Lito Añonuevo bids us goodbye at 51

Lito and I were not part of the same units or organizations that straddled the years following 1986 when the Marcos regime fell, or more particularly the years following January 2001, when the Estrada government collapsed. Neither were we buddies, though we would bump into each other several times in the intervening years, and those were always wonderful occasions—a spaghetti dinner at UP, a beer-drinking night-out in Katipunan, a sing-a-long or karaoke night at Timog, a lot of concerts, and a lot of reunions too.


I am sure a lot of you are wondering why I took the time to write these few thoughts on Lito. We didn’t seem that close, and I am sure there are other people who feel that they knew Lito better than I did.  So I seek your patience and indulgence for this brief message on his passing.  

Lito and I were not part of the same units or organizations that straddled the years following 1986 when the Marcos regime fell, or more particularly the years following January 2001, when the Estrada government collapsed. Neither were we buddies, though we would bump into each other several times in the intervening years, and those were always wonderful occasions—a spaghetti dinner at UP, a beer-drinking night-out in Katipunan, a sing-a-long or karaoke night at Timog, a lot of concerts, and a lot of reunions too.

Yet Lito played an important role in my personal decision to take up higher studies, a goal which he encouraged me to pursue while I was briefly visiting UP Los Baños (where he was teaching) in 1995.  I am better because of that advice; thus this is but my small tribute to a person whom I considered a friend and a mentor.

I met Lito Añonuevo at the height of the student protest movement in the early 1970s.  Like many of us in the social sciences at UP, it was hard to stay away from student and national politics— the situation beckoned us to be committed to a cause beyond our own personal plans and ambitions. Even then Lito was way ahead of us, because he sought to marry his perspectives with those of the revolution. He was probably the first person I encountered in the underground who was able to direct his career trajectory towards what were then the felt needs of the struggle—more intellectuals to do research, to teach, and to develop policies in the politico-economic field.  

Even when conditions worsened under Marcos, Lito was sure he was going to pursue higher studies and teach. And he would teach a critical sort of economics, he told me. He sounded so intelligent, knowledgeable and so sure of himself.

It’s nice being with a person of conviction, I thought, he made you sure of your ideas and supported your decisions in such uncertain times. And even when things didn’t turn out right, Lito was there to reassure us young activists that we were on the right track, and besides, everyone else was confused, he insisted.  

We became close friends because of two people.

I met and worked closely with Lito’s younger brother Augut, and with Dan Sibal, another friend who died long ago. The three of us joined hands to organize UG (underground) cells within the Samahan ng Mga Mag-aaral sa Agham Panlipunan (ASAP), at the UP College of Arts and Sciences.   

I  also worked briefly with his girlfriend and soon-to-be-wife Carol Medel, who was my political officer (PO),  and as was customary in those times, the boy had to wait for the girl, and so Lito waited for Carol while she finished giving our cell the traditional EDs or political instructions. I remember how he was then, sitting quietly and offering some advice, even though he always had difficulty squeezing in his thoughts when Carol was around.

That friendship peaked when I sang at their lovely wedding at the UP Chapel, and I remember clearly that among the songs they requested was this beautiful prison song of separation and love, with its famous refrain: “Kailan ba kita huling nakita mahal”? (When was it that I last saw you?) I share this as a testament to their love during those years of struggle, and as a small way of  reconciling in my heart what has happened since then.    

In later years I would get the chance to finally work full-time with Lito, recalling the two years that we spent together in those heady days at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Together with Toinette Raquiza we were an inseparable trio within DAR. We consulted each other on critical issues and we operated as a bloc to get the attention and support of BM (then DAR secretary Boy Morales). We agreed to be inflexible when our values were on the line, and we promised to prevent ourselves from breaking down.     

Lito was probably the only person in the DAR hierarchy who left ahead of the crisis which led to Estrada’s downfall. When Lito left he told us that he planned to return to teaching at UP Los Baños as soon as possible. I had this faint feeling that Lito was leaving government not because his secondment had run out, requiring him to return to UP, but because he was grossly disillusioned. Yet until the day he left Lito told me that “the pull of academe” was his only reason. It would take another year or two before I realized that those words, and that reason was just another precious gift he was leaving behind for a friend whom he did not want to shame with his departure.

I saw Lito several more times after DAR, but we no longer had a chance to work as closely and as intensely as we did when we were in government. I am swept by the memory of the last time I saw him. We were in a conference organized by AER, and during the lunch break we conversed about how bad politics had become under GMA. When I left the place Lito appeared as if he was still waiting for someone or something after all these years. It is probably that yearning which I will forever remember of Lito, because soon after, I left for London and I failed to see him the last time I visited in December (2006).

It is always sad to see someone go in the prime of their life. An early death consumes us passionately, and we often feel as if some deaths run on a better schedule than others. Lito was only 51 when his heart gave out, and it tempts us to think that so much more was left for him to do, to accomplish, and to build—a sentiment captured best by the poet Robert Browning’s immortal line “Come live with me, the best is yet to be.”

Well, I won’t fall for that temptation. I am proud to have walked side by side with Lito, and I am sure he has accomplished what he set out to do.  His children, his causes, his teachings, and the strong organizations he leaves behind are a testament to how he had shaped this world and made it his own.  And if we still feel lonesome and depressed because of his passing, it probably isn’t because he has not done enough, but because we wish he were still around so he could do more.

Nakikiisa kami ni Intay, at ni Rossa sa pagpupugay sa mabuting buhay at aral na iniwan sa atin ni Lito.  Paalam kasama, at salamat sa lahat.  

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