Teresito Sison, called either Sito or Terry, was one of those gifted teachers who kindled in their students a passionate love of ideas. They learned from him through the books he asked them to read, the discussions he provoked within and outside the classroom, and most of all by the example he gave of intellectual commitment as it should be lived in one’s daily actions.
Sito was a sickly youth. His mother washed clothes for the Benedictine nuns of the local Holy Family School. Sito was a toddler and his youngest sibling a baby when his mother died, likely exhausted by all the years of hard, unremitting work. The two youngest siblings were thus raised by grandparents. Wanting to become a priest, Sison started at the Jesuit-run San Jose Seminary in Manila. Then he shifted and took a teaching job at the prestigious Holy Angel College in Angeles City.
He was in his 30s when nationalist politics came to him. Ironically, it was the teacher who learned from the students. Among Sito’s pupils were Rodolfo Salas and Nilo Tayag, who by then had become leaders of activist organizations. They asked him to join discussion groups, rallies, marches and other actions critical of the Marcos government. Sito joined the Kabataang Makabayan and the Movement for the Advancement of Nationalism (MAN) then led by Senator Lorenzo M. Tañada.
Being a natural leader himself, Sito was soon leading his own group. Sison organized the Salaginto Dramatic Guild which put up three socially-relevant, highly-critical plays. He formed a teachers’ union and campaigned for its legal recognition. He led a strike to advance teachers’ economic and political rights and student rights as well. As a result of these protests, Sito and several strike leaders were fired by the school.
Sito then took a job as a laborer at Clark Air Base. Harassment against him started. His house was sprayed with bullets, with members of a local private army called Monkees as immediate suspects. Undeterred, Sito went into organizing work among the peasants and farm workers in Hacienda Luisita in nearby Concepcion, Tarlac.
Sito was one of those arrested when President Marcos suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1971. He was taken from his house in Angeles City, tortured, then incarcerated in Camp Crame in Quezon City. He was charged with subversion along with 13 others. The torture he suffered and the substandard conditions in military detention exacted a toll on Sito’s diabetic body.
The soles of his feet never healed after they were burned with hot iron. His kidneys were damaged and he was practically bedridden after his release from prison in 1973. He went through another brief detention in 1974, this time when the country was put under martial law.
Despite his increasing disability, Sito continued to help in the struggle to defy the dictatorship. He contributed articles and poems, gave interviews, and advocated strongly for the rights of children, peasants and workers. He died at home on Nov. 30, 1980, significantly, also celebrated across the country as National Heroes Day.