He won many awards as a poet, fictionist, essayist and playwright; he was a magazine illustrator, a stage actor and a production hand. He taught at the University of the Philippines, wrote songs, practiced the martial and even the occult arts. He was an honor student from grade school to high school (studying in the United States for one year as an exchange scholar), and he went to college on a full scholarship.
“Flower child” Eman Lacaba started to show political awareness during the First Quarter Storm of 1970, when he began taking part in political actions. He named his two daughters, born during that period, Miriam Manavi Mithi Mezcaline Mendiola, and Emanwelga Fe.
Lacaba was teaching a course on Rizal’s life and works when he was arrested and detained due to his participation in a labor strike. He lost his job at the UP as a result.
In 1974 he decided to join the New People’s Army (NPA) in South Cotabato. He took the name Popoy Dakuykoy, an allusion to a comic book character whose name he had once used for a character in an epic poem he had written in the 1960s.
His passion for writing was well known. When he ran out of paper to use, he wrote on the back of cigarette foil wrappers. In one of his poems, he described himself as the “shy young poet forever writing last poem after last poem,” the “brown Rimbaud” who became a people’s warrior.
Lacaba had been with the NPA two years when, in March 1976, an informer led a troop of soldiers to the peasant hut where he and his fellow guerrillas had spent the night. With no warning shots or calls for surrender, the soldiers opened fire. All the guerrillas were killed immediately, except Lacaba and a pregnant teenager who were both wounded. They were being taken to Tagum, Davao del Norte, when the sergeant who headed the soldiers gave the instruction “not to bring anyone back alive.”
The pregnant woman was first to be shot dead, then Lacaba, who is said to have dared the informer, “Go ahead, finish me off.” The informer had then put a .45-caliber pistol into his mouth and fired. Lacaba’s mother claimed her son’s body later.
Eman Lacaba is perhaps the first nationally-known creative writer who joined the armed struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. Poems and articles were written about him after his death. A collection of his poems, Salvaged Poems, was published posthumously in 1986. Another collection, Salvaged Prose, of his short stories, plays and essays, came out in 1992.