IN MEMORY OF MARIA LORENA BARROS
By Percival Campoamor Cruz
“The life story of Maria Lorena Barros gained credence and historicity.”
-- E. San Juan, Jr.
Lorena with an armalite in her hand and exchanging fires with soldiers in pursuit of her. Lorena indoctrinating an assembly of cadres, punching the air with her fists, as she orated before them.
Lorena, a dedicated soldier, who came down from the hills to perform her duties as wife and mother in an obscure village under a cloak of secrecy. Lorena, an icon of steely determination and total sacrifice in the name of a great principle. We could not believe that Lorena, the warrior and heroine, was the same quiet Lorena who we had the pleasure of meeting in college. What a great privilege!
Founder and chairwoman of Makibaka, a radical women’s group that fought the dictatorial and pro-American
administration of Marcos, she fled to the mountains before Marcos’ soldiers could lay their hands on her. This is the Lorena being portrayed in history.
She joined the “underground”, an army-in-waiting made up of young people who clashed with the government in a tactical way, using the strike-and-run strategy. Other young people who decided to fight Marcos in the parliament of the streets armed only with their ideals and courage ended up being abused by the military. They were dealt with harshly and without due process, abducted, jailed, raped, tortured, “salvaged”.
Lorena gave up the loving family that nurtured her from infancy to womanhood. Though middle-class in status, the family was able to send her to good schools and make sure she lived a life of quiet and comfort.
She came to the university in a tumultuous time. The Vietnam War was raging on and its unpopularity was dividing nations. Marcos was putting together the structure of a dictatorship. He was beginning to clamp down on the freedom of the Filipinos.
Radical organizations sprang from the youth, farmer and worker sectors across the nation. They mobilized to be at the forefront of politicizing the masses and resisting Marcos’ dictatorship and America’s imperialism.
Lorena came to join the fraternity-sorority we helped organize at the University of the Philippines in 1965, Sanduguang Kayumanggi (Blood Compact of Brown Men and Women). Co-founders were Magdangal de Leon, now a Justice; Malaya Ronas, chair of political science in the University of the Philippines; Rodolfo de Guzman, WMO meteorologist in Geneva; Valerio Nofuente, a poet who was probably “salvaged” by the military; Luis Fadrigo, Renato Reyes, Jimmy Tayag, Jimmy Miranda, Floro Quibuyen, now Rizal professor in U.P., Marilyn de Castro, Leona Valencia, Cynthia Tiotuyco, Lydia Valarao, Fatima Isada and others. From this organization she acquired her first lessons on nationalism. Later on, she also became an ardent member of the Bertrand Russel Peace Foundation (BRPF), Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK), and Kabataang Makabayan (KM).
She was in many street demonstrations – at Malacanang and at the U.S. Embassy. She listened to the fiery speeches of Jose Maria Sison; she saw the energy and courage of the young men and women, as young as she was, engaging the soldiers and the police in confrontations, with nary a defense except for their placards and banners. The stinging speeches, the bravery of her companions, hit their mark on Lorena’s heart. There was, too, an inert power in her being that was waiting to be aroused – she had the blood of revolutionaries; her grandfather was a Katipunero and her mother was a courier of the Hukbalahap.
The follower soon became the leader. She founded Makibaka so that women could have their own place in the nationalist movement, so that she could employ her skill in teaching, following in the footsteps of Joma, and her passion for writing. Her writings became more incisive and provocative. Lorena expressed her basic political belief, thus:
“We are suffering from a feudal sense of values in which women are considered adjuncts of the home — for the children, for the kitchen and for the bed…We are not trying to put down these traditional roles, we just want more active involvement from the Filipino women.”
Lorena challenged her fellow women in possessing the trait of the new Filipina:
"The new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant...
“And since in the cities, participation in protest marches means not only marching but also dodging police truncheons, evading precinct- produced molotovs...expertise is hitting the ground whenever and whatever pig force starts firing...the new Filipina is one who has learned...to carry herself in these situations with sufficient ease and aplomb to convince the male comrades that they need not take care of her, please.
“The new Filipina is one who can stay whole days and nights with striking workers, learning from them the
social realities which her bourgeois education has kept from her...More important this means she has convinced her parents of the seriousness of her commitment to the workers and peasants cause...a commitment which requires all sorts of behavior previously way beyond the bounds of respectable
womanhood...She is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history...
“No longer is she a woman-for-marriage, but more and more a
We had the privilege of working closely with Lorena in the recruitment of members into our nationalist organization. We made sure students came to meetings and understood the importance of their role in changing the status quo. Lorena was shy and quiet. She was not comfortable speaking in public;
in contrast, her pen was very eloquent and poetic. She was modest, wore simple clothes, and glowed even without make-up. She had black, long hair held by a band. She wore black-framed eyeglasses that somewhat obscured her beautiful face. She was fair and had very smooth cheeks and complexion. She had very
expressive, rather sad eyes. But her lips always conveyed friendship and cheerfulness.
Lorena struck us as a gem polished and kept hidden by her parents until it was time to
mingle with society; similar to a grain ensconced in the protective bosom of a mother pearl and then exposed one day and seen by a grateful discoverer.
We were fortunate to be gifted by Lorena with a short poem she wrote:
Fresh, white and lovely
The flower subsists and sparkles
On the sun’s and the evening dew’s power.
It will wither.
And you briefly seeing its splendor
Makes the blooming and the withering
Lorena disappeared without notice and the chance to say thank you to a brief friendship did not present itself. And we heard later on that she had joined the militant young men and women who took refuge in the mountains. She became a teacher, poetess, warrior, and pearl of the New People’s Army (NPA).
She wrote in one pamphlet: “What is a mother? A rich source of food to a hungry infant. A warm blanket on a cold night. Sweet lullaby. Water to a painful wound . . . But what is a nationalistic mother? The lighted torch toward the dawn. Solid rock. Fountainhead of strength in war. Comrade-in-arms in war and victory, my mother.”
She praised her comrades-in-arms:
morning Little Comrade
gave me a
I look at it now
remembering you, Felix
dear friend and
and all the brave sons and daughters
of our suffering land
makes our blades sharper
gives our bullets
like this pure white bud
are our martyrs
fiercely fragrant with love
for our country and people
With what radiance they should
sadness should not be
whipped and lashed desperately
has not our Asian land
how bravely our ranks
bloom into each gap
With the same intense purity and
we are learning to overcome.
Lorena’s chosen life and fortune took the logical turn. She fell in love with one of her comrades and the union produced a son. I imagine the double life she had to endure –switching roles from mother to warrior – constantly hiding, disguising, wandering and surviving in a harsh environment; all for the love of the Mother
Land. What hurt most to a patriot was not the roughness of the living conditions; it was the thought that the people who meant well were being pursued while the people who meant to plunder were the ones in power. This thought hurt like having a sharp knife permanently stuck in one’s heart.
According to reports: “On March 24, 1976, government military troops raided a hut in Mauban, Quezon where Lorena met her tragic death. It is said that she ordered her comrades to make a escape leaving
her alone to repulse the military raid. She was only 28 years old.”
The wise men of the revolution celebrated the martyrdom of Lorena. Such edification can be found in E. San Juan, Jr.’s poem:
Though the memory had drifted away, it still hurts:
24 March 1976
when you were nabbed by the soldiers of the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.
When they failed to extract answers from you
– the gun was mute – they shot you in the head before you fell on the
shore of the “land of the morning sun, of glory and patriotism.”
added: “Her skull was breaking into pieces but still she did not
What more could be added to the testimony of Maita Gomez?
Excruciating blow – deliver her, brave Virgin fighting to escape -
She was close to kissing the barbed wire wound around her body.
Other than leaping over the barbed fence. . .
Remember the incident involving Expedito Albarillo, son Adel saw it
– his body was beaten to a pulp –
not intentionally – those animals had no mercy, no joke.
In the jungles of Mindoro, the hungry wolves are kind. Though not
Lured but not to be shared. If possible, even unexpectedly, maybe.
Fallen and unmoving, the bayonet of fate still pierces the
Gentle memory, may your gun rest on your lap. Deliver us.
spirit, lift up the fallen body.
A blown-up mother. Broken into shards.
Engraved in the consciousness: our salvation is in our
March without an end, April, May . . .
A piece of rusting barbed wire.
Why impossible? The path is cut with every
he raised and crucified arms of Ka Lori.
In an essay, Renato Redentor Constantino, showed us Lorena’s place in
“Lorena Barros was a child of her family and a daughter of her people -- a single tree, as WH Auden wrote, shooting out from fallow ground and leaning out far over a cliff, contemptuous of the precipice. Decades ago, fighting the dictatorship from the guerilla zone, Laurie wrote a letter to a friend about "learning all
over again what love means." "Nasisilaw ako," she wrote, blinded by the eyes of the person whom she had come to embrace. "Di na ako nadala," wrote Laurie, ending her letter probably with the flourish of a secret smile -- "I have not learned to keep from getting burned again." On the morning of March 24, 1976 the
martial flood of the Marcos regime engulfed her body.”
And in the work of Bienvenido Lumbera:
All the Lorenas
When you escaped from the Ipil Rehabilitation
you wore my navy blue t-shirt
need it, you said, so my body will blend with the dark)
And we who stayed behind
of the freedom that took you
to the jungle like freedom village
where you lived.
in every encounter against the enemy
who you left behind,
united with the masses
fought with you.
your body was brought down to Manila,
in a decrepit dropping place
you left us waiting
seventeen years have passed.
of our poets
written poems about your bravery.
Depicted you in already two plays
an armed heroine.
women expectant of a purple dawn
have tried to make you come back
like recreating bits and pieces of your life story
in a quilt --
dressing up a quiet martyr
and a prostitute waiting in
(such, it was said, was the fate of the Filipina)
in the flowery
blouse of a cadre
and the parachute pants of a red warrior.
But words have no mind of their own -
they only come out of the mouth
of people who know nothing.
Hear now — measured and cut
folded and basted,
the Lorena that came up
was a tight blouse and loose pants.
Now you are Lorena
of different interpretations --
Lorena of the soil
Lorena of the bourgeois intellectual
Lorena of the women poets
Lorena of the free from the chain of
Lorena of the farmers in Southern Tagalog
Lorena of the
The words being put together
simulate the thread of a weaver
extending inserting knotting
until the images
created of you
are laid down
on the spot you occupied
by racing bullets
The image carried in speeches
splashed in the pages
posted on the wall
are you and not you.
But stop bothering us,
don’t show us
the Lorena, who is more or less she,
We don’t want that.
It is enough
that once a great woman
believed that, in the coming days,
women and men
will be free,
will free each other,
she woke up the women
who were half-awake, bored,
roused up the avenue boulevard park,
and with a fiery voice,
set the east on fire,
together, dispersed the morning --
were the Lorenas.
Her son also became a soldier for the people, for sure, who may be out in the fields
fighting the government up to this time. He may be avoiding capture or death in
the hands of the government soldiers, taking cover behind the shadows of trees
in the mountains, going around disguised as a farmer, and transforming into a
fierce warrior armed with the armalite of Lorena when challenged. The war
between the People’s Army, to which the nationalists belong, and the
pro-government forces will persist for as long as society remains incapable of