There has been a lot of noise that aims to drown out sacred truths in the annals of our nation.  The sources of this pollutant noise are mouths that throw up self-serving distortions of historical facts.  They irritate as maliciously as they blaspheme the remembrances of the legions of the Filipino youths whose names now make up the foundation and superstructure of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani.

These youths’ names are as knots in endless strings of stories woven together as a monumental tribute and formidable testimony to their heroism and martyrdom in pursuit of the light of Freedom during the darkest nights in our nation’s history — the martial law period of the Marcos Dictatorship.

One knot of a name pulsates—that of a very young man named Ferdie. And the memory of his idealism and nationalist ardor is enshrined in Recollections, a modest memorialization of a son by her mother quoting letters and excerpts of letters the son sent his family in their home in Manila, while he served the revolution in far off island of Panay, organizing poor farmers to broaden the movement in its fight against martial law.  Beyond the short notes are stories about his selfless commitment in serving the people until his budding life was nipped by the fascist minions of the dictator.

Deeply touched by the intensity of Ferdie’s devotion to the cause for which he dearly gave his life, I pick out some of the poignant episodes of this young hero’s revolutionary life from the Recollections authored by Thelma Arceo (Ferdie’s mother).

To have a glimpse of Ferdie’s background  it is well to read the books’s Introduction by national artist Bien Lumbera, as follows:

A young hero named Ferdie

The young man Recollections is all about was an activist I met when I was still a professor at the Ateneo de Manila in the late 1960s.  Ferdinand Arceo was an activist in an elitist school that had begun to harbor a sparse generation of students who were chafing under the label of Jesuit-bred “Americanized kids” and wanting to claim their heritage as certified “Filipinos”. I was then a professor in the English Department who had identified with the so-called “Filipinization”movement started by the student Paul Dumol.  Ferdie must have spotted in me a potential recruit into the national democratic movement, and through a comrade of his who was in my class asked to be introduced.

It is a distinct honor that the author of this booklet has asked me to do the introduction of her tribute to the memory of her son.  Ferdie the activist so endeared himself to me as my PO* for his kindness and deference in relating to me as an elder who needed to be “gently” politicized.  In him I found an activist whose political life in the radical movement did not erase the traces of the fine breeding inculcated by his training as a son in the Arceo family.  As Mrs. Thelma Arceo has so painstakingly assembled in this volume, memories of her beloved son Ferdie have begun to live again for me.  More than any photograph of Ferdie can, Recollections vividly reconstructs in memory the image of the young Atenista who died in Iloilo a hero for the masa that he so loved.

[“PO” is political officer in activist lingo]

The book’s back cover blurbs by known nationalist figure Judy Taguiwalo of UP-Diliman and famed multi-awarded writer Ed Maranan provide additional information about Ferdie’s rare traits as a young revolutionary – to wit:

Thelma Arceo’s Recollections is a labor of love: for her son Ferdie, who at 21 years old died fighting the Marcos dictatorship;  for Ferdie’s comrades who the Arceos welcomed to their home knowing their own son was welcomed by other parents who knew Ferdie only as a revolutionary; and for Ferdie’s many causes:  love of country, a demand for government accountability, and the quest for social justice for and with the workers and farmers who Ferdie served “wholly and entirely”.  [Judy Taguiwalo]

Thelma Arceo, whom we fondly call Tita or Auntie, has finally gathered these brief anecdotes about her son Ferdie, killed at the prime of his youth by the Marcos military soon after the declaration of martial law. He was only 21 when he died in Panay, slain with four other students who had chosen to cast their lot with the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. That a parent survives a child is cause enough for deepest grief, but to have lost a son like Ferdie who embodied the noblest ideal of being “a man for others” and who lived to “serve the people”, makes the pain and the sense of  loss permanent. Through a mother’s eyes, this is the story of a Filipino hero who offered his own life for the liberation of his people from tyranny.  [Ed Maranan]

Let us now trek along the random paths Thelma Arceo treads in her Recollections

Recollection  2 [April 5, 2013]  –   “So that I can speak for them”   

Ferdie left home on November 29, 1972.  A few days before that he spoke to his father and me about the situation in Manila.  Schools were closed.  Everyday there was a report about so-and-so having been arrested or simply disappeared.   He said about his group of friends—we are like sitting ducks here.  We are considering going out of Manila.  After considering the different  places outside of Metro Manila, he said he would go to Panay with some fellow activists.  Why Panay? He was known in Manila because of his participation in labor strikes—Tondo, U.P., Ateneo. Southern Tagalog was too near.  He said he must live with the poor and the farmers so he could understand them, know their needs, know their way of life – “so that I can speak for them, articulate their aspirations.”

His father replied:  Do what you have to do.  So I helped pack his clothes – he brought little.  Next evening he left, said good-bye to each of us.  I noticed he avoided being emotional with his Dad, perhaps to put up a brave front.

Recollection 3 [May 5, 2013]  –  “Mommy, take care of my friends”    

In the ‘70s and ‘80s after Ferdie died, Dad and I busied ourselves, along with work, helping everyone doing resistance work who came along our way.   Our home – in Kalawag and later in Tierra Verde – became a refuge to the tired and weary.  At first they were just Ferdie’s friends, and classmates.  Later they were friends of friends, many had not even met Ferdie. They were all kindred spirits.  A lady I met in one of my business trips learned of  my “beggings” from friends for clothes, magazines, food, vitamins, anything to help survive difficult times and circumstances.  This lady asked me at one point, wondering perhaps if I wasn’t kind of loose in the rocker, Mrs. Arceo, why are you doing all these?  My simple answer: because my son asked me to take care of his friends.

Recollection 4 [May 6, 2013]   –   “Here’s fifty pesos”   

I cannot help wondering these days why so many people in high places get into trouble simply because they could not explain or account for what is entrusted to them.

I cannot help thinking that perhaps it is a habit they had formed as they grew up.  Going over  Ferdie’s things and putting them in order I came across a note he wrote to me on a scrap of paper – indicating the rush in which it was made, not finding a more formal sheet of paper.

He said something about the car (Volkswagen) he used to a rally which he exchanged with someone (intending a camouflage of some sort) and that someone bumped the car which wrecked the fender.  He said, ”I take full responsibility.  Here is P50.00 and please get the rest from my allowance.”  (P50.00 could hardly smoothen out a scratch on the fender but the gesture was so grand and noble I could see him stand tall before my eyes.)

Accountability – Isn’t that what it is?

Recollection 5 [May 6, 2013]-  “Beaming with pride”  

 “I showed your March 16 (1973) letter to my friends; I was beaming with pride!”

That’s what Ferdie said in that letter to me.  “Friends” were his conmjpanions in the hills of Panay where he had lived since November ’72.

March was the closing of the schoolyear.  Bod was enrolled at the Ateneo de Davao.  So Dad timed his resignation as City Manager in Davao on March 15, after which they (Dad , Bob and Tal) would go home to Manila. Why was he beaming with pride?  Because I told him about the resignation and his (Dad’s) reason when he told me about his decision.  He said, “Parang linalabanan ko lang siya (Ferdie).”  As if I am just contradicting what he was doing.

Your father?  Giving up his job to be one with you?  Your purpose?  Your advocacy?

He was beaming with pride!

[We shall continue our trek along memory paths Thelma Arceo treads in her Recollections in the  next issue of this column.]

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