It was a hard life that Tranquilino Cabarubias had: a struggle to make the land productive, to defend his community. Yet he had plenty of faith to keep him going: faith that freedom would be achieved, that one day “God’s kingdom shall reign forever.”
Cabarubias, better known as Trank, was born in Bohol and he migrated to Mindanao hoping to find new opportunities in the “land of promise.” He farmed a plot of land in the northeast, and raised a family of 12. Despite his years of toil, however, he never managed to have the land titled in his name.
What’s more, as time went by, and especially when the martial law dictatorship was imposed in the 1970s, settler communities like his in Sangay, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, came under threat from big, Manila-based corporations wanting to take over the lands themselves, with the support and encouragement of the Marcos regime.
Cabarubias, who had become a respected community leader, was also a lay worker in his parish which was administered by the Sacred Heart Missionaries. It was he who organized the settlers’ resistance against the entry into their villages of a powerful lumber firm. The company sent armed goons who demolished the people’s houses with chainsaws, and stole farm implements and carpentry tools. Cabarubias and the other leaders were arrested and detained for 14 days without charges. But they succeeded in keeping their village safe and intact.
Another time, in the 1980s, a giant paper manufacturing company was all set to turn their farms into a tree plantation. Cabarubias and his neighbors again mobilized to protest against the encroachment. The corporation backed off.
Cabarubias served in the barangay council for many years until his death in 1983. He took principled positions on national issues. In 1981 he led his community in boycotting the presidential election, believing that it had been rigged to make the Marcos regime appear legitimate. He publicly criticized the abuses of political and military officials and spoke out against the greed of capitalists who amassed profits at the expense of poor people.
Repeatedly warned to stop being so “hardheaded” or else suffer the consequences, Cabarubias knew his life was in danger. He asked his older children to look after the family and the farm should anything happen to him.
In October 1982, New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas ambushed a vehicle in barangay Sangay, killing three policemen and two civilians. Although Cabarubias was one of those injured in the attack, the military interrogated him and tried to make it appear that he was somehow involved.
Then on the night of October 9, 1983, armed men barged into his house, pretending to be from the NPA and asking for medicine. When Cabarubias refused, he was shot in front of his terrified children and wife, who had just given birth.
Soldiers in full battle gear came to the funeral, apparently in an effort to scare away the big crowd of mourners. “They cannot leave Trank alone even in death,” observed one resident.
But Trank had not been afraid to die. In a farewell poem, he visualized the day of victory “when the shadows of sorrow shall pass away, for there shall be justice in the land, / All will be free and happy…” When that day comes, he wrote, “Come visit our graves / And behold the flowers dancing in the wind….”