It was easy to predict that a bright future lay ahead for Merardo Arce: he got very good grades in school, he was much admired, a studious yet friendly and popular “golden boy.” Although his family was not rich, they were not poor either. He didn’t have to worry about money.
At the University of the Philippines in Diliman, the teenager from Tarlac enrolled in architecture. There too he shone academically, maintaining a consistent scholarship throughout his stay –even though, in 1971, he had become a student activist and member of a university fraternity.
Artistically inclined, Mer Arce became deeply involved in Panday Sining, the cultural arm of Kabataang Makabayan and served as its chairman. Through songs, poetry, plays and artworks, the members of the group gave expression to the grievances of the Filipino masa, as well as their aspirations. They took their productions to various campuses and the streets, where rallies and demonstrations were intensifying.
When martial law was declared in 1972 by President Marcos (his fraternity brother), Arce knew he had to make a choice. It would not be difficult for him to pursue a “successful” career by capitalizing on his talent and his connections. By that time, however, he had already committed his heart and mind; he felt he had “a part to play in the liberation of the Filipino people.”
Thus in 1976 Arce and his wife went to Mindanao where they worked mostly among poor farmers and settlers as well as lumad or indigenous communities. He showed superior leadership skills in the way he quickly grasped situations and decided what course of action to take. He was judicious in weighing issues and voicing out his opinions. He genuinely cared for the people’s welfare.
Mer Arce was in Mabolo, Cebu City when he was killed together with Jose Diaz, who had been a philosophy teacher in Manila. Metrodiscom troopers set up a checkpoint to intercept them on the road, but the two knew that they were sure to be captured alive. So they decided not to stop, instead choosing to buy time for their other comrades by driving on and fighting it out.
The Arce family heard about his death only through local tabloid media reports three days afterward. It was tragic news for his daughter who had come home that afternoon eager to show off an award she had received from school.
Although at first they did not approve of Mer Arce’s political involvement, the family, especially his parents came to accept and appreciate his life’s work. Support and encouragement came from his many friends, fraternity brothers and sympathizers. On his gravesite is this epitaph written by his daughter: “Katawan mo man ay nabuwal, giting mo pa ri’y itatanghal, ng mga iniwan, na mga Anak ng Bayan!”
BORN : May 30, 1953 in Tarlac City
DIED : February 5, 1985 in Mabolo, Cebu City
PARENTS : Jose Agana Arce and Estrella C. Tuason
SPOUSE/CHILD : Lecifina Dumayag / 1
EDUCATION : Elementary: College of the Holy Spirit, Tarlac
Secondary: Don Bosco Technical Institute, Makati City
College: University of the Philippines Diliman