Thirty years after the fatal shot which took his young life, UP Ibalon recalls Floro E. Balce. Those who know and love him ponder on the evanescence of his time, the greatness of his sacrifice and the humanity of his dream. They pay tribute to Ka Manding, one among the heroic braves who died in the pitch-blackness of the night— of yet to be won battle, before the sun comes up for a better day. The noble cause he embraced remains contentious—that which draws others to learn and admire his lofty path. –Totie Mesia
In an ill-descript spot along EDSA highway in Manila, there is Bantayog ng mga Bayani, a memorial of remarkable human beings whose lives are weightier than the heavy stone on which their names are engraved. Etched on a simple black slab of concrete is the name of UP Ibalon’s Floro E. Balce, a Bicolano hero who died from gunfire which blew an excruciating rugged hole on his belly, leading to his agonizing death. It happened in July 30, 1978, in Tigaon, Camarines Sur on his birthday.
A man of strong principles and unbridled dreams, Floro was my roommate at Molave Residence Hall in UP Diliman. He was a bright idealistic electrical engineering (EE) student, a National Science Development Board (NSDB) scholar from Daet, Camarines Norte—- my indulgent friend and math mentor in the dorm.
In the same room with us was Larry Ajel, our buddy from the Ilocos who dreamed to work in a hospital as a medical technologist. Larry shared our provincial plebeian background. He was our big brother who taught us the urbane ways of the campus. His stay however was cut short by a decision to migrate to America.
Rudival Cabading was another roommate. The rambunctious guy felt the state university wasn’t his piece of cake, so he moved to the Philippine Military Academy (PMA.) He became a military officer who never saw me stepped out of our dormitory to become a physician.
“Bakit dito sa UP, ang mga estudyante, nagsasalita ng Espanyol?” I recalled Floro asking me on our first day of school inside the Arts and Science (AS) building. Feeling my way on the unfamiliar ground, I was as naïve and perplexed as he was.
“Why? What did you hear?” I asked.
“Que hora es,” he said with a spark in his eyes.
Having survived his early years in UP, my soft-spoken buddy transformed into an assertive, knowledgeable, and brave gentleman. But he kept a low profile, humbly sharing his private thoughts with the people he knew and trusted.
He also trusted me, but perhaps, he didn’t feel it was a good idea to let me know too much of his leftist leanings. His linkage with the New People’s Army (NPA.) was something I suspected, but I didn’t ask. The guy had this palpable intolerance against injustice which was nurtured in campus. I knew he was opposed to the corruption of the Marcos, drawing him to join protest marches and rallies.
Had I shown enough sympathy for his cause, he might have led me deep into the sanctum of his beliefs and the core of his convictions. Yet, he was considerate, respectful, and even protective of my own safety. He didn’t want me to be distracted, for he knew I was hell-bent to become a doctor.
We talked about poverty and inequity when we were supposed to be focused in our studies—if not fiery hot, pursuing girls in campus. Setting aside school work at night, we discussed social issues that otherwise wouldn’t have bothered the care-free college students we knew.
At semester’s end, there was silence that pervaded the dorm before the residents left for the school break. For us, nothing triggered so much adrenaline release and worry when the last days of class wore on. The teachers were sternly aloof and the final exams they gave were difficult. We were all preparing for the killer tests that would dictate which way we’d go in our studies.
“How was your exam?” I asked Floro after he took his test.
“I submitted my blue book empty,” he said wryly. “I didn’t answer any of the test questions. They were hard. I wrote my teacher to explain why,” he continued.
That worried me. In my mind, if he failed the test, that meant he’d lose his scholarship; at worst, he’d be kicked out from the college and be forced to return home to Bicol. I would not see him again just like some of my friends who drifted away from college.
Convinced by his honesty, the teacher gave him a chance to retake the test. It was hard for me to believe that there was such a teacher in UP who would be so kind to a troubled student. I knew I needed such kindness too. While Floro fought to keep his scholarship to earn an engineering degree, I was in rabid pursuit for higher grades to get me into medical school.
But life seemed to have taken a different turn. The social cause he pursued was eating up his time and he started acting as though finishing college wasn’t that important anymore. Although he returned to the dorm late from meetings with people I didn’t know, it never crossed my mind that he was mulling to go full-time as Ka Manding in the NPA movement.
I was with him for so long that I’d quickly recognize his low-toned voice if he called me from heaven. In ROTC, we bonded together in that green military uniform and combat boots during practice marches, lectures, and GT’s (graded tests.) We belonged to a jolly platoon of fellow-Ibalonians with Ray R.G. Rayel, Julius A. Lecciones, and Arnel V. Malaya. Our group’s tail-scout, Floro guarded our backs during a bivouac. He was our loyal sentinel when we took surreptitious rests under the cool shade of acacia trees.
I still kept the image of Floro as an active student catholic action member (UPSCA ) waiting at the dorm door for our Sunday mass to hear the socially-charged sermons of Fr. Unson in the campus chapel. Gratitude was on his face as I lent him cash sometimes when he didn’t have time to travel to far Bicutan to pick up his NSDB stipend. His steady gaze was transfixed on my face, as he pointed on social issues at Mrs. Rodrin’s cottage during our lunch together.
In a soiree, we had a good laugh donning our sartorial best at the alumni center, sipping cold beer to be with the most beautiful Bicolanas in campus. In a fond conversation, I naughtily poked on a pretty Ibalonian Rebecca Espeso wearing that orangey ethereal “kulambo” blouse which made Floro twinkle.
“Magayonon!” I whispered on his ear. He reacted with those jerky convulsions on his shoulder; his elated radiant eyes were as thin as the coin-hole of a lucky slot machine. He chuckled loud as though I heard Brad Pitt laughing somewhere.
A fine human being who truly cared for the poor and the disadvantaged, Floro was a hurried bright comet blazing in the night sky. He was fast on his trail to let the world know of his mission. Martyrdom he must do, for he couldn’t wait to hear more of the cries of the poor without doing something.
In Molave, my friend, the shining gem in the sky had this old alarm clock, a brother’s gift, he told me, which sounded like a time-bomb. He laughed in earnest when Mario Genio, another Bicolano and I kidded him of the noisy white clock.
I borrowed this funny time piece to wake me up at midnight in order to study. When the alarm rang, I thought I saw Floro’s shadowy figure in that rickety chair fronting his table, deep in thought, as if something heavy was in his heart. I wondered if God was there speaking to him by his side. Maybe that moment was his epiphany. In the pitch blackness of midnight outside, it was his time to illumine the sky. =0=