Ka Eric Cabanit, My Hero

It took me barely two days to blog about Ka Eric Cabanit, a peasant leader brutally shot to death last April 24 by an unidentified assassin while he and daughter were buying food at a public market of Panabo City, Davao del Norte. His daughter, Daffodil in her young adulthood, sustained a gunshot wound in one of her lungs. She's still 50/50 in a hospital in Davao.

Born in Toril, Davao City and long employed (but later illegally dismissed by a landlord-employer, Antonio Floirendo, nursing an ire for Ka Eric's staunch advocacy to place all the employer's landholdings under agrarian reform) in Davao del Norte, Ka Eric was Secretary-General of UNORKA (National Coordination of Autonomous Local Organizations in the Countryside). As such, he was tasked to be based in Manila.

Ka Eric went to Davao several weeks ago because of the dialogue between commercial farm workers/agrarian reform beneficiaries and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) set to be held on the day he was brutally slain. Despite the great passion by the farm workers pushing for placing under agrarian reform all big private landholdings, for which DAR reportedly agreed to immediately investigate one landholding of the Floirendos, the dialogue was generally peaceful. Ka Eric was jubilant about this.

The euphoria turned sour and bitter about two hours after the dialogue. Ironically, Ka Eric and his daughter were attacked in a place that his family rarely goes for lack of money to buy food. With the absence of Ka Eric, one wonders whether his family can still afford to go to the market once in a while.

Ka Eric's death was surely not a gift for my wife's birthday the next day. She was his co-worker at UNORKA. I can imagine the feeling of one losing a person she used to work with for a long time.

My wife's grief is my grief. And I grieve not only for my wife's grief but also for the loss of a person, whose grim-and-determined 'Mindanao-only' attitude oftentimes alienated people. His impatience at the easy-go-lucky attitude of the 'Manilans' would often show up. And his colleagues and friends were already accustomed to his overly-critical attitude towards government's capacity to address agrarian reform, particularly in Mindanao plantations.

But that was Ka Eric. People would find him obnoxious for his GD attitude at times, but we should understand Ka Eric's life, the fact that he represented peasants and farm workers long denied the benefits of agrarian reform.

Perhaps, Ka Eric's impatience led to his decision to sacrifice his life. By doing so, he thought that would be the tipping point for awakening the peasants into rising up against a system that has practically failed them.

For that sacrifice, Ka Eric deserves to be our hero, my hero. And may we follow in his footsteps, not to risk ourselves to be killed mercilessly (God forbid nobody wants more Ka Erics), but to exert more efforts to really contribute to changing the politics and culture that dominated our society.

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