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Activists of 2 Generations Mourn Death of 'Sir Nic'

Written By David D'Angelo on Friday, December 7, 2007 | 12/07/2007

By Volt Contreras
(Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines -- Activists from two generations -- those who survived fighting the Marcos dictatorship and those too young to have gone through that long, dark night -- are in mourning for Monico Atienza, beloved comrade, inspiring professor and, perhaps, a study of what one stands to gain or lose for a revolutionary cause.

After lapsing into a coma a year ago, Atienza succumbed to throat cancer on Wednesday afternoon at his home on the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City, where he taught Rizal and Pilipino subjects.

"Nic," who in the 1960s became secretary general of the militant Kabataang Makabayan and in 2003 worked to reorganize the old street cadres from the historic First Quarter Storm (FQS) marches of 1970, was 60 years old.

Disease finally felled the man who, some three decades ago, barely survived the torture chambers of the martial law regime and later an assassination attempt allegedly carried out by the post-Marcos military.

In separate interviews Thursday with the Inquirer, two of Atienza's close friends -- Boni Ilagan, chair of the FQS Movement of which Nic was founding president, and UP professor Luis Teodoro -- remembered the man for his convictions, which were neither eroded by time nor bowed for expediency.

With a tone of reverence, Ilagan and Teodoro both described Atienza as one of the most "heavily tortured" detainees during martial law.

A UP student who went underground two years before martial law was declared in 1972, Atienza was arrested in 1974. He was about 27.

Never bowed to torturers

Atienza's genitals were "burned," the two men said, although their memories conflicted. Ilagan said the torturers used rolled-up newspapers or comic books for a torch; Teodoro said a lighter was used.

This was on top of the other brutalities -- electric shock, sleep deprivation, being left naked in a room with the air-conditioner going full-blast and repeated beatings.

Atienza was also injected with "truth serum" to induce a confession, Ilagan said.

He will be praised for many things, but his "biggest triumph was that he never bowed to his torturers," Ilagan said. "He did not crack and send more into the hands of the enemy."

Nervous breakdown

Atienza eventually suffered a nervous breakdown during his detention and was brought to the V. Luna military hospital. He was still a patient there when he was released in 1980, or six years after his arrest, Ilagan said.

Both Ilagan and Teodoro said Atienza might have emerged psychologically scarred from the ordeal.

He seemed more short-tempered, for one thing, Teodoro noted.

Except for a TV interview he granted in 2003, Atienza never spoke publicly about what the then Philippine Constabulary, including a lieutenant named Rodolfo Aguinaldo (later to become governor of Cagayan), did to him in Camp Crame, Ilagan noted.

When both of them were still in prison, Ilagan said, "I saw him being dragged by two escorts [after a torture session] back to his cell. All he had was this blank stare."

More severely than others

"He was tortured more severely than the others probably because he was suspected of being a ranking officer of the communist party and, therefore, knew a lot about the leadership structure," Ilagan, a playwright who himself endured two years in jail, surmised.

Ilagan recalled that he, Atienza and others were held in what was supposed to be Camp Crame's armory -- "thick walls, steel doors, one-foot-by- one-foot windows, a place not built for human habitation."

There were no toilets in the cells. The inmates were provided biscuit cans and old newspapers for their use.

The inmates could hear torture sessions going on in adjacent rooms, and Ilagan was convinced that the PC deliberately let others hear what was going on.

Still fiery

After his release, Atienza was able to re-enroll at UP, and shifted courses from political science to Philippine studies, Ilagan said.

He eventually secured a teaching position at the university and resumed his "fight" as a fiery, sought-after speaker in student forums and as a supporter of progressive groups.

Once, shortly after EDSA I people power uprising in 1986, Teodoro and Atienza were on their way to a colleague's birthday party.

But the latter decided to turn back upon seeing certain guests at the venue: It was one of those weird occasions when officers of the rightwing Reform the Armed Forces Movement got to mingle with the leftist set.

"I see one of my torturers among them. I think we're no longer needed here," Teodoro recalled his hesitant friend saying.

No demand for compensation

And more of Atienza's true grit showed when the time of reckoning with his jailers finally came: He distanced himself from moves by fellow detainees to demand compensation from the Marcos regime.

Said Ilagan: "He had a different view. I remember him saying, 'What I went through cannot be compensated in terms of pesos.'

"But he did not stop anyone [from demanding compensation] , and did not campaign against it."

Added Teodoro: "'I never thought of receiving any reward for fighting the dictatorship. ' That's how he also put it."

Ambush

Atienza, a native of Cuenca, Batangas, would have his next brush with death shortly after EDSA I. (Teodoro said Atienza was disappointed with the results of both EDSA I and II, in which he took part.)

In 1987, Atienza, Bernabe Buscayno, former communist guerrilla commander and then senatorial candidate, and three companions were ambushed in their car by a suspected military death squad.

A piece of shrapnel became embedded in Atienza's head, and a leg wound sustained from that attack never healed up to the time he had a heart attack in December 2006.

Until then, a mass in his throat that blocked his air passage had remained undetected. He was diagnosed with cancer.

Fund-raisers were held to pay for his continued stay at the Philippine General Hospital, and among those who pitched in were a left-leaning party-list group and a few lawmakers, Ilagan said.

After seven months, friends from the FQS Movement decided to bring him home.

Atienza, who lived apart from his wife and their two sons after he was released from detention, died with two caregivers hired by his comrades at his bedside, Ilagan said.

In less than 24 hours, the first eulogies came in the blogs of his UP students -- those who were not even born yet when their "Sir Nic" was being brutalized for his cause.

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