Rol Peña: an unnecessary death but a death not in vain

Yellow Pad

 

A sweet gentleman, a gentle soul, a kind and humble man, a dedicated revolutionary. These are but a few of the beautiful words to describe Rol.

Dick Malay, a close friend of Rol (their friendship dating back to the 1960s), describes his friend in an all-round way:

“A competent geologist, board chairman of the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC) exams for geologists, poet and essayist, principled revolutionary, humblest, kindest person I ever knew, constant companion in revolutionary struggles here and abroad, navigator of the MV Karagatanand MV Andrea with NPA (New People’s Army) crew. Never saw him got angry or say a negative word about somebody”

(MV Karagatan and MV Andrea refer to the names of the ships that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) used to smuggle arms and ammunition from China. Both missions failed.)

Dick’s tribute to Rol is all true. Yet, it still cannot fully capture the depth and many sides of Rol. Rol, for example, was not just a competent geologist. Even after death, he will remain an icon of the Philippine geology community; an idol, the rock star of the geologists of the younger generations.

Before he went underground to fight the Marcos dictatorship, Rol did field work as a geologist at the same time that he engaged in activism. And he was one of the best geologists. Hence, the Bureau of Mines was most happy as it welcomed Rol’s return to its fold in the early 1990s upon surfacing from underground revolutionary work.

Rol’s most distinctive contribution to Philippine geology was his authorship of the Lexicon of Philippine Stratigraphy (2008). Writes Rol’s professional colleague, Noe Caagusan:

“While the compilers of the Geology of the Philippines (1981) succeeded in accounting for every bibliographed report, they also unleashed a self-generative device that liberally established variant names of rock units, or even invalid nomenclatures that cluttered the stratigraphic column.

“Rolly sensed these superfluities, as he knew personally many of those who had written the geological reports where the Geology of the Philippines were culled. He was familiar with the parochial bias of many writers and their penchant for ‘updating’ formational definitions and appending a new name as well.”

The “misreadings” led Rol to authoring the Lexicon, which took more than a decade to publish. Caagusan describes the Lexicon as a “genie” that answers all the fundamental as well as rare questions about Philippine geology.

Another towering contribution of Rol was his being part of the study led by Prof. Alfredo Mahar Lagmay that defined Philippine plate boundaries and showed the implications on the delineation of the Philippine plate boundaries (2009). This has become a solid basis for the Philippine ownership of the West Philippine Sea.

My relationship with Rol was beyond being comrades. For different reasons, our paths crossed during our years in the underground movement. Our favorite meeting place was beside the San Juan creek near the University of the East Ramon Magsaysay (UERM) Hospital. And we talked for no official reason at all — we simply enjoyed the storytelling and tsismisan. My suspicion was that Rol’s true intention in meeting me was to hear stories and obtain information about his daughter Jade, who became an activist and was part of the Kalayaan collective (underground paper of the Kabataang Makabayan) which I supervised.

Later, Rol and I became part of the collective of an ad hoc propaganda unit. Its core was made up of the Ang Bayan (AB) senior staff, consisting of the late Tony Zumel, Dick’s sister Bobbie Malay, the late Ed Reyes, and Rol. The AB then was the leader in developing and propagating the Filipino language. The English edition of AB, never mind that it was a propaganda organ, outclassed the commercial newspapers in terms of writing style and more importantly, in exposing the crimes and abuses of the dictatorship.

Contrary to popular perception of senior cadres being grim and determined, this group, though serious in working to overthrow the dictatorship, had lots of fun. Occasionally, we had lunch at the estero in Chinatown. Bobbie likewise promised to organize a tour of the historical sites in old Manila. Everyone approved of it despite the security risk.

Our favorite meeting places were the penthouse of Joan Orendain on Mabini and the home of Virgie Moreno in Malate. Would have the military suspected revolutionaries to meet in the homes of people close to Zobel and Imelda?

Rol’s personality could not be reduced to being a revolutionary or a geologist. He was a friend to everyone. After the fall of Marcos, Rol and I reunited but in a totally different setting: Area 1.

By then I was married to my late wife Mae, and I joined her in the get-togethers of Area 1, the community where she grew up. Area 1 is a residential area on the University of the Philippines (UP) campus. The residents are made up of UP academics and personnel and their sons and daughters. The Area 1 group is not limited to original residents. It also includes friends like Rol, and it has a cast of diverse characters. This motley group is an association of revolutionaries, crackpots, scholars, dilettantes and bohemians. Rol was natural in this crowd.

Rol was a ladies’ man in a positive sense. Because of his many nice attributes particularly his goodness, attentiveness and wiseness, women were attracted to him. In this respect, he and his fellow Area Wanner Bong Daza were similar, though Bong was linked to glamor and fanfare.

Rol and Bong were good friends though one was anti-Marcos and the other was pro-Marcos. This illustrates our plural identities, suggesting that our political differences do not affect our friendships.

I wish Rol had written an autobiography. Knowing him, I know he would have written without biases, without rancor, without pagbubuhat ng bangko. He would have diminished his role in his narration. Nonetheless, his authentic story could have been an account of our contemporary history but viewed from the compound lens of his colorful, exciting and adventurous life.

Rol died in an accident, crossing the street as a motorcyclist bumped him. Not a glorious death compared to the martyrdom of many of his comrades. But his contribution to our people and country is invaluable, notwithstanding an unattained revolution. More, he touched the lives of different sorts of people, and he imparted life lessons to us. A hero of everyone, thus his death was not in vain.

 

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.

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