HERRERA, Lionel

The Last Breath of Tiger
by Mario L. Cuezon

He introduced himself as Lionel, emphasizing the "lion" before adding the "el", shook my hands vigorously with his enormous white hands and smiled mischievously adding, Lionel Tiger, and flashed his pearly teeth before breaking out into a controlled laughter. The thought of an advertising song of a lion-tiger mosquito killer was still recent enough not to be remembered.

I was a first year student then at UP's College of Arts and Sciences, the biggest of them all, and Dr. Francisco "Dodong" Nemenzo was its dean, when ikot fare was still 50 cents, Cubao was the place to go to, the nearest theaters were Circle and Delta, and Marcos was contemplating on "lifting Martial Law" because of the forthcoming visit of Pope John Paul II for the beatification of Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint made in Japan..

Lionel was a member of the Pi Sigma Fraternity, our block handler, in-charged with giving us an orientation on UP life. He was Lionel Gabriel Herrera, a music student from Marbel, Cotabato. He was of average height (about 5'4"), of whiter brown complexion, of strong build with a handsome heart-shaped face. He warmed up to me when he learned I come from Mindanao though from one far end of the island and I speak Cebuano, the island's linguia franca, which he also speaks as well as Ilongo. The other members of his organization were also warm to us, helping us with our Math and English assignments and with our participation in the various contests( math quiz, essay writing, etc.) for freshmen. Not soon after, I learned the other reason why they befriended us: they recruited us to join the frat.

I eventually joined the organization, but not only one, but others as well : the association of UP government scholars, before joining Sinag ( the college paper) and the Philippine Collegian, and a Mindanao varsitarian organization.

When I already became a member and I was already participating in the vogue of the season -- rallies against the Marcos dictatorship-I came to know him more, though not as much as others because we became active in different organizations. But activists of the early 1980s know him as Tiger or Tigre and in more ways than one, he was really a tiger behind the angelic face with a booming voice, loud laughter that echoed throughout the second floor lobby of AS (Palma Hall), and steps that could only be described as bugoy. A brod said that the laughter of Tiger combined with three other brods is enough to fill the second floor lobby with noise that could bring the blue guards investigating.

At that time, there was still a Frat Al (Concerned Alliance of Fraternities), which served as one of the leading forces of the Sandigan ng Mag-aaral at Sambayanan (SAMASA), which in the beginning had more than a hundred member organizations. The members of the Frat Al -Pi Sigma, Alpha Sigma, Sigma Kappa Pi, Scintilla Juris, Gamma Sigma Pi, EMC, Beta Kappa, Pi Omicron, Beta Sigma, Tau Gamma Phi-- did not engage in rumbles among themselves. They consider the older fraternities - Upsilon Sigma Phi, Sigma Rho, APO, Alpha Phi Beta---as burgis and are their political enemies during elections. During rallies, the Frat Al provides the marshalls and the security for SAMASA's leading lights, including Malou Mangahas and the late Lean Alejandro.

Tiger was a dedicated and courageous fratman. He was hit by pipe-wielding members of Latagaw Brotherhood, an organization of Cebuano-speaking students and because of which the Pi Sigmans responded in a similarly violent fashion that Latagaw must have remembered well because no other rumble occured between the two in the years that followed. He was also a persuasive speaker and he recruited members of UP Kutang Bato. He would always be among the brods who visited us at Kalayaan to talk to potential members to recruit.

But he was a more dedicated idealist for the student movement.

One day, the whole UP woke up to find the top of Melchor Hall (Engineering) painted with the slogan : Isulong ang Pambansang Demokratikong Rebolusyon. The news of the painted slogan spread around and soon students trooped to Palma Hall's upper floors to see it.

Only a few knew that Tiger was one of the two students who painted that slogan. It was a foolhardy plan but it was a recklessly courageous one. At that time when the dictatorship was very strong, activists would do anything to propagandize, to catch the attention of the students. It was hatched by activist frat members. Two were to climb up the top, walk on the narrow ledge, where a misstep could mean a sure fall to death. The plan was that there would be look-outs who would play chess and laugh out loud when the police comes to the top floor. The laughter was to be the signal to alert the "painters" on the presence of the police. But one of the look-outs left his place to see the painting going on and even participated in it. When the look-out came down, the police saw him and the paint in his hands and asked him. The look-out said, “pinalayas po ako sa amin at binuhusan ako ng pintura.” The police suspected there was something going on so he went up. Tiger and another brod were on the ledge and they could not stay there forever. When they went down, they were caught and brought to the police station.

At the police station, the investigator asked Tiger's name several times and to which he replied firmly, "Hindi ako magsasalita hanggang hindi ko nakakausap ang aking abugado." When he repeatedly gave the same answer, his companion was asked and the other guy, quite rattled now, gave his name and related what they had done. They were imprisoned but they did not last long in jail. A FLAG lawyer argued their case before a sympathetic judge and soon they were free.

So Tiger went on with his life as a music student, composition major, a fratman and an activist. But like very active fratmen and activists of the period, he soon have less and less of his classes, which may prove not to be "relevant" to the call of the hour which is to rebel against the dictatorship. And fratmen and activists are no angels or ideal students. When there are no classes, Tiger was among those in the tambayan at the second floor who would just talk boisterously about anything, play cards with some amount as bets or drink gin bilog hidden in the trash can or served in plastic cups. The favorite drink was always beer but when money is hard to come by, there is cuatro cantos or gin bulag, placed in softdrinks when drank at the tambayan. He was like other activists or fratmen of the period, financially hard-up such that he even mortgaged his guitar for drinks or foods.

With brods and other members of the Frat Al, Tiger was always among the marshalls and this meant either being in front of the rallysts or at the tail-end of the rally so that if the Metrocom or police strike with their truncheons, the fratmen will take the brunt. Or the marshalls could be the cordon to keep the other rallysts safe. They are always the "security". Being men, they were also the ones who do the agit or the sloganeering, the shouting of slogans (the usual Imperyalismo, ibagsak; Peudalismo, ibagsak; Burukrata Kapitalismo, ibagsak; Pasismo ng estado, dudurugin).

Later, he rose to higher ranks and at times was the central command in some rallies here or outside UP. In the early 1980s, rallies outside the campus were few. The lightning rally was just a new thing: protesters with streamers and placards will walk and shout revolutionary slogans in a crowded street then disperse a few seconds or minutes later. And after the lightning rally, a new thing was born: the lightning barricade. This time, the protesters would really stop the traffic to stage an instant demonstration shouting for the revolution then disperse.

The lightning barricade was to be tested by UP in Manila. But it turned out to be a major shocker: three of my closest friends were among a dozen or so arrested - a fellow-government scholar whom we consider a genius (he passed the APEs for Math 11 and 14, English 1 and 2, Spanish 1 and 2 and others) and sorority sisters - Luz, Mavic and Leib. The rumor going on around was that the plan was leaked out to the military. When the police came and dispersed the crowd, the protesters ran to different directions. Two of those arrested said that in the street where they ran to, all the houses were closed except for one and they sought refuge in it, into the arms of a policeman. The political detainees stayed in Bicutan jail for more than a year. The rumor then was that Tiger was the central command of the lightning barricade. But the arrests and detentions were accepted risks in being activists or fighting the dictatorship.

Tiger continued to be a student. But he frequented his classes less and less, becoming more enmeshed in student activism and frat life, which in those days were one and the same for the progressives. Fratmen recruited members to the frat and then to the movement if the member proved to be progressive. And soon, like others who wanted a higher level of struggle, Tiger left the university.

The next thing we heard, he was already working full time for the movement. How he became one was a story in itself. He had no contacts in his hometown so he produced a manifesto for distribution and that was how kasamas learned of him and invited him and he became a full timer. Other brods who stayed in Manila became active in various sectors, youth-student, urban poor and trade union.

I did not hear about him for a long long time. In the founding of the national alliance of peasant organizations, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, I met a brod and sis who were active in Mindanao. They told me that Tiger is indeed in Mindanao but they would not tell much about his whereabouts. The usual case.

In 1985, while in a farmers NGO, I met brod Benjie whom I know was working full time for the trade union sector. He told me it was found out that Tiger was a deep penetration agent. A comrade was found out to be a DPA and this guy was willing to talk about what he knew. It was alleged that Tiger killed him, by pushing the guy's face in the water until he passed out. Tiger was a DPA and he was killed. At that time, I believed him but I was shocked, terribly shocked by the news. For a long time, after that I would not want to hear talk about the Mindanao zombies or DPAs being killed.

It turned out my brother and close friends-comrades in Mindanao were also suspected as DPAs and executed. I thought that had I been there, I could have been executed with them too. I returned to Mindanao and talked with those who escaped from the purges. They said that they were forced to say they were DPAs because of the intense torture inflicted on them such that they would even own having killed Ferdinand Magellan, Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Juan Luna, and just about anyone so the torture would be stopped. There, I read that brod Benjie was missing, his journalist-wife was interviewed and since he was active in the trade union, we thought it was the military's doing.

When I returned to Manila years later, I talked with a brod about the basis for Tiger's execution as a DPA. It was said that he was a suspect because he entered UP as a music student. Music, like Fisheries (there was a two year fisheries course in Diliman before where non-UPCAT passers could enroll) and Fine Arts were considered as backdoors as one need not have passed the UPCAT in order to enter these colleges. The military is said to have financed students to enter UP through these backdoors. But then it is a discriminatory illogical thing, to consider students from these colleges as DPAs just because they did not pass UPCAT.

Two, when he was a student, he never really studied, he lived a lumpen life.. But then, activists in the frat lived a lumpen or quasi-lumpen life with all the drinking and even occasional whoring they experienced from time to time.

Three, he was due to leave the US where he is supposed to enjoy the pay he was to receive. But then, his family is already in the US so they would naturally petition for him to join them.

Four, he was the central command in the lightning barricade where many activists were caught and imprisoned. But then, in other rallies, many others were also caught and imprisoned. Are the central commands in these rallies executed as DPAs because of the arrests?

Brod told me all the charges were circumstantial, not strong really.

The wife of a brod who was later salvaged said that Tiger was also often well dressed. But then, cadres are not to go in rags if they are assigned to youth students or professionals. What if he got some money from his family for clothes. Just the same it was not enough to judge a person as DPA because he happens to wear good clothes at the times you saw him.

But the most shocking about all these was that brod Benjie who told me that Tiger was executed as a DPA, was himself reportedly captured (not by the military as we earlier thought) but by comrades and was tortured on the suspicion of being a DPA. Another brod, Benny, also suffered the same fate and as restitution, the movement sent him abroad.

In situations like this, the most that every family would want is to get the bodies of their dead to give them decent burial. This was denied to the families of most of the victims of those purges. In the case of Tiger, his family was not even informed of his death. They were left wondering what happened to Tiger. At first, they thought that Tiger was killed by the military. Then, they learned he was done in by his own comrades. They were saddened more by the idea that their being in the US and their efforts at getting Tiger to follow them in the US was used as one of the reasons by comrades in declaring him to be a DPA.

We believe he was just a victim of those times when the movement was at its low points. Other brods who were arrested and tortured lived to tell their tales. Tiger and many others did not. It is only fitting that we, the living tell the tale, to sing the song they were not able to sing.

From brods and comrades of the 1980s, goodbye, Tiger, Tigre, Lionel Gabriel Herrera. Go, find the light.

========================
Excerpts from: Of Rites & Rights: The Pi Sigma Story 1972-2007; (Part III - A: The Brods Martyrs) pp. 118-122. with Introduction text by Mannix Manuel Mario Guzman