Kal, a true alagad ng midya

TW: This article contains graphic descriptions of death.

Every so often, a young activist would enter. And then a lawyer. A mother and a toddler. A middle-aged professor. And countless others. 

They filled the room with laughs, muffled cries and guitar chords of revolutionary songs. But the space couldn’t hold them all during the third and final viewing day on April 18. There were simply too many whom she touched, including those whose introduction to the red fighter was news of her brutal execution last April 10.

Even in her demise, hers was a spirit that could organize generations of activists.

Kaliska Dominica “Kal” Peralta, 33, was a Film student from the UP College of Mass Communication (CMC). She was the short-haired, all-smiles student-leader known for igniting the membership of a political campus organization from five to about 45 in just one academic year.

When iskolars ng bayan were threatened by billion-peso budget cuts and flawed tuition fee schemes, Kal stood with other students in Palma and Quezon Hall to demand a better, more accessible system of education.

In 2011, she helped residents in Sitio San Roque, Quezon City defend their rights amid forced demolitions and harassment perpetrated by Ayala Land, Inc. and the police.

Kal was the emotional protestor whose joy was captured outside the Indonesian Embassy in 2015 when Mary Jane Veloso’s scheduled execution was delayed; the tearful activist who welcomed the Lumads marching all the way from Mindanao to Manila to assert their rights as bombs and militarization hit their ancestral lands.

And when she decided that the unjust political structures of society could no longer be changed through reforms, she shed the comforts of Kal for “Ka Rekka” and embraced the armed struggle as a member of the New People’s Army in 2016.

Kal never marched in Cine Adarna as a CMC graduate. She decided not to shoot her thesis, her remaining academic requirement. But on April 20, the entire cinema was hers. “Para kay Kal (For Kal),” the letters on the marquee read. 

The family and friends of Kal commemorate her life at Cine Adarna, UP. Photo by Kyle Angelo Cristy

It seemed fitting. After all, CMC was the first home of this alagad ng midya who lived her college’s principles ‘til the very end: magmulat, maglingkod, makibaka.

From CMC

Forming a collective was second nature to Kal.

During her freshman year in 2008, she found a home in UP Cineastes’ Studio. With them, she ushered participants in movie screenings and assisted her orgmates’ productions.

“Filmmaker at any cost,” Cineastes’ motto says. Kal became more of a director of political movements than actual films.

These days, the communication research hallway mostly exists as a walkway for students, while ghost stories haunt the college’s basement. But flashing across the television in the room of Kal’s wake were scenes of students huddled for orientations and educational discussions in these same spaces, with her at the front or center stage.

Kal facilitates an educational discussion at the old Student Activity Center, located at the CMC basement, back in 2012. Photo courtesy of STAND UP CMC.

As part of the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP (STAND UP) – CMC, she also convinced students to run, and managed campaigns for the college student council elections.

Kal (at the center) mounts a mass orientation with STAND UP CMC at the communication research hallway back in 2013. Photo courtesy of STAND UP CMC.

From being a member of the candidates management committee in 2009, she eventually led protest actions on media issues and students’ rights as the local party’s chairperson from 2010 to 2011.

I think under Kal’s leadership din nag-grow talaga into one of the strongest chapters ang STAND UP CMC,” shared Norman Riego, a former orgmate of Kal and the CMC Student Council chairperson in A.Y. 2011-2012.

The local party’s chairperson, who entered UP as a conyo Film major from a private, all-girls high school, defied stereotypical notions of the “perpetually angry” activist, according to Norman: “Marunong siyang makisama [at] makipag-usap sa mga tao.”

But more than her prowess in rhetoric, it was Kal’s ability to emotionally connect and understand her orgmates that molded the collective she led as a space for anyone to thrive in.

Marami po sa mga ka-batch ko ay lagi pong nahahati ang katawan sa school works, org works, love life, ‘yung iba po working students pa. Pero hindi niya po kami sinusukuan. Sobra-sobra pong haba ng pasensya ni Kal sa amin sa pagpapaliwanag sa mga nangyayari sa lipunan, at kung paano namin ito malalaman sa aming pang-araw-araw na buhay at pag-aaral,” Krupskaya Valila, the STAND UP CMC chairperson in A.Y. 2012-2013, said during the April 20 program for Kal.

Kal tried to find an intersection between film and political work.

In 2011, she immersed herself in the day-to-day lives of Sitio San Roque residents hammered by abrupt demolitions. One of her tasks was to document their experiences. She really tried.

Pinahirapan niya po ang mga kasama niyang nag-edit ng videos kasi mas malakas pa po yung chant niya kaysa [sa] kinukunan niya. Nakalimutan niya pong may hawak siyang camera,” shared Krupskaya.

Addressing the hundreds who participated in the service for Kal, Krupskaya added: “This immersion solidified her commitment sa pag-intindi sa kalagayan ng masa at pagkilos para maging mabuti ang kalagayan nila.”

In the next few years, Kal made it a mission to direct the eyes of other iskolars ng bayan to the injustices creeping all around them. 

To the entire UPD

Members of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) – UPD, Kal’s university-wide organization, evoked a certain pride during their former leader’s wake. Even Kal was fond of talking about their formation’s ability to arouse many students, her orgmates said.

But Kal had something to show for her pride because when only five comprised the nearly-depleted LFS-UPD back in 2014, she was the chairperson who believed.

Naranasan namin na may forum tas nilalangaw… Tinry namin magpa-film screening, lima lang din kami pumunta… Pero sabi niya, ituloy pa rin natin kahit tayo-tayo lang,” said former University Student Councilor Ben Te during the last day of his friend’s wake.

Labor rights activist Kara Taggaoa, also one of the five, attested to Kal’s unrelenting quality: “Kahit gaano kami kakonti, hindi pwedeng hindi kami magmi-meeting.”

Kara shared that in these meetings, Kal, the masculine “baklang tomboy,” was known for delivering litanies whenever she felt that they conducted too few room-to-room campaigns: “Iiyak siya kasi… ibig sabihin hindi namin napalaganap ‘yung problema, ibig sabihin konti lang ‘yung may alam na may problema.

Still, in the heart of Kal rested the faith that the efforts they had planted will grow among students until such time that they take part in collective actions.

Sabi niya lahat [tayo] ay may ambag, maliit man or malaki… Laging magtiwala sa mga kasapi, sa masa. ‘Yung mga estudyante kikilos din ‘yan, gawin lang natin yung ginagawa natin,” Kara said.

After conducting countless more EDs and building creative political campaigns in and beyond the campus, Kal’s leadership amassed about 45 members in LFS-UPD by 2015. Steered by the students she first led, the organization grew larger in the years to come.

To Mindanao’s terrains

Umuwi ‘yan minsan, black and blue sa kanyang legs at forearm… ‘Truncheon marks pala. Napapalo na siya ng batuta sa Mendiola,” Dino Peralta shared. “Umuuwi ‘yan nang basa. Nawo-water cannon na pala siya,” this was how the family slowly discovered Kal’s activism, Kal’s father explained.

From witnessing the violence that profit-greedy corporations and the state unleashed against the poor and minorities, Kal became one of the subjects of police harassment as her spirit raged on.

Naniniwala kami na lahat ng nangyari, ‘yung injustices ang nagpush sa kanya,” Kara said.

In the April 20 program, Prof. Gerry Lanuza, who shared the picket line with Kal during her days at the university, opined the same: “It’s the first-hand experience of bitter oppression of the masses that forced Kal to embrace armed struggle.”

As to the specific moment or issue that ultimately stirred the alagad ng midya to take the militant path in the latter months of 2016, one can only speculate.

But what is certain is that in the eyes of the state, Kal, the big-hearted, all-smiles and crybaby leader who now bore arms was a threat who needed to be executed.

On April 10, an unarmed Peralta was “extrajudicially killed” by the military in Brgy. Butong, Quezon, Bukidnon, according to the official publication of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), however, claimed that an “armed encounter” transpired.

Kal’s parents received news of her demise from the military the next day.

Their eldest daughter would arrive at around 4 p.m. in Villamor Air Base on April 12, the officer in contact with Kal’s family said. So they waited. But the aircraft was delayed in Davao for a few hours. They waited, as the plane rerouted to Central Luzon.

Face squashed, limbs wrapped in trashed bags, enclosed in an improvised wooden coffin and further enveloped in a metal casket, Kal arrived at 12:30 a.m. of April 13.

Dino hyperventilated then and there, while the military documented the tragic scene. “Anong klaseng pambababoy ginawa n’yo sa ate ko?” her youngest brother, 22, growled.

Anong ginagawa n’yo diyan? Kukuha na lang ba kayo ng picture?” the enraged brother added when his father, who instantly recognized Kal in that deformed body, was about to fall to his knees.

The death certificate of Kal, as promised by the military, has yet to be received by the family as of writing. “Ito lang talaga ang habol namin: ang katotohanan, ang malaman talaga kung ano ang tunay na nangyari,” the father said.

Progressive groups condemn the act as a grave violation of International Humanitarian Law and seek accountability from the AFP.

“The International Humanitarian Law clearly dictates the treatment of unarmed adversaries in war, emphasizing the protection of prisoners-of-war and prohibiting harm to unarmed individuals,” Gabriela Partylist said in a statement.

Three of Ka Rekka’s comrades were also captured and have yet to surface. In the same week, in the same area in Bukidnon, 63-year-old labor rights activist William Lariosa went missing.

[Ang] immediate call ay independent investigation hindi lang para kay Kal kundi para sa community mismo kasi baka kung anu-ano nang rights violations ang nagaganap dun. Even naman si Kal kung buhay siya, ‘yun ‘yung iisipin niya… ‘yung mga affected na community higit sa sarili niya,” Kara said.