Born in Atimonan, Quezon, Cesar Hicaro was the 2nd of the eight children of a school principal who opted to serve in different schools. This meant that the family had to move around a lot during Cesar’s childhood years. He started the primary grades in Camarines Sur and finished his elementary schooling in Guinobatan, Albay. Halfway through high school, the family again moved, this time to Indang, Cavite, where he graduated as the batch valedictorian.
“He was a born leader … critical, analytical and charismatic….” These words were often used to describe Cesar Hicaro, who was an intelligent and hardworking student. Despite being uprooted several times, he had always been a student leader and in his younger years, actively presided over clubs such as the 4-H Club, Future Farmers of the Philippines, and the Student Body Organization.
As valedictorian, he won a scholarship grant from the Shell Chemical Company which enabled him to attend the University of the Philippines College of Agriculture (UPCA) in College, Laguna, in 1963. He joined the distinguished Upsilon Sigma Phi Fraternity, the oldest Greek-letter fraternity in Asia. He served as Fellow Recorder (secretary) the next schoolyear. A close friend and fraternity brother, Dr. Reynaldo L. Villareal, recalls that he and Cesar often did their studying together at the library where their sorority sisters also hung out. He was a “man of few words” but those he came in contact with were drawn to his pleasing personality, depth of insight and sincerity. Dr. Villareal also recalls Cesar’s extreme fondness for certain foods like sautéed corned beef and fried dried fish.
Majoring in Agronomy, Cesar had high hopes of contributing to the nation’s emergent progress. He was once heard to have said that it was through his fraternity brothers that he fully realized the importance of nation-building. The Upsilon Sigma Phi seeks to mold aspiring young leaders for excellent service to the country and to its roster belonged some of the most distinguished movers and shakers of the country then, notably Conrado Benitez, Wenceslao Q. Vinzons, Salvador P. Lopez and Sen. Benigno Aquino, among others. Proud of and loyal to this brotherhood, he, however, had to stand up for his principles and defy one of his prominent brothers, then Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The 1960s saw a rise in student activism in the country. Then raging issues in the US – the civil rights movement, student power, the Vietnam War – sparked the students here as well to openly denounce the corruption and dirty politics of the Marcos government. Realizing the issues to be true, Cesar joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) chapter in his university. Soon, he was one of its organizers and prime movers.
Cesar was tireless in his efforts to raise the peoples’ awareness of the social ills that plagued the country. He participated in demonstrations and other protest actions to add his voice to the growing clamor for reforms. Calling for more student involvement, Cesar and his friends went to the different schools in the Southern Tagalog area and spoke about these with the students. Whenever they had the opportunity, they also conducted such talks with the farmers and the rural folk living in the areas surrounding the campuses. Because of Cesar’s agricultural background, he was able to provide hands-on technical and practical help to the small farmers in the communities.
In the UPCA campus itself, controversial issues involving unpopular administration decisions arose. Cesar took an active part in launching campaigns to push for academic freedom, better student services and participation in campus decision-making.
Many activities contributed significantly to the broad and effective student movement of the ‘60s. At the UPCA, then Student Council (1968) chair Aloysius “Ochie” Baes (Bantayog martyr) initiated a forum which met on Fridays. This was known as the UP College of Agriculture Cultural Society (UPCACS) which discussed and reviewed books of progressive world thinkers. Cesar was an eager participant at the lively exchange of ideas.
Upon receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1968, Cesar applied for post graduate studies and was admitted that same year as a botany teaching fellow. Combining duties and activism, he encouraged students to take a comprehensive view of the society. As a nationalist scientist, he urged them to question government policies on agricultural development that favor foreign interests. He continuously advocated for social reforms to alleviate the exploitation of the Filipino people and the creeping militarization. He himself began spending more time integrating with the workers and urban poor communities, learning from their experiences as he shared his own knowledge and skills to uplift their plight.
The declaration of martial law in 1972 pushed Cesar to go underground. Like many of the other activists who suddenly found themselves in the same situation, he joined the resistance movement. During those uncertain times, Cesar worked out security measures which helped many activists survive the subsequent crackdown by the dictatorship’s forces. He opted to continue organizing in the urban areas, risking his own security to keep the flame of resistance alive.
In mid-1973, a series of arrests of activists alarmed Cesar’s group. A meeting was called in October to plan contingency and security measures.
Ironically, Cesar was with seven others in one such meeting in a house in Malabon, Rizal, on October 24, 1973. The group was already asleep on the floor when they were brusquely awakened by intelligence forces of the 2nd MIG-ISAFP, long guns pointed at their faces. In the scuffle to protect the other members of the group, two were shot and killed – Alfredo Malicay (Bantayog martyr) and Cesar Hicaro. Two who were nearest the window were able to escape although they too had gunshot wounds. Three women were arrested – Nelia Sancho, Tita Lubi and Rosemarie Husin, and were immediately brought to Camp Crame.
Cesar’s father and fraternity brothers from the Upsilon Sigma Phi brought his body home from Camp Crame to his house in Paranaque City for the wake. It was later transferred to the Catholic Church at Indang, Cavite for viewing by his townmates and schoolmates. His body was brought to its final resting place at the Indang Public Cemetery after a necrological service and the fraternity’s “final rights”.
One of the survivors of the raid that fateful night, Tita Lubi, remembers Cesar as being kind, well-mannered, and deeply principled. Despite the dangers and hardships they faced, theirs was a happy bunch, she says. They fought for what they believed in. Cesar is survived by a wife and daughter.