In 1973, soon after the opening of the first schoolyear under martial law, a group of college students in Iloilo were caught writing slogans and putting up posters that protested against the militarization of their campus.
Edward Dela Fuente and eight other young people were arrested and beaten up. Released from jail only after 14 months, Edward was persuaded by his parents to go back to school. But he did not finish his course in political science, dropping out to take an office job. His heart, however, was not in it: there was a bigger challenge out there.
“I believe that fighting the dictatorship is a noble cause and I would regret it if I don’t join,” he told his father. – “I also believe that it’s a noble cause,” the father said. “But I do not want to be sending you to your death. I cannot give my permission.” – “Then I’m not asking for your permission,” the son replied. “You’ve merely been informed of my decision.”
Dela Fuente was the eldest son of two leaders of the Baptist Church in Iloilo. He regularly attended church services, and was president of the National Baptist Youth of the Philippines. He was also editor-in-chief of the campus paper at Central Philippine University (CPU). He had a gift for expressing his ideas and feelings in Ilonggo and English.
Even before 1972 he had already joined the Kabataang Makabayan chapter in CPU. When martial law was declared, he continued organizing clandestinely in school (where his mother was teaching), among students, faculty and employees.
After taking leave of his family, Dela Fuente spent the next 10 years among the poor people living in the central mountain ranges of Panay. He was “Ka Ponso,” a skilled negotiator and troubleshooter, often sent to expansion areas to settle conﬂicts or to organize new groups. He had a way of stating truths that was acceptable to people. He was an articulate writer and a serious artist. He kept abreast with his reading.
On March 29, 1983, Edward’s younger brother John was asleep in a relative’s house when he was shot at close range by men in uniform. The local constabulary authorities said it was “an armed encounter,” but most people said he had been “salvaged.” In a handwritten poem sent to his family, Edward wrote about “our dream”: “…an eternal flame/ that lights/ countless torches/ in the throbbing hearts/ of millions.”
One year later, on April 20, 1984, a Good Friday, Edward himself and two others were killed in the village of Unat, a few kilometers away from the town center of Ibajay, Aklan. The military said they had died in an encounter with a constabulary patrol. Eyewitnesses said that Edward, Diore Antonio Mijares and an unidentified person, were captured alive and shot dead some distance away from where they fell. The eyewitnesses also said that Edward could have escaped, but that he was caught when he came back to assist Mijares who was more gravely wounded. The autopsy reports indicated they had been tortured.
At Dela Fuente’s wake in their residence in Jaro, Iloilo City, hundreds of people came to pay their respects. Most of them were peasants from all over Panay. They told his family how their son made an impact on their lives, his mother said. And when it was time to take him to his final resting place four kilometers away, they insisted on carrying his coffin on their shoulders.
His brother said Edward “had a brave vision about a world where oppression and poverty have no place, and I believe he died trying to work for this kind of a world.”