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Marcos Sneaked Into Libingan Ng Mga Bayani

Marcos sneaked in LNMB

Like a thief in the night, at high noon on November 18, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos was sneaked into the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB) via chopper–with a Philippine flag on his casket, military honors and a 21 gun salute–was finally given a hero’s burial. The burial was kept secret, even to the media, until the casket was already being transported to LNMB. The Marcos family argued that they wanted to keep the burial private.

The public was outraged and took to the streets in different areas across the country to register their indignation against the burial at the LNMB and hero’s burial given to Marcos.

Browse the complete Manila Today feature here on this link.

(Photos and text from Manila Today)

No Moving On

(This is a re-post of Manila Today's feature article No moving on as SC decides in favor of Marcos burial in Libingan ng mga Bayani. Text and photos from Manila Today.)

“Hindi pwedeng sabihing closure ang mangyayari dito. Lalo pang magagalit ang taong bayan [We cannot say this is a closure. People will rage],” said former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares to a crowd supporting the petitions against President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to bury the remains of ex-president Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).

Colmenares was himself a victim of Marcos’ Martial Law, imprisoned and tortured as a teen. Among the crowd expressing their dissent to the Marcos burial at the LNMB were Martial Law survivors who were tortured, detained, or subject to police and military harassment.

In a 9-5-1 vote at the Supreme Court (SC) yesterday, the petitions filed by various groups and individuals that sought to junk the order for the LNMB burial were dismissed.

According to the summary of the decision by the SC, “there are certain things that are better left for history – not this court – to judge. The Court could only do so much in accordance with the clearly established rules and principles. Beyond that, it is ultimately for the people themselves, as the sovereign, to decide, a task that may require the better perspective that the passage of time provides. In the meantime, the country must move on and let this issue rest.”



“Bakit naman magkaroon ng closure? Humilom na ba ang mga sugat ng mga biktima ng Martial Law? [Why will there be closure? Have the wounds of the Martial Law victims been healed?]” Neri Colmenares asks the crowd outside the SC, to which they responded with a loud “Hindi! [No!]”

Bonifacio Ilagan of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacañang (CARMMA), called on the people to continue fighting for justice as it all the more continues.

“Ang araw na ito ay lalong hudyat upang ako, kami, at tayong lahat ay manindigan sa buong Pilipinas sapagkat ang laban ay lalo lamang nag-iinit [This day indicates that I, we, all of us must stand for our fight will be stronger],” said Ilagan.

Ilagan was tortured and imprisoned during Martial Law. His sister was among the first desaparecidos.

Why Bar Examinees Should Wear Black on Sunday, Nov 13

(This is a re-post of Manila Today's feature article Why bar examinees should wear black on Sunday, Nov 13. Photos and text from Manila Today.)

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), the counsel for the first petitioners against the burial of former president-turned-dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes’ Cemetery) and also counsel for Martial Law victims, called on bar examinees as well as lawyers and law students to wear black during the bar exams on Sunday, November 13 at 6:30am.

Atty. Neri Colmenares of NUPL says people will be enraged if SC allows Marcos to be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

They quickly launched this campaign after the Supreme Court (SC) has voted 9-5-1 dismissing the petition, setting into motion the burial of the elder Marcos. The bar exams would take place at 8am at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila.

In their statement after the announcement of the SC decision, NUPL said the decision “is a big letdown at a time people are desperately seeking for some sense of decency, proportion, sanity and reason.”

In his own Facebook account, NUPL President Atty. Edre Olalia posted: “Stripped of its legalese, the bottom line of the SC majority opinion appears to be: there is no law prohibiting the dictator to be buried at a heroes’ cemetery; the President has the power and discretion to execute laws; such discretion is a political act which cannot be judged.”

He continued, “Therefore a scumbag can be treated like a hero and we can choose to look the other way… That is what you get when the law is abstracted from reality, from truth, from history and from justice. Such contempt.”



Here is a short interview with Atty. Edre Olalia on their proposed action on Sunday.

1. What is the aim of your “Black to Block” campaign?


AEO: It is going to be a silent but eloquent expression that the justice system is not the be-all and end-all of all our troubles and problems, that it is also a disappointment and source of trepidation, that one has choices on how to make the law serve justice, and that our courts are not pantheons of infallible gods. Black is for mourning the death of justice, of law, of decency and of history, and to block the hero’s burial for Marcos.

2. Could there be any adverse effect on bar examinees who would heed your call?


AEO: There would not be reprisal or favoritism. Besides, there will be thousands of examinees out there. It is, after all, an exercise of the right to free speech and expression.

3. For there are many misgivings on how justice has been served with this SC decision, does this impact on how a bar examinee or lawyer views the profession?


AEO: It’s more of a challenge and a call to serve the ends of justice, of the victims of oppression and exploitation, to be lawyers for the people than the iniquitous and unfair status quo. To go Black to Block.

4. Again on the decision, many netizens shared how the justices voted, connecting the decision to who appointed them to the SC. Or that it is President Duterte himself who caused this. How do these hold ground?


AEO: It is a curious indication or basis for serious concern that cases may be decided not really just purely and solely on law.

Valid or not, proximate or not, the immediate cause is the SC decision. It was the SC where petitioners run to. Of course, Duterte and the Arroyo appointees are principal players.

5. With the call “Black to Block”, does this mean the SC decision could still be changed?


AEO: Theoretically, we can still go for a motion for reconsideration within 15 days from receipt. We have not received the decision. Problem is they may bury him right away despite us having a chance to appeal. Key is public pressure and people’s action. These are part of the Black to Block campaign.

Meanwhile, as counsel, we shall immediately ask the court to hold in abeyance the execution of the decision until all motions for reconsideration are resolved with finality. Otherwise, the appeal will be rendered moot and its premature implementation by the Marcoses and the government will smack of bad faith.

6. What could the rest of the Filipinos who are disgruntled by the SC decision do?


AEO: The people can hold all forms of protest at significant places and times. Persuasion and pressure or campaign for a couple of justices to cross over and for the President to go beyond his parochial campaign promise and heed history and justice may resurrect whatever hopes we still have in the system.

Supreme Court on the Marcos Role, 1989

(Written by Soliman M. Santos, Jr. on November 6, 2016, Naga City. Originally posted in MindaNews)

FLASHBACK to 27 years ago. Marcos vs. Manglapus, G.R. No. 88211, September 15, 1989, 177 SCRA 668. It is the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) Decision that law students are taught and recite on regarding “residual unstated powers” of the President. On this basis, the SC En Banc upheld President Corazon Aquino’s barring former President Ferdinand Marcos from getting his wish to return from his Hawaii exile to the country to die. The right to return to one’s country in issue then is certainly much more fundamental than the Marcos issue now at hand in the SC regarding his entitlement to be buried in the national cemetery of heroes, the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The full 15-member SC vote then was a close 8-7. The majority 8 were Justice Irene Cortes (the ponente or decision writer), Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan (with separate Concurring Opinion), Justices Andres Narvasa, Ameurfina Melencio-Herrera, Emilio Gancayco, Carolina Griño-Aquino, Leo Medialdea, and Florenz Regalado. The minority 7 were Justices Hugo Gutierrez Jr., Isagani Cruz, Teodoro Padilla, Abraham Sarmiento, Edgardo Paras, Abdulwahid Bidinand Florentino Feliciano, all of whom except the lattertwo had separate Dissenting Opinions.

While the vote was divided, turning as it did on the balance between presidential power to act on “a serious threat to national interest and welfare” on one hand and an individual’s right to return to his country on the other hand, the Decision and most of the separate opinions – whether concurring or dissenting -- were remarkably unanimous in their negative assessments of the role of Marcos in recent Philippine history, even by the dissenting Justices who voted to uphold his right to return to the country. To be clear, these negative assessments of Marcos were not the ratio decidendi (legal reasoning basis) for the Decision (and we are not going back here to the core constitutional argumentation therein). Those negative assessments of Marcos can be considered mere obiter dicta or side commentaries or opinions that may be relevant to but are not the actual basis, factual and legal, for resolving the constitutional issue. Those negative assessments of Marcos may however be more relevant to the Marcos Libingan burial issue at hand, pending in the SC, such as along the lines of the petition therein of martial law victim Etta Rosales.

The Marcos vs. Manglapus Decision itself, to start with, contains a “class by itself” caveat while summarizing that negative assessment of Marcos, thus: “This case is unique. It should not create a precedent, the case of a dictator forced out of office and into exile after causing twenty years of political, economic and social havoc in the country and who within the short space of three years seeks to return, is in a class by itself.” (at p. 682) But maybe no longer.

The ponente Justice Cortes goes on to say: “We cannot also lose sight of the fact that the country is only now beginning to recover from the hardships brought about by the plunder of the economy attributed to the Marcoses and their close associates and relatives, many of whom are still here in the Philippines in a position to destabilize the country, while the Government has barely scratched the surface, so to speak, in its efforts to recover the enormous wealth stashed away by the Marcoses in foreign jurisdictions. Then, We cannot ignore the continually increasing burden imposed on the economy by the excessive foreign borrowing during the Marcos regime, which stifles and stagnates development and is one of the root causes of widespread poverty and all its attendant ills. The resulting precarious state of our economy is of common knowledgeand is easily within the ambit of judicial notice.” (at p. 698) “Of judicial notice,” meaning recognized as fact without need of further proof.

Chief Justice Fernan had this to say in his separate Concurring Opinion: “…It must be remembered that the ouster of the Marcoses from the Philippines came about as an unexpected, but certainly welcomed, result of the unprecedented ‘people’s power” revolution. Millions of our people braved military tanks and firepower, kept vigil, prayed, and in countless manner and ways contributed time, effort and money to put an end to an evidently untenable claim to power of a dictator. The removal of the Marcoses from the Philippines was a moral victory for the Filipino people; and the installation of the present administration, a realization of and obedience to the people’s will.”(at pp. 701-02)

Senior dissenting Justice Gutierrez, Jr. for his part puts it in terms of human rights for all: “…It was precisely the banning by Mr. Marcos of the right to travel by Senators Benigno Aquino, Jr., Jovito Salonga, and scores of other ‘undesirables’ and ‘threats to national security’ during that unfortunate period which led the framers of our present Constitution not only to re-enact but to strengthen the declaration of this right. Media often asks, ‘what else is new?’ I submit that we now have a freedom loving and humane regime. I regret that the Court’s decision in this case sets back the gains that our country has achieved in terms of human rights, especially human rights for those whom we do not like or those who are against us.” (at pp. 713-14) Might we hear that again not being set back these days: “the gains that our country has achieved in terms of human rights…”

Dissenting Justice Cruz, a renown constitutionalist and libertarian, said: “It is my belief that the petitioner, as a citizen of the Philippines, is entitled to return to and live — and die — in his own country. I say this with a heavy heart but say it nonetheless. That conviction is not diminished one whit simply because many believe Marcos to be beneath contempt and undeserving of the very liberties he flouted when he was the absolute ruler of this land.” (at pp. 714-15)

Dissenting Justice Sarmiento, whose son and himself were martial victims, was the most gallant to his tormentor, a despot nonetheless: “The power of the President, so my brethren declaim, ‘calls for the exercise of the President's power as protector of peace.’…. This is the self-same falsehood Marcos foisted on the Filipino people to justify the authoritarian rule. It also means that we are no better than he was…. . I am for Marcos' return not because I have a score to settle with him. [My son] Ditto's death or my arrest are scores that can not be settled….I feel the ex-President’s death abroad (presented in the dailies as ‘imminent’) would leave him ‘unpunished’ for his crimes to country and countrymen. If punishment is due, let this leadership inflict it. But let him stand trial and accord him due process…. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, let no more of human rights violations be repeated against any one, friend or foe. In a democratic framework, there is no such thing as getting even.” (at pp. 727-29)Wow!
Finally, for whatever it may be worth for the Marcos Libingan burial issue at hand, dissenting Justice Paras had this practical suggestion then: “It is therefore clear to me, all other opinions to the contrary notwithstanding, that the former President should be allowed to return to our country under the conditions that he and the members of his family be under house arrest in his hometown in Ilocos Norte, and should President Marcos or any member of his family die, the body should not be taken out of the municipality of confinement and should be buried within ten (10) days from date.” (at p. 717)

As we said early on, the above quoted passages from the SC Decision in Marcos vs. Manglapus are mere obiter dicta, and were not decisive for that case. But as judicial pronouncements in a SC Decision that is already “part of the legal system of the Philippines,” what value if any do they have for the Marcos Libingan burial issue at hand pending in the SC? Some judicial notice had already been given 27 or “one score and seven years” ago to “the case of a dictator forced out of office and into exile after causing twenty years of political, economic and social havoc in the country.” Has change come after 27 years to that historical verdict of sorts? We do not think so. The historical verdict should stand. What perhaps remains in the Marcos Libingan burial case in the SC is to place that historical verdict in a constitutional frame. There appears to be sufficient constitutional ground to do so, starting with the history itself of that Constitution.May law and history collaborate in its resolution.

SOLIMAN M. SANTOS, JR. is presently the Judge of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 61 in Naga City. He is the author of a number of books, includingJustice of the Peace: The Work of a First-Level Court Judge in the Rinconada District of Camarines Sur (Quezon City: Central Books, 2015).He has been a political activist and martial law detainee; a long-time human rights and international humanitarian lawyer; legislative consultant and legal scholar; peace advocate, researcher and writer.

SALES, Jessica

sales-jessica-mendez

Jessica Sales graduated cum laude in 1972 with a degree in the social sciences from the Centro Escolar University in Manila. For five years after that, she taught sociology and political science at the University of the Philippines in Manila and later at the University of the Philippines in Los Baños, Laguna (UPLB).

She then worked as a research associate at the Department of Agricultural Education at UPLB’s College of Agriculture, while taking masteral units in the same department. She was preparing to defend her thesis when she disappeared in 1977.

Friends and colleagues describe Jessica as diligent and hardworking, lively and passionate, very intelligent, conversant in many subjects, and having an insatiable thirst for knowledge and experience.

She was involved in student politics in college. She was chair of the student government from 1971 to 1972, editor of the CEU student paper, and an active member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.

At the UPLB, Jessica is remembered for allowing her students much leeway in discussions. She urged the students to ask questions about the country’s sociopolitical situation under martial law. With her support, students organized forums inviting nationalist speakers such as senators Jose Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, and Jovito Salonga.

Jessica encouraged all types of student groups, from trekking groups, poetry groups, rodeo clubs and others, and was adviser or honorary member to many of them. She initiated the formation of the Student Christian Movement (SCM) in UPLB and represented it in a conference in Hong Kong of the Asia Youth Mission, under the auspices of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA). She also served as youth consultant to the CCA in its assembly held in June 1977 in Penang, Malaysia.

With fellow teachers, Jessica conducted discussion groups tackling issues concerning teachers and teaching. Often, the discussion centered on how to make teaching more relevant despite the curtailment of freedoms under martial rule. She organized the Kapisanan ng mga Gurong Makabayan (Kaguma), a teacher’s organization that worked for the promotion and protection of teachers’ rights and actively campaigned against the repressive policies of the dictatorship.

She became involved with the Folk Medicine Society, which counted as members, doctors, nurses, sociologist, biology professors and students, and the community of folk healers (herbolarios) in Laguna and Batangas. The society aimed to revive and popularize traditional and herbal medicine to alleviate the health conditions of the poor. It conducted seminars and workshops for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and biology students. Members went to far-flung communities conducting seminars with local healers and other community members. The society also conducted research on medicinal plants.

Jessica disappeared on 31 July 1977 with six others (Gerardo Faustino, Rizalina Ilagan, Bong Sison, Ramon Jasul and Cristina Catalla. The military never verified reports of their arrest. Reports of sightings have occasionally reached the family but all efforts to locate her have proved fruitless.

Born 24 October 1951
Disappeared July 1977
Mother Eufrocina Sales
Education College - Centro Escolar University, Social Sciences.
Master - University of the Philippines Manila

GARDUCE-LAGMAN, Lourdes

garduce-lagman-lourdes

When Lourdes Garduce was in high school, the nuns in her school sent her to work in an outreach program called Kasapi, which brought her to many places in the country and exposed her to various situations of poverty. The most memorable was her experience at the Central Azucarera de Bais in Negros where she encountered the misery and oppression suffered by sugarworkers, or sacadas.

Her involvement with the Negros’ sugarworkers made the military suspect her as a “subversive,” and Lourdes and her group once had to seek refuge at the parish church of Bais because of military harassment.

Lourdes, called Dodie by the family, had to explain her activities to her father, who was then a lawyer with the National Post Office.
In her own community, Dodie and her sister Maridol organized the Conchu Youth Society. Conchu was the name of the street where they lived in Project 4. Later on, this youth group joined the very militant Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) as a community chapter. From the Conchu society, Dodie was recruited to the SDK, while keeping her old friends among the more reformist organizations.

She became very active with the SDK, engaging in organizing activities and building alliances with other groups. Dodie married fellow activist Felimon Lagman in the early 1970s, soon after martial law was declared. The newly married couple moved often to evade detection and arrest. Dodie often asked her family’s help in retrieving furniture or in settling with their landlords. Dodie’s two children were reared by her mother in law, Cecilia Lagman.

Dodie and her husband were leaders in the underground in the late 1970s. Although military targets at this time, the couple’s group decided on a policy of participation in the 1978 Batasan elections. Dodie became involved in alliance work, finance work, and electoral activities.

Dodie kept in touch with her family and her children. She saw them last just days before she died when the children were brought secretly to visit their parents in Nueva Ecija.

Not long after, Dodie and her team had a chance encounter with soldiers, and Dodie was killed in the ensuing shooting exchange. Her family quietly retrieved her body and was brought it to Manila for burial.

Born 12 October 1954 in Manila
Died 23 June 1979 in Bo.Tugatog, Bongabong, Nueva Ecija
Parents Venancio Garduce and Felina Petate
Spouse Filemon Lagman
Children Dante Joseph and Iskra Mahalia
Education Elementary - Our Lady of Loreto College (now Sienna College)
High School Our Lady of Loreto College
College BS statistics, University of the Philippines, entered in 1970

TORRES, Alex

torres-a

Alex Torres was the third of four children but because he was his family’s youngest for a long time, family members called him “Baby.” As a young boy, he was exposed to a variety of environments because his father, a geodetic engineer-surveyor, often brought his children with him to the field, taking them to places such Diliman, Singalong, and V. Luna, and even farther to Cotabato and Baguio cities.

His mother Eugenia worked with the Bureau of Lands.

His father taught him to play chess at which game Alex became a wizard. His prowess at math also became the family’s pride as he made easy work of the computing work his father needed in his surveying work.

At the UP High School, Alex was an active member of the math and chess clubs. Later he and a group of high school friends were pulled into activism. Alex joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK) while school friends Alex Fider, David Villapando and Romeo Candazo joined the Samahang Aletheia.

Alex had passed competitive tests and became a grantee of the UP-Government scholarship in college. Despite the heavy academic load, Alex continued to be active with the SDK’s UP chapter and a UP-based group, the Nationalist Corps.

In the turbulent months of 1970 to 1971 which saw the First Quarter Storm and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by then president Ferdinand Marcos, Alex and his brother Renato (“Boy”) Torres were organizing students into the Nationalist Corps, SDK, as well as the Serve the People Brigade and the Kabataang Makabayan.

Boy and Alex brought UP students with them for integration trips with farmers in Morong, Bataan, and in Sta. Cruz, Zambales. Every weekend and during school breaks, the brothers themselves lived in farmers’ communities in Samal and Botolan, recruiting and organizing young farmers for the SDK. Here, older brother Boy remembers, Alex displayed leadership qualities through his methodical, scientific and sympathetic way of dealing with the local residents.

The brothers Boy and Alex organized an SDK chapter in Kamuning, Quezon City, together with SDK member Mariano "Rock" Lopez (PSHS 1969). The brothers further associated with the SDK’s Old Balara chapter, so that a house they rented in Old Balara at the time was raided by Metrocom-5th MIG soldiers when martial rule was declared in 1972.

Alex met his future wife Nona del Rosario, another activist in UP, during these SDK days.

During the early days of martial law, when universities were temporarily shut down, Alex and Nona continued to organize among youths in communities in various parts of Quezon City and Marikina, but clandestinely, thus, helping build up the underground resistance to martial rule.

Not long after, in June 1973, Alex and Nona were arrested by intelligence operatives in a combined operation of the 5th MIG-CSU-NISA that also netted Alex’s brother Boy. They were later taken to be detained at the CSU headquarters in Crame, then headed by Major Miguel Aure and Lieutenant Rodolfo Aguinaldo. The brothers were tortured under interrogation by Aure’s soldiers and members of a NISA team under a certain Atty. Castelo and a NISA torturer the detainees called Fu Manchu.

Boy and Alex were later transferred to Fort Bonifacio’s Ipil Rehabilitation Center, where Nona was also detained in the center’s women's quarters. Despite their arrest and the freshness of their torture, the brothers were soon among a group of political prisoners leading protests and hunger strikes at the center. In punishment they were moved to another prison in Fort Bonifacio called the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC). Alex is remembered by fellow prisoners for sharing food and other necessities he and his brother received from visitors with those who enjoyed no such visits.

The brothers and Nona were detained for several months. After they were released, they stayed in contact with their comrades still in detention, even secretly supporting some of their escape plans.

As part of martial law monitoring procedures, the three former political prisoners were required to report to camp authorities regularly. At that time, Alex and Nona were living with the Torres family in an apartment near Katipunan in Quezon City. Although they complied at the beginning, the three activists felt stifled by the restrictions imposed by martial law authorities. Alex and Nona soon decided to pursue their activist commitment in the countryside. Boy, on the other hand, planned to join his mother in the United States, which he did in 1978.

Alex and Nona took up their organizing work in the Hapao-Hungduan in Ifugao, Alex as political officer of an armed unit, and Nona as propagandist, handling a local newsletter and broadcasting revolutionary news through the armed unit’s portable radio transmitter. Alex used the name Rex Edralin.

They faced danger all the time because they worked in guerrilla expansion areas where conditions were unpredictable. Alex rarely got to visit his family in Manila, but when he did, they found him fit and hardened, his soles turned tough as the soles of a shoe through walking barefooted among Ifugao’s rice terraces.

The couple wrote letters to their families, saying they were happy with their decision to leave the city and to live in the countryside, and reiterating their preparedness for “the ultimate sacrifice” involved in their decision.

Around 1975, Alex’s brother Boy received a tip saying that Alex was captured in Kabayan in Benguet, along with a local resident. Attempts by the family to find Alex failed, but they found enough information to convince them that Alex was first taken to Camp Bado Dangwa in Benguet province and then to the NISA headquarters in V. Luna, Quezon City. A detainee then at Camp Dangwa claimed seeing Alex taken away by NISA personnel. Another report claims that was killed in Camp Dangwa, his body is buried there with others who met the same fate.

A few months after Alex disappeared, Nona’s group was attacked by government soldiers. Nona died in the resulting firefight, the only casualty. Nona’s family and Boy Torres traveled to Ifugao province and retrieved her body. During her wake, the same NISA agents Castelo and Fu Manchu approached Boy Torres and told him they knew “where” Alex was. In Boy’s belief, this confirms NISA’s role in his brother’s disappearance.

The family has never seen Alex again, but they continue to celebrate his heroism and courage. Alex’s own mother subsequently became an active member of the anti-dictatorship movement abroad.

In a letter Alex and Nona had once sent to Boy from Banawe, they cited a popular quote from Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, who said:

"Wherever there is struggle there is sacrifice, and death is a common occurrence. But we have the interests of the people and the sufferings of the great majority at heart, and when we die for the people it is a worthy death.”

Born : October 8, 1953
Missing : 1975
Grade School : Kamuning Elementary School
St Louis Boys Elementary Department, Baguio City (Salutatorian)
High School : UP High School, University of the Philippines, Diliman
College : UP Diliman
Father : Gregorio S. Torres Jr. (Pandan, Catanduanes)
Mother : Eugenia Flores Gabriel (Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija)

Escalante Massacre, 31 Years Ago Today

The following account is taken from the narration of events given by participants Eddie and Alma Villalon, in an interview with Bantayog researchers Carrie Panaligan-Manglinong and Cathy Abrazado, August 2, 2013, in Escalante City.

Escalante massacre, 31 years ago today

It was September 20, 1985, and President Marcos had declared it to be a “Thanksgiving Day” to celebrate the “New Society” under his iron-fisted rule.

The people had nothing to be thankful for. Years of corruption, self-enrichment by the Marcos family and their cronies, subservience to foreign interests, the unrelenting violation of human rights had become like a deadweight that was pulling the Philippines down. There was massive public debt. Investors were pulling out of the economy. The effects of the crisis were being felt all over the country, and most especially by the poor.

The murder of Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. in August 1983 had accelerated the demand for the ouster of the dictatorship. More and bigger rallies and demonstrations were held. People’s organizations, creatively named, emerged at all levels. New forms of mass protest, such as the “lakbayan,” mobilized hundreds of thousands of Filipinos all determined to express their resistance to oppression. The traditional elites were sharply divided: some began to side openly with the opposition, while others beefed up their private armies.

Still pretending (for the benefit of his patrons in the government of the United States) that his dictatorship was a democracy, Marcos announced the holding of a presidential election. He even picked his own opponent, an old friend from Bulacan, to run against him.

By this time, there were only a few places in the Philippines that could be considered “Marcos country.” Almost everywhere, Filipinos were overcoming their fear of martial law. Thus, the call to boycott the bogus election received tremendous, open support.

People’s strike in Negros

A three-day people’s strike (“welgang bayan”) had been declared in the entire island of Negros against “hunger, extreme poverty and increasing militarization.” Although the sugar industry had brought fabulous wealth to the ruling landlord families there, such riches were made possible by the inhuman labor and social conditions to which the plantation workers and their families were subjected.

The Negros Occidental provincial governor then was Armando (Armin) Gustilo, who was known to be extremely loyal to Marcos. His armed bodyguards enjoyed paramilitary status as a Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), operating together with the regular military and police units.

The strike in Negros saw the paralysis of public transportation, as the members of 28 bus and jeepney drivers associations refused to ply their routes. Public and private schools suspended classes. Offices and some business establishments were closed. Rallies and marches were held, peacefully, in the major city of Bacolod and the towns of Binalbagan and Kabankalan.

The people of northern Negros decided to hold their own welgang bayan from Sept.19 to 21, with their activities centered in Escalante City (98 kilometers away from Bacolod). In the morning of Sept. 20, about 7,000 had already gathered in two places – some in front of the municipal hall, and others blocking the road going to Bacolod.

Many soldiers were deployed in the area, in full battle gear including high-powered firearms. Firetrucks arrived with CHDF personnel aboard. To relieve their tension, the people started clapping and shouting : “Makibaka! Huwag matakot!”, “Militarisasyon labanan!” (Let’s fight, don’t be afraid! Resist militarization!)

The firetrucks began to pump water at the protesters, but ran out of water. Then the CHDF men started firing tear gas canisters into the crowd. One canister fell near Juvelyn Jaravelo, a young woman who was in the front ranks, and she picked it up and threw it back. At that point the CHDF began shooting, and Jaravelo was the first to be hit. Suddenly, the machine gun mounted on the rooftop of the municipal hall also spitting out automatic fire. People were running in all directions, while others linked arms and stayed put. Many bodies were lying on the ground.

After the shooting stopped, more troops arrived and encircled the survivors, who thought they were sure to die. But a door suddenly opened in the market, and everyone rushed inside, making their way to safety in the town convent. From there they saw how the CHDF were firing more bullets at the wounded lying everywhere, still alive.

Fifteen people died instantly in the Escalante massacre. Six more died in hospitals and very many were injured. The terror continued as soldiers were present in the hospitals, intimidating the doctors and other medical personnel.

The Escalante massacre shocked the entire country. It was the first time that so many people – 21 in all – were killed in just one attack by government forces. The anger that it provoked added fuel to the citizens’ determination to oust the dictatorship. And indeed the people’s resistance to the brutal and corrupt Marcos dictatorship bore fruit less than six months after, on February 26-28, 1986.

The first anniversary of the massacre -- with the dictator Marcos and his family finally out of Malacan͂ang Palace – was a collective commemoration by the people of Escalante. Since then, September 20 has been an annual day of mourning and prayer, declared as such by the local city council. On this day, they reenact the tragic event and recount the inspiring stories of heroism and solidarity that they witnessed. Some years later, an impressive monument to the martyrs of Escalante was erected in the town plaza.

Lean's Letter to Dr. Rita Estrada, 1985

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CELESTIAL, Artemio Jr.

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Artemio Celestial Jr., or Jun to family and friends, spent his childhood in Cavite where his father was public schools superintendent. He went to the Ateneo in Quezon City for all his schooling years. Jun was outgoing and amiable, and a bright and hardworking student. He taught catechism to poor children.

As in most schools in Manila in the early 1960s, Ateneo was electrified by student activism. Students held hold discussion groups, symposia and other mass actions as issues raged through the campus such as campus repression, violation of civil liberties, militarization, and the impending martial law.

Jun became involved in the Student Catholic Action (SCA) and joined student assemblies marching across the campus, calling on other students to become involved.

In November 1971, leading officers of the Student Council were expelled for their activism. Jun became the council’s secretary-general. The council continued to pursue its militant actions. Jun got other campus groups to join council-sponsored activities. He raised funds and mobilized students to help in flood relief operations in Central Luzon. He even hid in his car students banned from the campus.

After martial law was declared, Jun himself was expelled along with other activists, their pictures posted in the school’s guardhouses. The following year, soldiers raided the Celestial home in Project 4. Jun and younger brother Joel, also an activist, escaped arrest but they had to leave home for some time.

Jun later found a job at the National Grains Authority (NGA) where he worked for two years. He rose to a supervisor’s position. One day, soldiers arrested him and brought him to camp mistaking him for his brother Joel who had gone underground. Jun was released after a few days.

Jun left the government and put up a tailoring business with a friend. Joel was arrested in 1973 and Jun also spent time visiting him in Fort Bonifacio. Many of Jun’s own friends were also in prison. Jun himself continued to help the underground movement.with financial and logistical support.

One day in February 1975, Jun took a cab to somewhere but left a strange letter addressed to Ferdinand Marcos, exhorting the president to free all political prisoners, among other demands. He handed the letter over to a person at a toll gate who then gave it to a passing army soldier. Three days later, Jun’s body was found floating in the Montalban River near the Wawa Dam, his skull and body badly broken. Local police who undertook the investigation believe Jun might have been taken by the army. His family did not pursue the case.

Born 16 September 1950 in Maragondon, Cavite

Died 19 February 1975 in Montalban River

Parents : Artemio Celestial and Marina Somoza

Education : Elementary - Ateneo de Manila, Honorable Mention

Secondary – Ateneo High School

College – Ateneo de Manila University, AB Economics

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