Emmanuel Lazo was the “quiet and well-behaved” son of a peasant couple in Barangay Bintawan, Villaverde, Nueva Vizcaya, the youngest of their children. When he entered college and became an activist, his gift for writing, drawing and the stage found expression in the people’s movement against the dictatorship.
The country fell under martial law when he was in grade school, but it was in high school when Manny Lazo started to be bothered by the problems he saw around him and the larger Philippine society. His hometown had by then become highly militarized, and he knew abuses were rampant.
In 1985, as soon as he entered the Central Luzon State University in Munoz, Nueva Ecija, he joined the League of Filipino Students. Lazo also helped organize a cultural group called Akda (Alyansa ng Kabataan sa Dula at Awit) and performed in plays, sang songs and recited poetry during rallies. He was often the lead in Akda’s street plays, sometimes taking the role of an activist, a guerrilla in the anti-Japanese resistance, or even national hero Andres Bonifacio. Often he drew political cartoons, posting these on the door of his locker in the college campus. The assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. touched him and he made a sketch of Aquino with the caption: “Who is this man? Who was the assassin?”
In 1985, when people’s protests were erupting everywhere against the dictatorship, a big rally was held in Manila highlighting the urgent demands of the peasantry: Lower the price of farm inputs like fertilizer and pesticides. Stabilize farmgate prices. Lower interest rates on production loans. Implement genuine agrarian reform. Stop militarization of the countryside.
It was to be a five-day march called Lakbayan, originating from various points in Luzon and converging at Manila’s Liwasang Bonifacio. It would end on October 21. Ten thousand people joined, among them Lazo and his friends. He had never been to Manila before.
But the marchers never reached Liwasang Bonifacio as planned. Just before noon of that day, along Taft Avenue, police forcibly broke into their ranks. Patrol cars rammed the marchers. This was followed by smoke bomb explosions and pistol shots. The rallyists ran in different directions. Lazo was separated from his group and was last heard shouting to his companions to keep close together: “Mga Nueva Ecija, mga Nueva Ecija, huwag kayong maghihiwalay!” Someone then saw him fall, a bullet having pierced his skull. Another young marcher, Danilo Valcos, was himself killed as he tried to help the victims.
Manny’s brother Elmer – who had voluntarily foregone college in order to support Manny’s desire for further studies – passed by the scene of the tragedy just minutes after the shooting, not knowing that his younger brother had just fallen there, age 17.