May 22, 2012

Maria Lorena Barros, Kamag-aral

Jose Pepito Manansala Cunanan, Class ’70
A.B. Anthropology
8 September 1997       

The 1970 Philippinensian, the official yearbook of the University of the Philippines had on its first page the photos and description of four graduates in the College of Arts and Sciences:

                        Ma. Lorena Morelos Barros, A.B. Anthropology
                        Edna Benito Buenviaje, A.B. American Studies
                        Jose Pepito Manansala Cunanan, A.B. Anthropology
                        Geraldine Loman Fiagoy, A.B. Anthropology

            The arrangement was done in the alphabetical order.  For all its worth, the association with Lorie was more than just a sequence.   

            From the start, Lorie had left impressions of a woman who stood out among her peers and would be equal if not better to her seniors, in the academe or profession.  It was in a Sociology class in 1967 where I had my first recollection of her presence.  Her personal appearance was of the casual type, jeans and short sleeved blouse.  She would sit on the side of the table to the right of our professor while most of us preferred facing our mentor.  She was an articulate student who raised questions and provided her own views on the subject matters discussed.  More than merely being bookish, she spoke as one who had done her own readings not only of textbooks and references but of  the lives of people and the realities of Philippine society.

            We were classmates in most Anthropology subjects: folklore, theory, archeology, social anthropology.  While most of us were content attending classes, Lorie would be handling some classes as a student instructor.  She would engage in researches and writings over and above our normal load of studies.  In the senior year, we became officers of the Anthropological Society, she as Vice-President and I as PRO. But whether in the classroom, in the Anthropology museum or at the basement or in the corridors of Palma Hall or as we walked over to the Library, Lorie would exude the  spirit of an articulate person, who had both the grasp and the confidence of her understanding and analysis of issues, events and personalities.  This sometimes brought her into clashes and disagreements with other students and even with some of her seniors or professors.  And yet, it was generally an attitude of recognition and respect for a person of her caliber.  On the social and personal side, there were those among our colleagues who were attracted to her but whom she did not pay attention to.  She was on the one hand attracted to others who seemed not to take notice nor reciprocate such feelings.

            When we started in 1967, my classmates were mostly teeners, who were ten years my junior.  I was married with a three year old daughter and had finished my theological studies in the seminary.  Nevertheless, I associated with my classmates as a peer, learning with them and sometimes learning from them.  And definitely Lorie was one person who had much to share in terms of her intellectual abilities, incisive insights and experiences outside of the classroom and beyond books. 

            The years 1967-1970 could be considered the golden years of student activism, social and political involvement.  The formation which one went through was definitely beyond the classroom and the library.  We learned our lessons in demonstrations and rallies, in DGs (discussion groups) and the protest marches snaked through the major streets leading to the US Embassy, Malacanang and Congress. Participation with the various sectors of society, students, urban poor, workers, farmers broadened one’s perspective and analysis of history, events, and personalities beyond the classroom setting.  It was more than just a professor teaching students.  It was an opportunity to learn from those who were marginalized and oppressed in Philippine society.  The analysis identified the classes clashing with the feudal hacenderos, the political lords and the business elites and bureaucrats, and the military and government as co-conspirators with the US powers and interests.  Lorie would take a key role as an advocate who articulated such critical situations in Philippine society.  She would take a very active role in organizing work in action-oriented organizations such as the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan.

            Later when I worked on a publication entitled BIHAG:  Mula Ulo Hanggang Talampakang Pagkabihang ng mga Pilipino sa mga Korporasyong Multinational, it was my turn to acknowledge Lorie’s role and influence when I dedicated this work Alay kay Maria Lorena Barros, Kamag-aral.

            As fellow students we also had lighter moments and found time to meet and visit with family and friends.  A group of Anthro majors were our guests in our home in Muzon, Malabon, including Lorie and a special friend.  She was someone dear to me, my wife Bethzie, and our daughter Jay.  She updated us on her whereabouts and what she would be involved in.  It was my turn to visit her in San Andres where she was engaged in an alternative schooling for urban poor children and on occasional meetings d uring protest marches and open rallies.  Later on, her activism brought her to the larger issues on the rights and roles of women in Philippine society as she became the lead organizer of MAKIBAKA (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan).

            The declaration of Martial Law, Marcos dictatorship and the worsening social conditions challenged Lorie to take a more radical stance in terms of her commitment and organizational involvement.  Her revolutionary fervor found its place in the New People’s Army as a way of dealing with the basic problems of the Filipino people and Philippine society.

            Jay was in my office when the news reached us that Lorie was killed in an encounter with the military in Quezon.  We could only grieve and weep at the loss of someone whom we had known as a schoolmate and as a friend of the family.

            At her farewell rites, I used as eulogy for Lorie the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of John (15:13) : 
Greater love hath no (wo)man than this: that a (wo)man lay down his/her life for his/her friends. (Walang pag-ibig na hihigit pa sa pag-ibigt ng isang taong nag-alay ng kanyang buhay para sa kanyang mga kaibigan).

And this act could be contextualized in the song of Andres Bonifacio:

            Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya,
            Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila?
            Tulad ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa?
            Wala na nga, wala…


            On 11 April 1970, the Commencement Day for Class ’70, many graduates wore red bands as a sign of protest.  Some carried and waved the red flag and raised clenched fists during the rites.  Lorie chose not to march in the traditional procession.  She led a group of graduates and other students in protest.  Her option was to march with the suffering masses of the Filipino people.  For this, she offered herself and shed her blood for the cause of the liberation of the Filipino masses and the goal of a national democratic society.  The oblation of her body, blood and life was the choice she made as a graduate of the University of the People.