Remembering a hero

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - December 13, 2008 - 12:00am

It has been over 20 years since the end of Martial Law; time in which we have seen so much of the country change, and so much stayed the same. The saddest change has been seeing many of the men and women who fought during Martial Law and survived, pass away. Yet, at times, the days, weeks, months and years of Martial Law feel like yesterday. We remember the days of the LABAN party; formed with the imprisoned Ninoy Aquino as the standard bearer when President Marcos called for an election (which could only be charitably called a “mock election”). Those were the moments of whispered, hurried phone calls to organize the riotous noise barrages in support of LABAN. We ignored the guns and goons of the military and the fear of another Plaza Miranda grenade incident to express ourselves in any way possible. Political satire became a weapon, jokes the ammunition. “So you want to kill Marcos? You really want to kill Marcos? Then go to the back of the line ‘cause there are hundreds here with the same idea.” LABAN became a persistent thorn in his side.

We first met Nemesio Prudente in 1959, when he returned from the University of Southern California with a doctorate in political science. He was a man born to teach and frankly was one of the best professors at FEU during that time. When President Diosdado Macapagal began his term, Prudente was one of the first men we looked to. Nemesio Prudente’s love of the Philippines and passion for education as means to alleviate poverty was a natural fit for our education plans. He was a dark horse selection to be president of the Philippine College of Commerce (now known as Polytechnic University of the Philippines), but he was the best choice. His vision was to turn the college into a full-fledged university for the poor; dedicated to educating and crafting future leaders in government, politics and business. He believed then, and we still believe today, that education is the best way to improve the Philippines.

His liberalism drew the attention of President Marcos, who wished him to keep his more outspoken students in check; he refused. Once Martial Law was declared, Prudente was forced to go underground to evade arrest. Life was spent on the run and finally in and out of jail. Despite the danger and difficulty, we stayed in touch and we promised to look after his family. There was one time when we surprised his daughter, Felice Sta. Maria, during lunch at Whistle Stop in Makati. He attended by arriving in disguise. His wife Ruth, and his other two children Karen and Rudy, fled to New York. At every possible opportunity, we would visit them and somehow get word back to him in the Philippines that they were safe.

During Martial Law, we fought for our voices to be heard and in this respect, some called us heroes. Nemesio Prudente fought for academic freedom and equal justice. He refused to allow political pressure dictate education. Prudente believed that not only was the country worth dying, and fighting for, but the right to educate our people as well. On December 2, Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation named Nemesio Prudente to their Wall of Remembrance; alongside 35 heroes and 130 martyrs. Prudente joins a list of notable names: Ninoy, Lino Brocka, Cesar Climaco, Renato Constantino, Armando and Carolina Malay, Pepe Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, among many more.

Nemesio passed away earlier this year. His ceremony was simple: He was cremated within 24 hours of his death, to little fanfare and honored by his closest kin. It was as he wished. He passed on quietly and so, we are gratified that the Bantayog ng mga Bayani has chosen to honor him. It is a long-overdue recognition for one of our contemporary Katipuneros. Over two decades later, we remember Nemesio Prudente in those years: on the run, with his daughter in Whistle Stop, and fighting for what he believed in his heart. He led a life worth remembering and fought for ideals worth honoring. We remember him well, as a friend and a man we would call hero.

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