UTRECHT, The Netherlands – The chief peace negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Fidel Agcaoili was given a final tribute with kind words, nationalistic songs and a simple mass on Friday, July 31, the day of his cremation.
Agcaoili passed away unexpectedly on July 23. He was 75. The NDFP said, citing the doctor’s findings, the cause of his death was pulmonary arterial rupture which caused massive internal bleeding.
Jose Maria Sison, NDFP chief political consultant and a close friend of Agcaoili, was present at the wake with his wife Julie de Lima. In his tribute online, he called Agcaoili “a great Filipino patriot and communist fighter.”
Sison recalled their younger days in the 1960s when they were both active at the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
“We advanced together in our development ideologically, politically and organizationally in pursuit of the people’s democratic revolution in the context of the world proletarian revolution," he said.
"Ka Fidel deserves to be honored as a great Filipino patriot and outstanding communist fighter even only on the basis of what is publicly known about him,” Sison said, adding that Agcaoili, despite growing up in a privileged family, “became a revolutionary without ever boasting or feeling sorry that he had sacrificed so much for the people and the revolution.”
Agcaoili was sent abroad by his family to dissuade him from social activism but according to Sison, his friend came back in 1964 and joined the preparations to establish KM in 1964.
“He was never afraid of the tremendous odds and the risks to life, limb and liberty. He did not expect any kind of material reward for all his work and sacrifices….Even while he was a high executive of his family’s insurance company, he helped organize studies and produce publications and performed the lowly tasks that had to be undertaken in the underground in support of the mass movement and in the establishment and development of the CPP,” Sison said.
Aldo Gonzales who was with Agcaoili at their office almost every day, said he would remember him as “a true Filipino revolutionary who dedicated almost 50 years of his life to effecting socio-economic political change in Philippine society, attaining a just and lasting peace in the Philippines.”
For other friends and colleagues in The Netherlands, Agcaoli was more than a comrade but a mentor, grandfather, father, brother, uncle and confidante.
Friend and colleague at Migrante-Utrecht Jun Saturay said Agcaoili was not just involved in Filipino activist organizations in the Netherlands but very much into personal relations.
“May mga deep relationship siya sa ating mga members ng organization dito sa Utrecht. Pinapayuhan niya kapag may problema, inaalam niya kung ano ang kalagayan nila. Even iyong children, mayroon silang relationship. Mayroon silang secret handshakes. Nagkakantahan sila. Sinasaway niya kapag ayaw sumunod sa magulang. Sinasabihan niya in the most grandfatherly way,” Saturay said.
(He had deep relationships with the members of the organizations here in Utrecht. He gave pieces of advice and checked their situations. He also had special relationship with children of our colleagues. They shared secret handshakes and they sang together.)
He also recalled how Agcaoili helped their family during the time when they had no place to stay in the Netherlands, adding that all his relatives were close to him. That helped shaped their political awareness, he said.
For undocumented worker and migrants' community organizer Satria, they lost a good soul in Agcaoili.
“Alam na alam niya kung kailan mo kailangan ng paggabay at tulong kahit hindi ka humingi ng tulong sa kaniya. Ang natatandaan ko na lagi niyang sinasabi sa akin na kinakailangan laging kalmado, kinakailangan maging matiyaga lalo na kung nagbibitiw ng pag-aaral sa lipunang Pilipino."
(He knew when you needed guidance and help even if you didn’t ask for it. He always told me to remain calm and have patience especially when you are talking about issues on Philippine society.)
Dhaizie Bongay of Migrante France said Agcaoili contributed to migrants’ education by sharing his ideologies and had the zest of engaging the youth.
Marlon Lacsama, secretary-general of Migrante Europe said it was Agcaoili who told him that being a member of the LGBT community and an activist is something to be proud of.
“Napakalaking impact sa aking paniniwala at paninindigan ang mga napag-usapan namin ng mga panahon na iyon ni Ka Fidel kung saan sinabi niya na ang mga LGBT na katulad ko ay may puwang hindi lamang sa kilusan kundi may puwang sa lipunang Pilipino,” he said.
(Agcaoli had left an indelible mark on my beliefs and principles. He said that an LGBT like me had a place not just in movement but in the Philippine society.)
Friends know Agcaoili as a low-key person who didn’t want to be in the limelight.
“Noong nag-peace talks ng 1986, wala lang siya sa mga peryodiko, wala lang ang pangalan niya, wala lang ang atensiyon sa kanya pero isa siya sa machinery na [nagpausad] ng peace talks… Tumulong siya sa international work, tumulong siya sa relations work. Ang daming relations na na-develop niya. Mga close relations,” said fellow NDFP peace panel member Coni Ledesma.
(During the peace talks in 1986, he wasn’t on the papers but he was one of the machineries behind it. He helped with international work, relations work. He built tremendous relationships.)
Because of his activism, Agcaoli and his wife Chit were arrested in 1974 and became among political prisoners detained the longest at more than 10 years.
After his detention, he helped establish and became chairperson of the Samahan ng Ex-detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) that sought the release of all political prisoners. He also helped organize Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND) in 1985 and became its executive director.
In 1988, Agcaoili left the Philippines to work at the Spanish NGO Instituto de Estudios Políticos para América Latina y Africa (IEPALA) in 1988.
He joined exploratory talks for peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Philippine government from 1989 and became the vice chairperson of the NDFP negotiating panel when the two sides adopted The Hague Joint Declaration as the framework for the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.
When Luis Jalandoni resigned as chief peace negotiator in 2017, Agcaoili took over. Between 2016 and 2017, he met with President Rodrigo Duterte as many as six times, according to Sison.
Peace talks between the government and the NDFP fell in 2017 due to disagreements, with government accusing the communist party of continuing attacks on state troops despite negotiations.