CAYON, Cesar Tiaga


Cesar Cayon’s fight against the Marcos dictatorship began with the disappearance of his Manoy Fred, his elder brother. Fred Cayon, a seminarian from Saint Francis Xavier Seminary, Davao City, was one of the original Davao activists who went to the hills to fight the Marcos regime.  He was later abducted and killed in Nabunturan, Compostela Valley along with three other activists during the earliest fascist attacks of the regime.  But Cesar would know of his brother’s death much later, when he was already at the front, and grappling with the pressing concerns of the Higaonon lumads of Northern Mindanao

Cesar, or Titang to his family, was the happy-go-lucky child who grew up in a middle class district of Davao City. Totally unaware of the social ferment surrounding the city, he would be seen going around with his street friends, with a bottle of lapad (bottle gin) in his back pocket which he got from the family’s sari-sari store.

At that time, Cesar did not show any particular interest in politics, nor of his Manoy Fred’s activism.  He was simply the ordinary tambay of Brgy. Obrero who took up the cause of his barkada and defended them to the teeth, which usually ended up in street brawls.  He was known as a faithful and reliable friend.  Once, he even took the entrance exam for one of them. Cesar, however, did not finish high school because he thought there was so much more to learn from his friends than from school.

It was his Manoy Fred who gently chided him to change his ways and painstakingly explained why Philippine society had so many problems and why it was important to change it.  Since Cesar had a very high respect for his elder brother, he tried to listen to his advice.  However it was Fred’s lifestyle and exemplary courage in the face of martial law that struck a sensitive chord in the heart of the younger sibling.  So when Fred was missing and was vaguely referred to as one of the Nabunturan victims, Cesar went to the hills to search for the answers.

History of Political Involvement

Cesar’s first few days in the hills were difficult.  In his young life in Obrero, in Davao City, he had never known the “wilds” of the rural countryside. When he started his first trek up the mountains, he almost could not withstand the needle-like pain from stepping on the roots of the cogon grass.  His feet and legs were all cuts and bruises. (At that time, the NPAs went around barefoot, just like ordinary poor peasants.)  Cesar didn’t know what real hunger meant far up in the mountains with no sari-sari store in sight. And since alcohol was prohibited, life in the hills became a radical departure from his early days.

His comrades and the peasant masses around him, however, made everything worthwhile. With characteristic good humor, they would tease him about his city legs and promised to provide him custom-built shoes that would put all the weeds to shame.  The camaraderie, kindness, and joie de vivre of everyone seemed a thousand times more meaningful than the happenings he had with his barkada.  Cesar began to understand what his Manoy Fred meant.  More importantly, he was starting to get a feel of what it meant to be with the masses; what they were going through under the dictatorship.

Cayon with the Lumad

Ka Andy (Cesar Cayon’s nom de guerre) was first assigned in Agusan Norte of Northern Mindanao, in the forest areas of Butuan and Nasipit.  These forest areas are part of the original ancestral domain of the Higaonon lumads who had lived in these areas since time immemorial.  Unfortunately, a timber license agreement was awarded to the Nasipit Logging Company (NALCO) by the Marcos regime, totalling 98,000 hectares.  NALCO was a big and powerful logging company which was responsible for the eventual denudation of the mountains in Northern Mindanao.

When Ka Andy entered the Higaonon territory, Datu Mankalasi, the great tribal chieftain of the Higaonon had just been killed by NALCO’s forest guards because of his open resistance to the logging company. His death unleashed the pent-up anger of the tribe.  It would mark the beginning of decades of struggle of the lumads and the peasants who were being evicted from their homes by the logging company.  It would also mark the recruitment to the underground movement of practically every able-bodied lumad in the village

With the Higaonon mountain tribe, Ka Andy found his callingas a fighterfor the cause of the oppressed.  Now he understood what the Filipino people, and particularly the lumads, were going through under the dictatorship.  Everything that his elder brother tried to teach him began to make sense. Feudal oppression, imperialist control, liberation, democracy—theories that were previously vague and abstract to him now suddenly took on meaning and became clear.  All the questions, and the meanderings of his young life were answered by three important letters in the alphabet -- STP – Serve The People.

Serving the People

Under the fighting banner of STP, Ka Andy learned to be an exemplary activist. Lumads, peasants, farm workers and the poor people of Northern Mindanao came to know the dashing young man who was in the forefront of the resistance movement. He seemed to be everywhere, at the right time:  at education meetings, in the formation of mass organizations.  He facilitated the formation of the revolutionary autonomous governments of the lumads.  He encouraged peace pacts (dyandi or husaya) which forged unity among the tribes. He joined workshops, group discussions and cultural programs where he strummed the guitar and sang revolutionary songs.

His wisdom, sense of humor and total dedication to the cause of the oppressed endeared him to the people. His mass line was so powerful and so charismatic that people thought he had “extraordinary powers” when he figured in an encounter in the busy streets of Butuan and miraculously escaped.  He later showed up, all muddied and full of cuts and bruises, in a remote village of the neighboring Buenavista town.   It was learned that he had to hide in the swamps for quite a while and brave the open fields in order to evade the martial law troops who were after him.

The activists that Ka Andy led were special to the lumads of Northern Mindanao, from the mountains of Agusan Norte and Misamis Oriental and to the hinterland villages of Mount Kitanglad in Bukidnon. The group was dubbed the Pulang Bagani (red warriors) with most of its members coming from the ranks of the Higaonon tribe. Its mass work was notable for its being so culturally attuned and sensitive to the needs and interests of the tribe. Since ancestral land was at the heart of the lumad struggle, the group spent many hours educating and organizing them on how to defend their lands from plunderers, thieves and the destructive projects of the dictatorship.  Pulang Bagani also helped the lumads cultivate the land in an effort to achieve self-sufficiency and not depend on the system of aids and dole outs that the PANAMIN was famous for. (PANAMIN then was headed by Manda Elizalde, a Marcos loyalist, who became notorious for the Tasaday hoax and for his manipulative abuses of the lumads.)

In 1981, Ka Andy met a young student who was doing a social investigation of the mode of production in Mindanao. They discussed and argued for many hours trying to decipher the data of rice, corn and coconut cultivation; and how to simplify the facts of political economy so the lumads and peasants would understand what feudal and semi-feudal exploitation meant.  She was argumentative, difficult and full of abstract theories but open to a lot of ideas that he found challenging and engaging. And then he realized she exemplified everything that the struggle was: courage, beauty, selfless sacrifice, and the will to fight against so many odds in order to serve the people.  Yes, serve the people.  It was this chemistry that fused them in a way that proved stronger and more binding than any contract could ever do.  In January 1982 they were married; in November of that year she bore him a healthy baby boy.  These were the happiest hours of the young father who proudly introduced his son to the lumad and peasant communities. It was a season of celebration.

Circumstance of Death

But the happiness was fleeting. In June of the following year, Ka Andy met his death during an early dawn raid of the village of Hinundayan in the mountains of Nasipit.  At that moment, the military could not identify their victim, but they wanted the reward. Greedily, they cut off his head to be brought for identification in the AFP headquarters of Cagayan de Oro.  The lumads wailed in protest of this desecration of their beloved son.  They all vowed to avenge his death and continue the fight against the dictatorship, against plunderous logging companies and against exploitation and oppression.

Up to this time, after almost half a century, the Higaonon tribe that Ka Andy first organized still flourishes and struggles and celebrates life.  It is ready and willing to embrace all the young activists who want to serve the lumads and be part of the continuing people’s history.

ABOLI, Tayab "Arthur" Ayyungo

Tayab Aboli was a Kalinga brave from Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga and a member of the Butbut tribe, the same tribe to which (Bantayog martyrs) Macli-ingDulag and Pedro Dungoc belonged. A farmer, he was married to Forngay of the same village and they were blessed with seven children. A respected member of his community, his traditional role was the defense of his tribe and community in the event of tribal wars. He was also a barrio councilman in the 1960s onwards.

History of Tayab Aboli's political involvement


Following the declaration of martial law in 1972, Kalinga was thrown into turmoil when the government embarked on a program to build a series of dams along the Chico River. As the project will submerge many communities from the Mt. Province down to Kalinga, people in the affected villages expectedly opposed these dams because it meant the obliteration of settlements and the destruction of ricefields, farms and even burial grounds.

Opposition was initially confined to areas along the river such as Bugnay, Ngibat, Butbut and Tomiangan in Tinglayan but it later spread to other communities. Tayab, as Aboli was known, actively participated in the resistance, along with the well-known faces of the anti-dam struggle --Macli-ing Dulag, Lumbaya Gayudan and Pedro Dungoc. He met with other tribes to broaden the resistance as well as joined meetings in Baguio and Manila to draw support from other organizations. He actively participated in the first ever inter-tribal bodong (peace pact) against the dam in early 1975 and the historic Vochong Conference on Development in May 1975 in Quezon City. The conference was attended by 165 Peace Pact Holders and tribal leaders from Bontoc and Kalinga as well as members of church-based support groups. This resulted in the adoption of the Anti-Dam Pagta ti Bodong (laws of the peace pact).

Tayab also had the added task of keeping the village elders safe from physical threats and danger in these meetings and consultations. (He was the de facto security of pangat Macli-ing Dulag.)

Unable to read and write, he took part in an adult literacy program conducted in Butbut by the Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos. He learned the rudiments of basic literacy that enabled him to write his name and read.

In response to the growing anti-dam resistance, the government brought to bear on the community its various forces, employing suppression and cooptation. The area became heavily militarized with the resultant military abuses. In the course of government efforts to quell the opposition, many were arrested and imprisoned, manhandled or threatened. Looting became commonplace, livestock taken or killed, and movement of people restricted. Many farms became neglected.

In 1980, Macli-ing Dulag was murdered by the military and Tayab became the OIC Barrio Captain. On his shoulders fell the task of leading his community in the anti-dam struggle.  He organized the village militia for the defense of the community. He successfully managed the people’s cooperative which provided logistics for the militia. As expected, he soon became the target of the military. Drawing lessons from the fate of Macli-ing, Tayab decided to join the New People’s Army in 1982.

By 1986, he was a leading member of the Lumbaya Company which formed the core of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army that later exchanged sipat (peace tokens) with President Corazon Aquino in Mt. Data, Bauko, Mt. Province in September 1986. Known as the Mt. Data Peace Accord, this act paved the way for peace negotiations between the new democratic government and their group.

Circumstance of death

 Tayab Aboli later went back to Bugnay and continued to serve his community. He was eventually elected Barangay Kagawad in 1990 and became a member of the municipal Sanguniang Bayan in 1997. Recognizing his service, he was elected barangay head in 2007. He died from a lingering illness on December 30, 2007. He was 57.

He is survived by his wife Forngay and their children. His son, Rev. Jose Ampac, is a pastor of the Philippine Episcopal Church serving in Bauko, Mt. Province.

Bantayog Receives the MLQ Gawad Parangal Award


The Manuel L. Quezon Gawad Parangal Awards, Quezon City’s highest honor, are bestowed on individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to society.

In ceremonies held last October 12, 2017 evening to mark the 78th foundation of Quezon City, Bantayog ng mga Bayani was one of six institutions and twelve individuals which received this recognition.

The citation reads:

  • For upholding justice and recognizing the heroic deeds during the martial law era;

  • For immortalizing the memory of unsung heroes, so that they may serve as an inspiration to keep the flame of democracy alive in the hearts of everyone;

  • For relentlessly educating and empowering the public on issues about freedom and guarding against historical revisionism;

  • For proving that "the Filipino is worth living and dying for."

Held at the Seda Vertis North, Ms. Carolina S. Malay received the award in behalf of Bantayog.


Bantayog congratulates its fellow awardees this year:

  • Mrs. Zeneida Quezon Avancena

  • Justice Narciso Nario

  • Samson C. Lim

  • Senator Aquilino O. Pimentel Jr.

  • Dr. Orlando S. Mercado

  • Ramon G. Orlina

  • Mother Lily Monteverde

  • Prof. Corazon Cristobal Generoso-Iñigo

  • John Philip Jacob Lesaca

  • Dr. Cielito Flores Habito

  • Dr. Dionisia A. Rola

  • Leah Roman Reyes

The outstanding organizations/ institutions are:

  • V. Luna Medical Center (AFP Command Center)

  • Bayanihan (Philippine Folk Dance company)

  • Bantayog ng mga Bayani

  • The Sulo Riviera

  • Little Quiapo

  • The U.P. Singing Ambassadors


Perfect Time to Remember and Honor Diokno

(This is an excerpt of Boying Pimentel's essay on the unveiling of Pepe Diokno's monument last September 21, 2017 at the Commission on Human Rights. Read his full column at the Philippine Daily Inquirer.)


Yes, Ka Pepe is returning to the CHR, the institution now under siege from a government reviled worldwide for its brazen abuse of human rights. The timing of the statue is perfect. For now is the time to honor and remember a tireless, fearless fighter for freedom and human decency.

“I hope that this monument to him will inspire us to speak up to protect not just our rights, but the rights of all Filipinos – regardless of where we come from, how much or how little money we have, how we worship, and what we believe in,” Maia Diokno said.

Many young Filipinos probably don’t know much about or have never heard of Ka Pepe. The 1983 BBC documentary “To Sing Our Own Song” is an excellent introduction to his life of courage, to his strong commitment to human rights and justice.

You can easily watch it now on YouTube or on the Diokno Foundation website. During our time, we had to watch it on Betamax machines, usually during secret house meetings.

It was a dangerous time. Marcos was at the height of his power. And yet Ka Pepe agreed to be the narrator of a film that dared expose the brutality of the dictatorship.

If you want a quick introduction to the courage of Pepe Diokno, jump to the 4:00 mark of this video clip from “To Sing Our Own Song.”

This is the end of the documentary. In his closing remarks, Ka Pepe looks at the camera as he denounces the repression and injustice under Marcos.

“How can such a government stay in power?” he asks. “Because powerful nations principally the United States support it. And they support it because of my country’s strategic location and the profits that their multinationals make here….

“It looks impossible for my people and people of the Third World to get out of this trap. But we will,” Ka Pepe declares. “It would be a lot easier if you of the First World were to give us your sympathy and your understanding and prevail upon your governments to stop supporting repressive governments like the one in my country.”

The next part is the most memorable part of the film for me. I still like to watch it over and over again, feeling the power of Ka Pepe’s words.

“But whether your governments do or not, I know my people, I know other Third World people. I’ve worked with them I’ve lived among them.

“Whatever your governments do, whatever our own elites and our own rulers do, and even if we have to wade through blood and fire, we will be free, we will develop. We will build our own societies. We will sing our own songs.”


(The statue of Ka Pepe was unveiled on September 21, the 45th anniversary of the start of the Marcos dictatorship. The sculpture by artist Julie Lluch shows a defiant Ka Pepe appearing to march forward, with a raised right fist.)

Iba Yan - Ada Tayao

IBA YAN (that's different) is a song by Ada Tayao released on February 2017. The title is also a play on the word BAYANI (martyr). The song is dedicated to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Just like what is said in the chorus, "Bayani raw, iba yan bayan. 'Di sya bayani. Iba yan." (Is he a hero? The people doesn't think so.)

Ada describes the song and initiative as follows:
Iba ‘Yan is an apology, a reminder, and a call to action. It is an apology to our nation, its history, and the people who fought for the democracy of future generations. It is a reminder of the importance of knowing and immersing in one’s roots not just in a cultural aspect, but also in a historical lens.

It is a call to action to never be complacent in upholding our freedom, to not allow future generations to confuse “Marcos” and “bayani,” to make sure that people are well-informed and discerning enough to realize that Marcos is different – not a bayani, but “Iba ‘Yan.”

This video project is for the People Power Anniversary. It is to show people that millennials do not treat rallies as trends, and that our awareness and consciousness of national issues do not fade away as fads come and go. It aims to use a modern form of activism, one that incorporates the use of technology and the power of social media. If Marcos has his trolls, then we will troll those trolls.

IBA YAN is produced with the Musika Publiko Song Production Team and part of the Songs for Peace Project. The accompanying music video above is a collaboration with Serafin Gozon, AG Sano, and

Below is a video of the song recording which amazingly is done outdoors.

Sir Nick: Leaving a Legacy of Critical Thinking

(Written by Kristina Conti and first posted at Manila Today. Here is a testimonial on martyr Monico Atienza, who, as attested by fellow activists, friends, and former students, was a man who gave all that one could give to one’s country.)


Today I remember a professor who’s passed on, but living on and large through his legacy of critical thinking and frank outspokenness. Monico Atienza was my professor in a subject I can no longer remember, and one where I did not get a grade.

After I shifted courses, I needed to enroll in elective subjects, any course code in the 100 series in UP Diliman. I took on one of Sir Nick’s subjects, hoping he would understand if I had to absent myself if I chose to go to rallies. Sir Nick said he will treat me the same way he would treat the others, but encouraged me to bring along my classmates if I needed to go.

I was alien to the Filipino department in the College of Arts and Letter, fresh from being book-and laboratory-bound in the College of Science and moving on to English-inclined College of Mass Communications. I only knew a few people in my class and wanted to just slip away.

For Sir Nick, free flowing discussion was focal. He rarely, if at all, scheduled lecture sessions, putting emphasis on discourse.

“Gusto ko matuto tayo sa isa’t isa,” he said at the start of the semester.

We didn’t have exams; we submitted essays, graded not on the standard of what the professor said, but on the scale of how much the student has learned. In class we talked about theory, current events, and everything else under the sun. I found myself drawn in more and more. I think I was only absent at least thrice, and rarely late. Sometimes I had to restrain myself from talking much, because the 1.5 hours would run out sooner.

Our final requirement was a group project about the use of Filipino among young ones (I forgot exactly). I was assigned to a group of Ingliseras. But we found a way to bond and presented our findings before Sir Nick at his office at the Faculty Center. We made all sorts of realization about privilege, me sharing several points about my own remolding as an activist that involved being more comfortable in Tagalog. Sir Nick, former secretary general of the Kabataang Makabayan, would nod along, as if to indicate he understood how it was to be young and petit-bourgeois.

When my classcard came back, it was marked incomplete! Confused and slightly betrayed, I asked about my grade. The report you made was a bit late, he began. But my groupmates have grades already, I reasoned. Do you need a grade now, he asked back. (Turns out later, I didn’t.) Then he gave me a most memorable backhanded compliment: Maybe you can join my class again next semester. (Regrettably, I didn’t.)

I’ve forgotten much of what we discussed, much more what course it actually was. But I will always remember these lessons from the legendary Monico Atienza: to continuously learn inside and outside the classroom, from those who come before and after you; and to confidently speak up but humbly listen better.

Crissy conti

(At center is Atty. Kristina 'Krissy' Conti, now a people’s lawyer working with the Public Interest Law Center and National Union of People’s Lawyers.)

Stories & Testimonials

In this section you can learn more about the life of Bantayog martyrs and heroes.

The Story of the Southern Tagalog 10

(This piece was originally written in 2006 and posted at ManilaToday ten years after in 2016. This is a story of seven of the Southern Tagalog 10 - Rizalina Ilagan, Gerry Faustino, Jessica Sales, Cristina Catalla, Modesto "Bong" Sison, and Ramon Jasul, powerfully told and written by Bonifacio P. Ilagan.)

Southern Tagalog 10

She showed me a scar on her left leg. It was our first meeting in a long time, and that she had been shot was an unwelcome detail in her long story. What else might my sister have gone through? I asked how it happened.

“Well, a kasama was cleaning his rifle. It just went off,” she remarked with a nonchalance that showed how she had been steeled in the people’s struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.

I did not anticipate meeting my sister at all. She was deep in the underground movement against the Marcos military regime, and I was a political detainee who had just been granted provisional liberty. One day, however — I am unsure now whether it was in late 1976 or early 1977, she sent me a message: She would like to see me. And so, there we were, sharing stories in a peasant’s house in an interior village in Calauan, Laguna.

In July of 1977, I got another letter from her. She wanted to see me again, this time, somewhere in Katipunan, Quezon City. She waved by the roadside. As she spoke of a problem that I sensed to be rather serious, she carried her signature countenance — pleasant, reassuring.

Rizalina Ilagan

“What do you mean ‘missing’?”

“We suspect that they have been taken in by the military. Our posts are under surveillance. We are being trailed.”

“We need to transfer to another house,” added my sister’s companion.

I knew precisely what kind of help they badly needed.

“OK, I’ll have one house ready for you,” I assured them.

We agreed on the details of our next meeting.

My sister did not come, even as I waited long enough.

That got me worried. Shortly afterwards, Estrell Consolacion, a former member of Panday-Sining, who had contacts with the underground, confirmed my worst fears. My sister was now among the missing.

In September 1977, about two months after that fateful meeting, my play, the daring anti-dictatorship liturgy “Pagsambang Bayan (People’s Worship),” was performed by the UP Repertory at the University of the Philippines, directed by Behn Cervantes. It was only the fifth year of the Marcos martial law regime. Nevertheless, in the playbill, I dedicated it to my sister Lina and her seven companions who disappeared without a trace. (I did not know at that time that there were 10 of them in the group.) They were all activists belonging to the anti-martial law network of the people’s movement in Southern Tagalog (ST). Some of them, like my sister, worked underground, while others performed functions aboveground. Due to the circumstances surrounding their disappearance, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that their abductors were government military intelligence operatives.

It was July 31, 1977. Atty. Bienvenido Faustino was belatedly celebrating his 48th birthday with the family. In the middle of the merriment, Gerry, the elder of his two children, arrived to greet him. But he would not stay long.

Gerry Faustino

“C’mon, Kuya,” Joey, Gerry’s younger brother, needled him, “stay, so we can have a drink!”

Gerry ruffled his brother’s hair. Joey was just 13.

Atty. Faustino wanted Gerry to stay, too, but knew that the son had to leave. Gerry was in his junior year at the UP College of Agriculture in Los Baños, Laguna. The campus was a long trip from Novaliches, Quezon City. Gerry was always home on weekends – until he became involved in the movement.

“Be careful, Gerry,” the father said.

Atty. Faustino knew what the “movement” was about. It was all about fighting a government that throve on repression to impose its will on the people, and its willing instrument was the whole military apparatus that, ironically, was sworn to serve the citizenry. The movement was about fighting a system that exploited and oppressed the masses, the masa who were getting poorer by the day while an elite class wallowed in wealth and abundance. How could he have the heart to prevent his son from being involved in such a movement?

“Just be very careful, my son.”

In fact, Gerry wanted to be a soldier, and had wished to enter the Philippine Military Academy. But he acquired a social consciousness early enough to make him change his mind. He took up agriculture because he thought that it was the better choice to help the people. In the UP College of Agriculture, however, and in the context of the despotic martial rule, there was an even better option: to take part in the mass movement for freedom and democracy.

Gerry did not proceed to the campus. He was first attending an important conference of the movement. He passed by the house of Marie Jopson in San Francisco del Monte.

“If I am not back after five days, start looking for me,” he told Marie, a student leader in UP Los Baños who was also involved in the activist network.

Marie was the elder sister of his girlfriend, fellow activist Bobbi Jopson, to whom Gerry had also given the same ominous advisory. Bobbi was not home. She was in Los Baños. Gerry, Marie and Bobbi were members of the University of the Philippines Student Catholic Action. The church organization provided them with a cover for the risky affairs of the movement.

Gerry fetched Jessica Sales in another part of the city. They proceeded somewhere in Makati going to the underground conference.

Five days passed, and no Gerry reappeared. In Los Baños, meanwhile, a boarding house adjacent to the campus where Gerry lived had already been ransacked by unidentified men.

Modesto “Bong” Sison started out in the movement in 1971 as a member of the Khi Rho in Davao, in Mindanao. Khi Rho was very much unlike the radical organizations which Marcos branded as “communist fronts” in Proclamation 1081, the decree imposing martial rule all over the Philippines. Some said that Khi Rho was in fact a reformist organization, and proof was that it was closely allied with a big church-led peasant organization that eschewed the Left.

Over the years, Bong, who graduated from the Ateneo de Davao and was a teacher in Davao Oriental, had a change of political orientation. He became a Leftist, a radical, which meant that he understood that a social movement that aimed at transforming society had to strike at the roots of the problems of the people. “Radical” originated from the Latin “radix,” meaning, roots.

In 1976, Bong and his family transferred to Luzon, in the province of Cavite. Bong was rarely home. An underground cadre who was working fulltime in the movement was not supposed to be routinely home. In the mountain villages of Quezon, he had almost died of pneumonia. He survived, but was reduced to skin and bones.

His wife Eileen was aghast upon seeing him.

“You need to rest, Bong.” You can’t do much from a sick bed.”

“I know,” Bong replied.

Perhaps it was an answer that he didn’t mean and only uttered to avoid a long discussion. Bong left again, even as Eileen reminded him about their son’s first birthday. He did not promise to be back, but in his heart of hearts, Bong wanted to make it a family reunion on his son’s first birthday. Another child, a daughter who was four years old, was also missing him a lot.

The birthday passed, and Bong did not make it home. Eileen fought the bitterness – because she was the activist before Bong became one himself. She was the one who initiated him into the movement, even before they became husband and wife.

In Manila, meanwhile, Bong materialized in his sister’s clinic in Vito Cruz. It was July 26, 1977.

“Well!” the doctora said, pleasantly surprised. Among the Sison siblings, they were closest to one another.

Every time Bong appeared in her clinic, which was not often, she gave him pocket money. It was a modest way to help him in his crusade. That afternoon, she was a bit surprised when it was Bong who invited her for snacks. The nearby Dayrit’s restaurant served generous sandwiches, so Bong ordered just one hamburger which they shared. He was his usual jovial self, though there was not much to talk about. Bong told stories only on a “need to know” basis. His sister understood. It was enough that they shared precious moments together, and enjoyed the hamburger sandwich.

“What was that?” intrigued, the doctora asked when Bong had left. “Some sort of a farewell?’

Almost two weeks since leaving Cavite, there was not a word from Bong. Eileen sensed that something could be wrong. She decided to visit UP Los Baños, where she knew one person whom Bong had previously introduced to her. It was Jessica Sales.

“Should you receive information that something has happened to me, get in touch with Jessica.”

Jessica Sales was an instructor who was also taking up a master’s degree in rural sociology. In the sociology department, however, Jessica was also being sorely missed. She had been absent for almost two weeks already.
One late night in July 1977, Cristina “Tina” Catalla came home. Like my sister Lina, she was an underground cadre in ST, and a student at UP Los Baños.

“Good Lord, where have you been?” asked Tina’s Ate Yoly.

Tina, brows knitted, asked back, “Why?”

“Your feet. Looks like you have been marching barefoot. Do they hurt?”

Tina smiled. She did not realize that her feet, all bruised, were showing. Of course they hurt.

“How long are you staying this time, Tina?”

“Just for tonight.”

Yoly wanted to argue, but she knew it was going to be futile. Tina was always in a hurry. In fact, early the following morning, she was gone.

In her office in Manila, Yoly had a surprise guest.

“I am a friend of Tina,” he said.

Yoly felt cold at hearing her sister’s name. She waited for the guest to speak some more.

“She has been arrested. But we don’t know where she was taken. Please, please start looking for her.”

Yoly froze. What was she to say or do? She didn’t know the man who was talking to her. He could be an impostor who only wanted to fish information about Tina. The man was gone in an instant. Then Yoly remembered what Tina had told her a couple of times: “If anything happens to me, you would know.”

Yoly ran out of the lobby after the messenger, but he was gone.

Lina. Gerry Faustino. Jessica Sales. Modesto “Bong” Sison. Cristina “Tina” Catalla. Add to the list: Ramon Jasul — college student, writer. Emmanuel Salvacruz – college student, writer. Salvador Panganiban. Virgilio Silva. Erwin de la Torre. (I have yet to get a lead on the last three.) They are the Southern Tagalog (ST) 10. On record, they constitute the single biggest case of involuntary disappearance and summary execution perpetrated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the entire history of the Marcos martial law in the Philippines.

Bong Sison’s corpse was dug up in a common grave in Lucena City, Quezon, while those of Salvador Panganiban and Virgilio Silva were retrieved in a ravine in Tagaytay, Cavite. The fate of the rest remains uncertain till now, although I am convinced that all had also been killed by their abductors, and the women raped.

Why am I saying this?

A year before the ST 10 were arrested, three activists met the same fate as the group did. They were Adora Faye de Vera, Rolando Federis and Flora Coronacion. Rolando and Flora were executed. Adora lived to tell the story.

Part of her testimony said: “The following days, we were still not allowed to dress. Rolando had to sleep naked on the cold cement floor without any bedding. Corporal Alberto Trapal and a civilian called Severino P took turns in burning my fingernails and toenails with cigarettes, stroking my thighs and pulling the hair of my legs.”

“On October 13, Corporal Charlie Tolopia and a civilian named Rodolfo took me to the bartolina where Corporal Trapal and Severino P subjected me to sexual indignities, touching my private parts while uttering obscenities.”

“On October 14, I was raped by Captain Eduardo Sebastian as his method of extracting information. Because I had no information to give, I was abused sexually from 12:00 o’clock noon to past 3 p.m. After this, I was also made to undress by Captain Jesus Calaunan, and later that evening, by Lieutenant Joseph Malilay. When Flora was finally allowed to talk with me that evening, she confided that Welen Escudero and Florante Macatangay had raped her the previous days. After supper, she was taken to the small room by Private First Class Alex Estores, and when she came out crying, she confided again to me that she was raped.”

The military men named by Adora belonged to the composite intelligence Ground Team (GT) 205 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which she identified to be the same team that worked on — trailed and abducted — the ST 10. Adora had first-hand information. She was taken along by GT 205 whenever it changed safehouses in Lucena City and in the Manila area — as this intelligence team went in hot pursuit of the activists who would be called the ST 10.

GT 205 was composed of operatives of the 2nd Military Intelligence Group (Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines), 2nd Constabulary Security Unit, and the 231st Company (both of the Philippine Constabulary, the precursor of today’s Philippine National Police). Led by Colonel Alejandro Gallido, it had about 24 operatives whom Adora named in her testimony, including military, police, and civilian elements. The officers included two majors, two captains and one first lieutenant. After the so-called People Power Revolution that toppled the dictator Marcos in 1986, GT 205’s chieftain Col. Gallido would be promoted to general.

The case of the the ST 10 is a high point in the series of human rights violations perpetrated by soldiers and agents of the state acting in supreme authority of the Marcos government. The incidents formed a practice, a tradition no less, which thrives till the present. The bloody scoreboard since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo assumed power in 2001 says that 573 persons belonging to activist organizations had already been summarily executed. As of now, Southern Tagalog scores among the highest in terms of the number of victims of political extrajudicial killings, euphemistically called “salvaging” in the Marcos martial law years.

Government accountability for these crimes did not cease when Marcos was thrown out of power in 1986. Government accountability, in the case of the ST 10 and in all the cases of human rights violations in the Philippines, remains to date because it – the government as a continuing institution — persists to harbor the criminals, looks the other way around, and in fact, rewards them with promotions.

What befell Adora Faye de Vera, Rolando Federis, Flora Coronacion and the ST 10 was an utterly beastly crime that has violated all laws of the land as well as all international conventions and standards for respecting human rights and treating political dissenters. To date, not one among the thousands of cases of human rights violations that were documented and filed has ever been solved in the Philippines. This is not to say, however, that we can simply relegate the cases to the filing cabinet and let them gather dust.

For some, the 29 years that passed might have eased the pain and the passion to seek justice. “Diyos na ang bahala.” God will provide. For some, that could be some kind of a settlement. But it does not justify that we allow a situation where the victims are all but forgotten and where they become mere names even to their children and their own families.

On December 10, 2002, International Human Rights Day, families and friends of the ST 10 met with the newly installed president of the Philippines, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the State Dining Room of the Malacañang Palace to petition for a revival of the case. National Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes and Acting Justice Secretary Merceditas Gutierrez were in attendance.

Over breakfast, I read a letter to the President, part of which says: “Madame President, we are among the thousands of Filipino families who are bonded together by the same pain of “salvaging” and forced disappearance of our loved ones, especially during the years of Martial Law.

“Some 25 years and three administrations have passed since the case of the Southern Tagalog 10 happened. The families of the “salvaged” and the disappeared have died one after another, waiting to the last minute for the final word on their kin. The surviving members of the families continue to hope for justice, or perhaps even for the bones of the missing.

“When we met last July, we celebrated the lives of our martyred beloved – and asked if that could be enough for a closure to our collective grief. Some fell silent and were once again unable to bear the burden. But there were those who declared that we must rekindle the quest for justice one more time.

“In all humility, may we present to you five items for your consideration: One, that the state take full responsibility for the case of the Southern Tagalog 10; two, that your administration declare a policy against the practices of “salvaging” and forced disappearance; and three, that an investigation be conducted regarding the case of the Southern Tagalog 10.

“In this connection, military files and information relating to the case of the Southern Tagalog 10, as well as to all reported cases of “salvaging” and forced disappearance, must be declassified.

“We pray that your administration assists us in finding the remains of our loved ones, assuming them to be dead by now.”

I could see that the President was all ears. She was looking at me and nodding as I read the letter. She could very well have been acting. Nothing came out of the meeting. (My note: In fact, the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo presidency continued one of the Marcos martial law “best practices” of political abductions and extrajudicial killings.)

Whoever said that Filipinos have a short memory is probably correct. And that is precisely why we need to perpetuate the memory of our loved ones who made the supreme sacrifice so that, one day soon, we may begin to live in justice, freedom and democracy.

But it is not only in their honor that Filipinos need to always remember and never to forget. It is, more so, for the sake of the generations to come. Those who are unable to remember the past – and learn its lessons — will never be able to create a future for their own. Without a remembrance and a learning of the past, they will forever be enslaved.

Today, the greater tragedy is not that our loved ones went missing some 29 years ago. The greater tragedy is that those they left behind have forgotten what had befallen them, and why.

Ramon Jasul was called Monching in the family. He was much loved. He held so much promise; he had many dreams for himself and his family. But the reality of a society gone awry dawned upon him. Way back in 1970, when Monching was still in school, the Philippines had been described as a social volcano at the throes of a violent eruption. A resurgent people’s movement for social change was sweeping over the land, and the generation of Monching – including the rest of the ST 10 – got caught in it.

“Monching,” his mother pleaded, “could there be other ways for you to get involved in the movement?” The old woman had reason to fear. An elder son, Alfredo, had already been killed by soldiers. “I don’t want to lose another son.”

“We are seven in the family, Nanay.” Monching still counted the dead.

“Six,” the mother corrected him.

“Yes, Nanay. There are six of us remaining. When I leave, there is still going to be five of your children with you. Won’t you give just one more of us to the country we all love? I hope you will let me go, Nanay.”

His mother wept as Monching left. And he was never again seen.

It has been 29 years, yet the voice of Monching has retained a peculiar resonance by which all of us may remember the ST 10 and their tribe.

(Bonifacio Ilagan is the spokesperson of Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (CARMMA) and vice chairperson of Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (Selda). He is a multi-awarded playwright, winning in such tilts as the Don Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Literary Contest and the Palihang Aurelio V. Tolentino. Ilagan was also one of the founders of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM), the broadest militant youth organization during Martial Law.)

EDSA 1: Laban Ng Sambayanan Vs Marcos

Here's a re-post of a video produced by Altermidya focusing on the story of the first EDSA People Power, a revolution by the Filipino people (and not just a few individuals) to end the oppressive and unjust regime of Ferdinand Marcos.


Pintang Laya: Edjop by Celeste Lecaroz

Edgar Jopson, a student leader in the 70s who attended to a meeting with Marcos in Malacañang only to be insulted as a "grocer's son". He was brave, intelligent, and a diligent son. In school, he excelled academically; became prominent as one of the great possible leaders we could have produced but lost in the martial law era of Ferdinand Marcos.

This is a painting of Edjop by Celeste Lecaroz as part of Pintang Laya, an exhibit of paintings for the benefit of Never Again: Voices of Martial Law, a series of plays.


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