Recollections is a compilation of short anecdotal pieces written by Thelma M. Arceo, head of Bantayog’s Research and Documentation Committee. Striking a pact with a friend to “put these snippets of memories down to paper,” as she writes about her son, Bantayog martyr Ferdinand "Ferdie" Arceo. Mrs. Arceo hopes this will inspire the other families, relatives and friends of our martyrs and heroes to do the same.

For inquiries, contact Bantayog.
"Thelma Arceo’s Recollections is a labor of love: for her son Ferdie, who at 21 years old died fighting the Marcos dictatorship; for Ferdie’s “Efren”(s), comrades who the Arceos welcomed to their home knowing their own son was welcomed by other parents who knew Ferdie only as a revolutionary; and for Ferdie’s many causes: love of country, a demand for government accountability, and the quest for social justice for and with the workers and farmers who Ferdie served “wholly and entirely.” This book brings to mind Jose Rizal’s mother; we have many modern Teodora Alonzos in our midst. Recollections will hopefully inspire other mothers and fathers of our martyrs and heroes to write their stories not just for the sake of remembering but also as a reminder to us all that the struggle for country, accountability and social justice continues." -Judy Taguiwalo

"Thelma Arceo, whom we fondly call Tita or Auntie, has finally gathered these brief anecdotes about her son Ferdie, killed at the prime of his youth by the Marcos military soon after the declaration of martial law. He was only 21 when he died in Panay, slain with four other students who had chosen to cast their lot with the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. That a parent survives a child is cause enough for the deepest grief, but to have lost a son like Ferdie who embodied the noblest ideal of being “a man for others” and who lived to “serve the people,” makes the pain and the sense of loss permanent. Through a mother’s eyes, this is the story of a Filipino hero who offered his own life for the liberation of his people from tyranny." -Ed Maranan

ARCEO, Ferdinand M.

arceo, ferdinand

Born to a middle-class family, Ferdinand Arceo’s many talents brought him various awards from his elementary school days all the way through college. Still, he seemed happiest when helping others especially those who had less in life.

In college, Arceo, called Ferdie, gravitated toward student activism, becoming one of the organizers behind the reform-oriented National Union of Students of the Philippines. He helped out during the rescue operations for victims of the 1969 earthquake disaster in Manila's Ruby Tower, meriting him a presidential award (but he refused to attend the awarding ceremony).

He read broadly about politics, including the writings of Marx, Lenin and Mao, and Filipino ideologue Jose Maria Sison. These were considered forbidden literature but Arceo went on to discuss them with his friends, believing the ideas were helpful for workers and labor unions. He developed close ties to workers and visited them in their communities. During the summer of 1970, Arceo worked as a parish volunteer in Cagayan de Oro where he gained even more insights into the problems in rural areas.

These personal experiences led him to found the Liga ng mga Demokratikong Atenista (LDA), considered the first radical activist organization in Ateneo. The LDA aimed at raising the political consciousness of Ateneo students and other youths outside the campus by engaging them in discussion groups, and inviting them to teach-ins and eventually, getting them to become involved in the "parliament of the streets," demonstrations and protest marches. Ateneo activists remember how, with arms locked, they stormed the school administration building in 1971.

When martial law was imposed in 1972, Arceo was about to take his last semester of studies for a humanities degree. But he opted to drop out when school authorities warned him to stop his activism, or he would not be permitted to enrol. Not only that, Arceo decided to join the New People’s Army in Panay island, in order, he said, to avoid being a “sitting duck” – an easy target for the military – and more importantly, to live among the poor and (in his mother’s words) to understand them, know their needs, know their way of life “so I can speak for them, articulate their aspirations.”

The Arceo family was a constant source of support for Ferdie, the eldest of three brothers and a sister. His father Reginaldo resigned his executive position to be consistent with the principles which his son was upholding. His example inspired the family to have more compassion for the poor. In one of his last letters to them, Ferdie referred to the closeness of their family ties but added: “Let us hope that what will bind us together will not be limited to the confines of consanguinity, but unity based on the things ‘bigger’ than ourselves.”

Exactly eight months after he left home for the Madya-as mountains, Arceo and a companion were shot by policemen along a beach in San Joaquin, Iloilo. The incident was part of an operation by state security forces against "subversives" in Panay. Arceo died at age 21.

ARCE, Santiago B.

arce, santiago

Santiago Arce was the only child of a poor couple eking out a living as tenant farmers in the province of Abra.

A missionary priest assigned in his hometown noticed Arce’s gift for music and, wanting to encourage him, helped put him through college as a working student. Arce became a teacher, eventually becoming principal (and bandmaster) of the missionary-run Little Flower High School in Peñarrubia, Abra.

But he stayed a farmer, helping his father (who also played in the town band) in tending the fields of corn and sugarcane after school hours. He also served as a lay leader in the Catholic parish in Peñarrubia. Later he was elected president of the Samahang Nayon and the Irrigators Service Association in his home village of Agtangao, Bangued.

Arce had gone to college in the 1960s, when nationalist ferment was creating a progressive intellectual environment that helped mold his thinking.

In the early 1970s, Arce joined the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) and later became its provincial coordinator for Abra. Under his leadership and with the help of other priests and nuns in the province, FFF conducted seminars for the farmers and organized local cooperatives. Landlords harassed their activities, but Arce remained convinced about the need to reform the tenancy system in the rural areas. The local martial-law authorities did not appreciate his activities either.

In 1974, Arce was implicated in the murder of a police informer. The murder suspect had told investigators that the school principal was the owner of the motorcycle used in the killing. Santiago was arrested but released on the same day on the intervention of the seminary rector of the Society of the Divine Word in Bangued. He was arrested again two days later. Afterwards, residents living close to the military camp reported hearing during the night Arce’s agonized moans and pleas for his life. He was shot dead a few hours later for “trying to escape.”

Arce was buried after the longest and biggest funeral procession ever recorded at the time in Abra, despite the pervasive fear of retaliation from the martial-law authorities. Classes in Catholic schools all over the province were suspended so teachers and students could attend it. Twenty priests concelebrated a funeral mass.

At the height of the Marcos dictatorship’s repression, such a public display of unity was uncommon. It was because, as a friend said, Arce was well respected: “Mahal siya ng tao. Kahit sa mga hindi member ng FFF kilala siyang mabuting tao.Napaka-useful sa community. Maraming naituturo.” (The people loved him Even those who were not FFF members looked up to him as a good man. He was so useful to the community. He was able to teach many things.)

AQUINO, Jeremias A.

Aquino, Jeremias A.

Son of a poor couple in northern Luzon, Jeremias Aquino was ordained a priest of the Philippine Independent Church in 1974, after struggling to finance his theological studies with the help of his family. He graduated with honors.

Aquino came to activism through the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines. Despite the restrictions under martial law, he joined rallies to denounce the regime's injustices and human rights violations. He also joined the Christians for National Liberation.

As a young church worker, he was able to visit France and Switzerland. The experience of life in these European countries showed him the vast difference between them and the Philippines. He returned to the country to work among the urban and rural poor. The crowded communities of Tatalon and Navotas in Metro Manila, and the highland villages in the Cordillera region, became his "church."

In 1975-1976, Aquino was a member of the Workers Institute for Social Enlightenment under the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; he also served in a Quezon City parish and as Aglipayan chaplain of the University of the Philippines. His next assignments (1977-1978) were as director of the Manila-based Ecumenical Center for Development, staff member of the Christian Conference of Asia’s rural youth program, and missionary priest of the PIC diocese of Greater Manila. Then he was named acting program coordinator and youth director of the Laoag (Ilocos Norte) diocese, and concurrently acting associate rector of Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.

It was in this latter posting that Aquino was arrested in September 1979, at a constabulary checkpoint in Sadanga, Mountain Province. With several companions, he was held at the constabulary stockade in Bontoc, before being transferred to the Bicutan jail in Metro Manila. He was released on Christmas Eve of 1980 together with other political detainees, after prolonged fasting and hunger strikes to protest prison conditions.

After his release, Aquino received offers for work even abroad, but he chose to stay in the country and helped found the Freedom Shop, a carpentry shop for unemployed former political prisoners. He also took in editing jobs for religious publications, where he wrote about problems faced by his people, his church the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, and the ecumenical movement.

He was a man of many talents: proficient in several languages, a good musician, a sensitive poet, a man of the church who lived and felt deeply for the poor.

Aquino died in a Manila hospital on December 14, 1981, after one week of battling for his life following a road accident. He was 32 years old.

AQUINO, Benigno "Ninoy" S. Jr.


Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino Jr. was born to a prosperous, landowning political family in Tarlac province. He was an adventurous and brash young man whose phenomenal career began when he was hired as a reporter at the Manila Times, then the leading Philippine newspaper. At age 18, he was sent to report on the war that was going on in Korea.

He attracted the attention of President Ramon Magsaysay, who then started Aquino on his political career. With the support of Magsaysay, Aquino was elected mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac, in 1955; at age 22 he was the youngest to occupy the post. Then in 1962 he was elected governor of Tarlac province at age 28, again the youngest to occupy the post. And in 1969, he was elected senator, leading the victory for the opposition and becoming the youngest (at age 34) to be so elected.

As senator, Aquino (who called himself a "radical rich guy") took a progressive stand on several issues, He opposed Philippine involvement in the Vietnam War and condemned military and police abuses and the use of terror and violence against civilians.

Ninoy Aquino was a popular politician, with youth and charisma. When he became a clear frontrunner for the presidential elections in 1973, he began to be seen as a threat to Ferdinand Marcos, then on his second and final term as president.

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, he had Aquino arrested and put in solitary confinement, and in 1978 sentenced by military tribunal to die by firing squad. Foreign governments and organizations flooded the regime with letters of concern in behalf of Aquino and other political prisoners. To defuse the situation, Marcos allowed a retrial and called for parliamentary elections (to the Interim Batasang Pambansa), letting Aquino run while still in jail. Marcos’ candidates won and Aquino lost in the rigged elections, further worsening the people’s disgust.

Aquino then launched a 40-day prison hunger strike to focus attention on the regime's abuses. The sacrifice nearly killed him but it helped strengthened the people’s opposition to martial law.

To rid himself of Aquino, Marcos permitted him to go abroad in 1980 to undergo heart surgery. For the next three years, Aquino stayed in the United States, continuing to denounce martial law and building a network of expatriates actively opposing the regime.

Aquino returned to the Philippines on August 21, 1983, fully aware that what awaited him was another prolonged stay in jail or possibly even death. Upon landing at the airport, soldiers fetched him from the plane and shot him dead as they descended towards the tarmac. He was 48 years old. The regime blamed an unknown gunman for the killing, but most Filipinos believed that it was Marcos and his henchmen who plotted and carried out the assassination.

Three years of protests followed, growing bolder, stronger, and spreading all over the country. Marcos was forced to call a “snap” presidential election in 1986, in which he was boldly challenged by Corazon Aquino, the martyr’s widow. By then the dictator was a very sick man.

The election results were massively manipulated, and many died protecting the election process. This only fueled the people's growing anger. One month after the election, a military faction revolted, starting a civilian-military uprising that would later be called the People Power Revolution. Multitudes poured into the streets to call openly for the ouster of the regime, and finally after three days Marcos was taken away from Malacanang in a US military helicopter. With his family and several of his closest friends, the ex-dictator was flown to the United States where he later died.

In 1986, Corazon Aquino became the country's first president after Marcos. She released political prisoners and had a new constitution written and ratified. The couple’s son, Benigno S. Aquino III, was elected president in 2010.

ANDRES, Trifonio N.

andres, trifonio

Friends remember him as warm, loving, and hardworking. His closest friend, a priest, said Trifonio, or Ponyong, saw life as something to offer to others "selflessly, for the sake of justice and peace, love and unity."

Andres was a seminarian in Davao City when he became involved in human rights work. He became a volunteer for the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines under the auspices of the Citizens' Council for Justice and Peace. He visited political prisoners and other detainees inside police and constabulary jails in Davao City. In 1979, he testified as one of the witnesses during an investigation of a massacre by soldiers of 14 people in Catalunan Grande, near Xavier Seminary where he was studying.

Seeing with his own eyes the grave abuses inflicted on the people, he became a committed opponent of the martial law regime. He told his family stories about how a government-supported fanatic group (the Ilaga) was waging a "genocidal war" against Muslims in remote towns.

In a Biblical preaching in 1981, he expressed solidarity with dispossessed farmers and indigenous communities, as well as with the underpaid workers, denouncing the injustice that was being done to them. “This community of ours,” he wrote, “is not anymore a community…based on love, but money, power and prestige.” When one speaks of love, there must be justice: "Justice is the minimum of love. There is no love where there is no justice."

Although Andres had already become a deacon in 1981, his bishop delayed his ordination into the priesthood. Undeterred, he continued serving as fulltime volunteer of TFDP and CCJP in Davao.

On August 17, 1983, some 50 heavily-armed soldiers and militia men belonging to the Integrated Civilian Home Defense Force swooped down on a wedding ceremony being held in Libungan, North Cotabato, and arrested and interrogated 15 people. The soldiers said they were looking for communist guerrillas.

The male prisoners were hogtied, their eyes and mouths taped, and taken to the military camp. Four were taken to the Metrodiscom Headquarters in Digos, Davao del Sur, where they were executed.

Trifonio Andres was one of them. His body bore multiple signs of brutal torture, and there were gunshot wounds in the chest. He was 29 years old.

“He died,” said his friend Fr. Antonio S. Mayo, “in the darkest night of our struggle to get out from the land of bondage and slavery in order to bring light, to bring justice and peace, to bring love and unity to our brethren groaning because of the excruciating pain of hunger and deprivation….”

Reflecting on Ponyong’s life, his brother Sergio Jr. wrote, “His deep conviction [was that] man’s spirituality should grow hand in hand with the growth of technology. Spirituality to him [was] a consciousness that should develop in all men that will be expressed as service to fellowmen, justice, love, sharing and giving without preconditions even to the point of sacrificing one’s life.”

ANDAL, Reynante C.

andal, reynante

Reynante Andal's father was a guerrilla in the resistance against Japan’s occupation of the Philippines during World War II. The boy was fascinated by his stories about the war, tales full of heroism and love of country.

While their parents were out all day working to put food on the table, Rey, the eldest of nine children, took care of the younger ones and their household. His father died just as Rey graduated from high school.

Andal left for Manila in 1968 on a scholarship, and enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) for a degree course in political science.

He soon got involved in a Filipinization movement initiated by students from the Ateneo de Manila, and helped found a counterpart in UST, the Kilusang Kristiyano ng Kabataang Pilipino (known as 3KP). He also joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). In 1970, he was among the founding members of the reform-oriented youth group, Kapulungan ng Sandigan ng Pilipinas (KASAPI). He coordinated support activities for the survivors and witnesses in the Bantay, Ilocos Sur incident in 1971 in which two sitios were burned down in an act of warlord terrorism. He joined the relief operations during the massive flooding in Central Luzon in 1971. Still that same year, he organized and headed the Samahan ng mga Kabataan sa Ikauunlad ng mga Tsuper, which supported the headline-making transport strikes of the pre-martial law period.

An effective and charismatic leader, Andal gave fiery speeches and made friends with student activists, whether reform-oriented or militant.

By the middle of 1972, he had stopped attending classes and was spending more time with activist friends and jeepney drivers. When martial law was declared that September, with some of his friends he headed for the hills of Pinamalayan, Mindoro, apparently emulating what his father Mariano had done, to fight an oppressive regime.

Not long after, soldiers of Task Force Lawin surrounded the hut where they were staying and opened fire. Killed instantly were two local youths, Antonio Pastorfide and Rene Julao, while Andal and Dante Perez of Ateneo de Manila University in Manila were both wounded. During a break in the firing, one of the hut’s occupants, the wife of Perez and also an activist, ran out to ask the soldiers to stop the shooting. The latter then went inside and simply shot the two wounded men dead. Andal died at 21.

The following morning, a local paper bannered the story of “four communist rebels” killed and three captured in an encounter with soldiers.

As Andal‘s dead body lay in the coffin, his mother Patria tenderly wrapped it in the Philippine flag. Then she bravely sang “Bayan Ko,” a patriotic song she would hear him sing. In the days after the incident, people in Pinamalayan who had been Andal’s friends were rounded up by police: teachers, students, carpenters, even the owner of the local billiard hall filled up all the cells of the local jail; some were beaten up.

Some time later Mrs. Andal was arrested when a carbine rifle was found in her house; she was keeping it, she said, as a memento of her son. She was sentenced for illegal possession of firearms and remained in prison for 13 years, released only in 1986 after the martial law government was dismantled. She died in 1997.

Defending her son and his activist comrades, Aling Patty said they were only defending the people’s interests: “Ipinagtatanggol nila ang ating karapatan.”

AMATONG, Jacobo S.

Amatong, Jacobo S.

Jacobo Amatong belonged to a prominent family in Dipolog City. They owned a well-regarded school, his brothers were well-known in Mindanaoan politics, and Amatong himself was a respected lawyer and editor-publisher of a local paper named Mindanao Observer.

Besides serving as city councilor from 1971 until his death, he was active in many civic and community organizations, and received numerous awards from civic, charitable, government, professional, education and other organizations.

When the country fell under martial law and military abuses spread in his province of Zamboanga del Norte, Amatong took up the cause for justice and human rights, particularly the right to free speech and a free press. He espoused the cause of the common people. Mindanao Observer defied martial law restrictions on newspapers and published articles critical of the regime, especially the military. It exposed their involvement in protecting gambling operations, in extortion activities, and the fabrication of military reports by an intelligence officer for blackmail purposes. It reported on cases of summary execution of civilians and military bombing of communities. It also published appeals on behalf of political detainees.

Mindanao Observer gained the respect of many Filipinos, but it did not endear Amatong to the regime. He went further by taking up human rights cases and becoming an outspoken member of the Western Mindanao Alliance of Sectoral Organizations-Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD).

On September 20, 1984, eve of the anniversary of the imposition of martial law, Amatong again defied the authorities and spoke at a rally denouncing the military abuses.

That week, Amatong and his friend Zorro Aguilar, also a human rights lawyer, had been preparing to join a mission to document reports of military abuses in the province and to exhume the bodies of two individuals who had been summarily executed three months earlier in Tampilisan town.

The night before they planned to depart with the fact-finding mission, Amatong and Aguilar were walking along a city street when two men came up and shot them at close range. Aguilar died on the spot, while Amatong was brought to a nearby hospital by someone who recognized him. Asked three times if he recognized the attackers, each time Amatong replied:"…Army..." He died in the hospital eight hours later.

Two soldiers were identified as the killers by a key witness, the driver of the getaway vehicle; the latter was himself killed by unidentified men a year later.

Family and friends demanded justice from the government but no hearings were ever conducted on the two killings. Few doubted that the order to kill came from martial law authorities.

Some 10,000 people came to attend the funerals held for the two lawyers, a sight never before seen in Dipolog.

ALVAREZ, Emmanuel I.

ALVAREZ, Emmanuel I.

He knew a lot about revolutions.

His great-grandfather was Katipunan General Pascual Alvarez of the 1896 revolution. Emmanuel himself grew up in Cavite, a province steeped in Philippine history. Thus it is not surprising that he took up the call for revolutionary change in the Philippines, and gave his life to the cause.

Emmanuel was a consistent honor student, graduating at the top of his class in elementary and high school. In 1969, he enrolled at the College of Public Administration at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, at that time already boiling with activist energy. Joining the UP chapter of the militant youth organization, the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) he was active in public discussions of pressing national issues, and helped organize KM chapters in nearby communities.

His political involvement grew deeper after his election to the KM National Council. In 1971 he became acting KM vice chair, and national chair shortly before martial law was declared in 1972. The militant youth organization was declared illegal, but continued to operate clandestinely under Alvarez' leadership.

Well-known for his sober views and soft-spoken ways, Alvarez’s low profile served him well after he joined the underground resistance; his friends say that was why he was able to elude arrest for several years.

From the underground, he explained to his parents in 1975 that “we must recognize the need to act in order to solve our own problems…we cannot rely on others, much less the regime,” saying further:

“Ang tanging ambag ko na maibibigay sa bayan ay ang aking buong kakayahan na makatulong sa pagbibigay ng direksyon at pamumuno sa mamamayan sa paglutas ng kasalukuyang problema.” (All I can offer the country is my absolute readiness to help in giving direction and leadership to the people in solving our present problems.)

On January 6, 1976 he left the family home in Cavite City, took a bus, and was never seen again. It is said that he was picked up by two men in civilian clothes. The family suspected military involvement in his disappearance.

“Kung ako’y mahuhuli o mapapatay ng kaaway, huwag kayong lubhang mangamba o malungkot.Nakahanda akong harapin ang ganitong kalagayan. Alam naman natin na ang pagbabago ng lipunan ay hindi isang laro, katuwaan o sine. Ito’y tiyak na may kalakip na sakripisyo gaya ng katiyakan din ng tagumpay nito.” (If I am arrested or killed by the enemy, do not fear or grieve too much. I am ready for it. Indeed we realize that social change is no game, whim or entertainment. It surely requires sacrifice from us, but just as surely is its victory assured.)

Emmanuel Alvarez was 27 when he disappeared. His short life did not go to waste.

Earth Rullan: Bantayog Is Where Martial Law Heroes Are Honored

"I used to live in Quezon City and I have been passing by these major places. I've always wondered what they were but my curiosity never led me to actually going there."

Read the rest here.

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