CAMUS, Fortunato

 

camus-fortunato-picFortunato Camus, known as Toto, was a student activist and revolutionary who became a leading organizer of the youth movement in the Visayas and a pioneer of the underground resistance to dictatorship.

Personal background

Toto was from the town of Asturias, a coastal area in Cebu. His father was a policeman, and his mother took care of the family that included his two brothers. He graduated from the University of the Visayas.

History of political involvement

In 1969, he helped organize the Consolidation of Reforms for the Youth (CRY), a Cebu-based student organization. When the 1970 First Quarter Storm erupted in Metro Manila, Cebu followed suit with CRY spearheading rallies and demonstrations protesting tuition fee hikes and national issues. Toto organized the CRY chapter at the University of the Visayas, the biggest university in the city which later staged a pcket in front of the institutiobn. They were joined by students from other schools. The mass action was violently dispersed. Toto, known as the leader of the group, was harassed and threatened with expulsion. Undaunted, he went on to join protest actions in the city.

By then, nationalist organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) were expanding their organizing efforts in Cebu. While remaining members of CRY, many students also became members of KM or SDK. Toto chose to be with SDK. The three organizations worked together to keep the flames of activism vibrant in Cebu as they launched mass actions.

The organizing efforts Toto joined went beyond the confines of the schools, reaching out to peasants, workers and drivers. The students eventually joined the strike launched by workers at the USIPHIL which sought to advance the interests of peasants at Hacienda Osmena.

Toto played a key role in organizing drivers of public utility vehicles which led to the creation of Kahugpungan sa mga Drayber or KADRE. As part of this work, he lived among the drivers and the urban poor.

Toto became known for his constant presence at the SDK and CRY headquarters where he spent much time even during school breaks. He eventually helped in the creation of a broad coalition, the Visayan Reform Movement (VRM) which was inspired by the Movement for a Democratic Philippines (MDP).

By the middle of 1971, Toto was ready for an even deeper political commitment.

In May, he joined other activists in attending a political and military training in Isabela where the New People’s Army was strong and rapidly expanding. Toto eventually stayed on to gain more experience and training in peasant organizing. He was still there when Marcos declared martial law.

Toto then became known as Ka Norman, a cadre of the revolutionary movement in Cagayan Valley, known for his leadership and skills in military tactics, the leader an armed propaganda unit that performed organizing work in the remote areas of Isabela.

The work Toto did covered a broad range of issues affecting local communities. His team helped form local community organizations and cooperatives to address such needs as the marketing of their products. His team worked with the youth, helped come up with self-defense strategies against cattle rustlers and land grabbers and for better health and sanitation.

Toto learned to speak the local language which made him more effective as a leader and organizer. While in Isabela, he met and got married to a fellow activist with whom he had son.

Those were difficult years for the revolutionary movement. The combined forces of the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Army were constantly launching operations against the NPA guerillas. These operations led to abuses, deaths and the displacement of thousands.

Toto’s own unit struggled with hunger, sickness and other hardships.

Circumstance of death

Still, Toto’s role in the armed resistance continued to expand. He later helped organize the resistance movement in Quirino Province, Aurora, Quezon and Nueva Ecija. During an encounter in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija in June 1976, Toto was killed together with Manuel Hizon, another Bantayog martyr. He was 26.

 

Born                July 14, 1949 in Asturias, Cebu

Died                June 17, 1976 in Pantabangan, Nueva Ecija

Parents            Pacifico Camus, police chief, and Rosario Camus

Siblings            2 brothers

Spouse             Elizabeth Principe

Child:               Francis Anthony Principe

Education

College                        University of the Visayas (UV), Bachelor of Arts

 

Graduate         College of Law, University of the Visayas

Studies             2 years

 

Sources:

Bantayog Profile Form accomplished by Elizabeth Principe, wife

Interviews

Randall Echanis, April 11, 2014, Quezon City

Atty. Francis Principe, son, September 1, 2016, Makati City

LINANG and MAINSTREAM. GERA, written by Ruth Firmeza. Manila, Philippines, 1991

Ocampo, Sonora.”The Cagayan Valley: 17 Years of Fighting” Manila Standard, June 13, 1987

2 NPA Political Leaders among 4 killed in Ecija.” Bulletin Today, June 22, 1976

“VILLACILLO, Venerando D.” from http://www.bantayog.org/?p=183,retrieved on July 13, 2016

“Manuel L. Hizon Jr.” Bantayog ng mga Bayani Heroes and Martyrs Folder