“Ciento” was how most of the classmates and friends of Cecilio Reyes called him. Siento, Spanish for one hundred, because he usually got top marks even if he only popped in class to take the exams. When Cecilio entered the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) in 1966, he was in the top twenty percent of the incoming batch of 150 scholars from all over the country. In college at UP, he studied under a scholarship grant from the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), which gave the scholarship to the top twenty-five examinees. After continuing his education at the University of Mindanao, he aced the test for 3rd year Chemical Engineering students even though he was only in his second year of civil engineering studies. His teachers there also let him teach the class every now and then.
Cecilio Reyes was the second of the five children of Apolonio and Purita Reyes. Apolonio, a lawyer, was originally from Bulacan and worked as a labor arbiter in Manila while Purita was a public school teacher in Davao City, her hometown. At the age of twelve, Cecilio had to leave home to study at the prestigious PSHS which then had only one campus in faraway Quezon City. A whiz at most anything he did — he also sang and played the guitar well – Cecilio, or Cil to friends, was kind and exuded a serious and scholarly mien, aided by the horn-rimmed glasses he wore. Although asthmatic, he was also “surprisingly athletic” recalls his high school friend, Reinaldo Guillermo. “I remember him as a good lefty player of all handball games, as well as an agile forward player in football and basketball.”
In the national scene, mounting dissent against Marcos’ policies was expressed in several rallies and demonstrations in the streets. Cecilio was in his 4th year at PSHS (the school had a 5-year high school curriculum then) when he joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). He found his niche with the Gintong Silahis, SDK’s cultural arm, and took part in many of GS’ stirring plays on the social realities, performing in protest actions, strike areas and other public places to inform the people about critical national issues. Along with the other SDK members, he went to the slum communities near the school to learn about their lives. He participated in the protest actions during the First Quarter Storm of 1970. He helped man the Diliman Commune barricades in early 1971 in support of student demands for reforms. Graduating on April 30 that same year, he was among the students who denounced a perceived government scheme imposed on them – an educational orientation that was grooming the scholars to be scientists and technocrats who will serve foreign and local big capitalists. In a move never before seen at the PSHS, the students sang nationalist songs, wore red armbands and tore up their token diplomas. Cecilio and his co-graduating science scholars raised their clenched fists, and vowed to dedicate their gift of intellect and special education to the interest of the vast majority of the Filipino masses.
The day after his graduation, Cecilio attended the violence-marred Labor Day rally in front of the old Congress building in Manila. Several were injured when government troops opened fire on the rallyists. One died on the spot– labor leader Liza Balando (Bantayog martyr).This was another harrowing experience that must have firmed up his resolve to oppose the emerging dictatorship, his friend recollected.
When martial law was declared, Cecilio, in first year college at UP and one of the prominent members of SDK, was among the many student activists arrested in the crackdown that ensued. He was detained at Camp Aguinaldo but was released after a week upon his father’s representations.
Undaunted, Cecilio quit school and joined the underground movement. Using his musical and theatrical skills, he organized a community-based cultural group that kept the spirit of dissent going in Ugong, Pasig, Rizal. But sometime in 1973, a domestic matter came up and he was forced to go back home to the province.
Restlessness and frustration over the new regime soon overcame Cecilio in Davao. His relatives tried to cheer him up by bringing him to different places. After a while, he decided to go back to school and enrolled at an engineering course at the University of Mindanao. He even got a job as a computer programmer at the Davao Light and Power Company, working in the mornings and attending his classes in the afternoons. Oftentimes he would bring home a small group of people with whom he would be engaged in earnest talk. Discussion group, he would tell his family, who, because of their joy at having him back in their midst, would not mind Cecilio’s friends hanging out at the house.
Cecilio kept a low-profile during those years but he was also widely-known to be an activist. In 1975, he came to be under surveillance. Coming home from work at noon, Cecilio spotted an unfamiliar car parked across their house. A man came and asked for him. While his sister was talking to the man, Cecilio snuck out the backdoor. That was the last time he was seen at home.
The Reyes household was soon subjected to a raid and various threats and harassments allegedly by hired goons looking for Cecilio. He managed to send them letters, from which they learned of his decision to deepen his involvement in the fight against the dictatorship. He had gone away to join the resistance movement in the countryside. But the letters soon stopped coming, and nobody came to inform them of what happened.
By summer of the following year, Cecilio Reyes was reportedly killed in a raid by military men somewhere in Davao del Norte, near the Agusan border. Very little information can be gathered now, but in a picture smuggled out by another activist shown to close college friends in Manila, Cecilio’s remains can be clearly seen, unceremoniously dumped in a municipal hall somewhere in Agusan del Sur. His remains cannot now be found.
The Reyes family’s anguish over Cecilio’s demise left a big void that has not been assuaged with time. While they and his friends rue the loss of this brilliant young man, somebody who could have climbed the ladders of any big corporation, they are consoled and uplifted by his selflessness. Life was hard in the places where he went but he carried on without complaint or regret. He forsook his own comfort, future, life itself, to serve the people. In the words of his girlfriend, Hermilina Palarca, “ipinakita ni Cecilio ang ugali ng isang bayani. Hindi inalintana ang hirap ng buhay sa lugar na kinilusan niya. Handang isakripisyo ang buhay.”