The boy Antonio was born to a landed and well-to-do family in Sorsogon province and he grew in the midst of plenty. He excelled in academics and had a variety of interests such as acting, performing, and sports, particularly basketball, volleyball and table tennis. He also liked reading poems and giving orations. He would memorize long poems and recite them before his audience, usually spellbound playmates. His parents’ tenants called him “escribiente.”
Antonio, or Tony to friends, moved to Manila for college and became involved in the 1970s peace movement. His boarding house in Manila’s Sampaloc district saw long hours of impassioned discussions among students that included Tony and several of his provincemates.
The Vietnam War was escalating and the Marcos government had sent a contingent of soldiers called the Philippine Civic Action Group, or Philcag, to that country. The move drew strong criticism from Filipino peace groups and student groups. The National Union of Students of the Philippines called on students to protest the Philcag.
Tony was in his first semester in college when he joined a rally at the Manila Hotel where a Vietnam conference was being held. The rally was violently dispersed, resulting in street fighting between police and students, and giving Tony his first taste of teargas and truncheon.
Far from getting discouraged, Tony joined more rallies in front of Malacañang, the Congress building and the US Embassy, and in Plaza Miranda, mostly in protest of the Vietnam war. He joined more discussion groups involving students and laborers from Manila’s factories.
Tony became a member of the moderate NUSP and the more militant Kabataang Makabayan. His experience of the First Quarter Storm of 1970 sharpened his political awareness. School became second priority. He took a few units only to allow him access into the campus of the Araneta Univesity for his organizing work. By 1971, he had stopped going to school altogether.
Later, he went home to Sorsogon, more for political than sentimental reasons. Relieved at first to see their son back, Tony’s parents soon realized he had come home with his activism. He favored the company of his parents’ farmer-tenants, spending very little time at home. When he did, his talk focused on the farmers’ poverty and in convincing his parents “to share more” with them.
Tony helped organize a KM chapter in Sorsogon and undertook its propaganda and education section, while also helping in organizational work. Eventually he became local KM chair, the KM headquarters becoming more like home to him than his own. He gave fiery speeches during rallies and earned a local reputation as an activist leader and speaker.
Under his leadership, Sorsogon’s activists joined a historic “long march,” that took almost four days. The marchers were sometimes harassed by politicians’ goons, but more often they received warm greetings from local people.
By 1971, Tony and his fellow Bicolano activist leaders were in the government “wanted” list. When Marcos instituted martial law in 1972, Tony went underground and, not long after, joined a small group of armed activists living clandestinely in the villages far from the towns.
As his name became a military byword in Sorsogon, his family suffered for it. Many of his relatives were harassed by soldiers. His father was taken to prison for a week. His brother Norberto, a policeman, was mauled by soldiers for refusing to join a military operation.
Tony and 12 others died in a military ambush less than a year after he had gone underground. When his family brought his body for viewing at the townhall, some of the family’s tenants and villagemates wiped the activist’s battered face clean of blood and grime, a final gesture that showed their love, respect and affection for this young “escribiente” who had given up his short life for their cause. Tony was 24.