Ladies and gentlemen:
At the outset, may I thank my dear friend, Senator Wigberto Tanada, the Chair of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, and his fellow Foundation officials for their kind invitation for me to speak before you this afternoon.
Today, we commemorate the birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, one of our national heroes, by mandate of Act No. 2946 of the Philippine Legislature, dated February 16, 1921 some 87 years ago.
Today is also the 26th anniversary of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani before which we are gathered this afternoon.
Let me immediately say that this Bantayog is a unique memorial that honors a select group of heroes in our country.
The heroes symbolized by the Bantayog did not raise arms or their voices or any effort against our country's colonial invaders from Spain. Or from the U.S. Or from Japan.
I stress that point because in many countries, their famous group memorials, in general, salute their heroes in their armed forces, which fought against foreign invaders.
There are number of examples.
- In France, under Napoleon, the Arc de Triumph was erected in 1806 in Paris to give credit to the French Army for their victories over their enemies;
(2) In the United States of America, the military cemetery at Arlington, Virginia was created in 1864 for the interment of men and women in the US Armed Forces, who died in the service of the nation;
(3) In Romania, the Mausoleum of Marasesti was constructed in 1938 to bury "the remains of some "5,073 Romanian soldiers and officers who were killed in the First World War."
The monument is now also used to pay tribute to the 24,000 men who fought against the Germans in the Second World War.
(4) In Russia, the Soviet War Memorial in Vienna was put up in 1945 to honor the Soviet Soldiers who fought against the Germans in the Second World War; and
(5) Nearer to us, in China the 1952 Monument to the People's Heroes was constructed in Beijing to memorialize "the martyrs of revolutionary struggle (against domestic and foreign enemies) during the 19th and 20th centuries."
The epitaph at the back of the monument describes "in the words of Mao Zedong and written by Zhou Enlai" the thrust of the statue to proclaim:
"Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people's war of liberation and the people's revolution in the past three years (from 1949 to 1951)!;
"Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who laid down their lives in the people's war of liberation and the people's revolution in the past thirty years (from 1922)!
"Eternal glory to the heroes of the people who from 1840 laid down their lives in the many struggles against domestic and foreign enemies and for national independence and the freedom and well-being of the people!"
And in the ASEAN region, all the 10 member States also have public memorials within their respective territories to honor those "who fought" against foreign invaders to maintain their respective independence.
(1) In Bangkok, Thailand, the 1941 Victory Monument Obelisk symbolizes the country's victory in the Franco-Thai War that lasted from October 1940 to May, 1941;
(2) In Laos, the 1957 "Victory Gate" salutes the nation's "soldiers who fought in the Laotian struggle for independence from France, and those soldiers who died during World War II and the independence war from France in 1941;
(3) In Cambodia, the 1958 Independence Monument, or Vimean Ekareach eulogizes those who fought for the independence and the liberation of the country from the French who ruled Cambodia for almost a century from 1863 to 1953;
(4) In Indonesia, the 1961 Heroes Monument is dedicated to its people who died during the Battle of Surabaya on November 10, 1945;
(5) In Malaysia, the 1966 National Monument pays public homage to those "who died in the country's struggle for freedom, principally against the Japanese occupation during World War ll, and the Malayan Emergency, which lasted from 1948 until 1960";
- In Singapore, two monuments were built separately to pay tribute to the civilians and the soldiers who fought in two wars in their homeland:
(a) The 1967 Civilian War Memorial by its very name honors its non-military population who were killed between February 15, 1942 and August 18, 1945 when the Japanese Armed Forces occupied Singapore, and
(b) The 1922 Cenotaph glorifies Singapore's soldiers who fought and died during World War I and World War 11;
- In Myanmar, the 1976 Monument of Bang Rachan Heroes honors the villagers of Bang Rachan who bravely fought against the Burmese army in 1765 during the reign of King Ekkathat of Ayutthaya.
- In Vietnam, the 1993 War Memorial commends the "men and women who sacrificed themselves during the Second Indochina War", and
(9) In Brunei Darussalam, aside from a statue that praises its soldiers, the country also built a monument to "oil", the country's number one money maker. It is called, "The 1991 Billionth Barrel of Oil Monument" in Serei, Brunei Darussalam.
In our country, we have a memorial cemetery constructed by the government for our heroes who died in defense of our country, called the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
This, aside from many monuments all over the land that are individually dedicated to our nationally recognized heroes like Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio.
In any event, there is another aspect that makes the Bantayog different from the memorials to the heroes of other countries.
Literally, the Tagalog phrase, "Bantayog ng mga Bayani", translates into English as "A Monument of Heroes".
But the heroes glorified by this Bantayog did not actually fight against foreign invaders. They were civilians - mostly ordinary men and women - from all walks of life; individuals, who worked courageously, openly. and selflessly for the restoration of the freedoms, rights and liberties of our people that were taken away by the abusive, arbitrary, and tyrannical martial law administration of the then President Ferdinand E. Marcos from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s. In the words of the late Senator jovito Salonga, who, incidentally, avidly pushed for the construction of the Bantayog, the monument was meant to memorialize "Filipino patriots who
struggled valiantly against the unjust and repressive rule of Ferdinand Marcos" and "those men and women who offered their lives so that we may all see the dawn (of a new day).
At the unveiling of this monument some 26 years ago today, Senator Salonga sagely urged our people that "even as we now enjoy our liberation ... with the help of Divine Providence from the tyrannical rule of the Martial Law Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, we must not forget those who fell during the night ..."
By remembering "those victims of authoritarian rule," the late Senator stressed, "we shall become more vigilant in preserving our freedom, defending our rights, and opposing any attempt by anyone to foist another dictatorship upon us."
And, with brilliant prescience, Senator Salonga cautioned our people against honoring rascals, hoodlums and scalawags with public monuments simply because they might have occupied high government offices.
If we "honor a scoundrel," he pointed out, "we could never lift up our heads out of a deep sense of shame."
In any case, as of this year, 2018, the names of some 298 heroic individuals had been enshrined on the Wall of Remembrance attached to this Bantayog.
And more names of heroic figures who defied martial rule will inscribed in the Bantayog's roll of honor as the years pass by.
At this point, it may not be amiss for us to express our gratitude publicly to all those who thought of, and pushed for the construction of the Bantayog.
To the best of my information, the original members of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Foundation were:
Dona Aurora A. Aquino, Senator Jovito R. Salonga, Dr. Pedro L. Yap, Atty. Abraham F. Sarmiento, Ms. Josefa M.Jopson, Ms. Cecilia C. Lagman, Bishop La Verne
Mercado, Bishop Tito E. Pasco, Ms. Lydia de la Paz, Rev. drib A. Rigos, Sister Christine Tan, Atty. Ramon M. Osmena, Ms. Nievelena V. Rosete, Atty. Felipe L. Gozon, Dr. Led ivina V. Carl no, Ms. Pearl G. Doromal, Mr. Victor Barrios, Atty. Delilah V. Magtolis, Mr. Solomon Y. Yuyitung, Mr. Benjamin Guingona, Ms. Domini Torrevillas Suarez, and Ms. Thelma Arceo.
Most of them, I understand, have already passed on to the Great Beyond.
But whether living or dead, I submit that they all deserve our gratitude for their incredibly innovative idea that led to the building and maintenance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani.
For the Bantayog, to repeat, serves mainly as a concrete reminder to all our citizens that we have won our right to be a free people and to live as human beings in a democratic Republic.
And that our country is now governed by the Rule of Law not by the will of the wealthy and privileged sectors of our society but because of the supreme sacrifices made by simple folks, ordinary men and women, who come mainly from the masses of our people. In this connection, let us all remember that human rights are so basic, so fundamental and so essential that no one - not even those occupying the highest positions In our land - can arbitrarily take them away from us.
Otherwise, we will cease to exist as human beings, who, suggest, as a believer in God, are created to His image and likeness. Sadly, however, today, there are brazen, outrageous, indeed, shameless attempts to rewrite portions of the history of our country especially during the dark days of Martial Rule.
Those fiction writers would want to depict the Dictator as a benevolent ruler of our country even during those horrible days of Martial Rule.
And hopefully, too, the villains who implemented Martial Rule, including those who rapaciously raided the public treasury for their own benefit, should be made to pay for their misdeeds without unnecessary delay.
These assertions, however, will remain empty rhetoric unless the government and the people would get their act together and pursue what is right and just according to the demands of our country's system of law and justice.
It is, further, suggested that the traditional media: radio, tv, and print should get involved in the dissemination of factual information regarding the barbarities suffered by our people under the Martial Law years of the Marcos administration. The media outlets, themselves, should not forget that among the very first institutions of freedom and democracy that Marcos shut down were the radio and television stations and newspapers that he thought would uphold the democratic rights and liberties of our people in defiance of his autocratic rule.
And considering today's advances in the development of information technology, the concerned sectors of our society should likewise tap social media, Facebook, Twitter, and the like, to facilitate the spread of the core message of the Bantayog.
In closing, may we recall the cautionary warning of Jorge Agustin Santayana that: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
For it is in remembering the lessons of the past - and avoiding a repeat of their negative repercussions - that we will truly advance the welfare, the wellbeing, and the rights and liberties of all our people pursuant to the demands of the Rule of Law and our democratic Constitution.
Thank you and God bless our people and country!