Never-to-be-forgotten Ateneans

“Living and Dying – In Memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila Martial Law Activists,” authored by Cristina Jayme Montiel, memorializes 11 Ateneans who lived as paragons of self-sacrifice and service to others, ultimately offering their lives fighting the Marcos dictatorship.

Last Tuesday, I shared the stories of Ferdinand Arceo, William Vincent Acuna Begg and Artemio Somoza Celestial, Jr. In this column, I recount the heroism and martyrdom of three extraordinary young Ateneans, namely: Manuel “Sonny” Llanes Hizon, Jr. Edgardo Gil “Edjop” Mirasol Jopson and Emmanuel Agapito “Eman” Folores Lacaba.

Sonny Hizon, Jr., born 24 May 1952 in Quezon City, was a scion of a wealthy family. His father was a high-ranking executive of the Government Service Insurance System and his mother came from the prominent Llanes clan of Ilocos Norte. Sonny entered college with the privilege and security of one who was socially, economically and academically accomplished. However, contrary to what one would expect because of his privileged upbringing, Sonny had simple tastes and was amiable to everyone. He was a tall and fit bespectacled athlete, easy-going and had a wry sense of humor. In college, he was active with the Solidarity movement and with other religious and socially-oriented organizations.

As the student movement grew in the 1970s, Sonny joined a radical underground group and became a National Democratic activist. Before long, he joined the Student Christian Movement which was also known as the Kilusan ng Kabataang Kristiano ng Pilipinas or KKKP. In time he decided to devote himself fully to social activism.

Sonny graduated from Ateneo de Manila University in 1972. But his whereabouts after college became a mystery. Shortly thereafter, he surprised his friends by becoming part of the propaganda unit of the New People’s Army, along with his wife, a fellow activist. The exact date of his death is not known. But his friends and fellow activists agree that he died in Nueva Ecija sometime in the first half of 1974, at the age of 22.

Edjop is the most famous among the three heroes I write about today, because of his achievements in and out of the underground movement. Born on 1 September 1948, proudly the son of “a simple grocer” (words Marcos used as an insult but became a badge of honor), Edjop grew up in a closely knit family in Caloocan. In 1969, Edjop captured the presidency of both the Ateneo Student Council and the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

Graduating with a degree in management engineering, an achievement that would have opened a path to great corporate or business success, Edjop opted to continue his activism. He went to law school at the University of the Philippines but quit after two years. He then volunteered as a labor organizer and later went underground where he became a top leader. In 1979, he and other companions were captured by the military. He was detained but later escaped and moved to Mindanao where he was killed on September 21, 1982 in Davao City. He was only 34 years old.

Emmanuel Agapito “Eman” Flores Lacaba was born on 10 December 1948 in Cagayan de Oro City but grew up in Pateros, Rizal. He was a scholar in Ateneo de Manila and served as a porter in the dorm. The First Quarter Storm showed him marching with the moderates and radicals and toward the end of 1974, he left for Mindanao where he joined the New People’s Army. As a member of the NPA, he worked as a bus conductor to familiarize himself with the geography. He continued to write poems, essays, and stories. From his accounts and letters, Eman shared that he was happy and felt that he truly belonged among the simple folk in the countryside.

In one of his last poems, written in Davao del Norte two months before his death, Eman writes these immortal lines: “We are tribeless and all tribes are ours./We are homeless and all homes are ours./We are nameless and all names are ours./To the fascists we are the faceless enemy./Who come like thieves in the night, angels of death:/The ever moving, shining, secret eye of the storm.

Lacaba’s An Open Letter to Filipino Artists continues: “The road less traveled by we’ve taken – And that has made all the difference: The barefoot army of the wilderness/We all should be in time. Awakened, the masses are Messiah./Here among workers and peasants our lost/Generation has found its true, its only home.”

After being captured by soldiers, betrayed by an informer, Eman was killed on 18 March 1976. He was 28 years old.

Sonny, Edjop, and Eman were a generation ahead of me in Ateneo de Manila. But their stories have always inspired me. The faith of Sonny, the leadership of Edjop, and the passion of Eman are qualities I have always hoped for myself. They will never be forgotten.

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