Human rights watch
Slain student leader Cris Hugo
A Small Guy with Big Conviction
Twenty-year old Cris Hugo was a small – only 4’11” tall – and humble person who led an exemplary life. He fearlessly fought for quality education and students’ rights – until bullets felled him last March 19.
BY LINO D. INTERINO III
I was aghast when my Bulatlat editor sent me a text message on Monday, asking if I could write something about the slain student leader from Bicol University. I then was in our province talking with my friends and taking a not so grand vacation while fixing my requirements for graduation.
“I’ll try to make a story about him. I don’t know the person,” I replied.
At about 6:30 p.m. of the same day, a friend sent a text message: “PLEASE PRAY FOR CRIS HUGO, A FOURTH YEAR JOURNALISM STUDENT OF BUCAL (Bicol University College of Arts and Letters). HE WAS SHOT DEAD LAST NIGHT AT WASHINGTON DRIVE. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE. PLEASE PASS GUYS.” Suddenly, it was difficult to breathe. I couldn’t believe that Cris was gone, that he was the student leader I was supposed to write about, until another similar text message came.
Cris, 20, was a student leader at BU’s College of Arts and Letters (BUCAL). He was regional coordinator and national council member of the League of Filipino Students (LFS). He was also the newly elected Grand Chancellor of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO Fraternity) chapter at BU.
Cris was a classmate during my freshman year at the Institute of Communication and Cultural Studies (now CAL) in BU. I could not believe that he died in such a brutal way. He was a small – only 4’11” tall – and humble person who led an exemplary life, fighting for quality education and students’ rights. Nobody could have foreseen that he would be killed so violently.
Gremil Naz, a BUCAL professor, recalled how the murder took place on March 19 at Washington Drive, Bagumbayan (village), Legazpi City:
“Kausap ko si Cris habang naglalakad kami nang bigla akong nakarinig ng putok. Paglingon ko, nakahandusay na siya. (Cris and I were talking while walking, when I suddenly heard a gunshot. When I turned to him, he was already sprawled on the ground).”
Naz could not identify the gunmen because it was dark and he was slightly drunk. He ran to the Legazpi City Police Station to report the attack and Cris was rushed to the Bicol Regional Training and Teaching Hospital (BRTTH). He was dead on arrival.
Cris was the first youth leader to be killed in the spate of political killings this year.
In spite of being the smallest in class, he proved that he could beat all odds. Even as a freshman, he had shown a fighting spirit.
In the first semester, he joined the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. I was amazed at how he endured the trials of being a neophyte. I could not believe how this small guy, who seemed to be fragile, could have possibly passed the initiations.
Every time there were rallies, Cris was always visible. He would ask the students to join and fight for their aspirations.
Dan Orense, Cris’ mentor and fraternity brother, described him as “college student na parang Grade 6 (a college student who looked like a sixth-grade pupil.) Mabait na tao si Cris. A typical homegrown person pero malalim. (Cris is a kind person, a typical home-grown person but he was deep),” he said.
His colleagues from LFS and his other organizations said that despite having a small build, Cris had a big-enough conviction to fight for the students’ welfare.
During the interview with Cris’ mother Rowena Hugo, a public school teacher in Gallanosa National High School in the municipality of Irosin, Sorsogon (647 kms. south of Manila), grief was evident in her face. She said she felt restless last Sunday because she was alone at home. At 11 p.m.., she said, a BRTTH doctor called and told her what had happened to her son.
Cris’ mother recalled how he wanted her to stay with him when she went to the university on the afternoon of March 18. After a parents’ meeting, she said they went to the mall and the park and Cris even asked her to go to the movies. “It seems that he didn’t want me away from him,” she said.
“Gusto niya makasama ako sa pagtulog. Sabi niya pa nga huwag na daw muna akong umuwi. Sabi ko baka pagalitan ako ng papa mo. Pero sabi niya kahit pagalitan ka ni Papa, wala na siyang magagawa kasi andun na ‘yun, e,” (He wanted me to sleep at his boarding house. He asked me not go home yet. I said your father will be angry. But he said, even if Papa gets angry he can do nothing about it) she recalled.
Meryll Arcos, editor-in-chief of the BUCAL student publication Budyong (shell), said she saw Cris passing by their boarding house in EM’s Barrio almost every afternoon before the meeting of parents for ICT. “He was rushing to go to his boarding house before dusk, which he does not normally do, as if somebody was following him,” she said.
His fellow activists, who requested anonymity, said Cris had been receiving death threats a year before his death. During that time, they said, Cris tried vainly to alter his appearance by wearing polo and eyeglasses. It made him look like a seminarian and they just laughed at him.
Cris came from a devout family. His parents were lectors, or scripture readers in their church. He also acted in theatre productions of their parish church.
“Ang gusto ‘nya talaga ay maging pari (He really wanted to be a priest),” her mother said. She revealed that he spent two years in high school at the Peñafrancia Seminary in Sorsogon City. He went out of the seminary on his third year because his father didn’t want him to become a priest.
“Para lang kaming magbabarkada niyan. (We’re just like friends),” his mother said as she stared at her son’s casket. “I even join his company of friends every time they are here. We would go out to a videoke bar and sing and have fun.”
“Napakabait ng anak ko. Hindi ko matanggap na agad siyang mawawala. Kahit sa mga kapatid niya, ang bait niya. Minsan pag-umuuwi iyan, may dala siyang pasalubong. Kahit ano, tulad ng scented candles. Napaka-thoughtful niya. (My son was very kind. I cannot accept that he would suddenly be gone. Even with his siblings, he was so kind. He even brought gifts for the family when he came home, even simple things like scented candles. He was very thoughtful),” she added.
“Napakabuting bata niyang si Cris. Wala akong masabi diyan sa apo ko (He was a very good child. I could not find any fault in him),” said Socorro Hugo, Cris’ grandmother, as she wept.
"Sometimes,” his mother revealed, “he and his father would have petty fights and discussions because of his views, which his father disagrees with. One time he said, ‘kulugan mo na po ako Papa, suntukon mo ako, aakoon ko po pero dai mo po mamababago ang prinsipyo ko’ (Hurt me papa, knock me down, I will take it but you can never change my principles).”
Cris’ mother recalled that when he was arrested February 2005 during a protest rally on the occasion of President Arroyo’s visit, they were so enraged because she heard on the radio that Cris and other protesters were arrested on charges of illegal possession of drugs.
“Nagulat nga ako ng binalita sa radyo na na-detain sila sa Guinobatan (I was shocked when it was reported over the radio that they were detained in Guinobatan),” she said.
“Walang bisyo ang anak ko” (My son had no vice), she reacted.
Cris and his colleagues underwent drug tests, were found “negative,” and were released after 24 hours. The group learned later that they were framed-up by “men in uniform.”
“Ang suspetsa namin militar ang may gawa nun kasi nung Friday bago ‘yung meeting, inutusan siya ng papa niya na mag-withdraw ng pera sa AFPSLAI. Sabi niya,’ mama darating si Gloria. Siguradong may mga parak na magpapasikat’,“ (Our suspicion is that the military killed him because last Friday before his meeting, he was ordered by his father to withdraw money from AFPSLAI. He said, ‘mama Gloria is coming. For sure some police or military officers would want to create a good impression.) Rowena said.
“Hindi kami naninilawala na frat war ang dahilan kung bakit pinatay si Cris. Walang history ng frat war dito sa Bicol at kahit mga taga-ibang fraternity kaibigan niya” (We do not believe that Cris was killed because of a fraternity war. There was never a history of violent frat wars in Bicol. And he has friends from other fraternities), she said.
Accredited fraternities in Bicol University confirmed this in a press conference March 24 at the BU administration building.
Michael Malano, coordinator of the National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP) and incoming BU student council president, joined in condemning the killing.
“I challenge the authorities to widen their range of investigation. We are calling for (your) cooperation for immediate action and justice for Cris Hugo,” said Gerald Dino Caba of APO.
“Ang pagkamatay ni Cris ay may malalim pang rason. Tulad ng pagkamatay ni Joel Asejo , wala paring malinaw na resulta ang imbestigasyon,” (The death of Cris has a deeper reason. Just like the death of Joel Asejo, there were no clear findings resulting from the official investigation), LFS-BU chapter spokesman Rodcel Bontigao said.
Asejo was also a student at the BU College of Industrial Engineering. He was killed on October 2002 in Sto. Domingo, Albay. The suspects were military men from Tanay, Rizal. The court issued arrest warrants against the suspects but they are still at large.
“We will seek justice for him. I cannot accept the death of my son,” Cris’ mother said.
Students, organizations and other concerned individuals have been holding a protest vigil in front of Camp Simeon Ola, Legazpi City every 5 p.m. since Cris’ death
Cris’ remains will be interred on March 31. A tribute was scheduled by his family, friends and fellow activists on March 30. Bulatlat