He is remembered as a child for being unselfish and a dreamer. He would give away his pencils to his playmates and taught them to read and write. He dreamed that he would go out into the world to sell blankets in order to help support his family. The family also called him Captain. He preferred reading to playing, being happiest with a book. Thus he was an honor pupil in grade school, but shy with the girls although he joined organizations such as the Boy Scouts, Archery Association, Glee Club and the Knights of the Sanctuary. He was fascinated with constellations.
In grade school he was a bit intimidated with numbers but studying at the Philippine Science High School, he learned to appreciate their clear‑cut, no-nonsense directness. His father remembered Totoy musing once: “in math, 1+1=2, but in language, you could say ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ or’maybe,’ which is a lot harder (to understand) than ’21”
He left his family home at age 13 to live in a boarding house for PSHS male students in Manila. There his shy and quiet personality underwent subtle change as he lived in a household full of rambunctious boys with different backgrounds. But soon he had his circle of friends, a barkada, whose friendships would be long‑lasting, and whose influence on him, for better or for worse, was permanent.
It was this set of friends that helped bridge for him the transition to the bigger world, the university. Totoy and many of his PSHS friends who enrolled at UP were soon members of the fraternity Tan Rho Xi, as the social and political storm raged in the nation and the university.
Totoy became a member of Kabataang Makabayan, and was soon drawn to participate in the First Quarter Storm of 1970, and the widespread mobilization to help in the floods of October 1970. He found that University was so much more interesting and educating!
However, danger was just around the corner. On December 4, 1970, Totoy was marching at a rally next to another PSHS student, Francis Sontillano, when a security guard of the Feati University dropped a pillbox on the marchers. Sontillano died almost instantly. A few months later, on February 1, 1971, Totoy was sitting next to Pastor Mesina, at a student barricade at the University of the Philippines at the start of a historical period called the Diliman Commune, when a professor took out a gun and fired. The bullet killed Mesina.
Suddenly all this was too much for Totoy’s parents. They got Totoy to move back to Naga, where he continued his college education at the University of Nueva Caceres. However, the liberating breath of activism had gotten into the young boy’s blood. He continued to organize for KM at his new school, and was soon writing radical literature for the Nueva Caceres school paper. Following is one such untitled poem he wrote:
Can the choicest words
And the harshest sounds
Provide power to a people
Long oppressed under the yoke
Of feudal and imperialist tyranny?
Shall we not cast aside
The broken pen that knows all terms
And the paper pure prepared for lines?
Shall we not transform
Angry words into moving force
Pointed pens into sharpened bolos
Spurting ink into barking bullets?
Come now literary laureates
Turn your scripts and your books
Into mass bases of the revolution
And your pens and typewriters Into automatic rifles of the revolutionaries
That will write the great epic
Of the Filipino race!
Slowly, Totoy’s parents began to understand the roots of their son’s activism. “Patriotism is in our blood,” remembered Totoy’s father. “My father was a soldier and an officer, and he went to the hills to join the struggle against the Japanese during World War Il.”
When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, Totoy’s parents realized that the situation was ripe for a decision, and they made it firmly. They borrowed P700 and Totoy went, with his parents’ full blessing, to join his friends in the underground where he would stay until his death eight years later.
Overtime, his new name Ka Tandis started to be spoken of in respectful whispers not only among Totoy’s friends but throughout the Bicol region, and also in Southern Tagalog where he also stayed for a while. Ka Tandis became a teacher for the resistance, trudging up and down the slopes of the Bicol region to instruct comrades in various topics (philosophy, politics, economics, the resistance program, strategy and tactics, and so on.)
Instructors like Ka Tandis provided the theoretical framework on which activists based their work, which otherwise would have dissolved into hot‑headed actions that would not have been helpful to their honorable goals and intentions.
As an instructor, Ka Tandis was remembered for his patience in explaining principles and in dealing with companions with problems or those with very little experience, and for always seeking to achieve new learnings himself. He was honest about his own weaknesses and mistakes, calm in handling disputes, respectful of women’s capabilities, a model of the same principles he had espoused.
He never married, but he once jokingly told a friend he had a sweetheart “who was not aware of it yet.”
On October 11, 1980, at around 7 o’clock in the morning, in Barangay Coguit, Balatan, Camarines Sur, Ka Tandis and another comrade were resting in a house when troops came. Ka Tandis’ companion managed to escape the encirclement but Ka Tandis gave up his life for his cause. He was 28.
It is said that his death was felt across the region, like Mayon Volcano erupting. But his parents took his death bravely. “A tree dies but a forest lives forever,” says his father. “We raised a son who loved his country more than himself. In times of peace you pay revenues in cash, but in times of crisis, you pay in terms of life. He died just once, unlike a coward who dies many times.”
And his mother: “in his wake, people from all over came to share the moment with us. Many loved him, and in our hearts we couldn’t help but be convinced that our son died for a right cause.”
A few months after Alex’s death, martial law was lifted in name, and several years later, actually dismantled through people power mobilization. Alex did not see the fruits of his and his comrades’ labors. But his family feels that without his sacrifices and those of people like him, freedom as Filipinos now enjoy, would not have come as soon.
* Parents : Alejandro Belone and Victoria Abonita
* Education : Elementary ‑ Naga Parochial School, Naga City, 3rd honorable mention, 1965
High School ‑ Philippine Science High School, Quezon City, 1970
College ‑ University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City
University of Nueva Caceres, Naga City