Monico M. Atienza: A Life Worth Fighting For

His friends and relatives described Monico Atienza’s stubborn will to live, in the face of a most life-threatening debilitation, as very characteristic of the man. This kind of courage, they say – together with the man’s extraordinary conviction and abilities – enabled him to live the kind of life he has chosen, unmindful of the obstacles that came his way.


The atmosphere at the University of the Philippines (UP) Film Center the night of January 25 was both light and serious. There were occasional bursts of laughter from the audience as speakers talked of the man’s mood swings and short temper. A serious mood, however, would be apparent as the speakers discussed the man’s unwavering resolve to serve the people.

Bugnutin siya, siguro, dahil masyado siyang maraming iniisip at iniintindi” (His temper is short, maybe because there are too many things on his mind), said Prof. Vina Paz, chair of the UP Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature. “Y’ong pagiging bugnutin, ganoon na talaga siya mula pagkabata” (He had a short temper even in his youth), said his nephew Adolfo Atienza.

But even as they made some fun of the man’s having a short fuse, the speakers and the audience were in awe of the kind of life the man has lived thus far. “Madali siyang maging inspirasyon, dahil sa kanyang salita at gawa” (It is easy to be inspired by him because of his words and deeds), said UP Faculty Regent Prof. Roland Simbulan.

The subject of all these was activist, writer, and UP professor Monico M. Atienza who was given a tribute by fellow activists, colleagues, former classmates, students and friends.

Atienza suffered a heart attack last Dec. 23, while attending the wake of First Quarter Storm (FQS) activist Selma Salvador at the Bustillos Church in Sampaloc, Manila. An undetected mass in his throat blocked his breath, leading to successive heart seizures.

Award-winning playwright Bonifacio Ilagan, chair of the First Quarter Storm Movement of which Atienza is president, said that he had noticed that Atienza had difficulty breathing even as they were in the taxi on the way to Salvador’s wake. “Lingon nang lingon yung drayber, inaalala siguro yung pasaherong hirap huminga.” (The driver kept turning his head, perhaps worrying about the passenger who had a hard time breathing.) Ilagan asked Atienza if he was fine, and the latter said that he was.

At Salvador’s wake, Ilagan said, Atienza was at one point brought to an adjacent room within the Bustillos Church, in the hope that it would ease his breathing. After a few minutes, someone told Ilagan that they should bring Atienza to the hospital.

Atienza insisted that he was still fine and even walked by himself as they went to the nearby Mary Chiles Hospital, Ilagan said. But when they got to Mary Chiles, Ilagan felt he had to assist Atienza who lost consciousness a few minutes later.

After a few days Atienza was transferred to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), also in Manila, where he remains confined.

During his first few days of hospital confinement, Atienza was hooked to a respirator. Within a few days of his transfer to the PGH, however, he was able to begin breathing by himself. He is also said to be now able to respond to communication: When a few friends visited him at the PGH one day and told him, “Nick, kung naririnig mo kami, sumipa ka” (Nick, if you can hear us, throw a kick), he raised his leg slightly.

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