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The Mourning of Protest

February 19, 2010

By Mercedes A.B. Tira

First published in the Graphic, February 18, 1970, p. 10-11, 54-55

Fear no more the frown o’ the great,
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke.
Care no more to clothe and eat

To thee the reed is as the oak:

The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

— William Shakespeare

THE CACOPHONIES of January 30, for a while, died down to make way for the tacit tones of mourning and loss. Grief that cannot be gauged with tears intermingled with expressions of protest even as thousands of students and sympathizers led to the graveyard the mute remains of their fallen comrades: Ricardo Alcantara, Fernando Catabay, Felicisimo Roldan and Bernardo Tausa. They were the victims of the incensed tumult that battered the old cobbled streets of Legarda and Mendiola on the Friday night of January 30th.

The massive crowd of rallyists that previously sat before the portals of Congress and later raged before the Malacañang fortress remained undiminished in the funeral corteges of the slain youths. The processions of mourners were unlike the brisk protest marches that welled from the academe to the streets; the florid wreaths, a far cry from the angry placards; the immovable tombs a contrast to the loci of protest. The final rites for each of the four street parliamentarians were simple and brief. No post-mortem panegyrics, no manifestoes of protest. Only the orisons of the priests for the “eternal repose” of their souls were said amidst the unsaid parting words of parents and friends. If the students bore any symbols reminiscent of their January 30 ordeal in the hands of the armed guardians of the law, these were the red and black cloth of mourning they wore as armbands, headbands and ribbons pinned near the heart.

Somewhere in the parting notes attached to the wreaths were consoling words. From a militant student group a wreath bore this inscription:

“Saan man may pakikibaka ay may pagpapakasakit, at ang kamatayan ay isa lamang karaniwang pangyayari. Ngunit taglay natin ang kapakanan ng mga mamamayan at ang paghihirap ng higit na nakararami ay nasa ating mga puso. At kung tayo ay mamamatay para sa mga mamamayan ito ay isang marangal na kamatayan.” And from the Samahang Demokratikong Kabataan this:

“The January 30 mass action will I’ve as the beginning of the real revolutionary experience and spirit of the students. It shall not be forgotten and the courageous memory of our fellow comrades for our brother students who were killed will forever inspire us to the long and arduous struggle ahead.”

Drizzle for the Grave

RICARDO Alcantara, Dick to his loved ones and friends, found his little acre at the Loyola Memorial Park, four days after his demise. The interdenomination necrological service for him at the UP Chapel of the Holy Sacrifice and the long march that bore his casket through Katipunan Road to the Marikina valley saw how some friends and professors of his openly wept while thousands of students endured the heat of the three o’clock sun. A little drizzle poured, perhaps to wash away the dust of the road that leads to his final resting place.

At the chapel, the UP faculty issued a moving statement of sympathy to the Jesus Alcanta family and the grieving UP studentry “in this moment of grief and loss over our own Ricardo Alcantara.”

“We take this occasion to express our sympathy with the support for legitimate student demands in their sincere efforts to remake our society and help chart a better future for our people. As the peace of the graveyard claims our comrade may it also sober our minds and heart for the coming tasks which his death and of those who have sacrificed as much, has claimed for all of us.”

Waiting at the gate of Loyola Park were some Marikina policemen. They were there to “maintain peace and order” because according to them they have received “intelligence reports” that the students would convert the funeral into another paroxysm of protest. Nothing of the sort happened, however.

As the heavy casket passed before the uniformed men, they took off their crash helmets and stood in awed attention: death touches all.

Softly, like a lullabye for the babe in the cradle, the tune of “We Shall Overcome,” a universally accepted protest song, was hummed. The streets of the valley that used to be indifferent were lined with little kids who with unwashed faces and hungry eyes reverently whispered around the word of the day, estudyante.

Dick, according to his mother, came home from his class in Diliman before he joined the violent demonstration. His family thought he would attend a party at the St. Theresa’s College. Witnesses of the last rally claimed Dick was a demonstrator. Before he was fatally shot he was seen defending a fellow demonstrator from the blows of a gun-wielding anti-riot man.

The Only Hope

AS DICK’s casket touched the ground, so did Bernardo Tausa’s, an hour later, in another graveyard, the manila North Cemetery. Seventeen-year-old Bernardo’s ash-gray coffin was carried from his parent’s house at Robina st., in Project 7 to the Christ the King Chapel, also in the same district. There a weeping thousand, most of them his classmates and teachers at the Mapa High, joined his family to hear the final promise of the Gospel:

I am Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me though he were dead will live on. And whoever has life and has faith in Me to all eternity cannot die.”

Bernie’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Juan Tausa, were inconsolable in their sorrow; and as the comforting lines were read, they embraced with their tears the fragile casket that bore their son. From the altar to the grave, Bernie was borne on the shoulders of his male classmates. Closely following the cortege were his female classmates who carried the wreaths sent by family friends, the First Family, Mayor and Mrs. Villegas and several politicians.

Through the busy Andres Bonifacio Avenue, the procession silently passed while traffic paused for sometime. A good distance ahead of the mourners was a band of policemen and Metrocom troopers who radioed to their respective headquarters the scenes of the funeral. They have constantly shadowed, these men in uniform, the post-mortem activities of the students. They were detailed at the funerals to keep security intact. Earlier they received reports that Bernie’s body would be seized and taken to the UP chapel where Dick Alcantara’s body remained in state.

Again, no such incident occurred.

Mute Rally Leads Home

THE DAY after, Fernando “Ong” Catabay also went to his earthly home. MLQU students, more than a thousand of them, and fellow cursillistas joined the young student’s grieving relatives in the last trek from the Holy Family Church at San Andres Bukid through Rizal Avenue to the northside of the La Loma Cemetery.

A mute rally before Congress and Malacañang was earlier planned for the four slain students by the student leaders but the idea was dropped when the parents expressed their desire to make their sons’ interments as private as possible. “We do not want to fan the fires of hatred,” they unanimously declared.

Before he was finally interred, Ong’s fellow ROTC cadets at MLQU gave a brief salute over his white bier which was draped with the banner of his alma mater. As he went into the darkness of the grave the National Anthem was sung. The last words said for him were from a brother cursillista: Dust thou art, to dust thou shalt return. Ong a 19-year-old engineering finished his cursillo December 16 of last year at the St. Eymard Laymen’s Apostolate.

“He was not keen on demonstrations, as far as I know,” Mrs. Neny Catabay tearfully said. “Before he went to join the Malacañang demo on the invitation of some friends, he was singing to me a current ballad. I saw him go to the gate when his friends came — that was the last glimpse I had of him — he was in a checkered polo, brown pants and white shoes. About nine in the evening, I heard over the radio some gun shots. We knew there was a riot going on but we never expected Ong to be there. Several hours later some cursillistas called on us. I heard Mr. Catabay taking with them and leaving finally.” May nangyari raw sa anak namin. After some waiting, I finally saw my son at a morgue — a pair of his shoes missing. His fellow cursillistas gave me his cursillo guide book. I just could not believe he died.”

The Catabays, who now have six children left strongly met the misfortune of their son, with profound sorrow, yes but not with any hint of bitterness.

“We are not blaming anyone for this unfortunate accident. We leave everything to the will of God. We hope no motivated person or group of persons would use the death of our son as an excuse to foment further disorder or discontent.”

The Long Wait

THE LAST to go was Felicisimo Singh Roldan, a tall, handsome student from FEU whose remains waited for the arrival of his father, Mr. Napoleon Roldan, a technical employee of a construction firm based in Saigon.

Lying in state at the Roldan residence at Galas, Quezon City, the remains of Simong as he used to be called, were surrounded with tokens from almost all quarters: from fellow students, government officials, labor unions, athletes and a fifth grade girlfriend.

In between tears that would not flow, Mrs. Roldan, an Indian mestiza related to us how Felicisimo a commerce sophomore her eldest son bade his final goodbye.

“He left the house shortly before nine o’clock of January 30 for the basketball practice at FEU. Nagmamadali pa nga siya at mahuhuli raw sa laro. He went with his brother Mario. That was the last time I saw him. Several hours later may dumating na mga ahente ng punerarya. I couldn’t talk as they broke the bad news. I wanted to cry, and shout but no words would come through my lips.”

Mario, a seventeen-year-old high school student related how he saw his brother fall. “His last words were, Bimbo, tulungan mo ako. I thought he was kidding me as he slumped down the dirty sidewalks. In fact I answered huwag kang magbiro ng ganyan — ang laki-laki mong tao, mamamatay ka? But he was already dying, I saw it, although he was not drenched with blood. As I picked him up, a uniformed man rained bullets on us, almost pointblank yes, that’s why I caught a bullet in my left arm. I heard the sound of bullets pass my ears. And then there were shouts of people intervening — if not for them, I too were a dead man.

“Together with some students and a neighbor I brought my brother to the JRRMH hospital. I thought he was not dying because I even asked if he brought some money with him — you see we have to pay the cab — he was heavily gasping so we rushed him inside. I saw the taxi cab sped away — Naawa siguro. Inside, some doctors massaged his chest and face. I prayed. Nagdasal ako.” At this point, young Mario paused for some minutes.

Recollection was unbearable it seemed, for the young boy fought the threat of tears; but he continued — “Tapos iniwan na siya ng doctor. I didn’t know what to do. Akala ko may kinuha lang silang gamot — but I noticed nobody seemed to attend to him anymore. I went to the doctor and asked but he just moved his head so I went to a nurse and asked her what happened. Sabi niya patay na raw. I didn’t cry. I only cried when my uncles came.”

The experience was indeed deeply pathetic and shattering, for Mario. “Umiiyak ako kasi he was not only my brother — he was also my friend.” He used to bring me to his games — Inaalagaan siya ng FEU para sa Varsity team at saka he wanted to become a policeman.” Simong had a good build — he was considered a promising potential of the cage ball team of FEU’s Institute of Accounts, Banking and Finance.

“No, I never noticed him joining demonstrations. He was a plain student, besides how could he go to those gatherings when he had to look after us? His father is away, you know,” Mrs. Roldan said.

“There is a possibility that he sympathized with the cause of the students though,” asserted an aunt.

As we left their unpretentious home, Mrs. Roldan said — “We do not ask for help from any government official — much more from the President. If he really wants to help, buhayin niya ang anak ko.”

Fatal Bullets

WHETHER ricocheting or directly fired it is now clear that bullets killed the four youths. According to autopsy reports from Dr. Angel Singian of the MPD, Catabay was directly shot, while the three others were felled by ricocheting bullets. Alcantara sustained a fatal wound in his cheek from a .22 caliber high-powered firearm while the rest were killed by firearms of the caliber not any lower than .38.

(High-caliber firearms from caliber .38 include caliber .45, .30 carbine and .30 Garand rifles. Organic military firearms used at the January 30 affray were Armalite M.14 and M.16 caliber .225; 32 caliber carbines, .30 Garand rifles, .38 and .45 pistols and revolvers. A Garand rifle’s bullet is armor-piercing and is still deadly up to 750 yards.)

Not a Useless Uproar

IT IS superfluous to say that these four students, not quite budding, were martyred by the armed powers. But it is not difficult to consider them as tangible heroes of the activists. The activists did not in any way ask for their death but somehow their dying followed an innate human trend: the need for a sacrifice, one that would consummate the greatest cause that is being pursued.

Whether demonstrators or not, the four youths were inevitably members of the impatient generation, the conscience of the nation, the credible Opposition and the proletariat — they who continually protest and question the injustices and the violence of social exploitation in conditions that seek redress. These four who have never enjoyed the comfort and prestige bestowed by the academy nor the singular excitement of the soapbox have passed their little torches to them who by all means challenge the truth of the status quo. Their death have sealed the inchoate commitment of their fellow students to the cause of the masses. Those who remain now must indeed be responsible in giving significant substance and relevant expression to the ineffable experience of January 30, in proving that dying in the streets was not a useless uproar.#

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