My brother, Eddie (for Edberto), passed away from a heart attack last September 7 at the Makati Medical Center. For more than five decades (since 1964), he was very active in what he called two weeks before his death on a Facebook message as “the continuing struggle of the Filipino people for social justice, democracy, and national sovereignty.”
In his noble desire to uplift the masses and work for the oppressed and marginalized in Philippine society, he used the Marxist paradigm of class struggle and the evils of capitalism. Before I pay tribute to him as a brother and as a friend, let me first quote from what the local media wrote about him upon his passing away. What was Eddie’s public persona? In a ABS-CBN news item, IBON Foundation, a think tank that Eddie helped to found, reported that Dr. Edberto Villegas, a retired UP Manila professor and book author, passed away at the age of 80. According to IBON, Eddie had been a member of their board of trustees since 1979: “Villegas is the grandson of national hero Gen. Miguel Malvar, the last Filipino general to surrender to the American forces during the revolution at the turn of the 20th century. As founding member of youth group Kabataan Makabayan in November, 1964, he joined the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. He was among thousands of victims of human rights violations during the martial rule in which he was arrested, tortured and detained for two years in Camp Crame. Villegas was a professor of development studies and political economy in UP Manila, UP Baguio, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and De La Salle University. He also became Secretary-General of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT). Ed was a Marxist scholar and an academic and ,wherever he went, a beloved teacher. Everyone who knows or ever met him will agree that he was one of a kind. He also wrote books on political economy and economic issues such as Oil Imperialism in the Philippines (1981), Studies in Philippine Political Economy (1983), Political Economy of Philippine Labor Law (1988), Global Finance Capital and the Philippine Financial System (2002) and A Guide to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital ((2003). Villegas wrote poems and authored the two novels Sebyo (1990) and Barikada: Maikling Kwento ng mag Pilipino ( 2013).
The most detailed tribute to Eddie was given by Jose Maria Sison and his wife Julieta de Lima in a Webinar entitled “The Best of Mad Marx: A Tribute to Ed Villegas, Beloved Teacher.” Also known as Joma, Mr. Sison is a Filipino writer and activist and founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines and Kabataan Makabayan. Joma and Eddie had been comrades in arms since their UP days in the 1960s and fought together both in their writings and teachings as well as in the streets against the Marcos dictatorship.
Let me just quote some excerpts from his comprehensive and glowing tribute: “We are proud to have grown with him intellectually and politically in the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines. We were together in the Student Cultural Association of the UP in the early 1960s. We fought for academic freedom and the right to write and publish articles advocating national and social liberation from foreign and feudal domination…We admire Ed’s pride in being the grandson of General Miguel Malvar who had become interim president of the First Philippine Republic after the capture of Aguinaldo in 1902, for his readiness to learn from the positive and negative lessons from all previous revolutionary struggles and above all for his determination to study and apply Marxism-Leninism in the two stages of the Philippine revolution. Ed became a charter member of Kabataan Makabayan when it was founded in 1964. He contributed greatly to political education and mass work among students in several universities, among young teachers and professionals, among young workers in trade unions belonging to Lapiang Manggagawa (later named Socialist Party of the Philippines) and mostly children of peasant members of MASAKA, then under the leadership of Felixberto Olalia Early on, Ed earned the reputation of being serious in studying the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. In every collective discussion that Ed joined, he would stress the essential points regarding an issue quoting from the Marxist classics. But he was no book worshipper, he was a lover of mass actions. He participated in nearly all major mass actions of the national democratic movement.
“He would have readily agreed had we asked him to join us in the revolutionary armed struggle upon the establishment of the New People’s Army (NPA) in 1969. But we thought that he could accomplish more for the national democratic movement by educating and inspiring the youth in the university. From the time that he finished his AB English/Comparative Literature, he became highly respected as an educator by doing research, writing books, and teaching so many thousands of students in the UP campuses of Baguio and Manila for several decades. Paradoxically, despite his non-involvement in the armed struggle, he went to prison ahead of us in 1976 on mere suspicion of giving shelter to NPA commanders. He was subjected to intense physical and psychological torture along with his late wife Lilia. He was detained for two years by the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Then it was Julie’s and my turn to be arrested in 1977….
“Comrade Ed is immortal because of the great educational and political service that he rendered to the Filipino youth and people. His revolutionary ideas and deeds will continue to inspire the people in their revolutionary struggle for national liberation, democracy and socialism. The historical record, the testimonies of his comrades, his own written works and most importantly the continuance and victorious advance of the Philippine revolution will ensure his immortality from one generation to another….”
A good number of his former students (who count by the thousands over a period of more than 40 years teaching in at least five universities) were also present during the Webinar. His grandson, Miguel Villegas (only child of his only son Karl) did me the great favor of summarizing the highlights of the equally glowing testimonials of the Filipino youth to whom he selflessly devoted much time and energy in order to educate them in his passionate commitment to the preferential option for the poor and oppressed. From their remarks, one could trace the profile of an intellectual whose feet were planted firmly on the ground. He was not a bookish reformer as I imagined his idol Karl Marx was, poring on volumes of books in the British Library. He was steeped in both theory and praxis. There were tributes from those who were with him in his two years of imprisonment and torture during martial law. He was the life of the party because he was no brooding ideologue. He was always funny, hilarious, even boisterous and would always cheer up the rest. Some of his former students remembered how they enjoyed his very lively lectures, with hands gesticulating and his voice booming, denouncing the neoliberal dogma of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation. He used all forms of communication to deliver his message, not hesitating to dance, sing, and do rap to appeal to the younger generation. That is probably why he got the monicker “Mad Marx”, a take-off from the famous character Mad Max played by Mel Gibson in the 1979 Australian dystopian thriller directed by George Miller.
He was remembered by his students for his espousal of workers’ control of workplaces inspired by practices in former Yugoslavia before it was dismembered. He was always ready to give advice and answer questions from his students. He had Biblical sayings at the tips of his fingers. It was always a delight to attend meetings with him as he insisted those should always end with hearty meals and strong beer! You could feel him overflowing with a great love for the masses. He was peerless as a nationalist teacher. He enjoyed dancing and rapping to brighten up any gathering. In the most trying times, others shied to stand up for their principles but he always dared to stand up and with the leadership called for. He was considered as the greatest Marxist political economist of the Philippine academe and an outstanding model to all educators of revolutionary praxis.
He treated his students and many others with a stubborn sense of egalitarianism, respect, and warm camaraderie. He will always be remembered for his generosity, sense of humor, and tenderness. He was a brilliant, intelligent, and fascinating Marxist activist and scholar. These were only a few of the laudatory words from his former students during the webinar held in his honor.
To be continued.