Ronald Jan was a mild-mannered boy with an occasional rebellious streak. At the prestigious Philippine Science High School, where he had his high school, he joined fellow scholars in protest activities against poor facilities and bad maintenance.
Jan and his fellow high school protesters then got friendly with college activists from the nearby University of the Philippines and became activists themselves. A good number of PSHS students, including Jan, joined the series of protest actions in the 1970s against abuses of the Marcos government. Jan became a member of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM).
Jan once aspired to become a scientist or an engineer. Now he wanted to become a “kadre,” in his mind, someone totally dedicated to serving the masses in a revolutionary way. He started spending time in a nearby community of squatters eking out a living mostly by quarrying adobe blocks. The community was in the middle of the city but it had a rural feel, being swampy and overrun with grass, with sparse dwellings, and residents growing vegetables in small plots and fishing in the swamps. Jan and his friends called the place a “little Isabela.”
“Isabela” referred not only to the northern province with the same name and the remoteness it conjured for the restless city-bred youth, but also to the act of joining the guerrillas then operating in that province. It was seen as the ultimate destination for the dissatisfied, alienated young activists.
In this small rural-like community, Ronald Jan was introduced to the city’s seamier side. One of his friends was a tattooed gang member who had spent time in the national penitentiary. He discovered that residents routinely bribed the police for quarry permits.
In 1971, a sudden increase in gas prices triggered widespread demonstrations by students and protest workers. In the Diliman campus of UP, a student was shot to death at a student barricade. Irate students responded by blockading the university gates from raiding police and soldiers. The incident triggered what would later in history be called the Diliman Commune. Ronald Jan, still a high school senior at the PSHS, was a participant of that historic event.
The situation wasn’t any calmer within PSHS. Students held daily protest actions and issued calls for walkout from classes. The PSHS faculty could not find enough students to fill their classrooms. Eventually, school officials decided to simply allow the two most senior batches to graduate. Jan got the benefit of this “mass graduation.”
Ronald passed the entrance exams for UP Diliman, but his heart was no longer into getting a degree. He went to school not to attend classes but to meet with fellow activists and to recruit others. Soon he dropped out completely and worked fulltime as an activist. Packing his bags, he left his parents’ apartment and went on to live at the KM headquarters.
On the 4th of April 1973, Ronald was at the house of schoolmate Marie Hilao, when a group of anti-narcotics troopers came, demanding to see Marie’s brother, also an activist. Failing to find their target, they took Ronald Jan and two other PSHS students they found inside the house. Two of Marie’s sisters were also taken in. All were subjected to physical and psychological torture. One of Marie’s sisters was Liliosa who, by the 7th of April, was dead, according to anti-narcotics officials, due to heart attack.
After Liliosa’s death, the torture sessions ceased. Jan was moved to a detention cell, and three months later, released.
After his release, Ronald Jan spent most of his time at home, cleaning house or quietly doing chores. Then he resumed his studies at the UP Department of Geology. But he declined invitations to resume his former involvement. He joined a fraternity and occasionally hung out with old friends from high school. He also continued to support his siblings who were also activists.
One day in October 1977, constabulary soldiers raided the Quimpo house, looking for Ronald Jan’s younger brother Ishmael Jr., who was out at the time. The soldiers left without arresting anyone. Two weeks later, Ronald Jan left home one morning, saying he was coming home for dinner. He never returned.
All attempts by the family to find him failed. They received reports that Ronald Jan was being seen in several public places, curiously turning away if a friend tried to approach him. The conclusion they have made was that he had been arrested and was likely being used to trace other activists. But these reports stopped coming in not long after, and Jan was never again seen.
He was 23.