by Quennie Ann Palafox

      He gained distinction for leading one of the largest strikes in the history of the country’s labor movement and as a journalist stirred the workers’ clamor for improvement of their conditions through labor unions. In his native town, Nava built the Federacion Obrera de Filipinas (FOF) to be the Philippines largest trade union. Unlike other labor leaders, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, yet he made major alteration of the then existing social contract between the country’s stevedores and sugar brokers.

      The most powerful labor leader of his time- Jose Maria Nava was born to a wealthy family on July 31, 1891 in Iloilo City. His father was Mariano Nava y Legaspi of Binondo, Manila, and mother Estefa Nuñal of Iloilo City.

      He attended the Iloilo Central School, the Iloilo Normal School, and the Iloilo High School, for his secondary education.  At a young age, Nava already knew what he wants – the arts. Nava attended private lessons in art and music and he engaged much of his time reading Spanish and American novels. Jose Nava first showed his talent for acting back in high school days when in 1905, he was noted for being the only Filipino student chosen to act with Spanish dramatic artists. This success was followed by his role in the December 1907 as Mr. Longhead, President of the Company in C.T. Denison’s play The Great Doughnut Corporation.  He quitted high school as he was bored with his studies and decided to pursue a career in the arts in Manila, a place far from his home. In Manila, he enrolled in painting at the school of Fine Arts first at “Raspall’s Studio”, and later in “Antonio Torres’ Studio”. He was so fascinated with literature that he wrote notable dramas such as “Luding”, “Colintas nga Saway”, and “Datu Palau”. His desire to go back to theater life led Nava to return to Iloilo in 1914.

       He married Adela Carineta, a principal soprano of the “Nasalbanti Company” in Pulupandan, Negros Occidental.  He had 11 children but his wife died in 1929. He married again this time to Adelina Aldeguer who bore him 7 children. In 1922 he won the shooting championship and was given medal as a sharp shooter by the Philippine Rifle and Pistol Association and by the War Department of USA.

       He reunited with his childhood friends in Iloilo and in 1917, with Vicente Ibiernas, they organized the first labor organization in Iloilo, the Union Obrera de Iloilo.  Apart from theater, he began a career in editorial in 1915 when he served as a correspondent for El Tiempo, a local Spanish paper, and later became its editor. Nava opened his own newspaper, the La Prensa, when El Tiempo closed down in 1922. This newspaper closed down in 1925 and was succeeded by Prensa Libre in which he served as the editor.

       He dedicated long years of his life to the theater but two major setbacks at the peak of his career ended his theatrical profession. In 1917, a fire destroyed his scripts, and a certain Julio Peña from Negros Occidental came to the fore accusing him of plagiarism. Between 1919 and 1931, he tried his luck in politics when he ran for Iloilo’s Municipal council five times, but he won only twice. Although a failure in the field of politics, he gained success as newspaper editor for his daring campaign against corruption in the government.

        Nava becoming a labor leader was only accidental. It all started when a man with a bandage over one eye came into his office in 1928 who sought his help. The man lost the sight of one eye due to accident from his work. The man was able to claim compensation from the Visayan Stevedoring Company through the help of Nava. This news reached the knowledge of peasant workers, thus on July 31, 1928 a group of workers from the district of Lapus petitioned Nava to organize a labor union. Right on that day, the Federacion Obrera de Filipinas was born.

       The FOF as a labor group introduced itself in the industrial arena when it organized a major strike in 1930 involving some 3000 stevedores. He also organized strikes at plantations and mills in Negros. In 1938, he was elected the National Chairman of the Collective Labor Movement (CLM) the biggest organization of labor before the outbreak of the war.

       During the Japanese occupation, he took the pro-American position and organized the Sabotage and Guerilla Unit in Panay after contacting Major Quimbo and Gen. Bradford Chynoweth, local commander of the USAFFE. On December 1, 1941, Dr. Caram appointed Nava as his deputy governor. He was commissioned Captain of the USAFFE and become the Chief of the Propaganda Unit and Intelligence Unit under Peralta. His 8 sons and daughters were all commissioned in the USAFFE as captains, lieutenants and privates. He made the first encounter against the Japanese at Alimodian, Iloilo on April, 1942. When the local USAFFE surrendered to the Japanese after the fall of Bataan and his friends collaborated with the Japanese, Nava remained in the mountains with his anti-Japanese resistance ideology until 1945.

        Local politics was already in his system that he made a come back just after the liberation. Despite the fact that he was recognized for his post in the US army when he served in the USAFFE, he was now more radical and allied himself with the leftists, Guillermo Capadocia. Through Capadocia, Nava became involved with the Communist Party and the Huk guerilla army. Nava’s alliance with the leading communist leaders along with his involvement in national issues broke his relations with the groups that were vital to his success before the war. The Provincial chapter of FOF refused to remit money as their contributions to the national office with resulted to the FOF being short of funds.

       In 1947 Pascual Espinosa, a former vice president of FOF, broke his ties with the group and accepted the leadership of the Consolidated Labor Union of the Philippines. The two unions became bitter rivals that resulted in armed confrontations. In the 1949 presidential elections, Nava aligned himself with the Huks because of the political violence that took place involving him. Nava’s role in the execution of alleged spy, Capt. Parreño, by the Huk guerillas was unveiled as evidences were obtained. The militia accused him as the man behind Parreños death in 1950. As more violence erupted, Constabulary troops placed in detention the then already weak Jose Nava, his son Ricardo, and son-in-law Alfredo Palmejar at the provincial jail on charges of subversion in 1951. In April 1952, Judge Magno Gatmaitan sentenced Nava to death. After conviction he was transferred to Muntinlupa Prison where he spent his remaining time writing and reflecting. His health suffered more due to imprisonment and his properties were sold because of the lengthy trial. On January 14, 1954, while on a hospital leave from Muntinglupa Prison, Jose Nava died in the Manila Sanitarium.