Noel Caagusan a.k.a. “Flip” of LFS 

By Flor C. Caagusan

Many children of the Left, those born in the ‘60s and ‘70s, grew up in a dangerous time—Martial Law under Pres. Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship.  Their subversive parents worked underground or joined the New People's Army (NPA). Children were left to relatives or the masses for their care. Many were orphaned after the death of their guerrilla parents. In their teens, or even earlier, the trauma of abnormal childhood began to surface. These youth needed or actually went through counselling.

Noel Augustine Caagusan, nicknamed “Bung” after Indonesian President Sukarno, belonged to that wounded generation. 

Noel and his younger brother Karl Bernardo practically grew up motherless. They were toddlers when she was marching in street protests before Martial Law or attending UG meetings that lasted way into the night.  Early mornings, she trudged home to send off her sons in their school bus. Their Tatay Noe, ardent nationalist to this day, opted to earn a living for them while supporting the resistance in his own way.

Bung was nine years old, in Grade 3 at the UP Home Economics Pre-School, when I was arrested and detained at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center, Fort Bonifacio. Touted as the “model rehab center” in Southeast Asia, Ipil was regarded as a “minimum security” camp. Bung and Bernie, 8, were allowed to sleep over at the male detainees’ barracks on weekends. They enjoyed playing basketball and eating prison grub. 

During my detention (10 months in 1974), Bung began to show signs of abandonment. On one of their weekend visits, his father revealed that in school, Bung kept staring out the classroom window, lost in himself. His grades plummeted. (Bernie had nightmares even after I was released from Ipil.)

In October, the military placed Ipil under Red Alert. A tunnel had been discovered at the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC), also in Fort Bonifacio, a maximum security camp for political prisoners. Ipil was closed to all visitors. Communication with the outside world was banned. 

We women detainees climbed to the roof of our barracks and demanded at the top of our voices, “Palayain ang bilanggong pulitikal!” Eventually, visitation hours were restored, but only immediate family members were allowed after body search at the guardhouse. Only Bung and Bernie were allowed to see me.

Maria Lorena Barros had to send word to her comrades.  She wrote her tiniest script on pieces of cigarette foil. We placed the foil under the tongues of Bung and Bernie, admonishing them to keep their lips shut on their way out, and even to swallow the foil if ordered to open their mouths. The guards let them pass unsearched. They fled to their Tatay who was waiting in his jeep. When they came for another visit, Noe asked me never to let them serve as couriers again. They were shaking in fright, he said, as they frantically took the foils from their mouths.

I missed out on their childhood. But Noel’s fate, at 36, was never to grow old. 

Towards the mid-‘80s, Noel enrolled at the UP College of Social Work and Community Development, but dropped out later, and joined the League of Filipino Students (LFS). They often held overnight DGs in his room. “Theoretical” discussions, Noel said when he invited me one night to join them. I made up some excuse, preferring to feed them instead. I had already rejected Natdem dogmatism, but I never told my son. He and his comrades would have to find their own way.

One day, he left for an exposure trip to Bicol, wanting to join the NPA. He changed his mind when he realized he couldn’t live without TV and such urban amenities. Later, he was going to train as an urban guerrilla. But things went amiss between him and his group and they broke up. Only 17 years or so later did they reconcile. Their last reunion was at his wake. 

In Noel‘s almond-shaped, dark brown eyes was the boyishness he never outgrew, in spite of inner conflicts that hounded him at every turn—like the separation from his baby daughter Monica in 1989. He could be taciturn or quick to anger, yet he loved playing with kids, the way he doted on Monica, and could top any of his barkada in their alaskahan with his dry wit. He enjoyed figuring things out, from solving crossword puzzles and brainteasers to repairing and assembling anything that had wheels. 

His adventures on the road started in high school with bicycle ramping on our street. His father taught him and Bernie how to drive. Eventually, Noel turned our old car into a taxi and drove it himself for two years. In 1998, he found his place on the fast track, driving his second-hand motorbike on long stretches of highway and mountain trailing with his and Bernie’s “brothers”, the Black Riders.

Bung no longer lived with us but he often came to visit. On February 21, 2002, Noe learned that our son was beset with troubles and told him to relax at home.  As usual, Bung stayed overnight.  He preferred to fall asleep while watching TV on our sofa. I noticed the next morning that his back was bare as he slept facing the wall. Usually I’d cover him with a bed sheet or blanket , but that day I thought he might feel too warm with it. I will remember his bare back forever.

I prepared lunch and called him away from the computer. We ate quietly. I was ready to listen if he cared to tell me what was bothering him. But he kept things to himself, unusually calm and soft-spoken.  I didn’t read anything into that. Nor did I think it special that he came to join me at the dining table, rather than eat while watching TV in Bernie’s room or surfing the Net, as he usually did. 

Around four o’clock he bade goodbye, drove off in his red Honda 500 to attend a Black Riders meeting. Standing by our gate, I watched him turn the curve at the end of the street. 

The call came around midnight. Noel met an accident, said the stranger, and he was at the Delgado Hospital. I could hear my son’s painful cries in the background. Within minutes, Bung’s father arrived from a reunion, unaware of the emergency (a feeling had driven Noe to quit the party suddenly, he said much later).  We rushed to the ER and found our son sitting upright but restless on a gurney. He complained of pain inside his chest. He kept begging for Vicks Vaporub and pain killers. Bernie and the Black Riders kept telling him to lie down. He refused. 

It took a long time for a nurse to appear with Noel’s X-ray plate. Panic was written all over her face. She urged us to rush to the National Orthopedic Center. Bung had to walk, aided by Bernie and the Black Riders, to our car. The ER staff did not offer to wheel him there, maybe because we were all frantic, maybe out of sheer ignorance in handling an accident victim.

Noel lay in the back seat, I knelt on the floor beside him. I held him as he kept shifting his body and trying to get into a painless position. It was two in the morning, February 22.  His father drove madly from Cubao to Quezon Ave. Noel could not keep still and I struggled in vain to lift him by the shoulders so that he might recline. He was too heavy.

Hindi ako makahinga”—his last words. I placed a small pillow behind his head. 

Subukan mong tumagilid,” I said. Maybe he could breathe easier, I thought. 

He shifted sideways toward me, fell back without a sound from his lips. His half-closed eyes, those eyes I loved so much, turned white. I could hear his lungs drowning.  A clicking in his throat as I cradled his head in my palms. And then nothing. 

Huwag kang matulong, Bung, huwag kang matulog…!” 

When Bung was a baby, I’d rock him to sleep. “Tulog na, anak…”

Broken ribs pierced his lungs and liver, the autopsy read. He suffered no bleeding open wounds. 

They were inside, like the troubles in his life, which he struggled to put together on his final day. 



Noel C. Caagusan was born on 10 August 1965 and died on 23 February 2002. He was a member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) at the University of the Philippines and continued to be an activist in the anti-dictatorship movement beyond the University. He was also a poet.

Among the poems found by his father, Noe Caagusan, after Noel's death is this poem: 

Isang Tula ng Pag-ibig ng Isang Rebelde

Aking giliw iyo sanang ipagpaumanhin
kung kita’y di na madalas dalawin
Intindihin mo sana ang nangyayari sa akin
kung bakit ako nagkaganito sana’y isip-isipin.

Sana’y tandaan kita’y laging sasambahin
pag-ibig ko sa iyo’y di kukulangin
sumpaan nati’y hanggat makakaya’y tutuparin
ngunit bago ako limutin pakinggan ang aking sasabihin.

Kaya kita’y di makapiling aking liliwanagin
ngayon sa mga demo ako’y sumasapi na rin
pangpapasista ng kaaway nais nang tapusin
tanikala ng baya’y ibig nang lagutin.

Sana ngayo’y iyong napapansin
baya’y pinahihirapa’t pinagsasamantalahan pa rin
bukol, pasa, pilay madalas kong abutin
para lamang sa lupang kumukupkop sa atin.

Anong mangyayari kung baya’y tuluyang aalipinin
wala… walang mangyayari sa kinabukasan natin
paghihirap ngayo’y dapat munang tiisin
lalo na’t baya’y nakagapos pa rin.

Aking mahal, ano ang ating sasapitin
kung ganitong sistema’y pababayaang pairalin?
Pagbagsak ba ng baya’y hihintayin?
ngayo’y dapat kumilos imperyalista’y palayasin !
O, giliw ko, ako sana’y hintayin
ang lahat ng kahirapa’y akin munang babakahin
kirot ng katawa’y akin munang titiisin
hanggang kalayaa’y tunay na mapasaatin.
Aking sinta, sana'y sa aki’y sumama na rin
tuta’t estado’y ating dudurugin
magtulong tayong baya’y palayain.

Ang pakikibaang ito’y di lamang para sa atin
Ito’y magpapalaya sa libo-libong inaalipin
bubusugin ang mga taong walang makain
mga tulad nati‘y paliligayahin.