PRINCIPE, Nestor Labastilla

Nestor was born in the province of Bohol. His family moved to Manila in search of better opportunities. They settled in Caloocan City where Nestor completed his elementary and secondary education.

The young Nestor grew in an area that was ruled by gangs and rogue policemen. Nestor and his brothers turned to martial arts to protect themselves. He came to detest authorities who abused their power and often boldly faced the local toughies that harassed poor folk while boasting of police connections. He was also once accused of a petty misdemeanor and beaten up.

In college, Nestor’s skill in the martial arts grew. He earned a 3rd dan black in karate Shotokan style, and entered into matches where he challenged local luminaries in the field. Later, he found a job as instructor in self-defense at the National Bureau of Investigation and other military units. He also taught karate to deaf students.

At an International Martial Arts Exhibition in 1965, a Malaysian government minister saw his skill and invited him to Malaysia to serve as his bodyguard and martial arts instructor for his sons. Nestor accepted.

After his stint as bodyguard/tutor in Malaysia, he toured the world, supporting his wanderlust by taking odd jobs in piers, exhibition matches and karate gyms. He once told friends he once worked to clear land mines in Israel. He became friends with “hippies” and went with them on the “hippie trail” to places such as Thailand, India, Nepal and Pakistan, to the Middle East, North Africa and on to Europe.

Nestor heard of the First Quarter Storm in Manila while attending a big anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square in London in May 1970. Something in him clicked; working odd jobs once more, he hitchhiked his way back to his country.

He went back to school and enrolled in journalism at the Lyceum of the Philippines where student activism was strong. He joined the Kabataang Makabayan, shed his hippie look, and learned what he can about campus and national issues by joining discussion groups, teach-ins and mass actions. The leading members of the KM at the school, like Eugene Grey and Albert Espinas (both Bantayog honorees), Julius Fortuna and others served as his political mentors. He gave all of himself to his new-found activism, the way he gave himself to karate. He read extensively on the works of nationalists like Claro M. Recto, Lorenzo Tanada, as well as on Marxist philosophies.

He wrote four literary pieces, two of which were published in the Philippines Free Press: “Goodbye Manuel” and “Wadi is also a river.”

 Soon he was blacklisted in school for his political activities. Heeding KM’s call to “learn from the masses,” he left the university and went to live in several poor communities in Metro Manila. He helped organize jeepney drivers plying the Mounumento-Pier route and mobilized support for striking dockworkers at the Port area.

When martial law was declared in 1972, Nestor left Manila to avoid arrest and found himself in the Cordilleras in the north, first in Mt. Province and then in Benguet. He was unfamiliar with the area and the language, but was able to adapt, finding ways to discuss with the local people about their condition, talk to them about the national situation and tried to convince them to fight the dictatorship.

He became known in these areas he visited as Ka Wadi, the karate expert.

He died just weeks after reaching the town of Kabayan in Benguet. He was killed by the Philippine Constabulary during a military operation. (The PC soldiers took his head off and presented it to their commander in the town. The commander ordered it returned to be buried with the body but it is unknown if the instruction was carried out.) Local folk in Kabayan performed a ritual to cleanse the community of the desecration and buried Nestor’s body in the mountains where it remains to this day. He was 28 years old.