If not for a picture posted in, of all places, Friendster, by the people of Southern Tagalog Exposure, I would not have realized that the Noli Capulong who was felled by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Laguna last week was the Ka Noli whom I met briefly in, of all places, Hong Kong. It was all too brief meeting. Close to a hundred activists allied to Bayan were there last December to participate in protests against the World Trade Organization meeting. I was among those to covered, and participated in, the protests. As far as I knew, Ka Noli was one of a three-person contingent sent by Bayan-Southern Tagalog to represent its organization in the multinational anti-globalization demonstrations there.
I met Ka Noli in what could liberally called a “hotel room” I was supposed to be staying in – we were both billeted in the same room as with another demonstrator from Cordillera. Ka Noli was understandably upset about our situation, as there were three of us in a room of two beds at a time when Hong Kong winter was at a punishing 12 degrees. To break the impasse – and since I was the youngest in the room and therefore had the most energy left to carry around luggage after a gruelling day of protesting – I volunteered to move out, and squat in a friend’s “hotel room.”
I remember seeing him and Kiri Dalena during the following days in Hong Kong. Kiri was busy preparing their exhibit on the extrajudicial killings in Mindoro and Southern Tagalog. Placed adjacent to the ILPS (International League of Peoples’ Struggle) Tent in Victoria Park, the exhibit drew brief attention from passersby. Though globalist exploitation was the main targets of protests, it was easy for protesters to find the connection between human rights violations and economic exploitation through globalization. Often, after all, the two go together.
Recalling that time made me think about how little I had been thinking – I mean, really thinking – about the recent spate of extrajudicial killings of activists in the country. Sure I have been writing about it in our paper all the time.Recalling, though, my brief encounter with someone who recently was brutally murdered, in all likelihood by the government death squad, awoke in me a sorrow that I had not felt in a while. Just last December, in a foreign land, Ka Noli was alive, protesting with the multitude against the inequities of our time. He was among us, he fought with us, for us. And last week he was gone, his life snuffed out of him by bullets we the people paid for with our taxes. He was killed, brutally and mercilessly killed.
I hardly knew Ka Noli, but it did not matter. Just as I hardly knew Beng Hernandez, whom I was with in a CEGP Congress. Or Erika Salang, whom I saw as among the uniformed troop of pimpled high schoolers joining us in rallies in Diliman. Or Teroy Llamas, whose jokes about “imperyalismo” and “Imperial-ismo” (the Imperials being a ruling political family in Albay) I laughed at in a forum in UP. I grieve for people I would have known. I hardly knew them, but felt the same grief that I felt with the coldblooded murder of a close friend (I have to say her name, to declare that she was once alive: Maria Graziella Miranda) by government soldiers.
I remember the fleeting encounters with those lives, their warmth, their selflessness and devotion, their friendships. Then I remember the brutality of their deaths. Then I get angry.