the United States, they opted to stay. They later moved to Manila where his father opened a clinic and his mother taught in a private school.
As a young man in Manila, Abe Padilla became politically involved and was arrested for his activism after martial law was declared. Released after three months, he took some vocational courses on mechanics before enrolling at the University of the Philippines where he took up history.
For his undergraduate thesis, Abe explored the history of the Moro struggle in Mindanao. He inevitably was drawn to the struggles on the UP Diliman campus where he joined numerous campaigns for the restoration of student rights that were curtailed under martial law. He joined the staff of the revived Philippine Collegian and wrote student campaigns for better facilities and against rising tuition rates.
Eventually, Abe Padilla was drawn to other issues and concerns outside the campus. He became involved in the struggles of the urban poor and the batilyo workers in Navotas where he also helped oppose a plan to bring environmental waste into the country.
In August 1977, he joined demonstrations that sought to expose human rights violations under Marcos during the World Law Conference in Manila. The street protests turned violent after demonstrators were met with water canons and truncheons by security forces, a confrontation that was featured in the state-controlled Daily Express.
Abe Padilla also turned to art in opposing the regime. He led a group of artists in producing materials for political protests and activities, including leaflets, T-shirts, arm bands and posters.
While conducting research for his masteral studies, he got a broader view of the conditions outside Manila. This led to his involvement in Isabela with the Diocese of Ilagan’s Social Action Center, then under Bishop Miguel Purugganan, who asked him head the organization’s research and documentation desk in 1979. It was while working for the Social Action Center that Abe Padilla met his wife, Maria Teresa. Their son May-i was born in Ilagan.
Struggles in Isabela
It was during this time that Padilla became involved with tens of thousands of farmers in their struggle against Marcos ally, Eduardo Cojuangco and his associate Antonio Carag.
Cojuangco and Carag sought to change a Spanish-era grant stipulation that would have returned vast tracts of land to the farmers after a hundred years. Cojuangco was able to block the turnover and purchased the Tabacalera tobacco plantation at Haciendas San Antonio and Santa Isabel in Ilagan, Isabela.
Through Courier, the SAC news letter, Padilla helped document and expose the Cojuangco maneuvers in collusion with the provincial government and the military which terrorized the farmers. Padilla also helped draw attention to the farmers resistance movement and the attempts to demolish their homes and relocate them to other areas. The struggle culminated in a march of about 12,000 protesters from northern and southern Isabela towns to Ilagan. The campaign paved the way for 4,000 farmers to get titles to their land.
The Courier also documented other vital issues of the people of Isabela. The newsletter exposed violations of human rights by government and the military, including arbitrary and illegal arrests, detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, hamletting, land grabbing, and arson.
His political involvement inevitably made Abe Padilla a target. In July 1982, he was arrested with other activists in Bayombong, Nueva Ecija, during a meeting in the residence and clinic of Aurora Parong, the respected medical doctor who was involved in the community-based health programs in Cagayan Valley.
Padilla’s group came to be known as the “Vizcaya 13.” The arrests were denounced as illegal, especially since ‘presidential commitment order’ (PCO) issued by President Marcos was signed six days after the arrest.
Padilla’s mother, Josefina Garcia-Padilla, with the aid of lawyers from the Free Legal Assistance Group, filed what eventually became the landmark “Garcia-Padilla v. Enrile Case.” The Philippine Supreme Court sided with the dictatorship by declaring the arrests legal.
Detenion at the Bayombong Stockade of the Philippine Constabulary was rough for Padilla and his fellow political prisoners. They suffered from inadequate food, poor living conditions and constant harassment from soldiers, led by the notorious Rodolfo Aguinaldo, known as one of the most brutal torturers of the Marcos security apparatus.
Padilla and his fellow detainees fought back by calling for better conditions for all political prisoners. Again, he turned to art in this campaign, organizing his fellow detainees in creating cards, decorative flowers, and wall hangers with inspirational quotes on human rights.
After his release in 1985, Padilla remained active in the fight against the Marcos regime, and even worked with Amnesty International exposing to the world media the deplorable social conditions in the country.
After the fall of the dictatorship in 1986, he focused on his academic pursuits, earning a PhD in anthropology in 1991. His academic work focused on the plight of indigenous communities. Among the projects he pursued during this period is developing geo-mappnig systems to better understand the health concerns of indigenous peoples. He was working on genetic studies of Negrito populations in the Philippines when he died on March 22, 2013 from cancer.
Impact of Sabino's life
There are many stories about Abe Padilla’s life and times, most of them highlighting his love of country, selflessness, and passion to help build a better life for all Filipinos. Many endorse his nomination to Bantayog’s roster of martyrs and heroes. Here are some of them:
“... I remember him attending a number of PNHS Conferences... I was saddened by news of his death - he was so young and full of determination, passionate to do what is good for the country and our people, especially the IPs. I am heartily endorsing his nomination to Bantayog ng mga Bayani where he will be in the company of students, friends, and colleagues who have sacrificed their lives for our country and for all of us.” - Bernardita Reyes Churchill, Professor of History (retired), Department of History, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines Diliman, and President, Philippine National Historical Society, Inc.
“We saw in Abe a dedication and an unwavering commitment to serve the people before, during and after incarceration. We saw it in his research work, his teaching and in public service in working with non-government organizations and people's organization... His battle against the dictatorship and continued service to the people thereafter up to his death epitomizes the "Bayani" or "Para sa Bayan" life that he led. He deserves a place at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani.”-Ariel S. Betan, Associate Professor, UP Manila and Assistant Vice President for Administration, UP System
“... The late Abe Padilla was my colleague in the UP Faculty. I can vouch for his relentless but quiet and low profile work for the cause of freedom and justice in our country, particularly during the dark times of Martial Law.” - Randy David, Emeritus Professor, University of the Philippines
“Abe’s memory deserves to be enshrined in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. His work offers a fine example to guide the youth. His life as an activist embodies the historical developments in the larger protest movement in the Philippines. And given the dreams that my good friend Abe placed in the nation’s service, it is a final act of justice for us, the living, to recognize formally the noble sacrifice Abe lived out daily in his life.” – Raul C. Pangalangan, Judge, International Criminal Court
And from activist writer and community organizer Violeta de Guzman, something short but succint– “Put his name on that wall. In these turbulent times, we should cherish the memory of heroes like Abe.”