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Goodbye, ‘crush ng bayan’

Classmates say former Iloilo student leader slain in clash with soldiers stood taller in death

TRIBUTE Farmers clench their fist as a sign of respect as a convoy of vehicles bearing the remains of three slain suspected communist rebels, among them former Iloilo City student leader Remy Beraye (left), passes. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

ILOILO CITY — Friends and classmates of Remy Beraye always knew him as the campus “crush ng bayan (heartthrob).”

The 5 foot, 11 inch tall former student leader easily won over fellow students not only because of his looks but also because of his eloquence.

At the Iloilo National High School, where he completed his secondary education, he once played the role of national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, in a play.

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On Saturday night, his friends, relatives and colleagues bid him goodbye and praised him for standing taller in death.

Beraye, 43, was among three suspected top New People’s Army (NPA) rebels who died in clash with government troops in Cuartero town in Capiz province on Nov. 7.

His remains were cremated Sunday morning in Jaro District here.

Rebel leaders

Also killed in the clash in Barangay Putian in Cuartero were Federico Diaz, a resident of the town, and Alan Lerona, a resident of Mambusao town. Diaz was suspected to be the vice commander while Lerona was the finance officer of the NPA’s Nonito Aguirre Sr. Command operating in northern Iloilo province and parts of Capiz.

The Army’s 61st Infantry Battalion, the unit that clashed with the group, said the rebels were engaged in extortion activities in the villages of Capiz and Iloilo.

But in a tribute on Saturday night, Beraye’s political science batchmates at the West Visayas State University (WVSU) in Iloilo City, defended Beraye and praised him for living up and dying for his convictions.

“He practiced what he preached in helping and fighting for victims of injustice and the poor. He was the ideal student leader … and we are not surprised that he took [this] path,” said a classmate, who asked not to be identified.

Beraye served as vice chair of the WVSU University Student Council (USC) and headed the university’s chapter of the militant League of Filipino Students.

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Passionate

Lawyer Jobert Pahilga, a fellow activist and Beraye’s classmate, said Beraye was popular among students and teachers because he was passionate.

Another classmate recalled how Beraye, then an officer of the youth council Sangguniang Kabataan, stood up and spoke at a city-wide assembly and exposed offers of money to council officers during the elections.

“We who knew him well can say proudly that he can never be an extortionist or capable of things that they accused him of to justify, and even celebrate, his death,” another classmate said.

Beraye was among the leaders of a series of massive student protests against oil price increases in 1994. These protests gathered up to 10,000 students in Iloilo City, his classmates recalled.

Lawyer Ma. Geobelyn Lopez, Beraye’s widow, said her husband’s death was painful for her and their two daughters, aged 15 and 10.

“But I respect his decision,” she said.

Community organizer

After obtaining his political science degree, Beraye decided to volunteer as an organizer of workers in Iloilo City before he organized farmers and urban poor communities in Roxas City in Capiz.

In Capiz, he devoted time helping communities recover from the devastation of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan), according to his former colleagues.

He would be away for months from his family in Iloilo City, but he always made sure to spend quality time with Lopez and their children during short visits.

“He was close to our daughters. He took a leave from work to be with me when I took my oath as a lawyer,” Lopez said.

Lopez, who served as chair of WVSU USC, said she and her husband had received threats, including a letter warning them that they had been identified as members of the underground rebel movement.

Despite their grief, Beraye’s classmates remembered him as someone “who always filled the room with his laughter.”

“He is a true friend, a real hero to those whose lives he had touched,” a classmate said.

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TAGS: NPA, Remy Beraye, slain former student leader
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