Alvin Luque’s journey to immortality

By Raymund B. Villanueva

Alvin Luque’s story was of a red-tagged activist who chose to fight back by joining an armed group to carry on a commitment to serve the people. He eventually perished in a hail of bullets in the dead of night last December 10, International Human Rights Day while on his sickbed. In his death, however, he gained immortality in the eyes of many.

His old friends say they had no inkling of what Alvin would someday become, a prominent Communist guerrilla who drove the military to countless operations to capture and kill one of loudest voices of the New People’s Army (NPA).

‘The student politician with a Brit accent’

Alvin was born of a well off family in Cotabato City who sent a precocious son to the best private schools in the island—a privilege he paid back by being a good student.

Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI, former president of Notre Dame University of Cotabato (NDUC), in a radio address said Alvin was among the brightest in his class, a scholar throughout elementary and high school. Among the thousands who had once been students of the school, he clearly remembers Alvin and felt compelled to talk about him on the day his former ward was killed by the military.

It was not only the priest that remembers Alvin as a child. A schoolmate recalled Alvin was a cheerful and friendly child. He greeted and waved at everyone around the campus. “’Alvin The Good Politician’ ang tawag ko sa kanya pag nakikita na namin siya ng mga klasmeyt ko. Solved na ang Algebra problem ko dahil nakakagaan ng pakiramdam ‘pag nakikita namin siya,” Mohida Sali wrote of her old schoolmate.

A classmate who declined to be named said Alvin was a competitive rival for top class honors. He delighted in debating in English to prove who was best. But his desire to be top did not deter from his being a good friend, his classmate said. “Oftentimes we watched Betamax movies at their house, which only a few families could afford in the 80s,” the classmate said. His nickname was Bimbo, “cute, fat, fair-skinned and chinito,” the classmate added. Alvin was also active in religious clubs and school politics. His father was a manager of a big business while his mother was a teacher at NDUC’s girls’ school.

Bai Ka Uy, an artist friend, said Alvin captained their high school’s debate team, one who spoke with a British accent.

Another friend, Amirah Ali Lidasan, surmised that Alvin cultivated his British accent because of his fondness for New Wave music pioneered by English bands in the 1980s. But his absolute favorite artists in his younger days were Rick Astley and Spandau Ballet. The latter’s song “Gold” was Alvin’s karaoke standard, Lidasan revealed. “But he came from a family of Cotabato city educators who probably had the bigger influence in his mastery of the English language,” Lidasan added.

“When he enrolled at the Ateneo de Davao University for an English degree, he was teased for his accent,” Uy recalled.

At the Ateneo, Alvin could not help but shine. As he did in elementary and high school, he dove into campus politics and was department representative to the student council.  Thus began his student activism and his first brushes with the pointed end of the State’s stick.

Uy recalled: “We were restless and full of hope. The country has just been released from the grasp of one demon to another [In 1986]. All 36 of us marching for students’ rights and [against] oil price hikes when we were halted by three police vehicles, [the police] fired shots. Napagkamalan ka pang pari , which saved you from getting floored. A small price to pay for believing that the Filipino youth deserves…better education.”

Uy said the arrested students, including Alvin, were asked to strip for a search and slept in a dirty cell the night of their arrest. “There was drama all around. But we ate barbeque courtesy of our current president (then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte) who ordered bunches of chicken bbq from Delongtes which was just nearby. This president has gone a long way too, and by all signs has done his own personal [180 degree turnaround],” Uy continued.

In his senior year, Alvin was persuaded to have a go at the top post but lost. He however took his student leadership to the national level and got elected as National Union of Students of the Philippines vice president for Mindanao in the early 1990s.

After college, Alvin became an English teacher at the Assumption School of Davao. But the calling to serve the poor was too strong for Alvin to ignore.

A young Alvin Luque in Davao City. (Supplied photo)

His generation’s best

Alvin became a workers’ organizer while teaching at the exclusive girl’s school in the late 1990s.  

“He lived and fought with the workers. During his stint in the legal mass movement, Alvin showed resoluteness, courage, perseverance, and humility. He had a deep sense of sympathy for the oppressed even though he came from a middle class family,” the Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Mindanao Region (KMU-SMR) said in its tribute.

“To many who knew and worked with him, he was fun to be with and loved to exchange ideas with his colleagues. He was brilliant and expressive, and he devoted his talents to advancing the struggles of ordinary people,” the group added.

Former KMU-SMR comrade Omar Bantayan said Alvin became a real activist when he began to identify himself with the marginalized.

“[He] came from a pretty affluent background — eating veggies back then was even a struggle for him,” Bantayan said.

Uy echoed this, revealing that Alvin did not like fish in broth, a staple in Central and Southern Philippines. “Naka-simangot ‘yun, pero ngingiti agad at kakain din naman,” Uy said.

Alvin put his public speaking skills to full use as an activist-leader. “[His] command of linguistics shamed the average politician. The podiums and lecterns [he] stood behind were so honored when [he] delivered [his] fiery speeches,” Bantayan wrote. Alvin also penned the best prose and poetry Bantayan said he ever laid eyes on.

Alvin Luque leading a rally in Davao City. (Davao Today file photo)

It was after his KMU stint and he became Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Southern Mindanao Region (Bayan-SMR) secretary general that Alvin became a problem for the oppressive State.

Red-tagging victim

Alvin was a tireless and creative Bayan-SMR secretary general, Uy recalled, adding that he always asked that cultural presentations be regular parts of rallies he organized and led. His stint as leading regional activist coincided with the successful campaign to oust the Joseph Estrada government.

Alvin’s success as leader went beyond activists’ circles. In the 2001 national and local elections, then re-electionist Duterte included him in his slate for the city council. He narrowly lost, however.

After the elections, the military stepped up its red-tagging of Alvin. In July 2002, the 73rd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army accused him and other activists of being NPA members. Like what it does today with many activists, the military presented so-called witnesses with fantastic stories of Alvin giving large amounts and mobile phones to NPA guerillas. One military witness also alleged it was Alvin who ordered the burning of a bus, a farm and a government office.

To counter the rebellion charge against Alvin, his lawyers submitted to the Court a photograph showing him and other Assumption faculty members attending a junior-senior prom. The photo was taken at the time he was allegedly at an NPA camp in Davao City’s remote Barangay Marilog on the second week of February 1999.

In another affidavit, Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church (PIC) said he saw Luque at the PIC’s Davao City compound along Torres Street practically every night that week. Alvin helped in the preparations for the centennial celebration of the establishment of the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina, the country’s first real labor federation established in 1902.

“It would be physically impossible then for Alvin Luque to have gone to Marilog in the second week of February 1999 and stay there for a week as alleged,” Calang said.

Still, the military and State did not let up. While dropping charges against Alvin’s co-accused, the rebellion charge against him was ordered all the way from Manila. Soon, even the trumped up charges and threats of arrest did not suffice and Alvin had to take his activism elsewhere in Mindanao and even to Metro Manila.

Alvin Luque as candidate for the Davao City Council, here with the late Bayan Muna Representative Joel Virador. (Supplied photo)

The military’s persecution of Alvin continued to worsen, forcing him to confront his accusers directly and publicly. In a public letter to former Task Force Davao commander Col. Eduardo del Rosario in January 2007, Alvin accused the military and the police of “[using] political killings to silence those critical of [the] government” to win the so-called war against alleged enemies of the State and to win medals.

“The AFP’s Bantay Laya (counterinsurgency program during the Gloria Arroyo government) may have set perhaps the most elaborate and the most expensive military campaign to date, but this has not deterred the people’s will to rid the nation of a Marcos-like regime,” Alvin wrote. “The AFP’s use of the Judiciary circuit to immobilize activist leaders has undermined the Courts. It has turned this institution into an apparatus to carry out the regime’s all-out war, a war that is devoid of any sense of justice,” he added.

To arms

Believing he is about to be summarily killed by the military like many of his fellow activists, Alvin made himself scarce. For nearly three years, people wondered where he had gone. Alvin has in fact sought refuge in the guerrilla zones of the NPA in 2007-2008, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) revealed. In 2009, he made his first public appearance as an NPA guerilla.

At the celebration of the CPP’s anniversary that year, Alvin ended all speculation and spoke before journalists somewhere in Surigao del Sur wearing a CPP shirt and an NPA cap.

“Yes, I have chosen to seek refuge under the revolutionary movement, particularly with the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army and the National Democratic Front (NDF). This is the most logical choice on my part because these are the very organizations that can guarantee not only my protection from political killings but also, above all, freedom of the people from the oppressive grip of a reactionary fascist state,” he announced in what became the biggest story of the CPP’s anniversary that year.

“I am still breathing and fighting precisely because of this choice. This has been my personal choice. This does not in any way prove that the organizations I was involved with in the legal arena and the revolutionary forces that I have sought refuge in are one and the same,” he added.

He was henceforth known as Ka (Comrade) Joaquin Jacinto.

Ka Joaquin Jacinto, NDF-Mindanao spokesperson, at the CPP’s 48th anniversary celebrations in Paquibato, Davao City, December 26, 2016. (Kilab Multimedia photo)

For a period, Ka Joaquin was assigned to a local unit of the NPA where he deepened his understanding of the situation of the peasant masses and the necessity of waging armed revolution. He is remembered by the masses and the Red fighters for his almost constant jolly mood, the CPP said.

In several CPP anniversary celebrations in the Caraga and Davao regions, Ka Joaquin was the master of ceremonies. He dropped his British-accented English and spoke flawless Cebuano instead. He presided over the biggest CPP celebrations ever, even a peace summit where Duterte’s Cabinet officials attended and where the President allegedly sent roasted calves.

There was something else different with Ka Joaquin. Gone were the chubby and asthmatic Alvin of Catholic schools and urban areas. What people saw was a lean and muscular Ka Joaquin who looked fit enough to be a real guerilla fighter.

In an interview at a Bukidnon camp, Ka Joaquin said it actually took him long to decide whether to join the NPA or not. “Of course, one question was, would I be able to leave my family, friends and all the things I was accustomed to behind for the NPA. That was easily answered by the greater need to survive,” he said. But his real dilemma for was his health and physical state.

“When I climbed to my first NPA camp, I took 10 steps and stopped to rest and catch my breath. How could they think I was NPA before I actually joined?” he exclaimed.

At the NPA camp in 2012, however, Kodao witnessed Ka Joaquin fetching water from a nearby stream without breaking sweat. He easily carried heavy water jugs on both hands while climbing steep inclines. “My asthma seems cured by our long treks and climbs. I am also eating more vegetables and fresh food,” he said.

The CPP said Ka Joaquin had difficulties adjusting physically to the guerrilla movements of the NPA–night trekking, carrying one’s own load and scaling steep mountains. “He would shed weight and eventually find his ‘fighting form,’” it added.

For several years, Ka Joaquin would join Ka Oris (Jorge Madlos, NPA spokesperson) and help in strengthening the work of NDF-Mindanao. He worked closely with the CPP Information Bureau and served as one of the faces of the Philippine revolution, the CPP said.

Recognizing Ka Joaquin’s keen political sense, he was assigned as NDF-Mindanao spokesperson in 2016.

It was the CPP’s 48th anniversary celebrations in Davao City’s Paquibato District in December 26, 2016 that Ka Joaquin led one of his biggest events. A few months later, Duterte turned his back on formal peace negotiations with the NDF and declared both the CPP and the NPA as terrorist organizations.

Ka Joaquin Jacinto as master of ceremony at the Peace Summit with NDFP peace negotiators. (Kilab Multimedia photo)

By the military’s own admission, they had launched many combat operations specifically to capture or kill Ka Joaquin.

Hors de combat

He was unarmed and was convalescing when a combined military and police raiding team swooped down at a Tandag City resort at one o’clock in the morning supposedly to serve a warrant of arrest on Ka Joaquin.

“He was detached a few months ago from the main office of the NDF-Mindanao to undergo medical checkups and to recuperate from partial paralysis. A few months ago, he was physically debilitated and could not walk after he underwent intense physical struggles amid heavy enemy operations and counter-guerrilla maneuvers,” the CPP said.

On International Human Rights Day, the red-tagged activist, fierce human rights defender and revolutionary leader lay dead on his sick bed, cut down by the military that had long wanted him gone.

A flood of tributes poured out when news of his death spread.

Ang kanyang buhay, kahit naiiba, ay itinatanyag po natin sapagkat iyon ay isang buhay na pag-aalalay para sa kapwa at para po sa bayan…Maraming kabataan ang mai-inspire sa kanyang buhay, katulad din ng maraming kabataan na nag-aalay ng kanyang panahon, treasure, at time para sa bayan. Kaya po pinagpupugayan po natin si Alvin Luque,” Fr. Mercado said.

“The eloquent chubby young boy from Cotabato city was not only a friend but now my hero,” Uy said.

Bantayan wrote, “[He[ loved purely and [he was] loved back by [his] friends, students, and the peasants and workers he served. Alvin, you will always live in our hearts.”

KMU-SMR exclaimed, “Highest honor to Alvin Luque, a workers’ and peoples’ martyr!”

The CPP and all revolutionary forces pay the highest tribute to Ka Joaquin. Together, let us raise our fists and celebrate his innumerable contributions in serving the oppressed and exploited Filipino masses and their revolutionary cause,” the underground party said.

But Alvin himself had long predicted his death: “I have no regrets with the choice I have made…and I will use this life to make my mark, together with other revolutionaries, in liberating the people from a rotten society. And should I die in the course of this fight, it is one death I know that is well worth bearing.” #