A first impression of Pablo Fernandez was that he was the silent type. Pabs, as he was fondly called, was tall and stood ramrod straight. But he had a way about him that drew people to him. He was loved especially by the elderly for being “mabuot” or well-behaved. Friends described him as one who loved to talk, and that he was intelligent and logical in his reasoning.
Pablo was born in Pandaraunan, a rural barangay in Nueva Valencia, Guimaras Province. He belonged to one of the respected families in the area which also held political power for generations. He started his elementary education in Dolores Elementary School, located in an adjacent barangay, then went to the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City for his secondary education. He was a consistent academic achiever from elementary through secondary school.
Pablo’s athletic skills were recognized when he became the captain of the University of the Philippines (UP) Iloilo college basketball varsity team. Following his parents’ wishes, he took a pre-med course at UP Iloilo, where his love for soldiery led him to become corps commander of the school’s ROTC. He had always been militarily- inclined, thus he pursued his dream of becoming a military man by taking advance courses in ROTC. As his aim was to be commissioned, he went for further military training in Cebu and became a reserved officer of the UP ROTC. In 1971, he married Alma Cabungcal, his childhood sweetheart who also went to the city for her secondary and college education. Their only child, Paul, was born three days before the declaration of martial law.
He was a firm believer in the dictum “mas maayo pa ang maginmatay ngana gabato para sa matarong nga kausa (It is better to die fighting for a just cause).”
History of political involvement
In the late ‘60s to the early ‘70s, Iloilo City slowly became one of the hotbeds of student activism against Marcos’ rule outside of Metro Manila. Pablo was in college then. Some of his classmates and good friends were leaders of the nationalist youth organizations. His younger brother, Ricardo, with whom he was very close, was a student activist himself. Their words of nationalism and efforts to call for reforms and justice for all strongly resonated with him. Thus, despite his military ambitions, Pabs became drawn to the teach-ins and discussion groups that transpired within the school premises. He avidly read books and other reading materials which showed the real Philippine situation.
Inspired by the First Quarter Storm of 1970 and the establishment of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP, an alliance of mass organizations and student councils), the Ilonggo students in Manila decided to establish an organization in Iloilo similar to MDP which would later be known as the Federation of Ilonggo Students (FIST). FIST welcomed nationalist professionals to the alliance, thus the Makabayang Samahan ng mga Propesyunal (MasangProp) was born. Pablo Fernandez joined the MasangProp – UP Visayas Chapter. Along with the other members, he gave political talks in schools, organizations and offices in an effort to enlighten people on various local and national issues affecting the country and to rally the people behind social change. MasangProp also held medical and dental missions to depressed areas and it was in activities like these where he saw the government’s neglect and felt the lack of social justice.
After the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, more than 60 activists and opposition leaders were ordered arrested by Marcos. Four of those activists arrested were from Iloilo. Pablo Fernandez and his group of activist friends took over the leadership of the student movement in Iloilo and protested the possible declaration of martial law. They called for the release of the political prisoners.
Pablo was elected municipal councilor of Nueva Valencia, Guimaras in November 1971 and took his oath in January 1972. As a municipal councilor and activist advocating reforms in the government and the military, he was disillusioned by the systemic corruption he had witnessed.
When martial law was declared in September of 1972, Pablo Fernandez (who held the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Philippine Army) was about to be sent by the military to Mindanao. He chose to follow his conscience and refused to work with Marcos’ martial law, which was then aiming to wage war against the Moro and the Filipino people in Mindanao. He avoided a court martial and left his home in October 1972 for the hills (where fellow activists had prepared a base for all those activists who were being pursued by the Marcos troops).
Circumstances of death
In June 9, 1973, Pablo and his group were in the boundaries of Calinog and Bingawan towns when they encountered members of the Philippine military. He was among those wounded and captured, and was brought to the military camp in Sta. Barbara for interrogation. It is believed that he was summarily executed and bled to death, as attested by two bulletwounds below his eyes. Five other bodies were brought to the city for identification by their families. Pablo’s remains was brought back to Guimaras for burial. He was 25 years old.
Impact of death on the family and community
Shock, grief and anger were the emotions that swept the Fernandez family upon learning of Pablo’s death. His son would never know him. But the hundreds of people who came to Guimaras to attend his wake and burial assuaged their grief, for they were one in expressing their admiration for Pablo’s courage, selflessness and love of country. His death gave them hope and inspiration to forge on with the resistance to a tyrannical system.