“While other kids marvel at Star Wars, we had real heroes for parents.” — VJ Topacio
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – VJ Topacio was around seven years old when, while gazing at the stars, asked his father where heaven is. Agaton replied, “Do not look for heaven because we would create heaven here on Earth.”
The little boy was perplexed. It took him years before he finally understood the depth of his father’s words.
VJ, now a human rights lawyer, said his father and his mother dedicated most of their lives working toward the fulfillment of that dream. He realized that heaven on Earth means a society where every family has food on the table, where farmers, workers and the rest of the poor are not exploited, where everyone enjoys basic rights.
For the first time in his life, VJ could finally own his parents, and his eyes beamed with pride amid the grief and sadness with the passing of Eugenia Magpantay and Agaton Topacio.
Brothers VJ and Antonio grew up with their aunt and grandmothers, whom they fondly called Mommy Teresa and Nanay Lola. Teresa is Eugenia’s sister and Nanay Lola is Agaton’s mother Ely. Since both Eugenia and Agaton had been underground revolutionaries, they were trained early on to hide the identities of their parents.
They only got to see them once a year. “In all my 37 years of existence, I never celebrated any of my birthdays with them,” VJ told Bulatlat, without any tinge of resentment.
In the few moments they were together, Eugenia and Agaton would always tell them about the plight of farmers and workers. He remembered his mother, while pointing to workers constructing a building, saying, “Look at those workers. After making that tall building, they will remain poor but the rich gets richer.”
“They never told us to be activists,” VJ said. It turned out those stories planted the seeds of compassion in VJ and Antonio, and made them embrace too their parents’ dreams.
Back in high school, VJ became involved in a fist fight. The bully, he said, is a son of a politician in Nueva Ecija. At the guidance office, the bodyguard of his classmate threatened him, “You don’t know who you’re fighting against. They have a private army.”
When he told his parents about the incident, his father said, “Why are you afraid? We have the people’s army!” And the family heartily laughed.
Agaton was an experienced Red fighter. According to a statement released by the New People’s Army, he became a member of the National Operational Command, served as a regional commander of the NPA and secretary of the Party’s regional committee in Central Luzon.
VJ said his father never used his position to advance his personal interests.
In a tribute, the NPA said Agaton was “always willing to share his experiences with the younger comrades. Despite being a high-ranking commander, he was always humble, a real people’s warrior who lived simply and fought intensely.”
Eugenia, fondly called Ka Fiel by her comrades in Central Luzon, is described as a good teacher who guided comrades in their ideological development.
“She never ran out of ideas and ways to move forward, always guiding comrades toward revolutionary optimism and further development,” the NPA said in its tribute in Filipino.
In a statement, Marco Valbuena of information bureau of the Communist Party of the Philippines, said that Eugenia was former general secretary of the Party. She served in the Political Bureau and Central Committee. She was a member of the Higher Party School and once headed the National Education Department.
“She was an ardent student of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. She spent time reading and re-reading the classics and applying the proletarian viewpoint and standpoint in analyzing and solving problems. She knew how to dish out and accept criticism,” Valbuena said.
In 2016, she worked with Ka Nars (Comrade Julius Giron) and other key Party cadres to convene the Second Congress of the CPP. She played an important role leading to the success of the Congress.
“Ka Fiel was self-critical and was always willing to learn from her mistakes. She was among the firmest champions of the CPP’s Second Great Rectification Movement. She had no airs of a veteran and intently worked with younger cadres and fighters,” Valbuena said.
Both were youth activists during the Marcos dictatorship and joined the First Quarter Storm in 1970.
Lawyer Jun Oliva said he knew Eugenia to be the class valedictorian of Rizal High School batch 1968. They met in UP Diliman but Eugenia left school early to do full-time organizing with the Labor Committee of Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK).
Fellow FQS veteran Judy Taguiwalo remembered Eugenia as one of the women who denounced the torture she underwent while detained at Camp Bicutan. The statement released on March 8, 1976 exposed the brutalities of Martial Law, and earned the attention of the international community.
Agaton, meanwhile, became a member of SDK while working at the United Textile Mills. Ruben Guarina said they formed the SDK chapter in Pasig in 1969. He described Agaton as “very easy to get along with” and “a good organizer.”
It was in detention that Eugenia and Agaton met and fell in love.
Agaton was arrested twice, in 1975 and in 1978. He escaped from prison in both instances. Eugenia, meanwhile, escaped in 1978.
Both joined the armed struggle until their recent retirement due to various illnesses.
Valbuena said Eugenia, in her 60s, tried to keep healthy by doing Qi Gong morning exercises but her diabetes and severe arthritis worsened.
“In jest, she once called herself “Apolinaria” after having to be carried for days on a hammock when the NPA unit she was with had to maneuver in rough terrain amid intense enemy operations, once in the Sierra Madre mountains and once in the mountains of North Samar,” Valbuena said.
At around 3 in the morning on Nov. 25, policemen gunned down the couple at their residence in Angono, Rizal.
VJ said police claims of “resisting arrest” are completely false. He said his mother suffered from diabetes and recently went into a four-day coma, while Topacio was constantly “in pain” due to a heart enlargement, a knee injury and frozen shoulder.
The family vowed to seek justice for Eugenia and Agaton.
VJ said their parents will remain an inspiration for them and for their children.
“While other kids marvel at Star Wars, we had real heroes for parents,” he said proudly.
Agaton’s mother Ely, now 90 years old, declared in Filipino, “I am not at all saddened at how he lived his life.”
Ely would visit Agaton and his brother Renato while they were in prison. She would hide letters from their comrades inside bibingka and whatever food she would bring, put up with jail guards and even then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile just to be able to see his activist sons. When the couple decided to go to the mountains, she was happy to help raise her grandchildren VJ and Antonio.