Without a doubt, their wanderer-son is truly “Bayani ng Maralita,” (Bayani ng Maralita) a description printed on the shirts of Wendell’s family on that night of tribute and goodbyes.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Couple Edna and Nestor named their second child Wendell, which in German means “wanderer.”
Indeed, in his brief journey of 30 years, Wendell Gumban wandered but not aimlessly. He acquired many names, too. He was Wanda/Shala/Gandara when he was a student activist and campus journalist at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman. He became Ka Atan and Ka Waquin when he joined the New People’s Army (NPA).
Today, August 7, Wendell was laid to rest in his mother’s hometown Don Salvador Benedicto, Negros Occidental. Three days ago, his colleagues and comrades paid him a tribute at UP Diliman. His remains were flown in from Davao City, where hundreds of Lumad and peasants paid him their last respects.
“Until the end, he wandered from Mindanao, Luzon and then Visayas,” his father Nestor said. “If you asked me how he died, I’d tell you how he lived.”
Gentle son, fierce warrior
Wendell, the boy loved to squeeze himself in the armpit of her mother, left his comfort zone to serve the Lumad and poor peasants of Mindanao.
In his childhood, Edna said her son, like his father, loved reading books and listening to early morning news.
Wendell was also used to a Spartan life even though he came from a lower-middle class family. Both his parents were employees in private companies.
One time, while Edna was cleaning the house, she found the sole of Wendell’s shoes already ripped apart. “He never complained. I realized he wore the same pair of shoes in his four years in high school,” Edna said.
On his birthdays, Wendell preferred books to new clothes.
When Wendell entered college and became a student activist, his parents were not at all surprised.
Nestor, who was a student leader in Bacolod City during the Marcos dictatorship, would tease his son, saying, “You keep on complaining but nothing’s changing.”
Yet, whenever he heard his son being interviewed on radio and television, Nestor beamed with pride.
After graduation, Wendell volunteered for Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and then for Anakpawis partylist. During this time, he stayed at KMU’s headquarters in Quezon City and would visit their home in Pasig once in a while.
Wendell frequented workers’ picketlines such as the ABS-CBN Internal Job Market (IJM) and Kowloon House. He used the skills he learned from Philippine Collegian to help the workers, writing press releases and statements on their behalf.
Edna and Nestor would often hear stories of struggling workers, poor fishermen and farmers from Wendell.
During the 2010 elections, Wendell told Edna he would accompany foreign observers in Southern Mindanao. Months later, late in 2011, Wendell said he would go back to the said region to help Lumad and farmers.
“He would always tell us that the people there are in a very pitiful situation,” Edna told Bulatlat. “I could not imagine what he was talking about until we went there.”
In May this year, the couple agreed to visit Wendell in a remote village in Compostela Valley. They stayed there for five days and four nights.
What they saw, Nestor said, was “the best Wendell, loved and well-respected by his comrades and Lumad and peasants.”
At the time of their visit, the NPA conducted a medical mission for the local residents. They did medical checkups, performed acupuncture, minor operations and distributed free medicines.
Edna said one of the patients was an old woman with an infected wound. “It’s apparent she did not get medical attention for so long. She was very thankful to Wendell’s group,” she said.
The couple also witnessed how the NPA guerrillas conduct investigations and settle dispute among the people. “They call both parties, one by one, and hear them. It’s like a real court. They observe due process,” Edna said.
The mother, who was at first afraid of her son’s transformation, ended up admiring her son’s compassion for the poor.
Besides, Wendell remained the same “Weng” in the Gumban household. He would also ask his mother to send him sunblock and facial wash along with medical supplies, medicines and other essentials in guerrilla life.
His gender preference, like his life-changing decision, was never an issue. “You don’t need to be a straight man or a straight woman to be a good person,” Edna said.
Wendell was not merely a good person; he was selfless.
Edna said she had long prepared for the inevitable but when the news came, she was not ready for the pain.
Wendell and fellow NPA fighter Sario Mabanding were killed during a firefight against the 66th Infantry Battalion-AFP on July 23 in sitio Pong-pong, barangay Andap, New Bataan, Compostela Valley.
His parents received the news only on July 27.
Edna said the tributes from hundreds of people they do not know made the pain bearable. What struck them most were the words they heard from the peasants of Compostela Valley who travelled all the way from the remote villages to Davao City.
“They told us that when they saw posters that read ‘Ka Waquin, Terorista!’ (Ka Waquin, a terrorist!) they removed these right away,” Edna said.