Tition and Lito texted me the sad news in the morning of Nov. 30. It’s not that we were not preparing for Reca’s passing. When Boboy told me weeks ago that she was sick with cancer, I prayed for a miracle, but braced myself for the inevitable. Years of studying dialectical materialism has prodded me to be “objective” in viewing things.
But accepting the inevitable is one thing and fighting off emotional attachment is another. Reca was with Earl when we met for last time a couple of years ago–and that was when she was not yet diagnosed with the dreaded disease. She was older but was still the same pretty and soft-spoken student activist I met for the first time during those symposia conducted in Cebu City in the late ’70s.
A struggle is like a glue that bonds tightly to each other those who touch it. Reca was among our batch in the youth-students sector in the city swept by the wave of protests against Martial Law and the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. Some of those in that batch are most possibly still fighting their battles; others have gone back to the mainstream to work and raise a family while pursuing worthwhile causes above-ground. But I know that whenever our paths crossed, we would still be embracing ourselves, no longer as comrades maybe, but family.
I could not forget Reca because she was one of those who welcomed me when I made that life-changing decision in 1980 to work full-time as an organizer. I wrote a letter, placed it in a prominent area in our home in the slum area of Sambag 2, then with a few clothes headed for a house somewhere in Inayawan. I stayed there for a few weeks, attended sessions and learned the rudiments of life below the mainstream. Reca visited us there from time to time, ensuring we got support no matter how difficult our finances was.
Then one day senior comrades told two of us neophytes to tend to the house while they were away. But they did not come back that day or the next day. On the third day, an organizer of out-of-school youths came to complain about his failure to receive the money he requested. Before he left, he provided us with a quote that would become a running joke among comrades: “Unsa man ning kalihokan, bay, uban patay, uban buhi?”
Of course, I got suspicious with the situation. I voiced that to my companion and we decided to communicate with those in the know. I proceeded to the house of a student activist along Jones Ave. and just tried to have a conversation going, hoping to get information about anything wrong that may have happened. It came like a bolt of lightning. “Luoya nilang Reca, no?” the student activist told me. It was then that I knew that some youth-student leaders had fallen in a sweep of arrests conducted in the city.
The displacement and the fear did not deter me, however. Instead, it fired up my resolve. Those arrested, 22 of them, later mounted a struggle of their own against the hearings conducted by a military court and their protest actions often landed on the front pages of the local papers. That incident made me old in just a matter of a few months, forced me to take heavier responsibilities. Months later I would leave the urban area for the countryside.
Those who developed friendship in the struggle never forget even if they do not see each other for months, even years. We write letters and ask for the whereabouts of comrades we knew. When we meet, we talk like long lost pals. That was always like that for years, so much so that even when I was in the mountains I was constantly updated with developments about friends that chose to remain in the organizing work in the urban areas.
One thing countryside organizing thought me as the violence escalated was to accept the inevitability of death. We accepted it as part of the struggle. We were told to harden our hearts, but every comrade martyred proved that emotions cannot be dictated upon. We shed tears as we held memorials. Alone, we asked ourselves when our turn to fall would come, and prepared for the worst. Death, in a way, was our companion.
Reca’s death is no less heroic because she was not felled by a bullet. I have often told young activists, those who believe that they alone are the real fighters of the cause because they are still with the movement, not to forget those who have spent a good part of their youths to the struggle. Reca, me and the others may have chosen a different path, but that does not take anything away from our contribution to the effort to change society for the better.
I could not be with Reca’s family and friends when they bring her to her final resting place in Metro Manila. But I and my family will offer her our prayers.