Vivencio Cuyugan

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Vivencio Cuyugan, Sr.
Born Alberto Romualdez, Jr.
(1895-01-13)January 13, 1895
San Fernando, Pampanga, Captaincy General of the Philippines
Died March 16, 1971(1971-03-16) (aged 76)
Manila, Philippines
Nationality Filipino
Known for Mayor of San Fernando, Pampanga
Spouse(s) Felisa Amurao-Cuyugan
Children Aida Cuyugan
Fernando Cuyugan
Fe Cuyugan
Vivencio Cuyugan, Jr.
Panopio Cyugan
Ma. Luisa Cuyugan

Vivencio B. Cuyugan (13 January 1895 - 16 March 1971) was born in San Fernando, Pampanga to Saturnino P. Cuyugan and Antonina Y. Baron. He studied in the United States where he supported himself through professional boxing and became known as the "Big Brown Filipino." He was appointed Municipal Vice-President of San Fernando in 1927, and later elected to the same position in 1931. He was later elected the first Municipal Mayor under the Philippine Commonwealth, the first socialist mayor of the Philippines. Together with Pedro Abad Santos, he was among the co-founders of the Socialist Party of the Philippines.

Personal life[edit]

He married Felisa Amurao of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija and had six children by her, namely: Aida, Fernando, Fe, Vivencio Jr., Panopio, and Dr. Ma. Luisa. There were children from other marriages: Estrella, Augustin, Saturnino, Syvestra, Antonia, Carlos, Manuel, and Juliet. He had five brothers and a sister.


I saw Tio Bek only a few times during my teenage years in our Pasay City house. All through the pre-war, "Japanese time" and post-war years he was an infrequent visitor. I think he liked to chat with and consult his older cousin whom he called Cong Basiong, my father. Every visit of Tio Bek was memorable. He was imposing and charismatic. Unusually tall, large and bulky for a Filipino, he was more like a powerfully-built Caucasian. He dwarfed my father who was a bansot among the Cuyugans. You always knew he was around; his presence was always electrifying.

My father, a kind of role model for Tio Bek, took up medicine at the University of Illinois and returned to the Philippines in 1910. Tio Bek left for Chicago in 1917 to take up law at the Northwestern University. He stayed in the United States until 1926. Sometime in 1970, when his health began to fail, Tio Bek expressed a desire to meet the "Cuyugan who is in the U.P." I think he was referring to me. Those were turbulent years in the country and I was preoccupied with affairs at the U.P. I regretted I could not make the trip to San Fernando.

Years later in the United States I received an unexpected call from his son and namesake, Vivencio Cuyugan Jr. We had never met before. He had traced me to the mill town in North Carolina where I had retired, ten years ago, after working as a Director at UNESCO in Paris, France. Vince, a prosperous insurance agent based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had been busy networking the Cuyugan clan ever since he came to the United States in 1975. From a cousin John, a computer management specialist, he got my number. From him I gleaned the following facts: Vivencio Cuyugan Sr. was born in San Fernando on January 13, 1895. His father Was Saturnino P. Cuyugan and his mother Antoma Y. Baron. (My father's mother, Juana Cuyugan, was a sister Of Saturnino.) Vivencio Cuyugan Sr. (Tio Bek) came to the United States on a slim grant from an Aunt. In Chicago he supported himself through professional boxing. He became known as the "Big Brown Filipino." His prowess in boxing stood him in good stead, earning him a living. However, a celebrated incident in 1926 precipitated his return to the Philippines, wreathed in glory. Ignoring a sign that forbade Filipinos from entering, he had entered a cabaret with a friend from Batangas, a Marasigan. (Filipinos had quite a reputation.) Racist hoodlums inside soon went into action, ganging up on Marasigan. In the ensuing scuffle, Marasigan's ear was cut off. Seeing his friend's bloody head and told what happened, Tio Bek asked his companion if he wanted him to fight them back. Marasigan agreed. Arming Marasigan with a baseball bat and telling him to stand aside, Tio Bek waded into the low lifers and laid everyone of them low.

The upshot was Tio Bek ended up in jail and every one of the attackers in the hospital. Tio Bek's bail was set at about two hundred thousand dollars. The Filipino community in Chicago closed ranks and rallied to his defense, hiring one of the greatest criminal lawyers of the time, the famous Clarence Darrow, to defend him in court. As a result, he was acquitted. That was when he decided to return to the Philippines, this time a celebrated hero. During his jail term and trial he received tremendous publicity in the newspapers of Chicago and the Philippines.

Seeing and experiencing at first hand the plight of Filipinos, other minorities and workers in Chicago, he began to develop what ultimately became a lifelong dedication to the cause of the oppressed and the abused. In Chicago, he was active in the labor movement as a champion of labor. Upon his return to the Philippines he persevered in this same mission. In the Philippine situation the issue was one of social and class conflict: the landed aristocracy versus the landless peasants or tenants, the industrialists and capitalists versus labor. It quickly brought him head-on against big landed interests and the capitalist industrialists as the defender of the laborer, the landless peasant, and the common tao (common people). He was their voice and champion. The fact that he himself was educated, had political power as a politician, and the means — albeit modest — as a member of the small middle class in the town and province, made him an effective leader. He easily identified with the aristocracy as well as the lowly. But his identification with labor and the common tao was decisive in making him cast his lot with the nascent socialist movement of Pedro Abad Santos, a fellow Kapampangan. During his term as Mayor of San Fernando, Tio Bek had occasion to go head-to-head with the big economic interests of that town. An incident involving PASUDECO was a case in point. As the chief executive of San Fernando, Tio Bek lost no time going after PASUDECO, the biggest sugar central in Central Luzon, charging it with dumping waste into the Pampanga River [sic; possibly referring to the San Fernando River] and polluting it.

Mayor De la Fuente of Manila was one of those at the beck and call of the dominant economic interests. He took it upon himself to comment unfavorably on San Fernando's action. But he did it by being personal. De la Fuente called Tio Bek a no-brain Mayor, probably an allusion to his pugilistic past. Being an irascible Kapampangan, Tio Bek considered this a challenge to his honor. He was not one to take it lying down. Immediately he challenged De la Fuente to a personal duel. De la Fuente accepted, but on the appointed hour did not show up Instead he ran off to Batangas and cried for assistance and intermediation the provincial big-wig Jose P. Laurel. In 1927, upon his return from the U.S., Tio Bek was appointed Vice-President of the town of San Fernando. In 1931 he was elected to the same position. In 1935, when the Philippines became a Commonwealth, he was again elected Mayor of San Fernando. His running mate and Vice Mayor was his first my father's younger brother, Jose Santos Cuyugan (Tio Pepe). Both of them were re-elected in 1939. Tio Bek's political party was the Socialist Party of the Philippines (SSP). Thus, Tio Bek was the first Socialist Mayor in the Philippines. In 1939, when the Socialist Party merged with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), he was elected Secretary-General of the merged party. Immediately after the outbreak of war and the invasion and occupation by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942, Tio Bek quit as Mayor and together with other Socialists — including Taruc, Mayor Sampang, Mayor Casto Alejandrino, Eusebio Aquino, Apung Banal, Amadeo del Castillo, Mariano Franco, and others — founded the Hukbo ng Bayan Laban sa Hapon (Hukbalahap) to wage armed resistance against the Japanese. He was named its first Commander-in-Chief. But after suffering a stroke, he had to step down a few months later. Luis Taruc took his place.

At one point the Japanese caught him and was about to execute him were it not for the intervention of the Japanese General Kobayashi, who knew Tio Bek and liked him. He was also a close personal friend of President Manuel of the Philippine Commonwealth. President Quezon was quite fond Tio Bek especially in the aftermath of the Big Chicago Brawl, and his as a champion of the poor. President Quezon was himself committed to a program of social justice in his administration and empathized Tio Bek's sentiments. Tio Bek tried his best (to help Quezon politically, becoming active in the political events of that time. In turn, President Quezon assisted him in his pet project, including the opening of the Arayat National Park and the expansion of services at the National Mental Institute in Mandaluyong. His public as well as private life was replete acts affirming his unfailing support for the underdog. For instance, he was one of the vociferous champions of "La Landless" movement, practicing it himself by giving away tracts of his personal properties. The history of Land Reform in the Philippines would not be complete without an account of the part he played in it. When Liberation came in 1945, Tio Bek resumed his mayorship. But because of his affiliation with the Huk movement, and the remarks he made about their just struggle, he was removed by the American military authorities from the office. The United Stales was at this time developing an uncompromising anti-Communist position, and was about to launch into a Cold War against Soviet Russia. When asked in a press interview about his alleged remarks that the Huks would never lay down their arms, Tio Bek affirmed the remark and refused to withdraw it.

In 1953, living in semi-retirement, Tio Bek was imprisoned under the administration of President Magsaysay and held incommunicado for six months, on the charge that he was one of the leaders of the Communist Party. He was asked to testify against Claro M. Recto, against whom charges were being made of collaboration with the Japanese. He refused, saying "over his dead body." While in prison at Camp Crame, his wife Felisa gave birth to a son.