Horacio “Boy” Morales Jr. was a man with a mission. He took on various roles: the ubiquitous campus figure in the 1960s and wunderkind technocrat of the 1970s. Since the 1980s, he was the enigmatic underground rebel, civil society innovator, and state reformer. Through his many transformations, Boy went all in. He did nothing halfheartedly, and perhaps there was no greater example of this than in 1977, when he turned his back on a promising government career and became one of the lightning rods of the resistance movement against the Marcos dictatorship. Morales’s defection, the highest such from a government official,struck a major blow to the regime that presented itself as a technocratic state; it also jolted mainstream society that had begun to accept life under authoritarian rule as the new normal. Boy was only 34 years old when he took aim at the Leviathan.
In fact, Boy’s life could have gone the other way. Born to a landed, political family on 11 September 1943, he seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, Luis Lopez Morales, who was Tarlac legislator and governor during the American period. Boy’s leadership qualities became apparent at the University of the Philippines where he took up economics. He joined the UP Vanguard, the organization of ROTC officers, and rose to become ROTC Corps Commander. As Grand Princep, he invigorated the Beta Sigma Fraternity.
“Most of us who joined the fraternity had come from humble beginnings and grown up in poor farming communities….Though many of us entered UP as entrance scholars, our scholastic preparation in our poor hometowns left much to be desired….We admired Boy for his ability to empathize deeply with us when we had problems….In fact, Boy, being a consummate organizer and strategist, prepared us to take leadership positions in our own colleges or regional organizations….Those were the golden years of the fraternity, when we rode the wave of Boy’s grand strategies, captured many campus positions, and developed our leadership skills. In turn, we his fraternity brothers became intensely loyal to him. – Victor O. Ramos, former Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary (1995-98)
Neither did he neglect his studies. After college, he earned a master’s degree in economics at the University of Oklahoma in 1968 and became a professional lecturer at the UP School of Economics from 1968 to 1977 while helping start up government programs and institutions (e.g., the Fund for Assistance to Private Education, Federation of Electric Cooperatives of the Philippines, and Responsible Parenthood Council). He also helped found the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) and was its executive vice president from 1973 to 1977 – the year the Philippine Jaycees named him the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee for public administration.
“Mr. Morales played a key role in social science research in those critical years. He secured funding for the Social Indicators Project’s pilot survey in Batangas province, the first Philippine experiment in estimating self-rated poverty and other quality of life indicators regularly used today.” – Dr. Mahar K. Mangahas, CEO and President of the Social Weather Station, and former Director of the DAP Social Indicators Project, 1974-75.
History of political involvement
Though driven, Boy was nevertheless not oblivious to the defining issues of his generation. The 1960s saw the growing polarization of Philippine society leading to the imposition of martial law in 1972. Boy entered government in the hopes of reforming it and improving its service delivery, but soon realized the limits of working for a regime intent on preserving the system. Instead, exposure to the actual conditions of the people in need led him to conclude that the poor and marginalized required empowerment and participation in the development process. He pioneered a countryside development program that integrated land reform, the establishment of cooperatives and small and medium enterprises, and rural credit. To Boy, real development would come only with an empowered citizenry working toward structural transformation. That path put him on a collision course with the Marcos regime.
In 1975, he joined the National Democratic Front (NDF) while still in government. His DAP office set up people’s organizations and cooperatives in the rural areas. With a new sense of urgency, he rejected an offer to serve as Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Program in Indonesia in 1976, deciding instead to remain in the Philippines. On 26 December 1977, the day he was to receive the TOYM award, he issued a statement announcing that he was joining the underground to fight “the ruling system that had brought so much suffering and misery to the broad masses of the people.”
“For the people who, at one time or another, had worked closely with him, the surprise was not so much in the decision but in the timing. Some members of his staff at DAP admitted to feeling demoralized when he left, disappointed because Morales did not even warn them. But then they realized on hindsight that through his years as a government technocrat he was always consistent, with the kind of projects he would pursue (always involving consciousness-raising, always for the direct benefit of the people), with the drive with which he would pursue them….Relates a colleague, ‘He would push us to work for the projects’ success….We thought it was a commitment to the institution (DAP) which went through very difficult times, funding-wise. It turned out later on that it was a commitment to the cause of the people.”– Gemma Nemenzo, “The Other Technocrat,” April 1984
Boy was well aware of the risk he was taking. His defection timed a year after the capture of communist leaders Jose Ma. Sison and Dante Buscayno seemed to signal to the public that the struggle against an unjust order was far from over. For the next five years, Boy parlayed his prestige, organizing skills, and credibility into strengthening the resistance to the martial law regime. His presence in the NDF allowed the organization to move outside the shadow of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He spoke the same language as those in the legal opposition and knew that the defeat of authoritarian rule required forging a popular front of all those fighting Marcos across the different arenas of struggle. It did not take long for Boy to reach out to opposition luminaries, most notably, former Senators Lorenzo Tañada and Jose Diokno. During this period, the NDF sought to promote anti-dictatorship unity by indirectly supporting such political projects as the People’s MIND (Movement for Independence, Nationalism, and Democracy), launched in 1982.
Marcos’s security forces, however, were never far behind. On April 1982, Boy was captured and heavily tortured by members of the Military Intelligence Group 15. Incarceration restricted his mobility, but did not eliminate the fight in him. In detention, he had countless discussions with other political detainees (in particular, Edicio dela Torre and Isagani Serrano) about Philippine society and a broad left program. Such conversations spawned the idea of popular democracy, based on a platform of political pluralism and people’s empowerment. He also remained in the public eye. On January 10, 1984, when various pro-democracy groups and individuals from different political blocs and regions convened KOMPIL (Kongreso ng Mamamayan Pilipino), Boy was elected as one of the 15 alternative leaders. He was the youngest in the group and the only representative of the Left.
Boy’s release after the 1986 EDSA uprising gave him the opportunity to pursue his principles and ideas on development and democracy. He was involved in government reorganization and the peace process. From 1991 to 1993, he served as a member of the Peace Secretariat and Adviser to the Emissary. But the post-EDSA period saw Boy pursuing development work mainly as a citizen activist. Boy joined and became president of the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM) and the Cooperative Foundation of the Philippines Inc. (CFPI), both of which were then chaired by former Senator Manuel P. Manahan. By 1998, PRRM was operating in 20 provinces and had helped in the formation of issue-based alliances such as the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and the Congress for a People’s Agrarian Reform (CPAR).
“When released by President Cory in 1986, Boy wasted no time to help in the democratic transition….He created…civil society organizations and citizens’ movements, like the Institute for Popular Democracy and Movement for Popular Democracy. He was part of the founding of several others. These served as his reference base for helping the new government and spurring citizen action for rebuilding a ruined nation and establishing a new democracy.” – Isagani R. Serrano, President, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement
Boy played a leading role as well in building global citizenship alliances and movements including the US-based CIVICUS (World Alliance for Citizenship Participation), Fundacion El Taller, headquartered in Tunisia, and People's Alliance for Social Development, based in Chile.
The year 1998 proved another turning point in Boy’s life as he was asked by President Joseph Estrada to head the Department of Agrarian Reform. As DAR Secretary, Boy sought to integrate land transfer and rural development toward responding more holistically to the needs of rural farming communities. He worked to raise the profile of agrarian reform by putting it at the center of national development imperatives. From 1998 to 2001, he also served as the Coconut Trust Fund Committee executive director, Presidential Task Force in the 20:20 initiative chair, National Anti-Poverty Commission government lead convener, and Population Commission vice-chair. From 2001 until his death, Boy remained active in issues that had defined his life.
Circumstance of death
“When a nation loses one of its giants, it is time for not only mourning but for celebrating a life well-lived. Boy Morales was one of those giants who had a vision of development for his country — a vision of a modernized agriculture and growing industry, anchored in improved social justice. He was a risk taker and understood progress could not be made without building broad alliances around a development agenda. Having established his commitment to the cause of social change through sacrifices made during the long struggle against dictatorship, Boy tried to embark on a new route after the restoration of democracy, elaborating a pragmatic programme for progress. — Dr. James Putzel, Professor of Development Studies, Dept. of International Development, London School of Economics and Political Science.
Boy Morales passed away due to health problems on 29 February 2012. In and out of government and as a revolutionary and reformer, Boy never lost sight of the mission that had propelled him forward – that is, to put government in the service of those who needed it most: the poor and the marginalized.