Maria Lorena Barros remains today one of the most well-known heroes of the antidictatorship struggle: a charismatic leader, gifted writer, icon of modern Philippine feminism, the “gentle warrior” who defiantly confronted death at the hands of government soldiers, deep in the forests of the Sierra Madre.
From early childhood, Barros showed keen intelligence, a searching mind and precocious social awareness, nurtured by her mother Alicia Morelos. The latter, granddaughter of a Katipunero and herself a member of the Hukbalahap guerrilla resistance, would become her daughter’s closest friend and confidant.
Earning honors from grade school through college, Barros graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1970 with a degree in anthropology. She started teaching after graduation, while taking up masteral courses at the UP. She was already making a name for herself as a writer, publishing poetry and essays in various publications and eventually being elected president of the UP Writers Club.
By the end of the 1960s, Lorie Barros was being drawn into political activism. She joined exposure trips to the rural areas and immersed herself in the emerging political literature. She organized the all-women Makibaka (Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan) and became its first chairperson. Makibaka chapters quickly spread across the country, in factories, in villages, and even in exclusive girls’ schools.
Yet she was someone who refused to be confined to the stereotypical image of a student activist, or a feminist activist. She did not repress her natural charm and kindheartedness, and she was proud of her long shapely legs.
When President Ferdinand Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971, Barros was one of 63 student leaders charged with subversion. She went underground, married and had a son, all the while keeping up a stream of correspondence with family and friends. She was arrested in Bicol in November 1973, and jailed at Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna, then transferred to Fort Bonifacio’s Ipil Rehabilitation Center from where she escaped one year later with three other political prisoners.
She rejoined the underground, helping to fight what by then had become a full- blown dictatorship. She continued to write poems, songs and essays from the underground. In 1974, the regime announced a P35, 000 reward for her capture.
On March 24, 1976, Barros was seriously wounded in an armed encounter with constabulary soldiers in Cagsiay II, Mauban, Quezon. A companion was killed instantly. Medical treatment was promised by her captors if she would cooperate with them, but she said she would rather die for her beliefs. She was shot in the nape. She was 28 years old.
Lorie Barros was given a heroine’s wake and burial by family and friends.. In a tribute to her courage and principled life, her comrades marched with her coffin singing revolutionary songs, risking arrest themselves. A well-attended necrological service was held at the UP campus.