Alberto Espinas, also known as Bert, started his elementary education in the working class community of Rizal Estanzuela in Iloilo City. He completed his secondary education in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, as his father was with the Philippine Army. In college, he went to Lyceum to study journalism.
His first foray into student activism took place when he joined his fellow students to demand a stop to tuition increase in the late 1960s. As a student, he was an avid reader of political and philosophy books that he was considered by his friends as an expert on Marx, Lenin and Mao. He was also influenced by the writings of Filipino nationalist Claro M. Recto that he joined the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN). He also joined the National Students League, Student Power Assembly of the Philippines and the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in which he sat as member of the national council. In short, he attained a stature of a prominent student leader. Although it was not mentioned by his family and former activist-friends, journalism may have also shaped Bert’s values as an activist. Activism’s relentless search for truth, its predilection for free expression and its desire for a better society can be enhanced by journalism that also share the same values.
When the so-called First Quarter Storm (FQS) raged in Manila, Bert was one of the active leaders because of his involvement with KM and the Movement for Democratic Philippines.
When student activists in Manila were encouraged to help organize students in the provinces, Bert volunteered to go to Iloilo. The move was not only to expand the student movement. It also targeted organizing the countryside.
In August of 1971, after the Plaza Miranda bombing, Marcos suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus and restricted the right to assembly. Arrests took place and among those targeted were 60 student leaders including Bert. The repression did not stop student demonstrations from taking place because the leaders worked clandestinely in organizing their ranks. This was true in Manila and Iloilo City at that time. By the end of the year, the student movement in Iloilo had some 10,000 members whose presence in street protests challenged the controls placed by Marcos.
Circumstance of death
In July 1973 Bert joined the group of six that conducted research in Antique to learn about the conditions of peasants and the sacada, or the seasonal sugar workers in the haciendas or the sugar cane plantations of Negros. The workers were heavily exploited by plantation owners, in terms of wages and living conditions that were almost subhuman. The research was timed with the weeks leading to the referendum to get the approval for the 1973 Constitution that will grant extra powers and extended stay in office of President Marcos.
However the research team was arrested by the military on July 24. The students escaped but they were pursued by the military and shot. Bert died, on July 27, 1973, of multiple gunshot wounds but not before shouting “Mabuhay ang lumalaban.”
Impact of death
Bert was buried six days later in Antique. Five years later, on August 1978, his family recovered his remains and gave it a proper burial in Tangalan, Aklan. He died a hero, and this was recognized by his comrades and family alike.
On February 20, 1974 Bert’s father, Antonio, sent a typewritten note to Restituto Ortigas, who also mourned the death of one of those shot, Virgil Ortigas (Bantayog martyr). It went: “Our sons made a pledge that no matter what happens they will never surrender the principles they believed (in). Theirs was a paradox only a few will understand. (24 July 1973).”