Nicasio “Nicky” Morales was born on May 1, 1955, to (Bantayog martyr) Capt. Rogelio C. Morales and Belen Manalo. His father was a Merchant Marine school superintendent and technical expert who, at the time of Nicky’s birth, was already fiercely championing the Filipino seafarers’ rights. Well-travelled, Capt. Morales had seen the strides in governance that other countries had made, and wished the same for his people. Deeply patriotic, he instilled in his children the same love for country and freedom.
The elder Morales would usually bring home a lot of philosophical books from his travels abroad and Nicky would lap these up. He easily understood the social crisis that the country faced in the late ‘60s when he was in high school at the Ateneo. He joined organizations such as the Student Catholic Action (SCA) and the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) chapter in their school and would confidently lead discussion groups as the members immersed with the workers and poor communities in Barangka, Marikina, a town practically at Ateneo’s backdoor. At that young age, Nicky’s group were part of the protest actions that saw waves of students pouring out to the streets like the First Quarter Storm in 1970 and the Diliman commune the following year.
Nicky was in his first year of college in UP Diliman when martial law was declared. Many activists were arrested and most organizations were banned but that did not stop him and a few brave souls from registering their disapproval of the new regime. Small stickers with hand-written slogans like “Down with the Marcos dictatorship!” would suddenly get posted on the walls, or cats sporting like-worded banners would be let loose to roam about. Early in 1974, however, one after the other, Nicky and his father were arrested by the military. Both spent some time at the Ipil Rehabilitation Center in Fort Bonifacio.
Nicky resumed his studies after his release and even earned his degree in time. He took up graduate studies in Industrial Relations immediately after, and became the Grand Chancellor of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) Fraternity UP Diliman chapter,of which he was a member since his undergraduate days. It was during his leadership that the now famous annual APO “Oblation Run” came about.
In 1977, a member of APO, Rolly Abad, was killed in a brawl with another fraternity. Saddened by this, Nicky wanted to redirect the fraternity’s energies to more productive and nationally relevant pursuits. He planned for an activity that his group could engage in – sponsorship of a play called Hubad na Bayani – and after the mechanics were fully conceptualized, a stunt, to promote this event. At that time, the practice of streaking was in vogue in the US. According to Bob Pangalangan, one of Nicky’s contemporaries in the fraternity, their group decided to hold the stunt on December 16, the date of the fraternity’s anniversary, wherein three full-pledged APO members would run naked in the campus. (Note: Hubad na Bayani, written by Robert Arevalo and Teloy Cosme, was subsequently banned by the government. It was about the human rights violations occurring at the time and won awards from the Gawad Urian and the Catholic Media.) Thus had Nicky started a tradition in UP which, especially during the martial law years, served as a medium for popular dissent against repression.
After completing his post-graduate studies in 1978, Nicky worked as an administrative assistant at the National Environmental Protection Council (NEPC) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and then at the Natural Resources Management Center (NRMC). His fight for the people’s welfare did not stop with a job; the NEPC reported on the environmental degradation wrought by the operations of mining and similar companies duly licensed by the government. He was also then with the Kilusang Mamimili sa Pilipinas (KMPI), a consumer protection group headed by Julie Amargo. For Nicky, consumer protectionism was not incongruent to the resistance against the dictatorship; as Sr. Mary John Mananzan, OSB, a colleague in the consumer protection movement tells it: “… During those days … no organization existed unless approved by a repressive, dictatorial government. Nicky was instrumental in transforming the consumers’ movement from a middle class oriented movement dealing with lemon cars, shrinking t-shirts and other sub-standard consumer goods into a strategic movement dealing with mass-based concerns.”
Nicky, as KMPI Executive Director for the years 1979 – 1980, was part of an umbrella group, the Citizen’s Alliance for Consumer Protection (CACP) which established Study Action Groups (SAGs). These SAGs were composed of 2 to 3 persons who would brainstorm, discuss and identify an issue, and then come up with a plan for the required action, implementation and follow-up. The consumer movement lashed out at cronies having a field day dumping products inimical to the public’s health and safety, such as various food and untested pharmaceutical items, as well as at the planned nuclear plant in Bataan. Inevitably, issues that pertain to the oil price hikes, workers’ wages, tuition fee increases, even indigenous peoples’ rights, urban poor housing and many other issues affecting the Filipino masses were being brought up and talked about.
Nicky became a marked man once again in 1980, when an organization which he established in 1979, the Samahan ng mga Manggagawang Konsumer (SAMAKO), was the signatory to a request for the use of the Araneta Coliseum on May 1. The event was an indoor rally which gathered 30,000 workers, students and activists. Soon, he received the dreaded ASSO – Arrest, Search and Seizure Order. After his house was raided one September dawn, he made up the hard decision to leave the country.
With the help of friends, Nicky secretly made his way to Washington, DC, in the United States of America. Meanwhile, Julie Amargo wrote a letter addressed to the “missing” consumer activist and published it in her column on the Bulletin Today on Sept. 17, 1980, titled “Where is Nicky Morales?” To this, Nicky responded from his hiding place with an article called “Why I am where I am” (sent to KMPI in December, published in the Ms. & Ms. Newsmagazine on June 1981). In it, he affirmed his “politics of consumption,” that is, he believed the protection of poor consumers to be a movement for “liberation,” whereas the laboring classes would be united “under the banner of consumerism.” (Hilton, 2009, p. 88)
“The price of defending the low-income consumers is frightening only because it calls for the massive education and organization of the exploited majority which runs directly opposite to the interests of Big Business, Bureaucrat Dictators, or the exploiting minority who gain from every war, benefit from inflation and profit from docile labor and unorganized consumers… For wherever I may be… it consoles me to know that we have discovered the formula for the effective protection of consumers in the Third World, and I am confident that the people behind KMPI will apply the formula at whatever price…” (Nicky Morales, I Am Where I Am, 1980)
In the relative safety and anonymity of his new surroundings in the US, Nicky could have just kept quiet and worked or engaged in a business for himself. Instead, he took on the struggle against the dictatorship with renewed vigor, intent on telling the world what was really happening in his country. He first worked for a big ecumenical organization called Church Committee for Human Rights Campaign in the Philippines (CCHRP), headed by Dr. Dante Simbulan, Sr., which lobbied for the severance of military aid to the Philippines. He was one of the prime movers of the Alliance of Philippine Concerns (APC),and of the Washington Forum, organizations of Filipinos in the US and Canada active in the campaign against human rights violations and militarization in the Philippines.
By the time of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino in 1983,“ … (Nicky) had quietly done the ground work among a broad based Filipino community … of nurses, domestic workers, Filipino doctors and Filipino professionals working in the World Bank, which laid the foundation for a heightened participation of the Filipinos in the anti-dictatorship movement in the US,” colleague Corinne Canlas attests.
Nicky was also a member of a New Jersey-based cultural organization called PAINTING which gave whatever aid it can raise to those in need in the Philippines such as typhoon or calamity victims. He had a good singing voice and oftentimes took part in cultural presentations. He even wrote a play, Juan Immigrant, a satire on the fate of Filipinos in the US.
How Nicky could have done all these activities and more is a wonder and source of admiration to his many friends, considering the differences in the time zones across the US. To make ends meet, Nicky had engaged in a newspaper distribution business which required him to be up at 1 o’clock in the morning to supervise and give instructions to his team. His job would be completed by 5 a.m., but he would not immediately go to sleep. He would still spend hours writing, planning, reading or communicating with somebody on the other end of the North American continent or on the other side of the world. Nicky shared his family, time and resources to the cause of freedom for the Philippines, living out his dictum of “the personal is political.” He would bring his wife Dahlia and their 3 young children, who had joined him in the US, to the rallies and Filipino picnics he had organized. He opened up his home to anyone – friends, comrades of any political persuasion or visiting political personalities from the homeland who needed a place to stay in.
Nicky kept up with this pace and even doubled his efforts in 1985, in the run-up to the dictatorship’s eventual fall the next year. He coordinated with the different anti-Marcos groups in the US, organizing simultaneous protest actions that caught the attention of the US media. He was a part of the leadership that sustained daily protests near the Philippine embassy in Washington. On February 26, 1986, Nicky, along with Filipino activists and American supporters, victoriously barged into the embassy and occupied it “in the name of the Filipino people.”
After EDSA, Nicky led the Alliance of Philippine Concerns lobby to the US Congress for Philippine interests to help the Cory Aquino government. He and his family went back home to the Philippines in 1990.
Nicky’s unrelenting efforts seemed to have taken a toll on his health. At the age of 44, supposedly at the prime of his life, he died of a sudden heart attack on November 1, 1999.
“…the children of this country, we believe, must learn from Nicky’s example of how character and resolve are better steeled and forged by those who seek no recognition, reward or payback for their acts of patriotism and fidelity to the people’s genuine democratic aspirations.”
Thus reads in part the letter that Nicky’s many friends and colleagues wrote to nominate Nicasio “Nicky” Morales for inclusion to Bantayog’s roster of heroes and martyrs. For one born to a life of privilege but who, like many others of his generation molded by the circumstances they found themselves in, Nicky selflessly chose the high road.The letter goes on to say that “it will be remiss for those who truly understand the importance of nation-building to forget to honor those who helped shape the country’s democratic restoration at its darkest hour.”