Fernando Esperon, or Nanding, as he was more familiarly known, was the youngest among the three children of Aquilina and Pablito Esperon. His father left the family home when Nanding was very young forcing his mother to take odd jobs to fend for her children. Nanding liked to read and play the guitar during his free time, compiling favorite songs into his own handmade songbook. A friend recalled that he had even composed a song or two that told of the pitiful condition of children living amidst urban blight.
“Very disciplined in his ways” was one trait of his that would immediately come to mind when friends describe Nanding. He was always on time for meetings and other activities and would buckle right down to work when the schedule called for it. Even at a young age, Nanding has shown good leadership skills. Many of the youth in his neighborhood were getting hooked on drugs. Nanding would talk with them, and organize activities like sports events and clean-up drives to take their minds off this habit.
History of Political Involvement
Nanding was in high school in the late ‘70s when Davao City and its surrounding provinces where gripped by growing militarization. Increasing instances of criminality, bombings and the proliferation of illegal substances were causing mayhem in the city. But that period also saw an upsurge of protest against the dictatorship, a protest that was unconcealed and widely- participated by the populace.
Growing up witnessing the hard life and squalor of an urban poor community, Nanding was drawn to the grave political, economic and social issues being raised by the protesters. In no time he was a participant in these mass actions too. He joined a community-based cultural group, Bantawon, which sought to raise the awareness of the youth to the problems of the country through socially-relevant songs and plays. Nanding acted, sang in, and sometimes even directed the group’s performances in community gatherings and in rallies and demonstrations.
Sometime in high school, he joined a workshop offered by the Days with the Lord (locally known as Basta Ikaw Lord), a Jesuit-initiated spiritual movement. The retreat aims “to enable the participant to realize more intimately the personal love of Christ so that he/she may be disposed to respond freely to that invitation of love”(from the site French-speaking Cursillo Movement of Canada). Nanding’s experience there so moved him, it ignited a desire to serve the people fully.
Realizing that he wanted to be a part of the solution to the country’s problems, Nanding was soon spending more and more of his time as an organizer, and later as chairman, of the Liga sa Kabatan-onan sa Davao (LIKADA), a nationalist youth organization. By this time he had decided not to go on to college after his high school graduation.
Nanding plunged head-on into the hubbub of mass actions that happened in Davao then. In 1983, he mobilized support for a series of strikes popularly known as Welgang-Bayan. He helped organize protest actions against the blatant abuses being committed by the military in the urban and rural areas of Mindanao. He campaigned for a boycott of the 1984 Batasan Pambansa elections. He supported calls for reforms in the educational system, and urged attention to the condition of poor people, of the youth, in particular. “He was selfless and indefatigable in his efforts to help fight for freedom and democracy,” his friend proudly avers.
Circumstances of death
In early 1985, Nanding led the slum community of Agdao to expose and decry the murder of five of its youth allegedly by the Alsa Masa, a vigilante group loyal to the Marcos government. Already under military surveillance, this caused him to be further drawn into the spotlight. On June 27, 1985, Nanding left his mother’s house to attend a meeting of the LIKADA. Witnesses recount that Nanding was on board a public jeepney when he was hailed by a known military agent. He got off and ran towards the Mabini Public Market, with the agent closely following. The man fired at him, hitting Nanding in both knee caps, and loaded him onto a taxi, going in the direction of the PC barracks. The next morning, Nanding’s lifeless and bullet-riddled body was found floating in the Toril river, thrown off Lizada Bridge.
Once heard to have said, “This is an all- too expensive struggle. We pay lives for a freedom that is inherently ours,” Nanding too, paid with his life. He was 23 years old.