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A TRIBUTE TO VAL MANTE : Gay comrades never die

TRIBUTE TO VAL

September 28, 2008

Gay comrades never die
they live in our minds forever
they are the silver lining
of our difficult protracted war
they make us laugh and sing
while serving the people
wholeheartedly
their joy gives us courage and
our hearts are filled to the brim
ready to fight and win

The masses, comrades and allies of Southern Mindanao, the entire revolutionary movement – we all pay our highest tribute to one of our most endearing and precious comrades – Ka Richard or Ka Val (Valerio Mante Jr.) who died of an illness on September 22 in Davao City. He was 58 years old, was a dedicated member of the Communist Party of the Philippines and had lived the greater part of his life in unstinting service to the people. We pay homage to this revolutionary leader who gave up the ease and comfort of family and home to live in the mountains among the peasant comrades and masses.

To the very end, it was Ka Richard’s wish to stay in the guerilla base. He wanted to be with the farmers and the Red fighters whom he so loved and who loved him in return. He was adamant to stay in camp even in his deathbed. He did not mind the intermittent fever he was suffering and instead told the comrade-medics not to fuss over him because he was fine. After so much convincing, Ka Richard finally relented to be brought to a hospital in Davao City. The doctors were amazed at his tenacity and strength of will. Though his platelet was only 20 and virtually without kidney function, he was lucid to the end. After his first cardiac arrest he had a spontaneous resumption of his heartbeat before a machine could be applied. He was a fighter through and through. Upon arrival at the hospital he was making jokes and stories to everyone present. He even made a list of those he would invite to his wake, playfully reminding us that even in death there are people to organize and to mobilize.

Val Mante’s life as a revolutionary had its beginnings in the Catholic church, long before Martial Law. First as a seminarian, and later as a human rights activist in the prelature of Tagum, Val witnessed the growing unrest among the peasant masses who were fighting for their lands against the encroachment of the multinational agribusiness companies. During the First Quarter Storm, he joined the Khi Rho, the mass organization which actively took the peasant issues to heart. Filled with fervor for the farmers, he decided to go fulltime in the countryside as a Red fighter. But at that time he felt he wasn’t ready for the mountains so he went back to the city. In the city, unfortunately, he was detained. And for about one and a half years he was a political detainee at the PC barracks in Tagum. After detention he went back to Davao, and once again he was at the forefront of the open democratic mass movement, organizing rallies and demonstrations. With other young activists, he directed a Lakbayan from Tagum to Davao to protest the landgrabbing of peasant lands. Conscientization seminars brought him to the farthest Gagmayng Kristohanong Katilingban of the prelature. Lay Leadership Trainings brought him in constant touch with the church workers of the parishes.

During the dark years of the US-Marcos dictatorship, Ka Val worked fearlessly as a human rights advocate. He became chairman of the Citizens Council for Justice and Peace (CCJP) in Davao City, one of the most vibrant civil libertarian formations of that period. Later, he joined the Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy where, together with the sisters and church people, the lawyers and other concerned individuals, Ka Val fully immersed himself in the bosom of organizing work. In the early 90s he was a member of the Freedom from Debt Coalition. He was the Bayan secretary-general from 1996-1998 and later had a short stint as a labor organizer marking close to three decades of back-breaking, wholehearted dedication to the legal democratic mass movement.

Ka Val wanted to give more of himself to the people. As a legal mass activist in the city he felt limited. In 1998 he wrote: “At the height of my activism I decided to join the NPA. My decision elicited various reactions from the people close to me. Some were happy, others were skeptical… this did not affect my decision to finally participate in the armed revolution. It was the product of a long and painful struggle against selfishness, individualism and pride. I gave up my comfortable lifestyle, left my family and relatives and evaded close friends. It was the harshest yet the best decision so far I made in my life.” To his friends he would tell them simply: dinhi man gyud ta paingon. Di ba giingon ni Mao – go to the masses and live with them?

While the guerilla lifestyle of simple living and hard struggle was difficult at first, Ka Richard hurdled everything with a smile. His lightheartedness and good sense brought many a masses to smile back and asked for his advice. The peasants wanted him to be with them. The Party branches asked for his guidance and the Red fighters listened to his words. Ka Richard, the dedicated member of the Communist Party of the Philippines had grown deep into the folds of the guerilla front.

But he also had to grapple with the most searing questions of his commitment. He wrote: What is a mild-tempered, soft-spoken petiburgis activist doing in a guerilla zone, among the Red fighters and poor peasants? Kaya ko bang paputukin ang aking baril sa harap ng kalaban? Do I really have the guts and the nerve to hurl a grenade at the enemy as I used to throw stones and plastic filled with human waste and ground pepper at the military and police during rallies and demonstrations? Honestly, I didn’t know how to react. All I knew was that I was here, among the people I wanted to be with, for the remaining years of my life.

Ka Richard, the revolutionary teacher, taught us a lot of things. His grasp of the basic revolutionary principles was deep; his theoretical foundation of Marxism-Leninism was beyond reproach. And not only because he was the head of the Sub-region’s instruction bureau but in his capacity as a Red fighter, he had lived with the comrades and the masses for so long and had imbibed their revolutionary spirit. Most importantly, Richard always tried to live what he taught.

Yet, Ka Richard was always fun and easy to be with. The revolution never felt so light and funny as when he was around. On ordinary days you would meet him, humming one of his favorite Beatles songs like “Imagine there’s no heaven, it isn’t very hard to do… imagine all the people, living in harmony… oooohh.” Then he would laugh and never did the revolution seem so fine. He was 58 years old and his life is a continuing inspiration to all comrades and friends to be steadfast at all times and to persevere in the wonderful, difficult, great world that is the national democratic revolution.

And so by way of parting we say this little poem to Ka Val:

all the laughter and the loving
are gathered in our hearts
comrades and friends, masses and allies
all are here to pay you tribute
Val, Richard, Redentor, Camilo
great revolutionary teacher

each will have a story to tell
each will have a little gem of you
how you touched our lives
and we will never be the same again
you gave yourself to the mountains
and the mountains loved you in return
you were always there for us
serving the people wholeheartedly

hope rises in our breast
and courage springs anew
through you a thousand revolutionaries
live, and the masses will march to victory

(Sgd) RUBI DEL MUNDO
Spokesperson
National Democratic Front of the Philippines
Southern Mindanao

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