Armando Palabay, the eighth of nine brothers and sisters, was reared in the typical Ilocano fashion of frugality and simple living. His parents stressed the value of education, love for country, and the obligation to help others and serve the community. Armando, or Mandrake to friends, was a gregarious person. He loved to mix with crowds and had the gift of a quick and charming tongue. Yet he was also sensitive to other person’s needs and he wanted to help the less fortunate.
Living in the Ilocos and coming from an Ilocano family, Mandrake grew in a community that was loyal and devoted to then president Ferdinand Marcos and his family. Every family had one of a child named Ferdinand or Imelda in honor of the president or his wife.
But the Palabay family heard of rumors of abuses and injustices being committed by the Marcos government against students and ordinary citizens. Mandrake and elder brother Romulo, then also in high school, kept up with current events and discussed the day’s issues with friends. Some evenings, they spent not wooing girls or playing with the boys, but getting into impassioned debates with their growing circle of activist friends. The Palabay house was the site of those nightly talks. The boys’ parents worried for the boys’ safety but they did not want to curtail their growing passion for justice and reform.
Romulo joined the local chapter of the militant Kabataang Makabayan, and the brothers were soon joining small rallies denouncing government abuses, or sometimes at the plaza, with a curious crowd, staging plays that offered sharp commentaries about the social situation.
The brothers moved to Manila in the 1970s for their college education. At the University of the Philippines, Mandrake joined the Student Cultural Association of UP (SCAUP), and later the Kabataang Makabayan and its cultural arm, the Panday Sining. He kept his interest in drama, helping organize and present street plays, singing protest songs during rallies, and holding poetry readings to interpret their burning search for justice in society.
After the 1971 First Quarter Storm and the bombing of the Liberal Party rally in Plaza Miranda, the brothers decided to return to the Ilocos to convince their fellow Ilocanos, still blinded by their adoration of Marcos, about what was going on. They enrolled in a local college and were soon organizing forums, protest rallies and discussion groups among youths and students in the province. They organized countryside trips to bring town‑based students to experience life in the village. In one of these visits, villagers complained that soldiers and members of the local militia had come and ordered local people to bring them food but never paid for them. The Palabay brothers organized a protest against the soldiers’ abusive practice.
Once more the Palabay household became a nightly scene of young people, discussing various views and possible alternatives. Some of the young people at these meetings came from as far away as Baguio or Manila. Some came from the villages.
President Marcos’ declaration of martial law in 1972 forever changed the Palabay household. Mandrake and Romulo were arrested, tortured and detained for half a year at Camp Olivas in Pampanga. After his release, Mandrake returned to UP, and found there a restlessness that saw even members of the faculty protesting against the repressive policies of the government.
Mandrake stayed for only one semester in UP. In December 1973, he left to engage in countryside organizing in Abra province, in particular, with the Tinggians of southern Abra. He learned the Tinggian language and took a short training in acupuncture and the use of herbal medicines to help him integrate into the community. He would handle nervous patients with humor, joking with them or telling them funny stories. He also helped in farm work, thus teaching himself about the labors of those who toiled the soil to produce food. He became part of an armed propaganda unit.
In a letter he wrote in October 1974, he told a younger brother:
“You have to render true and concrete service. I joined and learned the whole process of planting rice. Thus I realized how hard a peasant’s life is. They use very crude and backward implements. They must use their hands in order to sustain life… ”
Mandrake had been in Tinggian territory for nearly a year when his team of four moved to open new areas, a risky venture because it entailed moving into new unexplored territory. Mandrake’s unit was intercepted by constabulary soldiers and members of the local home defense force. A firefight ensued, and Mandrake’s team all died fighting. They were all buried in an unmarked grave near the banks of the Abra River. None of the bodies have been recovered.
Mandrake was 21 years old.
* Born 18 February 1953 in San Fernando, La Union
* Died 27 November 1974 in Sallapadan, Abra
* Parents : Francisco F. Palabay and Felicidad F. Ducusin
* Education : San Fernando Community School, La Union, graduated with honors
La Union High School, in top 10 of graduating class
University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, 3rd year in BS Economics