Ismael Umali was a familiar figure at the Western Philippine Colleges in Batangas City, not only because he was visibly a polio survivor, or that he was a friendly and happy person but also because he was a well-known student leader, a fighter for student rights.
He was a senior political science major when he started to become involved in school activism. At first, the students were calling for the restoration of their student council. Then when tuition fees were raised by 15%, the students demanded that the increase be lowered to 5%. Ismael and two of his friends, Noel Clarete and Aurelio Magpantay, formed the Makisama Party that led the successful opposition to the tuition fee increase.
The assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. had a big impact on the three, and they joined the Batangas chapter of the Justice for Aquino Justice for All movement. In 1984, the military briefly detained them when they tried to organize a rally in Batangas calling on people to boycott the Batasang Pambansa elections.
He became a member of the League of Filipino Students, the Youth Citizens of Student Committee, and the Batangas City Student Forum. He was also an officer of the Omega Epsilon fraternity.
Umali disappeared in March 1984, together with Clarete and Magpantay, after they joined the Lakbayan, a massive people’s march that ended in a big rally in Manila. Their battered bodies were found in Cavite after days of searching by their families. Umali’s remains were easily identified from the slight deformation of his leg caused by polio. But the handicap did not affect the patriotic spirit of this young man, who was willing to walk many kilometers in support of justice and freedom.