“He lived the way he wanted to live – doing good for the poor, defending them”.
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Katherine Realco and Arman Albarillo were barely in their 20s when they met and fell in love. She was a salesperson in one shop, and he in another – one that made and sold footwear and bags for mountaineering enthusiasts.
“It was my old friend Jenny who really liked him, not I,” she said. Her eyes are behind large sunglasses to hide the truth of how swollen they are from the tears that will not stop flowing. There was, however, a smile in her voice as she recounted her early days with the man who would become her partner and the man who would one day be a much- emulated member of the New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Tagalog.
It was the year 2000 in Mindoro Oriental. Katherine’s friend Jenny wanted to see Arman in the shop in Calapan where he worked. Katherine had no plans that afternoon, so she accompanied Jenny. Her first meeting with Arman was, to her, nothing to gossip about.
“I wasn’t interested in meeting him. I was there for my friend,” she said.
But it was Katherine who Arman noticed, and unfortunately for the friend, Arman’s attention stayed on Katherine.
“We had a snack, the three of us. He was nice even then, but I wasn’t interested in him,” she said. The three of them talked, and Jenny let on that she and Katherine were going out in the following days and maybe Arman would be interested in joining them. Katherine didn’t remember what he said.
After two days, she ran into Arman at the tricycle waiting station. The small, cramped cab in front of them was already full, so she was forced to sit behind the driver, and next to her was Arman.
“It turned out that he had waited for us the previous day at 6 p.m., the time Jenny said we would be leaving work. It was already 9 p.m., so he asked why I was late. He admitted that he had been there for the last three hours waiting for me,” she said.
That Arman was interested in Katherine was not lost on Jenny, so the two girls had a falling out. Katherine said she never intended for Arman to like her and at first, even made efforts to discourage him, but he was patient and persevering.
“I even thought he was ugly,” she said, again the smile in her voice.
He paid for her tricycle fare that first night, and on the following nights. He also paid for her jeepney fare. One time he asked her where she lived and if it was alright for him to escort her safely home.
“It was impossible not to see how sincere he was, and even impossible to not like him. He had an openness about him, an honesty and sincerity that made one trust him. I told him that if he would go to our house my father would probably go after him with a jungle knife, but he wasn’t deterred. He met my father, shook hands with him and told him that all he wanted was to make sure I was safe at home after work,” she said.
Soon after they became good friends, and soon became girlfriend and boyfriend. It was a simple yet happy life, Katherine said. Arman was goodhearted, and a hard worker. He took classes some days, and worked on others. He took her home with him to San Teodoro town still in Mindoro to meet his parents and siblings. She was warmly accepted, she felt welcome and she was.
“We had our first child Arckian on March 6, 2002. We lived in Calapan, the three of us, but when I was pregnant Arman’s mother kindly offered to help take care of me and the baby until we all got settled. I took a leave from work, and by the end of March, we made plans to visit San Teodoro. Arman called his father and asked if he could butcher a goat so we could all celebrate Arckian’s first baby month. We all looked forward to that visit,” she said.
But tragedy struck in the form of government-sanctioned violence.
On April 8, Arman’s parents were brutally killed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Expidito Albarillo, 48, was the municipal coordinator of the Bayan Muna progressive party-list’s chapter in San Teodoro. His wife Manuela, 45, was a leader of a local women’s organization. They were also active in the Samahang Magbubukid sa Mindoro Oriental (KASAMA-MO), a group allied with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
It was reported that eight uniformed and heavily-armed soldiers arrived at the Albarillo house and alternately dragged and pushed Arman’s parents outside. Gunshots rang out, and when the soldiers left, the neighbors found Arman’s parents bloodied and dead. Expidito has a deep cut on his left arm as if from a knife. His body was shot four times — one in the armpit, three on the back. One of his eyeballs was gone. Manuela was shot below the right eye, and had other gunshot wounds in her left armpit and neck. They left behind eight children, including Arman who was the second eldest. The youngest was Adelisa, then only 10.
The soldiers were said to have been sent by Ret. Gen. Jovito Palparan, notoriously known as the “Butcher of Mindoro.” Palparan was a favorite of Macapagal-Arroyo – she lauded him for his “successes” in Southern Tagalog.
“It was a very difficult time for us, the entire family; but while the rest of us were still grieving, Arman was already determined to not let his parents’ death go unpunished. He wanted justice for them, he wanted the men who killed them arrested. But we all soon learned that justice was not something the then Macapagal-Arroyo government would give. It was something that had to be continually fought for,” she said.
Arman became active in Bayan Muna and the human rights group Karapatan in Southern Tagalog. He learned about human rights issues, and other crucial issues that affected the life and welfare of the Filipino people: genuine agrarian reform; just wages, secure employment and benefits; matters of social justice and the hope of a country where there is genuine freedom and democracy.
“He loved his parents, and he realized that it was for their beliefs that the military killed them. He wanted to follow in their footsteps, especially his father’s, in the sense that he, too, wanted to become an activist. He joined rallies, until he also became a spokesman for human rights. I wanted to support him, so I joined the protests and activities of the human rights groups as well. We took our son with us, and when we had our second son Aguiluz, we also took him with us,” she said.
Arman’s involvement in activist causes deepened and he eventually became the secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-ST. He was a forceful public speaker, sharp in his outraged criticism and dissent against the then Macapagal-Arroyo administration. He was a conscientious organizer, a leader of peasants and community residents championing their welfare against landgrabbers and thieving business interests.
The military, however, did not let him out of its sight. In 2008, it included him in its Order of Battle of the military and the police. He was approached by agents of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and offered safety and money if he would join the military establishment. Insulted, he flatly refused.
In 2008, the AFP filed charges against him for allegedly joining an ambush operation against soldiers in March 2006 in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro. Along with 71 other innocent civilians, on October 2008, Arman was charged with multiple frustrated murder and multiple murder in Mindoro Oriental courts.
Katherine recalled the days that led to Arman’s life-changing decision, the one that would lead him to the path of heroism in the eyes of the poor and oppressed of Southern Tagalog.
“He was being pushed against the wall. By then, he had accepted that the struggle of human rights groups for justice was limited in the sense that the human rights groups could only do so much when up against the military’s brutality and twisted legal machinery. He told me that he wanted to join the New People’s Army (NPA), that it was the only way that he could continue fighting for justice for his parents, for his own family – myself and our children,” she said.
Katherine admitted that it was a very hard decision to make, letting Arman go. The least concern was missing him, his calming presence, his loving support. He was her husband, the father of her children that eventually numbered three, the youngest being Ashly; but she also saw that he was committed to a cause greater than himself and it was what gave her the strength to let him go.
“Of course it was painful those first few months after he left – I always missed him, but he had often reminded me why he was making this sacrifice, and why it was important that I also support him. It was hard, but I never stopped or discouraged him. Even in my pain, I saw that he was right; I recognized the correctness of his decisions. I shared his convictions, and loved him all the more for them,” she said.
The life of a member of the people’s army has never been said to be easy, but in his infrequent but still reliable phone calls, Arman told Katherine that he was fine and taking care of himself.
“His concern was always for me and the children. He was always in a position of danger, but he was still more concerned for his family’s safety,” she said.
There were months when they lost contact because of military operations and Arman most likely did not want to risk making phone calls that could be traced. Katherine missed him and worried daily, but at the end of the day, she was resigned to accept whatever might happen.
“I am grateful that all this time he did his best to prepare me for whatever fate he might meet. It was always painful to hear him speak like he was always going to leave me forever, but he thought it was for the best. He wanted me to be strong – for myself, for our children, for him. I promised him that I would,” she said.
In the coming days, weeks, months and even years, Katherine did all she could to keep her promise. On June 30, Arman with 10 other NPA revolutionaries were killed by soldiers of the Philippine Army’s 74th Infantry Battalion (IB). When she heard the report from Arman’s former colleagues in Karapatan-ST, she did not want to believe that Arman was gone. Then, acceptance came. Then anger.
“The AFP killed Arman, but it was not enough for the soldiers to have killed him – they had to mutilate his body. At the funeral parlor, I saw how they riddled his body with bullets, shooting him in the head after he was already dead. His arm was practically torn off when they dragged him. I can accept that as an NPA, he was a combatant and a valid target; but there are laws governing the conduct of war, and the soldiers did not have to brutalize his body. They left his body under the sun and rain for almost two days before they took it to the morgue. The military knows neither mercy nor decency – they are worse than monsters,” she insisted.
Katherine is determined to file complaints with human rights bodies, charging the 74th IB of violations against International Humanitarian Law. Her outrage is heightened by the fact that because of the military’s viciousness and disregard for basic tenets of human decency, her children will not see their father’s remains one last time. The casket is closed, and inside, Arman’s body is wrapped in plastic: it is better for those who loved and admired him to remember him as they last saw him, smiling, strong and determined.
Katherine now grieves, but amid her sadness, she feels pride and gratitude.
Pride because she was Arman’s partner, best friend, comrade. Gratitude because she sees and feels the support and kindness of many, many Filipinos who recognize Arman’s sacrifice for the country and the cause of national liberation. She has never had any reason to regret a single thing in her life with her Arman.
“He lived the way he wanted to live – doing good for the poor, defending them. He never stopped demanding justice for his parents and for all the victims of human rights violations in the country. He was a good man, a revolutionary through and through. There is no greater legacy than that to leave his children,” she said.