Ruben Marinda Lunas was a sickly toddler. His parents brought him to an albulario who recommended that his name be changed to improve his health. Thus to his family, he came to be known as Mito, shortened from Maximito, the name of a beloved maternal uncle who had passed away.
Ruben or Mito did grow up strong and healthy; he had a happy normal childhood playing with his siblings and cousins in their compound in Albay. He loved to draw and would compile his drawings into a comic book for his younger siblings. A favorite theme would be World War II: he often asked his playmates to pose as Filipino soldiers or Japanese soldiers. He was bright, intelligent, musically gifted and was very good in math.
In college, he attended the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City as a scholar. He stayed with an aunt in a rented house in Palaris, a community within the sprawling UP campus. He joined the Epsilon Chi Fraternity which was composed mainly of engineering students. Ferment and dissent against Pres. Marcos’s government was surging through the campus at that time and students’ protests were a regular occurrence. The many issues discussed raised Ruben’s awareness of the social realities, and in no time he became a member of the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK). He was among the hundreds of students who rocked the streets of Manila in 1970 to show their disagreement over Marcos’ running for a third term as well as to certain inclusions in the Constitutional Convention (First Quarter Storm). In 1971, he joined other UP students, faculty members and residents who barricaded the university in protest over the rising costs of fuel and other perceived anti-people issues (Diliman Commune).
In 1972, upon the declaration of martial law, Ruben found himself unable to return to his classes at the university lest he be picked up and jailed. Not wanting to be idle and taking to heart SDK’s motto to “Serve the People,” he, along with some members of the SDK and Kabataang Makabayan (KM) who were in the same situation, initiated a project in the UP communities of Palaris and Dagohoy. Noting that there were many young children just milling about, children whose parents could not afford to send to kindergarten, Ruben and his group put up an informal nursery school. In this makeshift structure of bamboo and nipa leaves which they themselves gathered from the then forested area of Balara, Ruben and his group of 10 to 12 activists taught the children the basics of Language, Reading and Math. Guitar in tow, Ruben often sang the lessons, to the great delight of his young charges and their grateful parents. Another such center was established in Old Sapang Balara, where Ruben later retreated to elude arrest from agents looking for him. He used the name Oliver to further confound the arresting officers.
By this time, all of Ruben’s family had migrated to Quezon City. To the consternation of his parents, his visits home became increasingly sporadic and far between. His mother, popularly known as Nanay Tering in the community, would often plead with her son to come home. Her Mito however, would plead back for her understanding; he said that he was doing something good and worthwhile for the people.
Ruben’s convictions led him back to his hometown of Bicol, where he joined the underground resistance against martial rule. The opposition in the area had almost all been decimated upon the declaration of martial law and Ruben wanted to help revive it. He lived with the farmers who were grappling with cases of landgrabbing by big landowners. Ruben essayed several roles in the countryside community where he stayed; often, the peasants would ask him to write letters to government agencies to air their concerns. On other occasions he was mediator and helped settle small disputes within the community. His musical skills provided entertainment during joyous occasions. He had also become proficient in acupuncture and helped heal minor medical cases. Indeed, some years later, Ruben visited home to find his mother suffering from a toothache. He promptly took out his needles and proceeded to apply a needle or two; Nanay Tering says her tooth had not hurt once to this day.
Fellow activist Roberto Ador offers this view of Ruben: In those occasions that we discussed our common aims, I found Ruben to be very sincere in his ideals for the poor people’s uplift. Smallish in figure at a little more than five feet, with wavy to curly hair, he was a fast talker and his ideas swirled with much conviction.” (Roberto M. Ador is currently the Executive Director of the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines)
Ruben, however, had been in the military’s list of students wanted for their anti-government activities, and not finding him, picked up his younger brother who was then studying in Manila. His brother was detained for more than two months and tortured. To assuage their fears for him as well as bolster their morale, Ruben would often write letters to his family. In one such letter addressed to his parents, he wrote that he wishes to honor them with what he is doing, even as it causes them so much pain. To his brothers and sister, he wrote: “Don’t forget that you have a brother who is fighting, not only for your sake, but for the sake of all the suffering masses. You may have been suffering too for the consequences of my actions. Don’t let the monsters of today frighten you.”
On June 12, 1975, a company from the Philippine Constabulary swooped down on a barangay in Oas, Albay, where Ruben was staying. He was able to scamper to safety but went back to gather his meager belongings, among them the acupuncture kit which was valuable to him. It was then that he received five shots that ended his life. It would be some months later when his family would receive word about his death, and two years before they would be able to retrieve his body which the villagers had buried in a public cemetery. (The rural sanitation inspector of Albay who helped facilitate the transfer of his remains to a Catholic cemetery was Clemente Ragragio, one of Bantayog’s martyrs.)