Tribute to Jovito R. Salonga on His 97th Birthday

Today is the 97th birthday of our esteemed senator and beloved former Chairman Emeritus of Bantayog, Jovito R. Salonga. May his words continue to guide us in these challenging times. Maligayang kaarawan, Ka Jovy!

Come to Pintang Laya 2017 Art Sale This July 1

Come to the Pintang Laya Art Sale 2017, our first-ever art sale/auction to be held on Saturday, 1 July 2017, 4-7 p.m., at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani conference room.

Art Sale Pintang Laya 2017

The sale/auction will feature works by, among others, our own Bantayog trustee Edicio dela Torre, watercolorist Marge Lim, and Celeste Lecaroz, who contributed a dramatic painting of our hero Ed Jopson. Several young and talented artists are also on board, including Alex Paredes, granddaughter of our hero Ester Jimenez. Some of their works are shown here.

Fund raising art sale

Funds raised from the sale will support our foundation’s advocacy projects, including school exhibits and a school tour for a set of one-act plays titled Never Again: Voices of Martial Law. This production connects strongly with our millenial youth. We have found it a powerful tool for raising awareness about the truths of the martial law regime that ushered in the 14-year Marcos dictatorship. We believe that recalling the lessons from that dark period in our history, evoked so effectively in *Never Again, has become even more urgent today.

Please support this art sale by promoting it with your friends. The works on sale are exhibited below:

To confirm your attendance at the July 1, 2017 art sale and auction, contact Bantayog ( / 434-8343 / Marj.) Cocktails will be served.


*Never Again was first shown in 2016 and is set to be shown again in September at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Last year it was hailed by the website as one of 2016’s “25 best arts and culture moments. “Indigo Child,” one of the plays in the production was also named in a Philippine Daily Inquirer review as the “best one-act play” for 2016 and has since been made into a short film by producer-director Ellen Ongkeko Marfil.

Millennials Surprised

Watch the video and see how these millennials were surprised about the stories of Martial Law.

The Task of Building a Better Nation

We are for democracy, with all its risks. We are against any form of dictatorship or totalitarianism, whatever the justification and by whatever name or model.

From "The Task of Building A Better Nation" by Jovito R. Salonga. The book is available for reading at the Bantayog Library.

Chel Diokno: Human Rights Is Not the Problem, It Is the Solution.

Attorney Jose Manuel Diokno takes a stand on behalf of thousands dead, and aims to help survivors through this recurrence of dark nights.

This article was written by by Alcade Mal and with photos by Carlo Gabuco. First published in the May 2017 issue of Rogue with original title SONA2017: Chel Diokno’s War on the War on Drugs

In the age of Duterte, it is the obvious question no one wants to have to ask. What does one do if he finds out his name is on the local drug list?

The creation and maintenance of these lists has color of legal authority, through PNP Circular 16-2016, promulgated just one day after Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency on June 30, 2016. Yet there is no built-in mechanism for one who may have been wrongly accused to challenge his inclusion in the list. Surrender, as a means of clearing one’s name or even of one’s conscience, has become the instinctive response of many who find themselves tagged, but not charged, through any formal legal mechanism as a criminal suspect.

And yet, many of those who have surrendered, who have sworn oaths to never, ever become involved in the illegal drug trade, still end up dead. Albert Sidayon of Pasig City; Bryan Agsalda of Jones, Isabela; Rogelio Salamate Jr. of Las Piñas City; Annabel de la Cruz of Mandaluyong City; Arman de la Paz of Marikina. All previous surrenderees, all since gunned down.

The definitions of extra-judicial killings equivocate. The numbers vary, but certainly rank in the thousands, more than the 3,240 documented murders during the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Thousands of families grieve for their dead, and for their thousands more left orphaned by the drug war. Some of them will choose to grieve in silence. Others will want to fight back, to seek the justice that is very much the entitlement not just of the victims of drugs, but also the victims of the drug war. Yet in a culture where the accuser is also the official investigator, as well as the suspected executioner, the integrity of the authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of extra-judicial killings is compromised. How then can one who is aggrieved obtain justice under these circumstances?

These are questions that bedevil even the most committed human rights lawyers such as Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, the president of the Free Legal Assistance Group and dean of the De La Salle University College of Law. While lawyers are obliged to support the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, their clients also expect them to offer concrete and helpful solutions to their cases. Further harm to the families of EJK victims does not help. “It’s a very difficult situation for a lawyer at this time,” Diokno says. He does not blame the people for being afraid. “It is very clear the government has sent the message that if you speak out, your name might be on the list the next time.”

“As a lawyer,” Diokno says, “I would explain to clients what their legal remedies are, and I would encourage them to pursue those remedies. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to encourage them to file a case, because I don’t want it to be on my conscience that they would be subject to extra-judicial killing or similar kinds of activities. So it’s very hard for us at this point to pursue legal remedies.”

Diokno clarifies that the legal strategy for now, though, is not one of abject surrender. In fact, there have already been victories before the courts in those instances where the families of victims have decided to fight. Efren Morillo, the lone survivor of a police raid in Payatas, and Cristina Gonzales, widow of a drug suspect killed in Antipolo, were both able to obtain from the Supreme Court writs of amparo—protection orders that prevent law enforcement from approaching within one kilometer from their homes or work places. These protection orders, Diokno says, are apparently respected by the government, for now.

Even in those cases where victims or their families have been more apprehensive in fighting back right now, Diokno offers a remedial effort that may bear fruit in the long run. “One of the things that FLAG has been doing, what we’re after at this point, is documenting cases. We have developed a template for all victims of the war on drugs and EJKs and similar human rights violations to make sure at this point that when the day comes that cases can be filed, that we have the evidence required to pursue these cases.” The quest for precise documentation is the exact opposite of the scarlet listings being employed by law enforcement. “It’s very easy to make allegations of human rights violations, but for us to gain a lot of headway in terms of vindication of human rights, we have to make sure that they are properly supported by the facts. Right now, it’s really a fight for the truth. You have a lot of people pushing for a reality that isn’t really real, and we want to make sure that if called upon, we want to make sure what really happened...We hope that the time will come when people will feel that it is time that they vindicate these rights.”

Law students, the Commission on Human Rights, and other human rights organizations are being trained by FLAG to properly document these emerging cases of extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations. The afflicted are encouraged to reach out to these organizations, or even to their own religious organizations, which Diokno observes, have become “really more and more open to helping those who have been victimized by these kinds of cases.” This is an approach geared towards the bigger picture.  “The template we have developed, we think, is compliant even with international standards, so that if people from the United Nations and other international organizations look at the documentation, they would be satisfied that it is sufficient.”


“..Even human rights lawyers were branded as Communists at that time. Nowadays, the branding is different. If you are a criminal, drug addict, drug pusher, then you are not human and you don’t deserve human rights.”

Diokno, now 56, has been practicing law since 1988. He counts among his clients such personalities as ZTE whistle-blower Jun Lozada and Senator Leila de Lima. But perhaps the identities of those whom he has sought to prosecute as a private prosecutor is more telling. Then chief of Task Force Habagat of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission Panfilo Lacson and 33 police officers involved in the alleged rubout of 11 suspected members of the Kuratong Baleleng robbery group. General Jovito Palparan and several military and para-military personnel, for their alleged involvement in the torture of suspected New People’s Army members, brothers Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo. It is no surprise that Diokno has been popularly identified as a human rights lawyer.

(A young Chel Diokno with his father. Image courtesy of Jose Manuel Diokno.)

Jose W. Diokno, Chel’s father, was the first ever chairperson of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights (the predecessor agency of the Commission on Human Rights). Just one month before his death in February 1987, an ailing Diokno resigned as chair to protest the killing of 15 unarmed farmers gunned down while protesting at Mendiola Bridge. Three decades earlier, the elder Diokno was fired as Secretary of Justice after he had insisted on the investigation of powerful American businessman Harry Stonehill, who was believed to have wielded undue influence over numerous Manila politicians of all stripes. And as a senator, Diokno resigned from the Nacionalista Party to protest the emerging authoritarian tendencies of his party-mate, President Ferdinand Marcos.

“One thing I would say about my dad,” the younger Diokno says, “he really had a lot of guts and a lot of balls. He didn’t hesitate to speak out when he felt that something was wrong. So even when most people were afraid to say anything, he was one of the few who had the courage to speak out.”

Senator Diokno was among the first imprisoned upon the declaration of martial law in 1972. He was detained for two years without ever being charged before any tribunal, or without even being told why he was jailed. After his release in 1974, Diokno founded FLAG, which took on cases of political prisoners whose rights were violated by the martial law dictatorship. Despite having been freed from detention, Senator Diokno was still required to report to the military the list of people who would consult him as a lawyer.

Chel Diokno sees many similarities between the pattern of oppression during martial law and the situation today. The primary difference lies in the branding. “During martial law, if you were branded as a Communist, if the government said you didn’t have any rights, you were not a human being, and therefore, you can be killed. Even human rights lawyers were branded as Communists at that time. Nowadays, the branding is different. If you are a criminal, drug addict, drug pusher, then you are not human and you don’t deserve human rights.”

Diokno is fearful that with the current pervasive attitude towards drugs being fostered by the government, anyone who is branded as being affiliated with drugs would be highly prejudiced by the justice system, even if innocent. A similar atmosphere pervaded during martial law. He explains, “At certain points during martial law, there were no civilian courts, there were only military courts and even civilians, prominent people opposing the government who were tried and convicted by military courts. Ninoy Aquino, convicted by military courts whose Commander-In-Chief was none other than the President. You could not really expect justice during that time.”

The deterioration of the administration of justice during martial law, Diokno feels, has helped enable the current drug war. The public’s trust in the fairness of our judges is indispensable to respect for the rule of law. That fairness was directly attacked at the start of martial law. “One week after martial law was declared in 1972, Marcos issued a letter of instruction, where he said that from now on, all judges must submit their courtesy resignations that he could accept at any time. A year after that, in 1973, the transitory provisions of the new Constitution provided that judges will remain in office until such time that they are removed by the President. What that means is that from 1972 to 1986, the dictatorship really owned every judge in the country. And that affected our legal system fundamentally. Lawyers realized that if they wanted to win their cases, if they wanted to get clients and make money, they would have to be close to the regime.”

That legal network that operates to fix cases, according to Diokno, remains today. “I tell my law students at DLSU that there are two kinds of lawyers in the country today: lawyers who respect the rule of law and respect justice and the merits of the case, and lawyers who just respect one thing, and that’s money. The unfortunate thing—many of our corporate clients, for example, would rather go to those lawyers of that type rather than those who respect the merits of the case. And that has resulted in a justice system that doesn’t really care much for accountability or transparency.”


Rodrigo Duterte is the first Filipino lawyer elected to the presidency since Ferdinand Marcos. Duterte is also the first prosecutor elected to the presidency. Diokno accredits the President with particular understanding of the problems of the justice system he inherited. “The President is a lawyer, he was a prosecutor, he knows the problems of our justice system. He knows why it’s so hard to hold criminals and corrupt people accountable… As a long-time prosecutor, he saw firsthand how the legal system worked, and I think that was one of the reasons why he got fed up with it. That’s why he’s been advocating these issues on war on drugs; forget about the proper procedure, just get the results that the country needs. For a short-term solution that may work, but for the long term, I really fear that will destroy the legal system that he is trying to preserve and lead to a system where power will be the determinative factor and the merits of a case or the justice of a case will not really matter anymore.”

(Noemi San Agustin holds her son close as police carry out a drug raid in Pasig City.)

Diokno is suspicious about the sincerity of the President in terms of the war on drugs, given the latter’s repeated assertion that there are 3.8 million drug addicts in the country when the Dangerous Drugs Board’s own figures cite only 1.7 million (including those experimenters who tried drugs only once in their lives). Diokno is concerned that the drug problem could be used as an excuse for a more authoritarian form of government. “When you condone shortcuts in the law, when you condone EJK and other sorts of shortcuts, ultimately it’s not just the victims of those shortcuts who will suffer, but it’s the legal system itself. My question really is, if the legal system becomes meaningless to the people, what kind of government will be capable of maintaining order in the country? And I fear that the only kind of government that will be capable of maintaining order when the legal system is meaningless is an authoritarian form.”

Diokno insists that there is another path to law and order without sacrificing human rights, one that directly targets the weak legal system in the Philippines that the dean feels the President is frustrated with.

“The reason why crime and corruption are so rampant in our country has nothing to do with human rights and everything to do with our weak legal system. I think he knows that. If he were only to put all his will and the support of the people to strengthen the legal system, he could really have a country that would be the best in Asia. What do I mean by that? Why do criminal syndicates get away with it? Why do corrupt officials get away with what they’re doing? It’s because we can’t put them in jail. Why can’t we put them in jail? Number one, because our police cannot gather the evidence to put them in jail. Number two, because the prosecutors cannot convict them. Number three, because our judges are afraid to make sure they are put in jail. Number four, because Congress hasn’t given the judiciary the budgetary support to have a strong legal system. If he were to do that, we could develop our country into the best in Asia. I do wish he would do that rather than encouraging the police and others to take the law into their own hands.”

Instead of addressing these systemic problems, Diokno decries, officials of the current administration have been openly dehumanizing those suspected or accused of crimes. “The Department of Justice Secretary himself has said that criminals are not human, therefore, they don’t deserve human rights, and I think that’s a big obstacle to accountability. They keep on saying that human rights is the problem when I think that human rights is the solution. If you want a society where people are held accountable, let’s do it, let’s get the evidence, put them in jail and let them rot there. But encouraging the people to take the law into their own hands… do we really want the man with the gun to decide who is a criminal? Do we want the man with the gun to say you deserve to die, therefore I’ll kill you? That’s why we have courts, that’s why we have judges. They are the ones who are supposed to decide that. By encouraging the people with guns to do that, it’s really going to destroy the legal system entirely.”


Diokno is likewise in the frontlines in the efforts against the reimposition of the death penalty—a priority measure of the Duterte administration. The House of Representatives has already voted to return the death penalty. Diokno has previously cited the findings made by the Supreme Court in the 2004 case of People v. Mateo, that 71.77 percent of death sentences previously reviewed by the Supreme Court had been revoked either through acquittal or modification. Another indictment of the Philippine justice system. The poor are especially vulnerable to the death penalty, Diokno has said, “because they have no voice, no money, no power, and lack the resources to hire good lawyers.”

Diokno believes that if the death penalty once again becomes part of the law of the land, the Supreme Court has no legal option but to thwart the restoration. The Philippine government, he explains, had already ratified the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, an international instrument that under the Philippine Constitution, forms part of the law of the land. That treaty obligation requires that we not reimpose the death penalty. That is a treaty obligation that we cannot turn our backs on. The Supreme Court would respect those international instruments, and they would have no choice but to respect them.

As Senator Diokno once wrote, the words katarungan and karapatan precede colonization. The root of katarungan is tarong, meaning “straight, upright, appropriate or correct” while karapatan’s root is dapat—or fitting or correct.

But the President has had the propensity for denigrating the international order, even going so far as to threaten withdrawal from the United Nations. If he went as far as to withdraw from the ICCPR, Diokno explains, “that is a prospective withdrawal, he cannot do that retroactively. Our treaty obligations will still remain obligations even if he does that.”

Diokno remains hopeful that international pressure can compel the current administration to improve the human rights record of the Philippines, despite its own compulsions. He advises international observers critical of the human rights situation not to be daunted by adverse reactions from Malacañang. “I think it is a good sign in the sense that our government will have to realize it is part of the community of nations and it will have to comply with at least basic obligations of every country that is part of the United Nations.

“Whether we like it or not, the Philippines is part of the international community. The President may disclaim it, but I think he realizes that no matter what he does, the Philippines is part of the IC. The bottom line will no longer be issues of human rights, but issues of trade. With our commitments to the EU and to other countries, many of those commitments are tied to our human rights record. He cannot just suddenly say, ‘I don’t care about the human rights record,’ as we could lose all of those trade commitments if that happens.”

Diokno pushes back against the claim that human rights are a Western construct. “Filipinos understand that human rights are basic even to us. Even before we were colonized by Spain, by the United State, we respected human rights. Even our own language recognizes that. When you talk about our language of what is just, and what is right, very basic in our language is a sense of fairness, and that sense of fairness is the core of human rights.” As Senator Diokno once wrote, the words katarungan and karapatan precede colonization. The root of katarungan is tarong, meaning “straight, upright, appropriate or correct” while karapatan’s root is dapat—or fitting or correct.  The Filipino people have inherently understood the intimate relation between what is just, what is right, and what are rights.

(Image courtesy of Jose Manuel Diokno)

This myth that human rights is only a Western concept, I don’t think that people will accept it. You cannot discriminate, that any person no matter what he does in his life, deserves some basic recognition of human rights. 

Browse the article at Rogue PH

It Is the Lord

It Is The Lord is a book by Sr. Maria Dulce Emmanuel F. Inlayo, OCD about Bishop Labayen.

Bishop Julio Labayen (1926-2016) lived a life fully surrendered to his Source, promoting the Church of the Poor most of his life. There was a time in his life that he faced tremendous challenges being accused a Communist as he was shunned by some of the individuals in the religious community. But he carried on as he has vowed to work for God's people. He had his feet buried in the mud with the farmers, sunk his feet in the waters with the fisherfolk, and ate with the poor. Until his last days, he offered his life according to the purpose of the God he served.


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.


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.


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.)

Stories & Testimonials

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

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