A hero called Wanda

Tribute to Wendell Gumban

Why would an iskolar ng bayan and UP graduate who could have opted to join the rat race and chased a relatively comfortable life embraced instead the risky, challenging life of an armed revolutionary?


MANILA — Two days before President Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation and announced a unilateral ceasefire last July 25, writer and activist turned Red fighter Wendell Gumban was killed in an encounter with state troops in Mindanao. High up in lush mountains, in the “visually beautiful” villages and guerrilla zones of the Communist Party of the Philippines, he answered to the name of Ka Waquin (or Joaquin).

He would have turned 31 this coming September. He was fair-skinned. He wore glasses. He loved to read. He was gay.

He was frequently described as refined in movement, mahinhin (effeminate), formal, in an impeccably ironed polo shirt and slacks. His friends when he was still an activist in the capital remembered him as soft-spoken and fun-loving, a kind man who would greet you with the beauty contestant-inspired regal wave accompanied by the greeting of “Mabuhay” (which could be inspired by his Tourism degree). He was said to be an uncomplaining, cheery hard worker.

A fellow Lumad red fighter named Ka Glen reportedly died trying to shield Waquin from the bullets of the Armed Forces of the Philippines last July 23. But the bullets came fast and thick. This Ka Glen took 16 bullets, one of which tore through Waquin’s side and pierced his heart.

Why Waquin? ‘Because revolutionaries are most ardent in working for peace”

When the military finally relinquished Waquin or Wendell Gumban’s body to his immediate family, it was flown to UP Diliman Church of the Risen Lord, where, for one day last Friday August 4, hundreds paid their last respects to Wendell. On the night of their tribute, one of the questions addressed was, why someone like Wendell would opt to become like Waquin?

Why would a iskolar ng bayan and UP graduate who could have opted to join the rat race and chased a relatively comfortable life embraced instead the risky, challenging life of an armed revolutionary?

Amid talks on how to achieve peace, why does armed struggle persist? Why does someone like Wendell have to give his life like that?

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. tried to explain: even before entering UP, Wendell was schooled in the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, who had turned his back to a comfortable life to serve the poor.

Quoting Mao Zedong, Reyes said revolutionaries do not want war at all. But they know, only by waging a war can they end the war between classes. He said until such time that people are no longer divided between classes that exploit others and seek to oppress to continue exploiting others, the people would be in a war.

“The laws of revolutionary war spring from a desire to end all wars,” Reyes reiterated.

He added that revolutionaries such as Wendell in fact have the most fervent desire to achieve peace, and to really bring about change in the lives of our people.

Wendell’s elder brother, Dennis, was proud of his brother. He said of the fun-loving Wendell, “As we grew up, it became evident he was kinder, smarter, more industrious than me.”

Wendell always exemplified “more” in comparison to me, Dennis said, except in one and only one thing. “I’m more handsome than him,” he joked.

“That’s only because, as you know, Wendell is more gwapa than gwapo (female for goodlooking),” he explained.

Everything his brother Wendell did, he said, he was sure he did it with firm conviction.

Freeing ‘Wanda’ for more courageous struggles

From accounts of his contemporaries, Wendell Gumban became a student activist in 2003. He started joining the struggles of youth and students, through the League of Filipino Students, as they opposed the commercialization of education, and the anti-people policies of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. At the same time, he honed his craft as writer and editor of UP’s Philippine Collegian.

Sharing the recollections about Wendell by the staff of Philippine Collegian from 2003 to 2007, Lisa Ito said “he had difficulty in writing in the beginning.” But, she continued, Wendell was soon molded by research, integrating with the masses, joining them in the fight against demolition, against frat rumbles, against the building of the UP Town Center, against US aggression.

From other fellow activists’ memories of Wendell, it appeared that his transformation into an activist youth leader-organizer and writer-editor proceeded alongside his struggle to “free Wanda.”

LFS’ Mark Gumbay recalled that one of their frequent discussions with Wendell since 2003 was how it is to be gay in the movement.

“Kailangan palayain din si Wanda,”
(Wanda must be freed as well), he said, using a nickname cum endearment they bestowed on Wendell, the svelte scholar activist who favored violet bags and flower-patterned umbrellas.

“His look may not show it, but he’s the bravest among us,” Ito said. Citing one of Wendell’s written commentaries for the Collegian, the “Confession of a reporter,” Wendel wrote in 2004 about the utmost importance of reporting on the plight of those joining rallies. He considered the students’ publication a launching pad for war.

“Soon he left Kule (Collegian, UP publication), at first as prop (propagandist) for YS (youth sector and TU (trade unions), then, as Red fighter,” Ito said of Wendell’s “extraordinary journey.”

Like others who shared their memories of Wendell, she found it hard to say goodbye to him.

“Many from Kule became professionals, lawyers, doctors, politicians. But we’re honored to say that from one of us sprung a revolutionary Red fighter,” said Ito.

Let’s do it ‘shalah‘: Serving the people

The person who “inherited” Wendell’s job in trade unions, Neil Ambion, said Wendell “will be remembered as a hero who devoted his life and talents to the people’s struggle.”

Wendel’s friends at Anakpawis Party remembered how they worried when Wendel climbed the roof of Anakpawis Party’s office to pick ripe star apples.

“Climb back down, please,” they pleaded with him, recalled Cherry Clemente, Anakpawis spokesperson.

She explained that ever since the death of Anakpawis Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran, they are “allergic” to the idea of climbing roofs. (Ka Bel was fixing his roof in anticipation of heavy rains when he fell and died.)

Now, Clemente said, they have to bid sad goodbyes to one of their “beauties” who climbed not just trees but mountains, picked not just fruits but firearms and various responsibilities.

Sometime in 2011 or 2012 Wendell, chafing at the limitations, vilification and frequent repression of protest actions and people’s campaigns in the capital, decided to leave the legal peoples organizations operating there.

The New People’s Army unit where Wendell last belonged to said in a statement that after taking up military trainings, Wendell, known to them as Ka Waquin, took part in many military actions and worked enthusiastically to help consolidate and expand the revolutionary guerrilla zones.

In 2012 when a supertyphoon obliterated bananas and other trees and brought down many that Waquin said even the NPA had no one or nothing to hold on to, Waquin evidently persisted.

He impressed the locals who quipped: “Wow, a university graduate came here to join the struggle,” wrote one of his former comrades.

Waquin apparently helped to analyze problems brought to the NPA camps by the masses. He continued his role as an armed propagandist, putting up community theaters, chatting with the locals.

He would contact his friends in the city from time to time, inviting them to try the guerrilla zones and take part in revolutionary base building.

One of his comrades wrote that although the terrain where they were was “physically challenging,” it was beautiful. There were the occasional waterfalls, and the sound of the forest all around it was magical. He quoted Waquin telling him how the revolution sounded very abstract to the masses in cities, but where they were, the “people can’t imagine life without the comrades and the revolution.”

Back to the city, while paying tribute to Wendell, a student leader reiterated the activists’ short course on Philippine Society and Revolution.

“You all know about the part that discusses how the Philippines is rich but the people are poor. We don’t confine ourselves to just complaining and lamenting, we offer a solution,” said the student leader.

That solution, he said, is what the likes of Wendell gave his life to. It is what is called the national democratic revolution.

“It said that history and current practice show there is no other solution to the Philippine national problem but armed revolutionary struggle. He urged those who still can, to pick up the arms dropped by Waquin in the countryside.

As another student leader, Vencer Crisostomo, national president of Anakbayan, has said, let us respond to Waquin’s challenge: Let us devote our life in service of the oppressed people. “Sa paraang shalah (in shalah manner),” he said, quoting one of Waquin’s famous expressions in UP. Shalah, he said, means bongga (big time, grand), extraordinarily beautiful. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

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