DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 10 November) – Student leader Rendell Ryan Edpan Cagula, president of the University Student Council of the University of the Philippines-Mindanao in 2011-2012, former Davao City coordinator of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) and Southern Mindanao coordinator of the Kabataan party list, has returned home after an 11-month absence, in a casket.
The 23-year-old Cagula, popularly known by his nickname, “Perper,” was among three persons dubbed in an Army press release as “NPA bandits killed in Sarangani encounter” between elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Battalion and the New People’s Army (NPA) at around 1 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, November 4, in Sitio Tubac, Barangay Nomoh, Maasim town.
His mother, Marina, told MindaNews she and her son Kenneth identified Perper in a funeral parlor in Maitum, Sarangani on Thursday and transported him to this city in the early hours of Friday.
Marina says she does not know if her son was, indeed, a member of the NPA, as claimed by the military. “Nagtudlo man daw to siya’g mga Lumad” (He said he was teaching Indigenous Peoples).
She said Perper, who would phone her when he was in an area with “signal,” loved talking about how happy he was sharing his learnings with Lumads (Indigenous Peoples), and how he was learning so much from them as well.
Perper took up BA Anthropology at UP Mindanao and was six units short of finishing his course when he left the university.
His father, Joy, told MindaNews that when his son left home in early December last year, “humanon man daw niya iyang thesis” (he said he was finishing his thesis).
Thesis is not a requirement in the BA Anthro course but its equivalency is Field School and in the field school in Agusan that Perper attended, he excelled, according to one of his teachers. His classmates and teachers say Perper was “maayo gyud” (really good) as a student and as a leader.
Marina attests to her son’s devotion to his studies. She would sometimes sleep at night and wake up in the morning to find her son still reading his books.
Joy said Perper didn’t come home for Christmas and New Year last year but finally communicated with them by phone in February.
No to Geology, yes to Anthropology
Joy, a retired geologic aide from the Mines and Geo-sciences Bureau (MGB) in Surigao and later Davao, and presently working in a nickel mining operations in Tawi-tawi, told his former colleagues at the MGB who came to the wake at the Collado funeral parlor Sunday night that he had hoped his son would take up Geology because he could borrow books for him from them and it would be easy for his son to find a job after graduation.
But even before Perper finished secondary education at the Daniel R. Aguinaldo National High School (DRAHS), Joy said he was already bent on pursuing Anthropology at UP Mindanao.
Joy recalled how he once told his son that he was informed he was picketing the MGB office, and reminded him he used to work there. But his son went on with his activism, tackling issues in and out of the university, and was, as the father described him, “pirmi frontliner” (always a frontliner).
RR, Perper’s nickname at home (he became “Perper” while at the DRAHS), had always been a frontliner since he was little, said Joy. “Lider gyud na sya” (He was really a leader), said Marina.
Even in death, Perper was still a leader. Before he was identified and claimed by his mother, he was tagged “Cadaver No. 1” in the military reports while the 28-year-old Johnny Wata Camag of Magsaysay in Davao del Sur was “Cadaver No. 2.”
The gensantimes.com on November 6 reported that “the slain NPA rebels were identified as Rendel Ryan Cagula, reportedly a resident of Bago Gallera in Davao City; Johnny Camag of Magsaysay in Davao del Sur; and Fredi Ayog of Islome in Maasim.”
Marina presented her son’s school ID when she claimed his cadaver, according to a military report.
Perper was president of the University Student Council at UP-Min from 2011 to 2012. He also served as Davao City coordinator of the LFS. Last year, he was visible in several protest actions against tuition increases as well as in the series of anti-pork barrel rallies, as regional convenor of the Kabataan party list.
On September 5 last year, Perper was at the press conference of Youth Act Now Davao alliance, which Kabataan convened. The alliance called for “the abolition of pork barrel fund, including the presidential pork barrel, and the re-channeling of the pork barrel fund to education and other social services” and urged schools in Davao City to “make a stand supporting the call to abolish the pork barrel, and mobilize the whole school-community (for the) September 11 nationwide protest.”
Perper continued to communicate with his mother in Davao City and his father in Tawi-tawi, by text or call, but would not tell them where he was.
Marina said she kept telling her husband they should look for their son but she couldn’t answer whenever Joy asked her, “but where?”
Joy would tell his wife to “load” Perper’s phone so he could communicate with them. Perper communicated with his mother more frequently because the signal in the area where his father was working in Tawi-tawi was erratic.
The signal was good on November 5 when Marina phoned Joy to tell him the bad news that their son was dead.
He recalled telephone conversations with his son where he tried to convince him to return home. In Filipino and Cebuano, Joy said, “but he told me he was happy there, that he had found his calling there.”
Until she saw her son’s body and the four bullet wounds on the right side of his chest, and some marks of bullet grazing on the right side of his head, Marina did not want to believe her son was dead.
She smiled recalling how Perper told her over the phone that he was eating what the residents in the area were eating, such as “lagutmon” (root crops), and how he had started to gain weight. He did gain weight.
Perper would inform her he had fever, his back was painful, it was cold where he was, that he was feeling sick, he was having allergies, or that he had colds but would update the worried mother that he was feeling better.
But he would never tell her where he was.
Marina said she sent her son text messages every day even if she wasn’t sure he would receive them “para kung naa nay signal, mabasa niya akong mga mensahe” (so that when there is signal, he could read my messages).
But Marina, Joy and Kenneth were looking forward to December as Perper promised his mother he would come home.
“Ingon siya, ‘promise gyud nako Ma, magkita gyud ta karong December. Sure gyud na, Ma’” (He told me, ‘I promise you, Ma, we’ll see each other in December. For sure, Ma.’’’).
“Nagkita gyud mi, November pa, pero patay na siya” (We did finally see him, in November, but he’s dead), said Marina.
Traveling 200 kilometers from Maitum, Sarangani to Davao City in the early hours of Friday, Marina said she kept crying and telling her son, “uli na ta, anak” [we’re going home, son].