A decade of inspiration: Remembering Alvin

A decade of inspiration: Remembering Alvin
(November 2, 1990 – August 11, 2011)

by Ka Moses

Alvin Rey Santiago, known as Ka Purga in the revolutionary movement, joined the New People’s Army in the summer of 2010. Born to a lower petty bourgeois family, he was exposed at an early age to the hardships of completing one’s studies while struggling with finances. He enrolled in the BS Food Technology program of UP Mindanao. True to being an “Iskolar ng Bayan,” he integrated with the masses while balancing his academic duties, and excelled in both. At UP Min, we became activists together, although I was still a  “newbie” when he became a student leader.

In the latter years of the Arroyo presidency, Alvin learned of society’s greater evils and their roots with a Marxist-Leninist lens, one that enabled him to see the systematic oppression not only of underprivileged students like him, but of Philippine society in general.

As a student activist, he served as councilor of the UP Mindanao University Student Council, and was later elected as its Vice-Chairperson. He never filled in the post, choosing instead to go to the countryside and serve the peasant and Lumad masses as a Red fighter in the New People’s Army in Compostela Valley (now Davao de Oro) and Davao Oriental.

Alvin’s life was perhaps a study of wonderful ironies to those who knew him. In many ways, he was the epitome of a lower class, petty-bourgeoisie who struggled to overcome his class vestiges as he navigated his way into the national democratic movement. While he frequently had to endure hunger pangs to make his meager allowance enough for the week, he was also one to splurge on 6-inch thick high heels, albeit scoured from ukay-ukay, that he would only wear once.

His memory for the lyrics of progressive and revolutionary songs is rivaled only by his mastery of Mariah Carey hits. Endeared for diffusing tensions during meetings through his humor, he would also at times be found bickering with comrades over the most petty issues. I was told that he was one of the pioneering “out” members of the Pi Sigma Fraternity who campaigned vigorously to organize members of the LGBTQ community into the fraternity.

Alvin’s life in the countryside came to me in snapshots and snippets, told and retold by comrades from his letters or else from those who integrated in the NPA. From what I gathered, it represented the aspect of the people’s war that always keeps the revolution’s edge over the fascist enemy: mass work and its young cadres’ selfless dedication to serve the people. He made use of his education to help in his unit’s literacy-numeracy program, even helping out on homework of the sons and daughters of peasants in their area. One comrade from his unit told me a story where, tired of hearing food fallacies that were rampant among comrades (sayote causes anemia; MSG is universally bad; don’t give  coffee to hyperacidic comrades, give them milk instead), he asked the unit command and the medical team if he could give a short educational discussion to dispel the misconceptions. The ED was a resounding success.

He became a platoon supply officer, a medical-trainee, an instructor, but comrades say he was best at being a political guide. His background as a student activist enabled him to understand the tenets of the Marxist-Leninist-Maoism, but it was his integration with the masses that made stronger his grasp of the revolutionary movement. He understood that the people’s war would not be won by guns alone. There was the need to instill proletarian ideology among new comrades, to strengthen ties between the Red army and the masses, to build a government of the people that is competent and responsive to the needs of the people.

Even in his death, the people who had worked with Purga still recall with fondness their memories of his short stay in the countryside. One masa recounted her unforgettable experience with Alvin, who said he never thought of himself as someone to be given special treatment because he was college-educated. She was awed to see him one time drenched in sweat, naked from the waist up and trudging uphill under the noonday sun. His shirt was wrapped around several sweet potatoes he gathered from the field. She asked why he would undertake a task better suited for the elemento (new recruits), Alvin replied “para sa tanan man ni nga trabaho” (This kind of job is for everyone). The masses saw great humility and dedication from him as a leader and a servant, and I cannot but compare him to the haughty bureaucrats of the reactionary government who seem to think they are owed something.

Purga met his end on the morning of August 11, 2011 during his unit‘s ambuscade against troops of the 67th IB in Sitio Magobahong, Brgy. Abejod in the town of Cateel in Davao Oriental. An M-14 bullet found its way into his left chest, damaging his heart and almost completely amputating his arm. His platoon managed to carry his body out of the frontline, but had to hurriedly bury him several kilometers away before finally withdrawing. The enemy would dig up Alvin’s remains a few days later, perhaps as they do now with the remains of other fallen Red fighters. Not out of decency or concern for the bereaved, for everyone knows the NPA and the CPP have long been able to take care of and provide for burial and other needs of their fallen comrades. With the Duterte regime’s manic campaign to appear on top of the insurgency, I know they do it simply for show.

Ten years after his death, Alvin’s life and how he chose to live it will always be a wake-up call about the ongoing armed revolution. Many of his high school and college peers never fully pictured the people’s war, until his death. With his thin build, long legs and signature split middle hairstyle, no one would have ever thought that he would choose the life in the countryside. His reputation as the “darling of the crowd,” the one whose presence was easily detected from afar by his distinct high-pitched voice and the resounding laughter that he always seemed to generate from those around him, helped demolish the trite guerilla stereotype: grim-looking men, with smug looks and barbaric tendencies.

I will always remember Alvin as the one who was one year shy of graduating cum laude at UP Min. He chose to give up his apparently short sprint toward a financially-rewarding career, and instead joined the long march in the national democratic revolution. During these times where the highly-paid state propaganda machine repeatedly claims that the revolutionary movement has lost its relevance, Alvin’s decision to be a Red fighter—along with the thousands of youth after him—is a constant reminder that the people’s war remains alive and urgent, retaining not only its appeal but the selfless loyalty among the finest of the Filipino youth.


Ka Moses was a college activist in UP Mindanao when Alvin Rey “Ka Purga” Santiago’s decided to join the NPA in 2010. “I was inspired to be part of the movement because of him.”

Still a national democratic activist, he now works professionally as a human rights advocate.

A decade of inspiration: Remembering Alvin