Born in the Bicol region to an American father and a Filipino mother, William Begg renounced his American citizenship when he turned 21. “He believed that this was his country and the Filipinos were his people,” his mother explained.
William, or Bill, was a good student, graduating as salutatorian of his class in high school, and getting excellent grades in college. He wanted to be a priest, and entered the seminary where college courses were taken at the Ateneo; in his third year there, he began engaging in social action work among poor communities in Barangka, Marikina, near the school campus. His political views grew increasingly militant until school authorities eventually asked him to leave the university and the seminary.
Begg was first arrested in 1971 for putting up posters in Marikina. And shortly after the declaration of martial law in 1972, he was again arrested, then detained in Fort Bonifacio.
After his release in April 1973, Begg went back to school to fulfill a promise to his father that he would finish college. He enrolled at the University of the Philippines, taking up history. He tried to live a normal student’s life, joining a fraternity and helping organizing a history majors’ society.
He did not stay long in the university, however. In September 1974, Begg left for the countryside to join the underground.
“I cannot in conscience continue my academic studies, nor do I have any ambition to live a nice, peaceful and secure life. For this in effect would mean a compromise of inaction in the face of intensifying economic crises and repression as well as monopolization of political power by a fascist dictatorship,” he explained in a letter to his parents.
Through letters, Begg kept in touch with his family. As he described adjusting to his new life as a rebel guerrilla, he also wrote eloquently about the need for basic changes, for humanitarian service; for “I think all of us deserve a more humane and democratic social order.” He was learning acupuncture, and his group was starting a medical clinic for a poor community. He asked his parents to send him a medical encyclopedia –which they did.
In March 1975, Begg was with a team of guerrillas that had gone to meet a doctor in Villarey, Echague, Isabela, when they were attacked by a battalion of AFP troops. In the exchange of fire that followed, four of his comrades were killed, while Begg himself was hit in the leg. Assessing his situation, he urged the others to leave him behind so he could cover their escape. He was apparently captured alive; when his body was eventually recovered, it bore the marks of severe torture.
In a tribute to his heroic sacrifice, his family engraved the following words on his tombstone: “He laid down his life for his friends.”