Antonio Tagamolila was an intense, quiet young man who detested the system of corruption and exploitation that kept the country underdeveloped and the masses in age-old poverty. At the same time, he realized that to be true to himself, he had to act on these ideas.
Thus, he shifted from engineering (for which he had a government scholarship) to economics, thinking that the course would be more relevant to the nation’s needs. He did graduate in 1971, with a bachelor’s degree in economics, in effect banishing hopes of any substantial contribution to the family’s finances.
Early on, Tagamolila – whose older brother Crispin, an Army lieutenant, defected to the New People’s Army – had already made a name for himself as editor of the Philippine Collegian where week after week he wrote about politics, foreign affairs, and social questions. Then, elected national president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, he exercised leadership over other student writers in carrying forward the kind of committed journalism that he was already practising.
Membership in radical organizations at the time molded Tagamolila’s thinking; he joined Kabataang Makabayan in 1966, and then the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. But he would never forget that he came from a poor family; his father didn’t have stable jobs, and scholarships enabled the Tagamolila siblings to get higher education.
“Never forget where you came from,” he would tell his wife Vicky. College sweethearts, they married in May 1972. After that he worked for a time on the staff of Romeo Capulong, Nueva Ecija delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
When martial law was declared in September 1972, Tagamolila did not hesitate to take his convictions to a higher level. He left for Panay in November. “He wanted to go back to his roots,” his wife said. “He was going to give back everything that he had learned… it was his obsession.”
Over a year later, Tagamolila was killed in a remote village situated on the common border between Aklan and Capiz provinces. Others who died in the same incident, when government troops attacked a small hut where they were staying, included Antonio Hilario and Rolando Luarca who had both been students in Manila.
A widowed mother at 23, Vicky Tagamolila chose to return to the area where Tony died, “to pursue our ideals.”
The people were so poor, she found, they only ate kamote and palawan (tubers and roots); no rice could be grown because the land was so full of rocks and stones. They sewed their own clothes from handwoven abaca fibers (biray). “When we were there, we set up a literacy program… the regular schoolteachers came only once every two weeks.”
During the late 1940s, the Hukbalahap movement had already been established there, as the location was advantageous for guerrilla warfare. Tagamolila’s group was sent there to begin again, and in the years afterward, before the situation got better, the place was a kind of “black hole,” where many lost their lives.
PARENTS Manuel Tagamolila and Casiana Sandoval
SPOUSE / CHILD Victoria Segui / 1
Elementary: La Paz Elementary School, Iloilo City
Secondary: University of the Philippines High School, Quezon City
College: University of the Philippines Diliman