bantayog.foundation

bantayog.foundation

LAGARTEJA, Elmer Lis



Pope John Paul II came to visit the Philippines in February 1981. With world media focused on the country, Ferdinand Marcos declared in January that he had lifted martial law and partially restored the writ of habeas corpus. He was seeking to justify his one-man rule. Nine years since he launched his dictatorship and promised a New Society, the country was instead mired deep in debt, deficit, and price increases. It was fighting a war against Muslims in the South that had claimed thousands of lives, both civilian and combatant, with no end in sight. Except for the Marcos cronies, most Filipinos found themselves in even a worse condition than before. The mood for protest was becoming increasingly bold in many parts of the country.

Marcos needed a fresh mandate. He called for presidential elections in June 1981.

But the announcement was met with national cynicism, for how could fair, free and credible elections be expected with soldiers terrorizing the population? A call to boycott the elections spread. It started with protest forums, small-town rallies, open manifestos, and painted wall slogans. By April, bigger demonstrations were being held, attracting many first-time protesters. By May 1st, Labor Day, not only labor workers filled the ranks of demonstrations, but a wide section that included bank employees, teachers, lawyers, priests and nuns and even traditional politicians. On June 12, Independence Day, a record number of protest rallies were held in 31 cities and towns, a coordinated movement not seen since Marcos declared martial law in 1972.

Nevertheless the elections pushed. Election day cheating and coercion were widespread as expected. Marcos “won” over his unknown opponent Alejo Santos, and he called his victory a fresh mandate from the people.

Then US President Ronald Reagan declared himself “pleased” with the election results and said the US government saw the Marcos regime in the “warmest terms possible.” US Secretary of State Alexander Haig and then US Vice-President George Bush came to the Philippines to show support. Bush attended the inauguration and later gave a speech in Malacañang, making the incredible and unforgettable statement, “We love your adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic process.” He also promised, “(We) will not leave you in isolation.”

Still, the boycott campaign was a success, with 60 percent of all qualified voters in Metro Manila staying away from the precincts. More importantly, it became obvious that the Marcos regime would not give up power voluntarily. Marcos had to be forced out. Filipinos were becoming convinced that the insanity had to be stopped, but it would go on until ordinary folks united in action. Thus each repressive act ignited another round of protests from local citizens.

The historic events of 1981 provided the fertile ground on which, five years later in 1986, at EDSA, the people would indeed drive Marcos out of Malacañang.

Protest movement in Bicol

In the months preceding the presidential elections, the southern Tagalog region had exploded with the red hues of protest. In February, farmers were in another protest march in Guinyangan town in Quezon when soldiers shot at the marchers and killed two protesters.

The 1981 boycott campaign thus reverberated across the Bicol region. It was coordinated by the Kilusang Mamamayan para sa Tunay na Demokrasya, or KMTD. On the eve of election day, KMTD organized rallies to be held in four population centers of Bicol: Daet in Camarines Norte, Sipocot in Camarines Sur, in Iriga City, and in Daraga in Albay. All except the rally in Daet pushed through. The Daet rally was cancelled on the hour it was supposed to start.

Daet Rally

The morning of June 14, 1981, a Sunday, was bright and sunny. Thousands of protesters, mostly rural folk, were coming to Daet from various directions and expected to merge at the town’s Freedom Park beside the Catholic Cathedral, where there would be speeches and protest declarations. Some groups started the night before to escape detection by the authorities. They passed through little-known trails and used bright stones and white rice grains to light their way. Some did not converge immediately but waited until it was the right time for coming together.

But at Daet’s Freedom Park, thousands of protesters and protest leaders were already waiting with placards and streamers that said “Down with the Marcos dictatorship!,” “Raise the prices of copra!” and “Dismantle Cocofed.”

In Barangay Matnog in Basud town, most residents were joining the rally. They left their homes past dawn to begin their trek early. They had prepared their meals the night before. Rallyists remember they packed simple lunchesbut were told not to bring spoon or fork, because fork might be construed as a weapon.

They marched north to Daet, taking the secondary roads to bypass military checkpoints. Other marchers from other towns joined in at the junctions. Over 300 marchers from Mercedes town turned up. They reported that some 1,500 started the march but the rest were stopped by the military. Another 500 marchers from Talisay were also intercepted by soldiers. Despite this the marchers to Daet had grown to some 3,000 to 4,000 men, women and children, sweaty and eager to join the bigger crowd waiting at the park.

Barely a kilometer away from their final destination, at the crossing called Camambugan, they were stopped by some 35 soldiers of the 242nd company of the Philippine Constabulary, commanded by a Capt. Joseph Malilay. The marchers were told to stop, disperse and return to their villages. But Freedom Park was now so near, the group would not disperse. The impasse lasted for half an hour while the marchers debated their decision. Then firm in their determination, the marchers decided to move forward, with the frontliners’ arms held tight to each other. There was pushing and shoving between the two forces, and then the order to fire was given, with Capt. Malilay himself among those firing at close range.The PC commander of the province, a Col. Nicasio Custodio, was also present at the incident.

The firing lasted less than a minute. But in that half-instant, four men were killed and more than were forty wounded. The crowd dispersed. Soldiers pursued the protesters and those they got they had them line up along the side of a road with their hands on their heads, threatening to shoot them all.

At this point a group led by KMTD leader Grace Vinzons-Magana arrived and confronted the soldiers. Magana was quoted as telling the soldiers: “Why did you do this? Those people were unarmed and could not defend themselves! You should have given them firearms (to even up the fight)!” She also demanded they bring the wounded to hospitals. The soldiers then loaded all dead and wounded on trucks. Mrs. Magana stayed until this was completed. Later she visited the wounded in the various hospitals and clinics.

No photographs survived what was later termed Daet’s Black Sunday. No journalist was present and everyone else was intent on the business at hand. FLAG chair Jose Diokno came the day after the massacre, and was himself detained a few hours in the military camp. There were unconfirmed reports that two more protesters died from their wounds weeks later (Rosita Arcega, 30, and Ernesto Encinas, 25).

Three weeks after the shooting, Magana, a radio station owner and coordinator of KMTD for Camarines Norte*, and KMTD chair Antonio Carpio**, a lawyer, were themselves put under arrest, on orders reportedly signed by Marcos. Carpio was picked up by the notorious Capt. Malilay himself. Malilay was also seen terrorizing the wounded confined in hospitals.

The dictatorship-controlled mass media reported the shooting as an encounter between rebels and government troopers. A team of military lawyers, sent to investigate the incident, promised action in due time. Magana and Carpio were released on bail later. (However, a Malaya report four years after the incident stated that Malilay and Custodio remained free and even enjoyed promotions.)

In its own report, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) made the following observations of the incident: (a) all the wounded and killed were standing at the front of the march; (b) all the four killed were from direct shots, not ricocheting bullets, and that their wounds and those of the wounded came from the direction where the soldiers stood; and (c) no weapons were found on the marchers. It was obviously a one-sided affair, the TFDP said.

In a statement, the KMTD said it denounced the use of soldiers to “stop and disperse Filipino citizens peacefully exercising their constitutional right to assemble and petition for redress of grievances in an orderly manner,” the “callous disregard for human life demonstrated by the Camarines Norte PC in resorting to guns to stop our citizens’ march,” and condemned as criminal act of the higher military authorities (the) covering up of the wanton slaughter of defenseless, innocent citizens of this Republic.”

The violent dispersal of the peaceful rally added to the growing national outrage against the dictatorship.

The four killed at the rally were all ordinary people, leading mostly uneventful lives. But they heard the call of citizenship at a time when it was most needed. In doing so, they gave their lives so that justice and democracy may be enjoyed again in this country. Because they were ordinary folk and lived in faraway villages, their names would not be remembered if the country that owes them their freedom would not put their names on the record.

By adding their names to its list, Bantayog shows the Filipino youth that life given for the heroic cause of justice and freedom, is worthy of emulation and edification.

The four martyrs of Daet are Elmer Lis Lagarteja, Jose Esteban Alcantara, Benjamin Buena Suyat, and Rogelio Salayon Guevarra.

ELMER LIS LAGARTEJA

Elmer Lagarteja was born in Basud, Camarines Norte. His father was a farmer renting a piece of land from a landowner, and his mother a dressmaker and hairstylist. Elmer earned a few units at a local college in Daet. He left the college when his parents separated, and found work at a clothes factory in Angono, Rizal, to help his mother rear his four younger siblings.

Tall and lanky, family and barriomates describe Elmer as a happy person, usually clowning around, providing laughter in gatherings. He was back home for a short visit when he heard news about the rally. Most of his barriomates were joining, including his father and younger brother. He himself supported their causes and wanted to give support, and so he marched in high spirits that fateful morning.

Elmer was shot in the head, chest and left arm. He was 21 years old.

JOSE ESTEBAN ALCANTARA

Jose Alcantara was a few days shy of his 40th birthday when he was killed. The son of tenant farmers, he worked hard in doing odd jobs as a young boy in Payo, Catanduanes, where he was born. In search for greener pastures, the Alcantaras moved to Naga where Jose found work in a bakery, married a coworker, and moved to Daet.

In Daet, Jose rented farmland and provided for his growing family by growing rice and and vegetables for the family table and selling his coconut crop. Friends remember Jose as someone hardworking, and one who related well with his neighbors.

Life was simple in Barangay Matnog where Jose and his family settled, but the presence of soldiers terrorizing them was becoming a burden. He yearned for peace and freedom from military presence. Jose was all for joining the rally, although his wife feared for his safety. Jose said this was a chance to tell the government in Manila how he and others in the village felt. Jose was in the frontlines of the delegation from Matnog when the marchers met the soldiers in Camambugan, and thus provided an immediate target. He left behind a wife and five children.

BENJAMEN BUENA SUYAT

Benjamen Suyat, 47, was born in Tabaco, Albay but he and his siblings grew up in Matnog. Seeking sanctuary from the Japanese during its occupation of the Philippines in the 1940s, the Suyat couple relocated to mountainous Camarines Norte. Benjamen became a tenant farmer, and his wife Margarita sold farm produce in the local market. The couple had ten children.

With a big family to provide for, Benjamen was up and out to the farm very early in the morning but always made it a point to gather all his children late in the afternoon to ask about their day. He was kind but a bit strict with the children’s discipline. He was ever ready to dispense advice to them as well as to friends. The couple persevered to put all their children to school. One was in college and the rest in high school and elementary when Benjamen was killed.

Benjamen joined the rally with no trepidation. His children were looking forward to their daily afternoon talk with him. Instead they were told he had been killed in the rally. Later his family managed to retrieve his bullet-riddled body at the morgue.

ROGELIO SALAYON GUEVARRA

Born and raised in Daet, Rogelio Guevarra, 45, worked at several jobs in Manila during his bachelor days. He was sales clerk at an appliance store and then tailor at a shop in Sampaloc, Manila, where his father also worked. During visits to the province, he met Juana Abad, wooed and married her, and the two settled in Matnog, to farm on Juana’s father’s land. The couple had five children.

Rogelio engaged in copra production and was thus heavily affected when the price of copra dipped during the late 1970s and into the 1980s. An avid newspaper reader, he kept abreast of current events and was particularly angered by news of the political maneuverings of crony capitalists. He joined the rally to air his grievances against government’s wrongdoings and what he felt was an oppressive coconut levy.

Rogelio was a leader in the barangay, being once a barangay secretary. At the march to Daet, he was in the frontlines and thus was prime target for the soldiers’ bullets. His fatal wound was in the neck but witnesses say soldiers clubbed him on the head even as he fell.

He joined because he “wanted to say his piece,” his daughter says. “To this day I see in my mind my father holding a cup of coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other, and telling us his children of the urgent need for changes in government. ‘Kapit-bisig ngani, we must do it,’ were his words.”

*The late Grace Vinzons-Magana was the granddaughter of wartime hero Wenceslao Vinzons of Camarines Norte. The family operated a radio station in Daet.

**The late Jesus Antonio Carpio was a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) and was in the forefront of the anti-dictatorship movement in the Bicol region. After the dictatorship was dismantled and the Cory Aquino government took over, he accepted the post of director of the National Bureau of Investigation.

Museum

(from Rappler's This place in Metro Manila takes you on a gripping Martial Law tour)

At first glance, the place appears to be a park, with rows of bodhi trees providing generous shade even under the hottest noonday sun. To the right of the trees is a wide carpet of grass that looks perfect for weekend picnics. It is a welcome green space at Quezon Avenue, especially near the corner of an often traffic-choked EDSA.

A PARK WITH TREES? Bodhi trees with spreading branches give shade to all the visitors here. To their right is a grassy expanse. All photos by Rhea Claire Madarang

A PARK WITH TREES? Bodhi trees with spreading branches give shade to all the visitors here. To their right is a grassy expanse. All photos by Rhea Claire Madarang


There are signs that this is no ordinary park, though: near the entrance stands a 14-meter-tall monument of a woman stretching her left hand up to the sky and her right hand holding a fallen man.

On a tarp amid the tree branches runs the words “Never Again, Never Forget.” And, at the end of the grassy expanse in the interior grounds is a long granite wall bearing hundreds of names.

The place is Bantayog ng mga Bayani, or Monument to the Heroes, a memorial to the heroes and martyrs who rose up during then-President Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, especially during Martial Law.

The 14-meter monument out front is called “Inang Bayan” (Mother Philippines). The woman symbolizes the Motherland reaching out to the sky for freedom, while the fallen man symbolizes self-sacrifice, alluding to heroism and martyrhood.

INANG BAYAN. The landmark monument symbolizing freedom and sacrifice at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani

INANG BAYAN. The landmark monument symbolizing freedom and sacrifice at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani


The words on the tarp among the trees are a protest against Martial Law being declared ever again in the country.

PROTEST. These words are visible among the trees as you walk deeper into Bantayog's compound.

PROTEST. These words are visible among the trees as you walk deeper into Bantayog's compound.


As you walk under the bodhi trees, turn right to the grassy expanse and at the end you will find the “Wall of Remembrance,” inscribed with the over 200 names of the heroes and martyrs “who offered their lives for freedom, justice, and truth” as written on the wall. A few or some of them might be familiar: Aquino, Benigno Jr. Diokno, Jose. Hilao, Liliosa. Dulag, Macliing. Over half of the names on this wall are from the youth.

WALL OF REMEMBRANCE. At the end of a grassy expanse is a granite wall bearing the names of Marcos era heroes and martyrs.

WALL OF REMEMBRANCE. At the end of a grassy expanse is a granite wall bearing the names of Marcos era heroes and martyrs.



HEROES' AND MARTYRS' NAMES. Some of the names up close. Occasionally you may find flowers offered in the heroes' and martyrs' memory.

HEROES' AND MARTYRS' NAMES. Some of the names up close. Occasionally you may find flowers offered in the heroes' and martyrs' memory.



PEACE AND JUSTICE. One of the trees near the Wall of Remembrance has stone tablets with the words of what the heroes and martyrs fought for.

PEACE AND JUSTICE. One of the trees near the Wall of Remembrance has stone tablets with the words of what the heroes and martyrs fought for.


And, if you are not familiar with them, you will be later on, as you enter the Bantayog’s main building with Martial Law exhibits and memorabilia, and, if you go an a one-and-a-half-hour guided tour of the Bantayog grounds and museum. The names on the wall represent people from different sectors: students and youth, teachers, artists, journalists, laborers, farmers, indigenous people, church workers, politicians, businessmen and women.

When you enter the main building, the Jovito Salonga building, named after the lawyer, senator and opposition leader during Marcos’ dictatorship, your eye may naturally be drawn to your left. This is where life-sized wooden sculptures of bodies pierced with nails and paintings depicting different social realities during Marcos’ time can be found.

The wooden sculpture, titled “Utang na Labas,” shows how “pako sa utang” (nailed by debts) the Filipinos are due to the debt incurred by the country during Marcos’ rule, according to a Bantayog tour guide. Filipino taxpayers will continue paying up to year 2025.

NAILED BY DEBTS. A Bantayog tour guide points out the wooden sculpture representing Filipinos nailed by debts incurred during the Marcos regime.

NAILED BY DEBTS. A Bantayog tour guide points out the wooden sculpture representing Filipinos nailed by debts incurred during the Marcos regime.


PROTEST MURAL. On the way up to the second floor is a mural on the protest actions by students, workers and other sectors.

PROTEST MURAL. On the way up to the second floor is a mural on the protest actions by students, workers and other sectors.


On the second floor is the “Hall of Remembrance.” Here you will find the stories of the heroes and martyrs listed at the “Wall of Remembrance” outside. They are grouped according to the sector they belong to – students, church workers, indigenous peoples, among others. There are also photos and memorabilia of some of them.

ALL SECTORS. The heroes'€™ and martyrs'€™ stories at the Hall of Remembrance are grouped according to sectors. This one is among the religious, as pointed out by the tour guide.

ALL SECTORS. The heroes' and martyrs' stories at the Hall of Remembrance are grouped according to sectors. This one is among the religious, as pointed out by the tour guide.


Liliosa Hilao, who was the first to die under detention during Martial Law, is arguably among the most unforgettable names at the Hall of Remembrance. Hilao wrote articles critical of the Marcos regime for her school paper at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She was arrested, tortured, and even possibly sexually abused.

LILIOSA HILAO. Her photos can be found at the Bantayog'€™s Hall of Remembrance. She was tortured and abused after she wrote articles critical of the Marcos regime.

LILIOSA HILAO. Her photos can be found at the Bantayog's Hall of Remembrance. She was tortured and abused after she wrote articles critical of the Marcos regime.


In an academic paper by historian Michael Charleston Chua, he writes how Hilao was tortured. While the military claimed Hilao had committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid, her body bore marks of torture, and her mouth an ashtray of cigarette wounds. Her mother recounted the brutal treatment of Hilao’s body: her head was cut, and her lower body up to her vagina was sawed up. Her brain and her stomach were taken out and torn to pieces, placed in a pail with muriatic acid, and were later brought to her wake.

Library

The Bantayog Library is housed at the Bantayog Memorial Center (BMC) – Sen. Jovito R. Salonga Building in Diliman, Quezon City. It serves as a repository of materials on the Philippine experience during the Martial Law period.

The library holds over 2,000 titles on Philippine history, politics, economics and other social sciences, rare materials published during the Martial Law period (in print and non-print format), and an extensive collection of posters, illustrations, and other graphic materials.

The library continues to solicit donations of books and reference materials on human rights, justice and democracy.

Our History

The Bantayog Library started out in June 2008. With the help of volunteers of BMC, it opened its doors to the public on February 24, 2009. The library began with donations of materials from several individuals and families, and its collection has grown considerably in its past few years of operation.

Our Mission

We aim to build collections for the study of the Martial Law period, the circumstances that produced the dictatorship, and the people's responses to the repressive regime. The library shall provide the public access to the collections and other sources of information. It is our goal to continue networking with other libraries and institutions for the growth and development of the collections. We shall uphold the highest professional standards of quality service and develop the necessary expertise and innovative spirit among our staff.



The Staff

In order to fulfill the library's vision of becoming a modern, self-sustaining library recognized and accredited locally and internationally as a major repository of materials on the country's experience of authoritarian rule, the Library Committee aims to develop a comprehensive collection, make these available to the public, and ensure the preservation and availability of these for the present and future generations. It is our purpose to act as channel of communication and aid in the establishment of a bridge between the library and the user community.

Our Collections

The Bantayog Library has the following collections:

  • Books

  • Pamphlets

  • Periodicals (journals, magazines and newspapers)

  • Graphic materials (posters, photos, drawings, etc.)

  • Other print and non-print materials (theses, manuscripts, audios and videos, biographies, etc.)




Library hours is from 9AM to 5PM from Monday to Friday except national holidays.

Research and Documentation

Research and documentation is organic to Bantayog’s work. Thus, the Research and Documentation Committee was the foundation’s first duly-constituted working group, started in July 1986 immediately after the inception of the foundation.The first members were Thelma M. Arceo, Ma. Serena I. Diokno, Paula Carolina Malay and Helen Mendoza, renting a cramped room at the University of Life (ULTRA) in Pasig, and using donated office equipment from Abraham Sarmiento, Sol Yuyitung and KAPATID. Later that year, the committee moved its offices to the Chronicle Building, also in Pasig, after the Benpres Corporation donated bigger facilities for the foundation’s use. Additional researchers were also hired.

The committee has seen its highs and lows but it has continued uninterrupted until today. It is responsible for preparing the biographies and nominations for Bantayog’s first 65 martyrs and heroes engraved on the Wall of Remembrance and unveiled on November 30, 1992. It has prepared the nominations every year since then for the so far 193 martyrs and heroes whose names are inscribed on the Wall.

The Foundation, on the initiative of the Journey with Heroes Project, published in 2008 a limited edition coffee table book of the Bantayog heroes and martyrs. The Research and Documentation  committee assisted in this project.

Through the years, the committee is piloting a research project on a specific period within the Marcos dictatorship. The committee will use oral history as method. The vision is to record the stories of unknown and simple people from far-flung corners of the country who quietly and determinedly stood against the forces of the dictatorship and defended themselves, their families, their schools and their churches, temples and mosques, and their communities, against the onus of martial law.

Much remains to be done, much data need to be gathered and written to tell comprehensive stories of the lives of the thousands who fought against the dictatorship.

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CHECA, Jorge M.

Jorge Checa was the 7th of nine children of a couple who migrated to Manila from Negros Occidental. His father worked at various jobs while his mother cared for the big family. At the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines), Jorge showed a skill for oration, singing and acting. He became active with the college theater group Kamanyang.

History of political involvement

Kamanyang was one of the many student groups that emerged during the growing protest movement against the Marcos regime. It promoted socially-committed theater and staged plays that provoked and criticized. It performed in rallies and travelled to different places, on whichever type of stage, and before a large or small audience in order to show their empathy with the marginalized sectors of our society, the jobless, the poor, the down-trodden.

To depict colonial mentality, Jorge developed the unique character of an English professor who forced his Filipino students to speak English with an American accent. This role made him a well-known protest performer in college campuses in Manila’s university belt, although Jorge also often attracted a rapt audience of laborers or jeepney drivers, coaxing them often to join in the protest activities.

When Marcos declared martial law in 1972, Jorge went into hiding after learning he was in the military’s wanted list. He linked up with other Kamanyang members who similarly went underground and they created youth teams organizing martial-law resistance in northern Metro Manila, now called the CAMANAVA (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) area.

In Caloocan, Jorge founded a singing group called Salt of the Earth which performed in community meetings. They sang popular tunes as well as songs that spoke of people’s problems and aspirations. The group even made a short appearance at a noontime television variety show.

Jorge married his girlfriend Corazon in July 1973. Their house became the headquarters for community organizers in the area. Months later, the couple and another community organizer Wilfredo Apinado were arrested by the martial law authorities. Corazon and Apinado were released after a day in jail. Jorge, whom the military suspected was a leader, spent three months in detention at Fort Bonifacio.

After his release, Jorge and Corazon decided to move as far away as possible to avoid detection by the regime. They chose Mindanao. Jorge joined up with others, travelling the length of the island while secretly building resistance against the Marcos regime. He and his companions lived with farmers and indigenous communities. He spoke to them about their rights as citizens and how they had to fight for justice and democracy and demand fairness in the government’s treatment of the poor.

Circumstances of death

Corazon would receive occasional letters from Jorge and she knew that in September 1984, Jorge was supposed to be in Zamboanga del Norte. When the letters stopped coming, Corazon suspected the worst. Military officials had floated a report that a political detainee, presumably Jorge himself, had committed suicide while in detention.

Unconvinced about this claim, friends asked human rights lawyers Zorro Aguilar and Jacobo Amatong (both Bantayog martyrs) and other members of the martial-law opposition in Zamboanga to trace Jorge’s whereabouts. Acting on reports that an unmarked grave had been found in Tampilisan town, Zamboanga del Norte, the two lawyers planned to join a fact-finding mission and exhumation. On the eve of their departure, on September 23, 1984, Aguilar and Amatong themselves were assassinated by unidentified gunmen.

Despite this, the exhumation did take place, leading to the recovery of the remains of Jorge and another individual. Jorge’s body bore multiple stab wounds, which disproved the military’s suggestion of suicide.
Testimonials
“Nakilalakosi Jorge sa PCC noongnagingkasapiakongKamanyangtaong 1969. Masayahinn, palabiro, at matalino.Katulongkosiyasapagbibigayngedukasyong pang-masasa akin at saiba pang mgakasapingKamanyang. Walasiyangpagodsamgapagkilos at mgapag-aaralmulasapaaralanhanggangsapagpapakilos.” (Willy Apinado, friend and colleague)

“He was a gentle, fun-loving and kind-hearted man, with a fierce and fearless conviction to do what is right for freedom and justice.” (Jaime A. FlorCruz, friend and colleague)

MAHINAY, Julieto N.

Julieto Mahinay pic 1

Julieto Mahinay was a catechist of the Catholic diocese of Surigao del Norte. He was respected and well-liked although he was a quiet person and was rarely heard to raise his voice. People turned to him for guidance and leadership, and he often helped settle conflicts in the community.

His family lived in Amontay, a small outlying barrio in the municipality of San Francisco (formerly Anao-aon), west of Surigao City. The family enjoyed the respect of the community because they were known to be kind to neighbors and many were actively involved in their church.

History of political involvement

In the mid-1970s, tension was rising in northern Mindanao due to increasing incidents of landgrabbing, militarization and government abuses. In 1977, the Catholic Church started a program called the Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos or ECTF, under the auspices of the Justice and Peace desk of the National Secretariat for Social Action. The ECTF was tasked to document social issues faced by indigenous peoples in the country and to organize campaigns in their behalf. Julieto became an ECTF staff member.

Surigao in those days was one of the country’s least developed provinces. Ethnic communities wallowed in poverty and suffered from illegal incursions of big mining and agricultural corporations in tribal lands.

At that time, Julieto was working with Mamanwas, a semi-nomadic group physically similar to Aetas of Luzon but occupying the mountains of Agusan and Surigao. Julieto held literacy classes for a group of Mamanwas staying in a farm ran by the diocese. He also taught them farming techniques to help them improve their livelihood.

With his work in ECTF, Julieto learned more about the abuses being suffered by indigenous communities in Mindanao particularly from landgrabbers and from government troops. He took up human rights work, helping communities displaced by military operations or families of victims of illegal arrests or of those summarily executed by soldiers. He started teaching Mamanwas themselves about human rights. “Lito gave talks on the dignity of man…we wanted to help tribal minorities become aware of their dignity and human rights,” said Fr. Arturo Bastes, SVD, then social action director and pastoral coordinator of the diocese.

Good Shepherd sister Diane Cabasagan was also among those who worked with Julieto. In the early 1980s she was executive director of Silingang Dapit sa Mindanao (SILDAP), an interfaith group which wanted to start operations in Surigao. Julieto sought the approval of the bishop and local officials, paving the way for Sildap.

Because the diocese took a conservative stand on tribal people issues, and even stayed silent about crucial issues, Julieto spoke of his increasingly critical views only in small groups, in indoor forums or small local rallies. When the abuses grew worse and the condition of lumads (ethnic communities) deteriorated, Julieto began to speak more openly on these issues. He denounced extrajudicial killings, illegal logging practices, and landgrabbing attempts by cronies of the dictatorship.

Circumstances of disappearance

The day he disappeared, on March 14, 1984, Julieto was on his way to the Claver National High School, where he and a coworker were expected to conduct a spiritual retreat for graduating seniors. The driver said his jeepney was stopped by soldiers at a checkpoint of the 36th infantry battalion. The soldiers searched the occupants and found on Julieto a copy of the Holy Bible and a map of tribal Filipino settlements in Mindanao. They also said he was not carrying proper identification papers (cedula). They let the jeep and its passengers go, except Julieto. Julieto never made it to the students’ retreat; neither did he return home.

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus for him. His family and coworkers searched for him whenever they received rumors of bodies being dumped in certain places. Julieto was never found. The family believes that the soldiers who seized him had probably killed him.

Impact of disappearance on the community

The community, including Julieto’s co-workers, strongly protested the abduction. They called a 5,000-strong protest rally, exceptionally large for this once-tranquil town. Groups of Mamanwas trekked long distances to attend the first hearing for the habeas corpus petition filed in Julieto’s behalf. Many were reduced to tears, said Fr. Bastes, but others made angry remarks about why such a deed could be perpetrated on such a good man. Some people started calling Julieto the “Ninoy Aquino” of Surigao, after the assassinated senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

The Surigao church and many Surigaonons were affected by the incident. “If Julieto’s disappearance had any redeeming value,” said Fr. Bastes, “it was the transformation of the Surigao clergy’s conservative stand to one which actively upholds human rights and protests rights violations ... Now they are awakened.”

Members of Julieto’s family said they hoped Julieto’s sacrifice would help expose the abuses going on in their province. “There is oppression and abuse of power against innocent people. This is the truth we wish to announce,” Julieto’s sister said.

VILLACILLO, Venerando D.

venerando villacillo pic

When the student ferment of the early 1970s reached Iligan City, Venerando’s older brothers joined the Kabataang Makabayan. He too joined later. Owning a booming voice, he was soon making fiery speeches before crowds. He was tall at 5’11”and he carried himself well, and so was easy to see in a crowd.

Hoping to become a detective, he enrolled at the Philippine College of Criminology in Manila. He also studied the martial arts. He continued to be active with the KM. As the political turmoil intensified he decided to leave school and join the underground. In 1972 he left for Isabela with a batch of other activists from the Visayas and Mindanao. He went through a short military training, and was later given the task of developing new recruits. He was also assigned to help organize barrio people to undertake health and education projects, give political lessons to the local community, and help the locals work out solutions to their local problems. He also gave occasional lessons in the martial arts. He became proficient with Ilokano and used it during his political lessons.

Under the martial law regime, Isabela became heavily militarized. It became the relentless target of daily artillery bombings, ground attacks, and intelligence and psywar operations, all seeking to destroy the fledgling rebel force in the province. The military declared a part of the province’s forested areas as “no man’s land,” and ordered more than 50,000 residents out in order to deprive the guerrillas their means of support. The guerrilla force had to undertake constant evasive action, and became isolated from the local population. When they decided to escape the encirclement, Venerando, then called Ka Ibarra, was one of several leaders who organized the retreat, getting the guerrillas, armed activists and barrio people out of immediate danger. The escape took an entire year’s march, a trek of 370 kilometers, across three provinces and 25 heavily-militarized towns.

Throughout this difficult journey, Venerando kept up the spirits of the evacuees, telling them not to lose hope because they had supporters in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. He helped comfort and care for the sick and wounded and often shared with others his own limited ration of food.

After this phase, Venerando moved to Mindanao, where his family hailed. He took up political work that included building the people’s strength so they could launch protest actions and responses to agrarian problems among farmers and farmworkers in the banana plantations of Davao and in the coconut industry. One of the strong campaigns that resulted was the campaign against the coconut levy, a tax taken from coconut farmers but mainly benefiting Marcos cronies. Venerando took the names Ka Benny and Ka Miguel.

Again in Mindanao, Venerando witnessed the forcible relocation of tens of thousands of people into hamlets in the military’s effort to deny mass support to the rebel guerrillas. Rather than escape, however, they decided that the proper response this time was to rise in protest. As a result, huge demonstrations were organized to protest the displacement and the worsening militarization. Venerando and his group of activists helped in the mobilization in the Compostela Valley region. Protest actions were also organized against the Catalunan Grande massacre, the bombing of the San Pedro Cathedral, the hamletting in Davao del Norte, the killing of Edgar Jopson, and the arrests and torture of Fr. Dong Tizon, Karl Gaspar and Hilda Narciso.

Venerando also became a part of the protests that erupted in the aftermath of the assassination of the late senator Benigno Aquino Jr., helping build the Justice for Aquino and Justice for All movement in Mindanao, preparing streamers, placards and leaflets with slogans such as “Oust the dictator!“ “Marcos resign” and “Dismantle the U.S.-Marcos dictatorship.” On occasion Venerando’s baritone voice would be heard calling on people not to be afraid of the dictatorship.

Venerando became one of the dictatorship’s most wanted men in Mindanao.

In the mid-1980s, Venerando spent some time again in northern Luzon, leading military resistance as well as expansion efforts in that area.

In 1985, he and his small family were on a trip to Manila when Venerando was abducted. He tried to resist his abductors until one of the men stuck a barrel of a gun to the head of his daughter, at which point he allowed himself to be taken away. His wife, family and friends launched a long campaign that even extended overseas to have him found. The regime denied having him in custody although the family was surreptitiously told that the team that undertook the abduction was led by Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo of the Philippine Constabulary. Venerando was never found.

GAVANZO, Ceasar G., Jr.

ceasar gavanzo jr. pic

Ceasar Jr., the eldest son, was 22 years old when his father died in 1969 and made him take up the role of family head. Then a criminology student in Manila, he often went back home to look in on the family and their livelihood. “He was persevering, energetic and he treated our farm workers justly,” his sister Rosario said. Graduating with a diploma in criminology, Ceasar planned to pursue law because he “wanted to be able to help the poor.”

History of political involvement

However he got caught in the political storm that erupted in the country in the late 1960s. The ferment was brought about by the shenanigans of the Marcos government, made worse by rampant inflation, tuition fee hikes, the country’s participation in the Vietnam War and increasing police and military brutality. The Marcos couple’s profligate spending amid worsening poverty riled the people.

Ceasar attended discussion forums and demonstrations organized by student groups like the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and later the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). When he went home for visits, he would discuss these current issues with friends and townmates and with his brothers and sisters. He said he wanted them to understand the crisis that the country was facing.

The First Quarter Storm of 1970 affected Ceasar in a personal way. A massive rally was held on January 26, during the opening of Congress. This was followed by an even bigger protest rally on January 30. The rally was violently dispersed. It dragged on into the night, spread to other parts of Manila, including Mendiola, the street fronting the Malacañang palace. Four students were killed that night – Ricardo Alcantara from the University of the Philippines, Felicisimo Singh Roldan from the Far Eastern University, 17 year-old Bernardo Tausa from Mapa High School, and Fernando Catabay from MLQU.

Catabay was Ceasar’s schoolmate as well as good friend. Later Ceasar told his sister that the image of Catabay being felled by bullets kept playing over and over in his mind.

In the 1971 local elections, Ceasar came home from his studies in Manila to support the gubernatorial campaign of Juan Frivaldo who was running against a known Marcos ally. Ceasar’s political campaign included exposing Marcos’ growing corruption and degeneracy. He urged the people to elect honest and responsible leaders and to be courageous in letting their will be heard. Frivaldo won in the elections.

Circumstances of death and impact on family and community

In the weeks preceding the declaration of martial law by President Marcos, the family of Ceasar, sensing the coming political storm, asked him to come home permanently. Heeding the request, Ceasar returned to Sorsogon and found work as an administrative officer of by then Governor Frivaldo.

But he pursued his political work in the province. He attended a protest rally where he was picked up, detained illegally, and beaten up by a policeman. He sustained several cracked ribs from the beating. Ceasar managed to escape from his prison cell a few days later with the governor’s help. The governor also had his injuries treated and found him temporary shelter while recuperating from the mauling he received.

Not long after, Marcos declared martial law. Soldiers came every night to Ceasar’s house, looking for him and threatening and often insulting the family. The house was placed under constant surveillance. But Ceasar had not made any contact with the family since his escape.

After he had his strength back, Ceasar left the sanctuary offered by the governor, declaring his intention to seek out fellow activists to build a secret resistance against martial law in Sorsogon. But as it turned out, that was to be Ceasar’s last known location.

Not long after, the family was shocked to receive information that Ceasar had been killed and that his body had been dumped at the Bulusan Municipal Hall. Ceasar’s family quickly acted on the tip. At the municipal hall, they found his mangled remains. The body bore bullet wounds, his legs and ribs broken, and several teeth extracted. Townmates called the killing an act of brutality.

Today Ceasar is considered the first casualty of martial law in Sorsogon. In succeeding years, many more of the province’s youth were killed for their beliefs, including Ceasar’cousin, Tony Ariado and friend Nanette Vytiaco, whose names are now etched on Bantayog’s Wall of Remembrance. Many were also unjustly put in prison and tortured, among them three of Ceasar’s siblings.

To this day, Ceasar Gavanzo Jr.’s struggle for freedom continues to inspire many people. Emilio Ubaldo, the current mayor of Matnog town, says of Ceasar that “… he faced great adversity but took the courage to stand up and defend, not only his own, but the people’s rights…”
“Katulad ni Ginoong Rizal, ibinuhis din niya ang hiram na buhay sa pakiki-aklas na buong akala niya ay tamang paraan upang maisalba ang isang bansang naghihikahos sa kahirapan at pagmamalabis na pagpayaman ng pamilyang Marcos. Walang kasingtulad ang mga ginawa niya at dapat mailathala na isang huwarang bayani.” (Hilario U. Belo, Chairman on Temporalities, Sto. Nino Parish Pastoral council, Matnog, Sorsogon)

“He denied himself of the enjoyment of life, as young and handsome as he was, all taken by his conviction for the sake of our country’s welfare, even to the end of his useful life.” (Erlinda Garrido Hoffer, Matnog National High School)

BELTRAN, Crispin "Ka Bel" B.



Crispin Beltran was born a poor man, lived a life of service, and when it was done, he left this world still with but a few coins in his name just as when he started, but making a mark despite himself.

His parents were farmers in a small town in Albay province. Crispin was already in grade school when the Japanese invaded the country. The ensuing war interrupted the bright young boy’s schooling. The 9-year-old boy scout volunteered for the anti-Japanese resistance, eventually earning for him a youngest-courier award from the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).

He graduated salutatorian in grade school, and also with honors in high school. He also showed leadership qualities, serving as official in his class and in the student council.

After high school, he moved to Manila to try his luck there. He did two years of college, found jobs as a janitor and messenger, but eventually ended up earning a living as a taxi driver.

Political involvement

Several years after he started with the Manila Yellow Taxi Company, Crispin joined the union, seeing a chance for blue-collar workers like him to work for a decent livelihood through united action. By 1955, when he was 22 years old, he helped establish a federation of taxi drivers’ unions, called the Amalgamated Taxi Drivers Association. He was elected president and held the post for eight years.

As a young union leader, he had a chance to attend labor education courses at the University of the Philippines. He steadily gained a greater grasp of issues and the options that surrounded labor. When Philippine unionism saw a boost in the late 1950s, Crispin’s leadership grew even more notable, serving as vice-president of a Philippine Workers Congress in 1956, and in 1957-1958, of the Confederation of Labor of the Philippines which he co-founded.

Crispin was 26 when he met his future wife Rosa, a rural girl who had run away from home and had serendipitously taken his taxi. The meeting would become a life-long relationship and partnership.

The Marcos regime transformed Crispin. Faced with an increasingly autocratic government, Crispin whose concerns had been focused on workers’ welfare, started to see other issues, threats to his country’s democracy and nationhood, echoes of those war cries raised in the days of his youth.

The dictatorship banned many of labor’s few allowed activities, such as assemblies, pickets and strikes, and even unionism itself. Ranks of workers and unionists swelled the anti-Marcos resistance and open opposition. This led to the arrest, abduction and even assassination of scores of labor leaders.

Crispin, now a popular figure called “Ka Bel” by friends and fellow unionists, quietly but firmly helped reshape the local labor movement into a force that would contribute in opposing the dictatorship. He and other labor leaders, notably the charismatic Felixberto Olalia Sr., established the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) in 1980. Within two years KMU had 750,000 members, and KMU forces swelled the ranks of protesters in rallies and demonstrations in Metro Manila and other major cities in the country where labor was a significant sector.

Marcos ordered the arrests of labor leaders in 1982, leading to the imprisonment of both Ka Bel and Olalia. Ka Bel escaped in 1984 and went into hiding. He emerged after the Marcos dictatorship fell and the new Aquino government came into power.

Instead of resting on his sterling achievements as a labor leader, Ka Bel went on to break new ground. In 1987, he tried his hand at national politics, running for senator under the short-lived Partido ng Bayan. He lost the elections but won over 1.5 million votes, a testament to this person with the humble beginnings’ growing nationwide popularity. He was elected chair of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) from 1993-1999.

He continued to serve his first love, the labor movement. He served in KMU as national president from 1987 to 2001, taking the place of assassinated KMU president, lawyer Rolando Olalia, son of his erstwhile comrade at arms in the labor movement.

When the party-list system went into effect, Ka Bel took a seat in Congress in 2001 as representative of the poor for the party list Bayan Muna and later for another party-list Anakpawis. In Congress, he authored and co-authored resolutions in behalf of the poor in his country. He worked by the standard that people’s taxes must be used well and honesty. He earned the ire of President Gloria Arroyo who in February 2006 had him arrested for rebellion, and detained for one and a half years until the charges against him were declared by the Supreme Court baseless. While he was in prison, rallies calling for his release were held in many countries such as Germany and the Netherlands to Japan and Australia.

His staunch advocacy for the labor sector and the poor, his love for country, and the simple decency with which he bore himself earned him the respect of a broad section of the population, pedestrians as well as politicians. On his death by a freak accident in 2008, his family would receive thousands of condolences from within the country and abroad, expressing grief at his untimely death and admiration for the person he was. Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim had a marker built in Ka Bel’s honor at the historic Plaza Miranda, also declaring the day of his death, May 20th, as “Ka Beltran’s Day.”

Circumstances of death

On that foul day when it happened, the news had warned of a powerful storm coming. Ka Bel, worried that the roof of his house might not stand the winds, took out the ladder and climbed up the roof to try to do repairs. Unfortunately, the 75-year-old, stout-hearted unionist, slipped and fell, and his broken body could not survive the fall.

Impact of life and death

Expressions of grief and sympathy poured in from here and abroad. The necrological service was the biggest known held at the House of Representatives. His wake drew 50,000 visitors, and the funeral march, some 30,000. Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. called him a “torchbearer,” and former senator, now president, Benigno Aquino III, said he felt Ka Bel’s sincerity.

The impact Ka Bel had on the ordinary Filipino is best illustrated by an account of a young woman who had never met him. In a newspaper column, this young person wrote that she had gone to the Quiapo market on her father’s request to buy flowers for Ka Bel’s wake. Quiapo’s flower vendors, learning who the flowers were for, all pitched in and prepared a beautiful wreath for free, adding still another bouquet of chrysanthemums, because Ka Bel, they said, was their champion.

A country, it is said, is known by the kind of heroes it honors (from speech of Sen. Jovito R. Salonga, delivered during the first Bantayog ng mga Bayani celebration, November 30, 1992). Crispin Beltran served his country as a leader of laborers and a fighter for their rights and welfare. He taught them they should not fight only for themselves or their union, but for their country and their fellow Filipinos. Ka Bel stayed true to his course, not lulled by his accomplishments, not giving in to the temptations of power, bribery or even threats, defying even the demands of age.

For nine years a representative of the working class in the Philippine Congress, Ka Bel had the right to add the word “Honorable” before his name. In his case, however, it was a true description of his character, a rare occurrence in Philippine Congress by most accounts. All Filipinos would be proud to see this truly honorable man included in their roster of modern-day Filipino heroes.

ALEJANDRO, Leandro "Lean" L.



Leandro Alejandro was a well-known student leader during martial law.

Leandro, or Lean, participated in campus protests against martial law, joining open as well as clandestine groups in the University of the Philippines (UP). Soon he was a leader in these campus organizations, and by the early 1980s, was a key figure in the national anti-dictatorship movement.

In 1979 he joined the staff of the Philippine Collegian, the UP student paper, as features writer. He chaired the Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND) from 1980 to 1981 and was junior fellow at the UP Third World Studies Center from 1981 to 1983. During the schoolyear 1983-1984, he was elected chairman of the university student council. The following school year he was chosen student representative to the UP Board of Regents.

In May 1984, he led a UP students’ march to Mendiola bridge in Manila to protest tuition hikes. When the march ended peacefully, Lean was quoted as saying: “Now people won’t be afraid to demonstrate at Mendiola.” The march is regarded as the fi rst on that historic bridge to have ended peacefully since the First Quarter Storm of 1970. Under Lean’s leadership, the student marches drew from a few hundred participants to up to tens of thousands just months later. He helped establish several anti-dictatorship groups such as the Coalition of Organizations for the Realization of Democracy (CORD, 1984); Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (SELDA); Nationalist Alliance for Justice, Freedom and Democracy (NAJFD); Kaakbay; Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN); and Partido ng Bayan (PnB). Lean later became convinced that greater and deeper problems than a dictatorship burdened the Philippines. He later adopted a national democratic political program as the viable alternative for effecting the necessary social changes in the country.

More than his extraordinary height, Lean stood out as an activist because he possessed insight, a unifying approach, speaking and writing skills, and courage and boldness. Older and more experienced colleagues in the protest movement had him in high regard, and government negotiators who met Lean across the barricades gave him their grudging respect.

Lean was secretary-general of the multisectoral group BAYAN when he was assassinated in 1987. He had just left a press conference in Intramuros, Manila, and was driving back to the Bayan office in Cubao, Quezon City when his vehicle was ambushed near the Bayan headquarters. Two of his three companions
were wounded. Lean was 27 years old.

BAYAN said Lean’s assassination was part of a list of “bloody anti-people crimes” by the Aquino administration. The government denounced the killing but failed to solve the crime. It remains unsolved.

The protest movement sorely grieved the loss of this young, exceptionally gifted, and heroic figure. Poems and a musical opera were written for him who gave so much for his country when to do so meant extreme sacrifice.

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