Profiles of Courage

Roberto Alegre Lumaban

A struggle against a dictator is not just a struggle by the elite. It is not merely the fight of a few key individuals against the dictator and his cohorts. The revolution is a revolution of the people. During Martial Law in the Philippines, in the face of repression and censorship, the everyday Filipinos also paved their own ways and used their own means to help each other resist and fight the autocracy.

Roberto Alegre Lumaban, more commonly remembered as “Ruben Alegre,” was a student-activist during the Martial Law dictatorship. At a very young age, Alegre started working, selling balut and banana cue, while he was studying to support his grandparents, who were taking care of him and his brother. Through determination and hard work, Alegre managed to balance studying and working, and graduated salutatorian at Mendez Elementary and valedictorian at Cavite Community Academy. A consistent topnotcher, he managed to enroll in the Philippine College of Commerce (PCC, now Polytechnic University of the Philippines).[1]

Alegre studied countless progressive materials while at PCC and became more politically aware and active. He joined one of the mass organizations in school and helped in organizing student movements. When Marcos declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972, the military engaged in a string of arrests, detaining progressive students and teachers, along with critics and opponents of the administration, throughout the country. Students and faculty of the PCC were not exempted, of course, and Alegre was arrested on October 7, 1972.[2]

Following his arrest, however, Alegre disappeared for two weeks. His family found him detained some ways away in Tejeros. A few days later, Alegre disappeared again. His family did not believe claims that he had escaped and went to different detention centers to look for him. They found him again, this time at the Provincial Command headquarters in Imus, Cavite. It was alleged that Alegre slaved the days away in detention there, being forced to cook, clean the barracks and polish the soldiers’ shoes.[3]

He was released through the help of his relatives later that month, and he went back to organizing, helping farmers in Batangas and Quezon. Alegre reportedly joined the New People’s Army (NPA) sometime in the mid-1970s to engage in armed struggle, but Alegre himself denies this. In August 1984, while Alegre was working and studying in Manila, he was again arrested on suspicion of masterminding the assassination of General Tomas Karingal. Alegre again denied the allegations, stating that he was a simple vendor of pork and fish, while the NPA claimed responsibility for the killing.[4] He was detained and tortured all the same by the Metrocom Intelligence and Service Group (MISG) for months on end. He was allegedly electrocuted in the genitals, struck in the thighs with a hammer, and hit on the nape with an iron bar by MISG officers while in detention.[5] His family again frantically searched for him to no avail. It was only after the filing of the writ of habeas corpus two weeks later that the MISG surfaced Alegre, visibly suffering from his torture.[6]

Alegre’s case received attention, even from the international human rights organization Amnesty International. In their December 1984 newsletter detailing human rights abuses across different countries, the Philippines section included summaries of alleged torture of some arrested subversives.[7] Alegre’s case was separated from the rest as Amnesty International requested letters to be sent to President Ferdinand Marcos as well as to Metrocom Military Intelligence and Security Group chief Abadilla, urging for impartial investigation, humane treatment and due compensation for Alegre.[8]

He was released in 1986 after Marcos was deposed, on orders of President Cory Aquino. He was released alongside high-ranking NPA officials Jose Maria “Joma” Sison and Bernabe Buscayno, and NPA member Alex Berondo.[9] After release, Alegre continued organizing and helping farmers, picking up where he left off prior to his arrest, helping the poor and the oppressed organize and fight for their rights. Alegre was unfortunately killed by unidentified elements on July 13, 1996.[10]

Sources on Ruben Alegre are scarce, but it is to be expected as he has a relatively low profile overshadowed by the bigger personalities of his time. Other than the Amnesty International report on his torture case and a few news articles on his release, the most substantial source on Alegre is an account written by Zenaida Mique, a fellow activist and executive director of Claimants 1081, an organization of Martial Law victims who filed a class action lawsuit against Marcos in Hawaii seeking reparations.[11]

Alegre grew up an educated and well-read man, but he was by no means an Aquino or a Diokno of his time. He was an ordinary Filipino, yet he strived to make a difference for his countrymen to the best of his abilities. He committed to helping the aggrieved farmers and peasants in their collective action to improve their lives. Though he was antagonized by the government, he remained undeterred in providing them help in the face of systemic injustice and government repression. Though his name may not be among the famous ones who led the resistance, his impact on the lives of fellow Filipinos is immeasurable and paints a better picture on who Alegre was more than anything else.

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References:

Mann, Jim and Victor Merina. “Aquino frees 2 Top Communists: Overrules Aides for the Sake of ‘Reconciliation’.” Los Angeles Times. March 6, 1986. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-03-06-mn-15683-story.html.

Mique, Zenaida. “NTG: Panayam kay Zenaida Mique, executive director, Claimants 1081.” By Kara David. News To Go. September 21, 2018. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://youtu.be/eM-4jf8wf2E.

_____________. “Ruben Alegre.” Martial Law Files. November 29, 2012. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/roberto-alegre-lumaban-aka-ruben-alegre/.

“Ruben Alegre Appeal Case.” Amnesty International Newsletter 14, no. 12, File on Torture, no. 5 (1984). Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/200000/nws210121984en.pdf

Special to the New York Times. “4 Key Communists Freed by Manila; Military Objects; Jose Maria Sison: A Mission Remains.” March 6, 1986. Accessed June 3, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/06/world/4-key-communists-freed-manila-military-objects-jose-maria-sison-mission-remains.html.

[1] Zenaida Mique, “Ruben Alegre,” Martial Law Files, November 29, 2012, accessed June 3, 2021, https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/roberto-alegre-lumaban-aka-ruben-alegre/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.; ”Ruben Alegre Appeal Case,” Amnesty International Newsletter 14, no. 12, File on Torture, no. 5 (1984), accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/200000/nws210121984en.pdf

[5] “Ruben Alegre Appeal Case.”

[6] Zenaida Mique, “Ruben Alegre.”

[7] Ibid. Other torture victims in the report included Pio Bercede, Felipe Solon and Pablo Ponce, three Zamboanga del Sur families tortured by the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) on alleged NPA links; Rolieto Trinidad, worker for the Justice and Peace Ecunemical Group and former director of Tagum’s Social Action Center, was arrested along with six others while preparing for a human rights seminar by the Philippine Constabulary; Cesar Bristol, Romeo Castilla, Danilo Garcia, Herminia Ibarra and Fernando Reyes, trade unionists and Kilusang Mayo Uno organizers, were arrested and allegedly tortured by the MISG in Taguig.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jim Mann and Victor Merina, “Aquino frees 2 Top Communists: Overrules Aides for the Sake of ‘Reconciliation’,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1986, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-03-06-mn-15683-story.html; Special to the New York Times, “4 Key Communists Freed by Manila; Military Objects; Jose Maria Sison: A Mission Remains,” March 6, 1986, accessed June 3, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/1986/03/06/world/4-key-communists-freed-manila-military-objects-jose-maria-sison-mission-remains.html.

[10] Mique, “Ruben Alegre.”

[11] Mique, “Ruben Alegre.” Zenaida Mique, “NTG: Panayam kay Zenaida Mique, executive director, Claimants 1081,” by Kara David, News To Go, September 21, 2018, accessed June 3, 2021, https://youtu.be/eM-4jf8wf2E.

A mock-up sketch of Roberto Alegre Lumaban, peasant organizer and activist. Image taken from Martial Law Files at https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/roberto-alegre-lumaban-aka-ruben-alegre/
A mock-up sketch of Roberto Alegre Lumaban, peasant organizer and activist. Image taken from Martial Law Files at https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/roberto-alegre-lumaban-aka-ruben-alegre/

Lumaban, Roberto Alegre

Birthday: July 14, 1949

Death: July 13, 1996

Parents: N/A

Spouse: N/A

Children: None

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