CNN Philippines: Inside Bantayog Ng Mga Bayani

The Bantayog ng mga Bayani was built to honor those who fought for justice and freedom. A wall inside the memorial center also lists down 250 names of heroes and martyrs. This report aired on CNN Philippines' Headline News on August 31, 2015.

Watch it here.

Martsa Ng Bayan

Martsa ng Bayan is an iconic song of struggle against the martial law regime. Composed by Jess Santiago in the 1980s.

(From an article at Bulatlat) All through the rally, the Jess Santiago composition “Martsa ng Bayan” (People’s March) kept playing: “Tayo na at magsama-sama/Sa pagdurog sa imperyalista/Tayo na at magkaisa/Lansagin ang pasistang diktadura/Nasa atin ang tunay na lakas/Tiyak na nasa atin ang bukas...” The song was composed in the 1980s and became an anti-dictatorship classic.

Santiago, still the reed-thin bespectacled man that he was two decades ago but now with his still-long hair graying, would himself stir the crowd – numbering about 10,000 – with a passionate rendition of his song “Halina,” composed 30 years ago and telling tales of a unionist and a peasant slain by state agents, and an urban poor family driven from their “home” near a garbage dump. “Y’ong sinasabi nitong kanta, nangyayari pa rin ngayon” (What the song tells us about is still happening), Santiago told the audience in a calm but emphatic voice.


Jess Santiago wrote Halina in the late 1970s as a narrative against the abuses faced by ordinary people in the hands of the repressive Philippine government during the darkest years of Martial Law.
Si Lina ay isang magandang dalaga
Panggabi sa isang pabrika ng tela
Sumapi sa union, sumama sa welga
Biglang nagkagulo, nawala si Lina
Nang muling makita’y hubad at patay na
Halina, halina
Damitan ang bangkay at sa ating puso’y
Hayaang humimlay si Lina.

Isang magsasaka si Pedro Pilapil
Walang kaulayaw kundi ang bukirin
Nguni’t isang araw, amy biglang dumating
Ang saka ni Pedro’y kanilang inangkin
Tumutol si Pedro, at siya ay binaril
Halina, halina
At sa ating puso’y hayaang maghasik
Ng punla si Pedro Pilapil.

Si Aling Maria’y doon nakatira
Sa tabi ng isang bundok ng basura
Nguni’t isang araw binuldozert sila
Sapagkat darating ang mga turista
Nawalan ng tahanan ang isang pamilya
Halina, halina
At sa ating puso’y ipagtayo ng tahanan
Sina alingMaria.
Halina, halina.

ALTO, Leo C.

Alto, Leo C.

“Pinaglingkuran niya ang sambayanan, ang buhay niya’y isang bituing tatanglaw sa aming landas” are the words written on Leo Alto’s tombstone: He served the people, his life shines light on our way.

Leo Alto was a 4th year pre-med student at the University of the Philippines when he joined the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP) in 1970. He started attending discussion groups, teach-ins and rallies. He also joined workers'pickets demanding higher wages and better living conditions.

Later he joined the Panday Sining, a political theater group that was active in cultural campaigns denouncing the increasingly authoritarian Marcos administration. Then he joined the Rizal chapter of the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and started organizing a KM chapter among children of enlisted men and officers of the Philippine Army based in Fort Bonifacio. (Leo's parents owned a concession inside the army camp where the family also lived, his father being a retired soldier.)

He later became KM coordinator for Rizal, organizing the propaganda, education and mobilization campaigns of the various chapters in Rizal province.

At the height of a campaign to oppose oil price increases in 1971, Alto joined a barricade set up by students in the UP Diliman campus, later to develop into the historic Diliman Commune. Once he was arrested in Makati while putting up campaign posters.

As he got deeper into activism, Alto dropped out of college and immersed himself in the communities. He joined a team that undertook a survey of people's problems in the areas of Binangonan, Morong and Jalajala in Rizal. In 1971, under the banner of the Progresibong Samahan ng Rizal, he was part of a team that organized a trek from the Sierra Madre foothills in Jalajala, as part of a “people’s long march against poverty” that culminated in Plaza Miranda, Manila.

During the great floods of 1972, Alto turned his organizing efforts into helping the displaced families in Pasig, Rizal. Relief centers were opened, and the activists even managed to spark political discussions among the refugees.

When martial law was declared in September 1972, soldiers raided the home of the Alto family looking for him. Leo, eldest among eight siblings (he was Heracleo Jr.), managed to escape and decided to join the underground resistance to martial law.

He underwent training as an acupuncturist and paramedic under physician-activist Juan Escandor. In 1973, together with other student activists, he joined a Serve the People Brigade in the countryside. They would organize local farmers, mostly Bisaya and Ilokano settlers – as well as the Subanon tribal communities fighting for their ancestral lands. They called him”Doc.”

At the age of 23, Leo Alto was killed by a unit of the Philippine Constabulary on 1 August 1975 in Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte. Another man, a Subanon, died with him. Alto’s body was buried in Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte until his family had it exhumed eleven years later. He was laid to rest in Pateros, Metro Manila in 1986.

ALINGAL, Godofredo B.

alingal, godofredo 2

Born in the "Jesuit country" that was northern Mindanao, it was perhaps inevitable for this son of the soil and the sea to become a Jesuit priest.

Godofredo Alingal, called Fr. Ling by his flock, was ordained to the priesthood in 1953 in Woodstock, Maryland (USA). He was first assigned to the province of Bukidnon, then to Ateneo de Naga, Cagayan de Oro City, and in 1968, back to Bukidnon.

The Catholic Church was seeing dramatic changes as an aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. The Gospel was henceforth to be preached beyond the walls of the church, in the fields, market places, the hills, and lived as a witness to give people back their dignity and their rights. Alingal embraced these new teachings.

Bukidnon was a land of great social divisions. Politics was rough, and bullets counted more than ballots. Peasants were oppressed by landlords, usurers and middlemen, and power was in the hands of a few. Conflicts simmered between the indigenous tribes, the settlers from the Visayas, and the ranchers and loggers who extracted the area's rich natural resources.

Alingal helped farmers start a credit union and a grains marketing cooperative. He helped organize the local chapter of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) in Kibawe, Bukidnon.

With the repression and militarization that characterized the martial law regime, Alingal redoubled his efforts in behalf of poor people. He started a community organization program, aimed at organizing farmers, vendors and mothers to protest abuses and defend their rights.

The gentle and soft-spoken priest nevertheless spoke out against electoral fraud, threats and harassments by the military, denouncing these from the pulpit and through the prelature newsletter Bandilyo. In 1977, the martial law government closed down the prelature's radio station DXBB, but Alingal started a Blackboard News Service instead. It was popularly known as “Kibawe Budyong.” He built a giant blackboard in front of his church, broadcasting news that was otherwise being suppressed and denouncing official abuses. The blackboard was repeatedly vandalized, but he merely put up another one to replace it.

Alingal started getting anonymous threats. "Stop using the pulpit for politics.... your days are numbered," went one. But, "what else is there to do—the priesthood is not a safe vocation," he said.

He had just gotten orders for reassignment to another parish when he was assassinated in 1981.

In the early evening of April 13, 1981, five men (three of them wearing masks) arrived at the convent in Kibawe, and demanded to see the parish priest. Alingal, who was in his room reading, opened the door; he was met by a bullet fired from a .45 caliber automatic handgun. The assailants then all fled on motorbikes. A physician living nearby heard the shot and rushed to Alingal's side. The murdered priest died in his arms.

At his funeral mass, two bishops and about 70 priests concelebrated. Thousands joined the funeral march, coming from the town proper and the surrounding barrios and towns.

Many brought with them placards painted with the angry query: "Hain ang justicia? (Where is justice?)" Alingal's killers were never charged.


aguilar, zorro

The common folk of Zamboanga del Norte loved human rights lawyer Zorro Aguilar because they could always count on him to take up the cases of poor people, especially those who suffered from oppression or were victims of persons in power.

They knew him as a simple man, “a far cry from the elegantly dressed, English-speaking lawyers of Makati.” His friends said: “He did not even have a typewriter, or a vehicle, and he lived in a dilapidated house.”

Yet it was Aguilar who consistently attended rallies, who was never too busy to go to the far-flung barrios when he was needed, and who gave free legal assistance to those who needed it. Of all the lawyers in Zamboanga del Norte at the time, he was known to have handled most of the cases of human rights violations, serving without discriminating the poor from the rich.

Although he was frequently invited to speak at protest actions even outside Dipolog (in Cagayan de Oro, Ozamiz, Pagadian, for example), he had no political ambition. He believed that elections would only legitimize the Marcos regime, and would not solve the nation’s problems.

Before martial law, Aguilar was already editing a local paper in Dipolog City, called Nandau (“Today’s News,” in the Subanon language), which often published articles criticizing the Marcos administration. For a time, he was also employed as a government social worker, mainly serving remote barrio communities.

Upon becoming a lawyer, Aguilar concentrated on human rights cases. He worked fulltime with the Free Legal Assistance Group, defending political prisoners and helping people assert their rights under martial law.

Aguilar joined the protest movement that erupted after the 1983 assassination of former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

He became chair of the Zamboanga del Norte chapter of the Coalition for Restoration of Democracy (CORD). He led a protest march (Lakbayan) that went around Zamboanga del Norte in May 1984. Three days before being killed, he was the main speaker at a Dipolog rally, where once more he denounced the militarization of his province.

At the time of his death, Aguilar was set to join a fact-finding mission that would look into the killing in July 1984 of a human rights researcher in Tampilisan town. The mission was also set to document the existence of seven “strategic hamlets” in Godod town.

Aguilar began getting anonymous threats to his life, which he shrugged off. "I'm prepared” to die, he told a friend. Until then, he said, “we can continue our service to the poor and exploited people."

On the night of Sept. 23, 1984, Aguilar was walking home with fellow human rights lawyer Jacobo Amatong when two men came up to them and shot them both at close range. Aguilar was hit twice in the chest and once in the nape, and died instantly. Amatong died in hospital eight hours later, but not before identifying their attackers as belonging to the military. Two soldiers were subsequently named as suspects by the National Bureau of Investigation. This was confirmed by the driver of the getaway vehicle, but he himself was killed by unidentified men one year later. Despite many appeals from family and friends, no hearings were conducted on the case.

About 10,000 people attended the funeral held for the two lawyers, an attendance unprecedented in Dipolog history.

AGATEP, Zacarias G.

agatep, zacharias

"If it is a crime to love the poor and support them in their struggle against injustice, then I am ready to face the firing squad," Fr. Zacarias Agatep wrote in 1980 just after his release from four months of imprisonment by the martial law government. Two years later he did give up his life in the pursuit of this belief.

Fellow seminarians remember Agatep as a serious-minded person, whom they called Apo Kari. ("Apo" is the Ilokano term of respect for elders, leaders, or persons in positions of authority.)

Agatep spent his summers as a seminarian helping poor families in their farms. After his ordination in 1964, he took up parish duties for a short while in San Esteban town. Then he served as fulltime chaplain of the Northern Luzon chapter of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF). Working with farmers in the towns of Sta. Cruz, Sta. Lucia, Salcedo and Galimuyod, he helped organize cooperatives, raised awareness about land reform, and campaigned for the reduction of land rent.

But when, in 1973, the FFF leadership supported the Marcos regime's campaign for the ratification of a martial law constitution, the priest campaigned among FFF members to boycott the referendum called for this purpose. He left the organization and returned to parish work in Caoayan, taking up the cause of poor tobacco farmers, and speaking up against foreign and local elite control of the tobacco industry.

Later he joined the Christians for National Liberation and began to secretly support the fight against the dictatorial regime.

He was serving as parish priest in Caoayan when arrested on 4 September 1980 and charged with subversion and illegal possession of firearms. He was first taken to Camp Diego in Ilocos Sur, moved to Camp Dangwa in Benguet, and finally to Camp Bagong Diwa (Bicutan Rehabilitation Center) in Metro Manila. All through those four months he continued to minister to his fellow prisoners.

He was released on December 24, 1980, as part of the regime's preparations for the visit of Pope John Paul II. In a letter afterwards to President Marcos, his provincemate, Agatep protested his imprisonment as a frameup. "If this is the kind of justice we get from the so-called guardians of the New Society, then there is no wonder why there are some people who go to the hills to fight the government."

Some time after, a reward for Agatep's rearrest was posted by the authorities. At the age of 46, on October 11, 1982, the priest was killed together with Alfredo Cesar, a former deacon who had been assisting him. The military claimed that the two died in an armed encounter with constabulary soldiers, but many doubted this. Agatep’s body showed that he had been shot four times from behind.

Many religious groups denounced the deaths of Agatep and Cesar. A memorial mass was held for them at the chapel of the Daughters of St. Paul in Manila, sponsored by a newly-formed Committee for the Protection of Church People's Rights. Twenty-seven priests, Filipinos as well as foreigners, concelebrated, and about 500 persons, including Protestants, attended the ecumenical rites.

People Power Revolution

The People Power Revolution was a series of popular demonstrations in the Philippines against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos which culminated on February 22–25, 1986.

He Was My Human Rights Lawyer

(Written by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo for the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

I AM STILL a bit shaky after learning from Inquirer editor in chief Letty J. Magsanoc that Joker Arroyo has “passed on to the highest court in the great beyond,” but I am under orders “to write a personal tribute,” so I write.

When an Army general of the Marcos dictatorship slapped me with a P10-million libel suit in 1983 for my Panorama magazine article on human rights violations committed against rural folks in Bataan province, the publication gave me a lawyer, and from the Siguion-Reyna Law Office no less. And then I got a call from Joker Arroyo whom I had never spoken to personally but whom I knew as a tough human rights lawyer and defender of big-name Marcos victims as well as unknown ones languishing in the dungeons of martial rule. I had been familiar with cases documented by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a mission partner of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, and had helped in some of their publications, so his name rang loud.

His face was familiar too because he was among those often photographed with bigwigs of the anti-Marcos forces in rallies. He was also in photographs taken at the court trial of Ninoy Aquino that showed the defense team that included him and Sen. Lorenzo Tañada.

Could he have a word with me? Joker said on the phone. Could we meet somewhere?

Joker came alone to a small restaurant in Quezon City and offered to be my lawyer. Pro bono, of course. I told him that I already had a lawyer, Saklolo Leano of Siguion-Reyna. He said he knew “Sak,” that they would work together to defend me. He was insistent and I couldn’t help wondering why my case meant the world to him. Perhaps because his late sister Nimia was a writer, I mused.

Defending women writers

Just a little backgrounder. I had been the first writer to be interrogated by the defense department (1980) and later was one of several women writers who went through a series of interrogations conducted by a military tribunal (1983). “National Intelligence Board” was how the military officers called themselves. It was the brainchild of Gen. Fabian Ver, then the Armed Forces chief of staff. I called them the Sanhedrin.

And then my case became like a trial balloon. In street-corner lingo, “sasampolan.” That was after our group, Women Writers in Media Now, routed the “National Intelligence Board” at the Supreme Court. We had a battery of human rights Mabini lawyers, with Tañada leading the pack, and Joker was among them.

We thought it was over. All of a sudden, Brig. Gen. Artemio Tadiar, commander of the 3rd Marine Brigade, came out of the woodwork to claim he had been maligned by the article. He had become a military attaché somewhere, but a P10-million libel suit was staring me in the face. It was pure harassment.

Rosary in his pocket

I said yes to Joker defending my case. While saying goodbye after our talk, he pulled out something from his pocket, a handkerchief, I think, and out fell his rosary.

The case was filed in Manila. I remember Joker telling me to make myself unobtrusive until bail had been posted, else I’d be handcuffed by the sheriff right there. At the preliminary hearing, Joker and Rene Saguisag clashed swords with then fiscal Jose Flaminiano (Joe Flame, Joker called him).

Well, to my chagrin, the Joe Flame filed the case for hearing. I don’t recall the name of the legal maneuver Joker did to make the case hibernate but it did. Thankfully, it did not progress to see me impoverished and in prison because the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution happened.

Still, I made sure the case was finally dropped. Joker, President Cory Aquino’s executive secretary, made sure that would happen.

I was assigned to do a Sunday Inquirer Magazine cover story on Joker, the executive secretary (“Joker Arroyo Looks Back,” Feb. 24, 1991) for the fifth anniversary of the triumph of people power that saw the Marcos dictatorship crashing down. The Q & A is still quite a read.


Joker sent a handwritten letter dated Feb. 21, 1991, tucked inside a long white envelope with a Post-It on the flap. So old-school, I thought. He sent it through then Inquirer publisher Eggie Apostol.
It read:

“Eggie was indulgent enough to send me an advance copy. I felt great, being alternately humanized, then made bigger than life, then being combative, then supposedly humble in a stylish play of words and format only you can craft. Thanks really.

“I kept reading and rereading it like a priest reads and rereads the breviary in blind faith. And the paper didn’t soil. Has the color any preservative?

“Why don’t you, Lorna (then magazine editor), Bullit (Marquez, Associated Press photojournalist) and I meet for Chinese or Japanese, Filipino or Thai, Italian or Spanish lunch? Do set the date a week ahead or whatever. If mater publisher will condescend, it will be nice for her to join and stifle the fun. Most sincerely, Joker. P.S. Your handwriting is the trademark of a school.”

A faxed letter, now fading on thermal paper, was his reaction to my feature article on the exhibit of medieval torture instruments and King Ludwig’s castle that I visited in Germany. It continued with a letter to magazine editor Lorna Kalaw-Tirol congratulating her.

“Why my interest in this (the Inquirer magazine)? I was editor of the Chinese Commercial News, a pre-martial law Chinese language paper. When the Yuyitung brothers, Quintin and Rizal, owners, were deported in 1970, I took over as editor so the show (newspaper) will go on. Advertising became my concern and was illiterate in Chinese. I was their lawyer.”

(The names of the Yuyitung brothers are now carved on the granite Wall of Remembrance of Bantayog ng mga Bayani dedicated to heroes and martyrs who fought, died or were imprisoned during the martial law years, a number of whom Joker had defended.)


Another note, written on Civil Liberties Union of the Philippines/Free Legal Assistance Group stationery said: “Your answers conveyed unabashed humility and plain grit. Very searing. I just thought I should let you know.” I think it was about an article on me. Printed at the bottom of the stationery were the names Lorenzo M. Tañada, Jose W. Diokno and Joker P. Arroyo. The Mabini brotherhood of lawyers was not yet in existence then.

From Joker, I learned the meaning of “equipoise” that he used to describe a trait of Sr. Mariani Dimaranan SFIC, human rights defender and founder of TFDP. After she died and I was writing an article on her, I asked Joker for a quote and he obliged. What a tribute he gave.

So many years have passed but the women writers and the Mabini lawyers continued to keep in touch with each other, our way of expressing our appreciation for their stand and struggle to defend the oppressed and see justice prevail. A number of them later occupied elective and appointive positions in government, among them, Joker Arroyo (executive secretary, congressman, senator), Rene Saguisag (senator), Fulgencio Factoran (environment secretary), Augusto Sanchez (labor secretary), but they did not enrich themselves. (Joker, you know why I am saying this.)

When we came together to wine and dine, there would be lots of reminiscences, political gossip, teasing, jokes and laughter. We would also speak about painful and crushing incidents in the past. Joker would come with his wry sense of humor but would occasionally give in to cajoling and break open his thoughts even while feigning disinterest in silly, mundane matters.

No goodbyes

The second to the last time we lunched with Mabini lawyers Joker, Saguisag and Factoran was sometime in 2013. Joker ordered Chinese food and paid for it. When reminiscing time came, I suddenly remembered and narrated that small rosary incident with Joker when I was an endangered species. What do you know, the three formidable human rights lawyers, food in their mouths, instantly dug into their pockets and brought out their rosaries. Joker, too, had his.

No goodbyes, Joker. You left on the month of the rosary. My prayers and sympathies to your daughters and your lawyer-wife Fely.

I had written about persons who mattered to the lives of many and to my own, persons who are listed in my book. If I may quote myself, let me say and apply this to you, too: “You will be reborn in my words/ On the pages I write you will rise/ You will die say goodbye/ But I will remember/ I will make you live again in my words.”

The Comelec Walkout of 1986

On February 9 of 1986, “thirty-five tabulators/computer workers, officially composed of 30 women and 5 men manning the Comelec’s quick count computer terminals walked out of the PICC Plenary Hall in protest of what they said was the cheating they were being made party to” (Alex Baluyut) referring to the tabulation results of the  1986 Philippine Presidential Snap Election.

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