Antero Guerrero Santos was born on January 3, 1948 to an upper middle class family in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. His father was the provincial agriculturist while his mother, who hailed from a landed family from the town of Paoay, owned a fashion and finishing school in Laoag City. Known to family and friends as Terry, he was the 6th of 9 children.
Antero grew up in a family where education was highly valued and encouraged by their parents. His passion for reading and the written word manifested at a young age and Antero spent much of his allowances on books and magazine subscriptions. A studious boy, he graduated from elementary and high school as salutatorian. He was passionate about philosophy, literature and poetry. He was a writer, orator and always a winner in local singing contests. Raised in a devout Catholic home, he also served as altar boy in their parish.
He displayed leadership at an early age, becoming vice-president of the student body both in elementary and high school.
History of political involvement
Antero entered college in 1964 as a Caltex company scholar at the University of the Philippines in Los Banos, Laguna, then known as the UP College of Agriculture. While at the university, he was soon exposed to nationalist and progressive ideas, later on becoming one of the founding members of the campus chapter of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), a nationalist organization. He took active part in discussion groups and school activities that dealt not only with campus matters but also with national issues. The Vietnam War and the American bases in the country were at the center of activism at the time.
Antero was also active in the College of Agriculture Cultural Society which conducted weekly book review sessions on progressive and radical ideas such as the nationalist writings of Renato Constantino and the works of Mao Tse-Tung. The vigorous discussion in these sessions drew in many students to the activists’ cause. (Among Antero’s contemporaries in the SDK-UPLB Chapter and the Cultural Society were Bantayog martyrs/heroes Aloysius Baes, Leticia Pascual and Christina Catalla.)
An active campus writer, Antero became Managing Editor of the student paper Aggie Green and Gold in 1968, and later, Editor-In-Chief in 1969. He had a regular column, Stock and Scion, written from a nationalist and progressive perspective which incisively tackled a wide range of issues such as school facilities, student autonomy, campus press freedom, student activism, and Marcos government’s corruption and abuses, among others. He often criticized college programs that seemed to him to serve foreign interests, and urged for reforms in the system to achieve real agricultural development (Façade Mentality, AGG, October 1968). A contemporary of his said that as Editor-In-Chief, Terry made sure that critical issues landed at the front, center and back pages of the paper.
Antero fought hard for the independence of the student publication when there were attempts to put it under control. He challenged student apathy to the widespread exploitation and abuse that was happening, and exhorted the students not to “confine themselves within the walls of the academe” (Winning editorial, AGG, 1968). In one of his columns, he put forward the idea that for student activism to become a potent force for change, students must recognize the commonness of their cause with other oppressed sectors of society. Thus he wrote; “one can only be heroic and noble if one’s interests reflects that of society” (The students’ will, Stock and Scion, AGG, October 1969).
He also started a magazine supplement for the AGG, titled Pingkian, which more extensively tackled those issues that Antero believed UPLB students should know about.
Antero did not confine himself to writing. As one of his friends, Yolanda Catalla, put it, he was “making history while editor and eventually became a part of our national history.” Together with his SDK comrades and other campus activists, he also took active part in protest actions inside the campus as well as in rallies and demonstrations in Manila. He was among the leaders of the week-long UPLB boycott in 1969 which brought together students, non-academic personnel and faculty and presented 39 issues for school authorities to address, among them affordable education, academic freedom, greater participation in the drawing up of campus policies and regulations and affordable campus housing. The boycott paralyzed the entire campus, forcing school authorities to negotiate.
He was also among those who initiated a summer program for students called the Learning from the People Summer Work Camp. Students lived with farmers in selected areas near the UPLB campus – in Victoria, Laguna and Nakar in Quezon – and directly learned about their hard lives. This experience deepened Antero’s commitment to further work with the poor and help bring about meaningful progress in the rural areas.
As national politics headed towards a crisis after the highly-fraudulent 1969 presidential elections, Antero wrote about the growing specter of state violence, and government attempts to suppress civil rights. In 1970, after his editorship at the AGG, he wrote for the Philippine Collegian as Los Banos associate. Writing under the column Tagisan, he exposed instances of infiltration by the military of campus organizations and activities. That early, he urged for vigilance against a looming dictatorship. His columns became quite popular with students but earned him the military’s ire.
Circumstances of death
Terry was a people’s scholar, a good writer, a hard-working student leader, a passionate freedom fighter, and a kind-hearted friend. He had a lot going for him, but he turned his back on all these to serve the people in the way he felt most proper. What a rare privilege having known him. We commend him for his single-minded commitment to the ideals of our generation.” -Bonifacio Ilagan, award-winning director, colleague of Antero Santos
In early 1971, Antero went to Isabela to join a group that was training to reinforce a fast-expanding resistance movement against the Marcos government. He wanted to gain experience there, and to bring this experience to his own hometown, to arouse local farmers to action.
In the bosom of the Sierra Madre range in Isabela, he learned to enrich his skill at providing political education to farmers who were often illiterate and had very little exposure to the world. He also learned techniques for organizing in villages.
Sometime in May 1971, the military got wind of the existence of the activists in the vicinity. Soon, they were surroundedby heavily-armed troops. In spite of the stormy weather, Antero’s group was able to get out of the area but was relentlessly pursued. While the group was crossing a river in Barrio Dipogo, the water started to rise. Most made it safely to the other side but the tail end, which included Antero, got caught by and was swept away by the raging torrent. Four of those swept away did not survive the tragedy. One of them was Antero Santos.
In the intensifying political scenario of the time, Antero’s family was not able to receive any word about his death. It was only in recent years that they were able to piece together a coherent picture of what befell Antero. His remains have never been recovered. He was 23 years old.