Arman Albarillo dedicated his life to caring for his family, but the extrajudicial killing of his parents by soldiers led to his political awakening, which made him embrace an extended family: the oppressed.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Nanay Pacing, a petite woman in her 50s, broke into tears as though she lost a son.
“It is difficult to accept that we have lost him,” the old woman said at the wake of Arman Albarillo, former secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Tagalog (Bayan-ST) and in 2009, a New People’s Army (NPA) guerrilla who died in an encounter last June 30 in San Andres, Quezon, south of Manila.
“It is because of him that we still have a roof above our heads,” Nanay Pacing, one of the residents of sitio Kabute in Real, Calamba, Laguna, said during the tribute for Arman in a church in Quezon City.
She narrated how they met. It was during the early part of January 2008 when the houses of some 100 families were demolished. They sought temporary shelter at the nearby covered court. “Not one among the barangay or municipal officials offered us help. One day, while we were at the City Hall, Ka Arman saw some of us crying. He went to us, inquired about our situation and started organizing us,”
Nanay Pacing related. At that time, Arman was secretary general of Bayan-ST.
“Four years passed by and despite the harassment by soldiers encamped inside our community, we stayed put because of what Ka Arman taught us –that we have rights, too,” Nanay Pacing said.
It is not surprising how Arman was able to win the hearts of the poor. He knew poverty like the palm of his hands.
A caring brother
Before becoming an activist, Arman was an ordinary worker. Born from a peasant family in San Teodoro, Mindoro Oriental, Arman had helped augment the family income since he was 17. Together with his eldest brother, Arman worked as a construction worker in Makati.
“He would go home only during special occasions,” Bonsai, one of Arman’s four sisters, said. He has three brothers.
Like a typical big brother, Bonsai said, Arman was “quite strict” especially with the way his sisters dress. “He was so conservative; he did not want us to wear sleeveless, short skirts or any of that kind. We were only able to put lipstick when he was not around,” Bonsai said, smiling.
“Whenever we had problems and we turned to him, he would not mince words to warn us against making wrong decisions,” Bonsai said. “Yet, after scolding us, he would also make us laugh.”
Bonsai said she would not forget what her kuya (older brother) did on her wedding day. She was crying so hard minutes before the ceremony because the hair stylist cut her hair short. “Kuya Arman went to me and said, ‘Ne, stop crying. It’s okay’ and he carried me on his arms until I stopped crying,” Bonsai recalled. She was 24.
After their parents – Expedito and Manuela—were killed by state agents under the command of then Col. Jovito Palparan Jr. in April 2002, the family left Mindoro. Along with other peasants and indigenous peoples, they became internal refugees. Arman and his siblings had to part ways.
Since then, Arman had served as the head of the family. “He was always after our security. He would see to it that we would see each other for at least once a year. We would spend three to four days together, exchanging stories, singing videoke,” she said. “He liked Michael Learns to Rock,” she added.
Their search for justice for the death of their parents led Arman to embracing a bigger cause.
A conscientious activist
“He loved his father and mother so much that he never stopped seeking for justice,” Bani Cambronero, former secretary general of Bayan Muna-Southern Tagalog, said.
“Taking off from his own experience, Ka Arman was able to understand the social injustices afflicting the majority and the basic problems of our society,” Orly Marcellana, former secretary general of Katipunan ng Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK), said.
At first, he joined fact-finding missions organized by Karapatan in areas where human rights violations were rampant. He met other victims of state-sponsored violence and this “strengthened his resolve to seek justice for all the victims,” Doris Cuario, former secretary general of Karapatan-Southern Tagalog said.
From 2004 until 2008, Arman served as Bayan-ST secretary general.
Marcellana said Arman “became the voice of the people of Southern Tagalog” during the reign of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“He had charisma as a leader. He has the capacity to level off with whoever he is talking to,” Cuario said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. “The youth, the women in the community loved him. Whether he was in an urban poor area or in a gathering of personalities, Arman knew how to handle himself well.”
Marcellana agreed. “He was able to establish good relations with media practitioners not only in the region but also those in national media outfits,” Marcellana said.
“He was a dedicated activist leader,” Cuario said. “There is no task that is menial for him.”
Arman did not mind making placards or streamers or effigies. Sometimes, he would serve as one of the marshals or those assigned to ensure the security of the rally contingent.
Although Arman did not have any formal computer literacy training, he learned to use the computer. “He wrote press releases and other statements because he needed to,” Cuario said.
“Even if he was already burning with fever, he would never stop working. He would not complain. He could also stay awake for days if needed,” Cuario said.
Amid the many tasks, Arman was a joyful person. “There was never a dull moment with him. He would always crack jokes. He had a very good sense of humor. He would tell stories in animated fashion,” Cuario said.
In the last quarter of 2008, Arman, Cuario, Marcellana, Cambronero and another activist from Southern Tagalog spent four months together in a sanctuary. They were among the 72 activists of Southern Tagalog who were slapped with fabricated criminal charges.
“While we were there, Arman led the boys in the seminary in making wooden benches. He is used to manual labor,” Marcellana said.
Defender of the oppressed
In April 2009, Arman decided to take on a different form of struggle. He joined the NPA.
“He decided to join the NPA to achieve the justice that this government could not give to victims of human rights violations,” Adeliza, Arman’s youngest sister, said.
“He did not yearn for anything but to defend the oppressed,” Adeliza said. “Is that a crime?”
“Why did they [soldiers] do that to him? They cut off his hand, crushed his face and body,” Adeliza said, crying.
Arman’s body was wrapped in plastic. His face was beyond recognition. He sustained several gunshot wounds on his head.
“I am proud that my brother died fighting as a people’s guerrilla,” Adeliza said.
In a video taken sometime in 2010, Arman said: “Injustice leads people to take up arms. It is the government that is the number one recruiter of the NPA.”