Introducing Manuel Colayco

José S. Arcilla, S.J.

Posted on July 15, 2013

“COLAYCO HALL” is one of the buildings on the sprawling campus of the Ateneo de Manila University overlooking Marikina Valley. It was built and named in honor of Manuel Colayco, one of our great but unknown Filipinos.

Lithe, taller than the average, with a square jaw that set firmly, eyes that appraised coolly and almost always correctly, a sardonic smile, he was loyal to friends, but also made enemies -- only because when he saw something amiss, he set it right -- to their discomfiture.

At the Ateneo, he was one of the students of the Jesuit Fr. Joseph A. Mulry, who discovered and nurtured his journalistic sense. He was a member of the Catholic Evidence Guild, a group of students who, over the radio popularized the program “Catholic Hour” which propagated Catholic doctrine, especially of social justice.

After graduation he continued to work with the “Belarminos,” the same student group named differently. An exceptional orator in three languages, he turned down an offer to practice actively the law career, in order to devote his time to the national Catholic paper of the Philippines, the Commonweal, of which he was the editor. His editorials, orthodox and always inspiring, were read and quoted as they appeared every Thursday, and his clear enunciation of Catholic principles helped many doubters of he wisdom of Catholic morality.

When war broke out, he left the paper and enlisted in the armed forces. He fought for five long months in the front lines of Bataan, was taken prisoner, and suffered the inhumanity the Japanese inflicted on the Filipino and American surrenderees in their forced march -- now known as the “Death March” -- to the concentration camps in Tarlac and Nueva Ecija. There, hungry, he suffered bouts of malaria and shrunk to mere skeleton and bones. The enemy thought he would not live longer, and released him. They failed to reckon with his grit and courage. He recovered and proved them wrong.

Back in Manila, he regrouped former classmates and friends and they joined the guerrilla movement in the most dangerous and effective of all guerrilla activities -- espionage. They got in touch with the Allied Intelligence Bureau.

Finally, Gen. MacArthur was back. Through hidden radios, the Filipinos could hardly believe their ears when they heard again the voice, “By the grace of almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil. The hour of your redemption is at hand.”

Capt. Colayco joined the returning forces, led them to the liberation of American captives -- through pot-holed streets, down Rizal Ave. in Manila to the gates of the concentration camp at the University of Santo Tomas. It was dark and dusty, and the lead officer signaled to a group of guerrillas at the gate. They were not guerrillas, they were the Japanese guards. A hand-grenade sailed though the air, landed on the floor of the jeep in which Manny was riding, and exploded. Capt. Manuel Colayco fell mortally wounded. A few of the just liberated internees, some doctors and nurses worked frantically on the shattered body. It was too late.

Manuel Colayco lived as he had always lived: fighting for something that he believed in and loved. But he did not die in vain. For one supreme but brief moment at the head of a flying column, cool and swift against his face, the wind of liberty blew freely.