DAVAO CITY – Schoolmates and teachers from the University of the Philippines Mindanao hailed slain student leader Rendell Ryan Cagula with a tribute on Thursday night at the atrium that used to be the sole venue for graduation and student council campaigns.
Cagula was among those killed last week in an encounter between government troops and the guerrillas of the New People’s Army in Sarangani Province. Cagula was the student council chairperson in 2011-2012.
Fondly called Perper by friends, he majored in anthropology and would have graduated in 2013.
University officials agreed to bring Cagula’s casket to the school’s atrium for a tribute.
Cagula’s mentor Professor Myfel Paluga spoke during the tribute saying this was the first time in the university’s 20-year history to hold a tribute at the atrium grounds, the site of the university’s graduation and student council campaign,
“Tomorrow we will wake up to a new UP. Never before had a tribute like this been held here, where people outside the university like other students, farmers and teachers of Rendell from all walks of life have come,” said Paluga.
The professor relayed the university’s chancellor consent to hold this event after several talks with the community, “because she saw the broader sentiment of the people who showed love for Perper,” he continued.
He added that the university held this event for recognizing Cagula as an “exceptional leader”.
“He is exceptional as you can see around you the people from many sectors whom Perper got to be involved in,” Paluga said.
Cagula’s schoolmates had all praises in their speeches, as they fondly called Cagula “kuya” (big brother) and a “true Iskolar ng Bayan” (People’s Scholar), a moniker for students in the country’s premier state university known for producing leaders and innovators in the country.
John Villadolid, current university student council chairperson, recalled that during Cagula’s helm at the student council, he was tireless in educating students such as the protest on budget cuts on the state universities.
Cagula was also executive vice president of the consortium of UP system wide alliance, Kasama (Kalipunan ng mga Sangguniang Mag-aaral) sa UP.
Villadolid said “Kasama [sa UP] is honored to have Cagula who showed the organization’s long tradition of service to the Iskolar ng Bayan and the people.”
“He is the epitome of selfless leadership that transcends generation to come that will be worth remembering,” he said.
“It befits that we remember him by this homecoming. His fight is worth remembering and worth carrying on. Mabuhay Kuya Perper,” he said.
A light moment came from May Loquias, former chairperson of Dugong Anthro, who remembered Cagula sharing to her his small piece of lunch, a Presto peanut butter biscuit pack.
“We were together one time, and then he took just one piece of Presto and gave the remaining two to me and said, ‘here, take my lunch’. I was surprised he gave me his lunch. I ate it later in class when I got hungry. I kept that Presto wrapper with me,” she recalled.
Loquias also thanked Cagula for endorsing her to attend a national student leader congress.
“He asked me to join this event; even when I thought I was not ready for that. The next morning I got a call from the student affairs that I got an endorsement from the student council to join this congress. It turned out to be the best experience I had,” she said.
“I know they would be many stories like these shared by everyone here. Perper’s legacy lives on in each of us,” Loquias said.
Activism in action
Gelyne Alapag, anthropology major and activist, said Cagula’s action as a student leader impressed her most on what activism was about.
“At first I didn’t like activists; I would decline their invitations to education discussions. But when I listened to Perper, then I realized what they are talking about,” she said.
Alapag recalled how she first encountered Cagula when the latter was campaigning for the student council elections.
“Unlike other candidates who were giving out promises, Perper was calling out to students to stand up for their rights. That is why I voted for him,” she said.
Alapag said what impressed Cagula was their experience during a relief mission to a far-flung community in Compostela Valley.
“His shirt and pants were wet, he was carrying relief goods and his pack, but never did I hear him complain. He even went out to help other students to safety,” she said.
Cagula’s predecessor in the student council Krista Melgarejo sent a message read during the tribute. She recalled she and Cagula were “batchmates” in the student council, fraternity and the activist movement.
“My first impression of Perper is he’s smart. He likes to ask questions in discussion,” she recalled.
She recalled Perper was with her in every major campaign in campus.
“We worked together during the first graduation protest in UP Mindanao and other protests afterwards,” said Melgarejo.
“I would remember my term in 2010. There was a month were every day we went around classrooms and posted publicity materials to encourage more people to join the protest against the state university and colleges budget cuts in Aquino’s term,” she recalled.
Melgarejo grieved that they last saw each other in 2013 as she left for Manila to take on the helm as the UP Student Regent.
Cagula left to join the New People’s Army in December 2013.
“I wished we could have worked together again or seen each other and talked for a moment. If I could speak to Perper now, I would say sorry that I couldn’t fulfill my wish to see you again or personally be here to pay tribute to you,” she said.
“I couldn’t say goodbye, because day by day comrades will continue the struggle you embraced all your heart, Rest assured your life will be an example for many youth who will come out and continue your dreams. Your life will live on with the people you served at the cost of your life,” she said.
The program ended with a mural presented to Perper’s parents. The mural had a huge portrait of Perper smiling and a quote saying : “I join my bigger family to struggle to end the sufferings of the people, be it in the streets or in the countryside.”
Students also sang the UP hymn with clenched fist as they faced the UP Oblation statue to salute perhaps UP Mindanao’s brightest student to date.
Perper’s father Joy thanked the UP community for staging the event.
“I felt how much the teachers loved him. I am thankful. I am moved,” he said as he held back tears.
Joy said that he had only praise for his son.
“My regret was he could have done more. He told me before in our phone conversation that this is his life, he is happy. Many need people like him. I am proud of my son,” he said.
Cagula was buried on Friday afternoon. (davaotoday.com)