Missing Hermon

by Ka Rosario JJ

I can't remember the last time I saw Hermon. I can't forget the day he disappeared.

I was an apprentice labor organizer—a city-born and city-bred activist who had never been inside a factory in her life and felt lost and confused with this new task. Comrades in the underground laughed and told me: “You will learn by doing,” they said, “what you need is on the job training.”

So they introduced me to Hermon Lagman, a labor lawyer-organizer in his late twenties, one of many activists arrested when the dictator Marcos declared martial law in September, 1972. I would tag along whenever he attended labor-management negotiations and drawn-out hearings of labor cases. On these occasions I often watched ‘Atorni’ metamorphose from a soft spoken and gentle man to a fiery advocate of labor and human rights. His jaws and hands would clench, and his eyes would glitter with anger when talking of abuses committed by both capitalists and the state against workers.

I learned the ABCs of union organizing from Hermon and union leaders, but learned infinitely much more . He showed me how workers lived. He showed me how they well they could fight for a better life. Children would rush to the sari-sari store and buy instant coffee or condensed milk so that Atorni, his ‘assistant’ and union leaders would have the strength to spend half the night talking. We talked, not only about the state of the unions, but about the state of the nation. People gathered around and listened eagerly when he talked. You see Hermon was well versed in the law but prized justice and human rights above all. People sensed this. Atorni was respected. Atorni was loved.

The listing of unions that he and a couple of other lawyers provided with legal and extra-legal advice reads like an honor roll of the Filipino labor movement. It includes the La Tondena Union, whose 1975 strike was the spark that set off an explosion of hundreds of strikes that lasted till 1977. Another is the Gelmart union, whose members, in their thousands, stormed out of the factory in 1974 to attend an outdoor union meeting. And who could forget the fighting unions at Solid Mills, Syntex, AG&P, Philippine Blooming Mills, Triumph, and Republic Glass!

Hermon Lagman and Vic Reyes, a full time labor organizer, joined the ranks of desaparecidos on May 11, 1977. He was late for a meeting, something so unusual, that calls were made to his and Vic’s families. Like so many others they disappeared without a trace, leaving grief-stricken families, comrades and friends without that closure that you find when you say goodbye and bury your dead.

I remembered Hermon when I was kidnapped and placed under solitary confinement with no charges for months, with my whereabouts unknown by my family and comrades, I thought of Hermon and hoped I would be as brave and strong as I am sure he (and Vic) were, when they faced torture and death. His memory kept my mind sane and my body whole until the day that I was released, desaparecido no longer.