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.