Lesser known, just as heroic

This week, we remember a terrible time in Philippine history. Forty-three years ago this week, President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law. Some celebrate the infamous day yesterday, Sept. 21, the date that is evident in Proclamation 1081; others on Sept. 23, when Marcos spokesman Francisco Tatad (present occupation is the main cheerleader of the anti-Grace Poe camp) announced that we were now under military rule.

Meanwhile, in those first days, thousands were arrested and detained. Others escaped and joined the armed resistance. Many were tortured; others died.

Many also survived; some continuing still with the armed struggle today, while quite many have become academics, government officials, and business people.

Life continues in our country with sunsets that bleed (a phrase I borrow from a post-Yolanda picture of Rick Rocamora). But let it not be said that we do not know how to remember the fallen.

This year, I will recall the anti-dictatorship martyrs and heroes of our great island. Many of them died during martial law; others survived the regime but should still be honored for their courage. Some are well known like Cesar Climaco and Hashim Salamat, But most are not famous, certainly many were lesser known but no less heroic.

Cesar Climaco was on his third term as mayor of Zamboanga. He was famous for not cutting his hair to protest martial law. Climaco was shot in the back and killed in 1984, shortly after he won a seat in the Batasang Pambansa.  He was 68 years old.

On that same year, not far away from Zamboanga City, in Dipolog City, lived and died another martyr Jacobo Amatong. A crusading lawyer, educator and journalist, Amatong was killed in 1984 with another human rights lawyer Zorro Aguilar.

Also assassinated in 1984, was Alexander Orcullo, cause-oriented leader from Davao City. Alex, as I personally witnessed, was a fiery speaker. He was an intellectual who was immersed in the struggle of the masses. The anti-communist group Alsa Masa is believed to have killed him.

From Davao City and the surrounding region emerged many heroes in the anti-dictatorship struggle.

My personal favorite is Larry Ilagan, husband of Makabayan Representative Luz Ilagan, who survived martial law and died of cancer in 2001. Larry was a successful lawyer who risked everything to become a human rights lawyer and to fight the Marcos dictatorship. He and his two Davao City colleagues, all members of the Free Legal Assistance Group, Tony Arrelano and Marcos Risonar (the Davao 3 or AIR as they were known) were arrested in 1985 and became a subject of a notorious Supreme Court decision that legitimized illegal arrests.

Romraflo Taojo, a young lawyer who worked closely with former Commissioner of Human Rights Billy Aportadera, at that time a human rights lawyer in Davao, was not so lucky. In the thick of a legal fight in Tagum against military lawyers, Taojo was ruthlessly murdered, shot in his eyes and mouth.

From Davao City also, the writer Freddie Salanga and social development leader Rey Teves must be remembered for their contribution to the struggle.

In my region, Northern Mindanao, we also had pioneering human rights lawyers. Fred Gapus, who died recently, stood out. He worked with Oscar Musni and Eli de la Serna, two young FLAG lawyers who inspired me to be what Romy Capulong called a people’s lawyer.

In recalling the history of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship in Cagayan de Oro, Sonja Pacana stands out. Although much younger, she was the best friend of my mother, Lourdes Maestrado La Viña (herself a leader of the cause- oriented movement in our city). Sonja was courage personified. She died of cancer in Chicago, USA a few years ago.

There were many other women in Mindanao that fought the Marcos regime. Among them is my friend Inday Santiago from Davao City who is fortunately still alive and well contributing to the work of peace in our island.

There were tens of thousands of Moro martyrs in the anti-Marcos struggle. Hashim Salamat, revolutionary leader of the Bangsamoro, is just one of them. Coming from a religious family in Maguindanao, Salamat studied in Egypt and could have remained in exile. Instead he came back to the Philippines to join the Moro National Liberation Front led by Nur Misuari who battled frontally with the Marcos army in the mid-1970s. Later, Salamat would lead a group of idealistic MNLF members to form a new revolutionary organization which they called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Talking of religious leaders, there was of course Jesuit priest Fr. Godofredo Alingal SJ and PIME priest Tulio Favali who were both killed, the latter by paramilitary forces. Of course, the heroic leadership of Bukidnon Bishop Francisco Claver during those perilous times cannot be forgotten.

The lumad, too, had their own heroes of the resistance during that time, such leaders as Datu Gawilan and Datu Mambiling Ansabo.  As it is today with the killings of lumad educators and leaders, their lands were under threat from development aggression.

As in everywhere in the country, many of those who died were active in the armed resistance against Marcos.

Edgar Jopson (Ateneo de Manila student leader, Manileño by birth but became the leader of the National Democratic Movement in Mindanao) was said to have been extrajudically killed in Davao City in 1982, even after he had surrendered.

Emman Lacaba, born in Cagayan de Oro, poet and warrior who found his true home among workers and peasants, died in an encounter with soldiers in Davao del Norte.

Raymundo Petalcorin came from the same province where Lacaba was killed. A student activist from the University of Mindanao, he left the comforts of city life to be with the masses. Like Emman, he died in his late twenties.

Mario Romulo Kintanar, who worked with Edgar Jopson and later marred his widow Joy, was luckier in that he survived these comrades. Unfortunately, as an aftermath of the big internal fight in the revolutionary movement in the 1990s, Kintanar was supposedly also assassinated by and upon the order of former comrades.

Finally, I would like to remember Vicente Gonzales Jr. Jun, aka Speedy and many other aliases. Jun was a Pisay scholar, who joined the movement when he was an engineering student in Cebu. He was one of the victims of the CPP-NPA’s Operasyon Ahos and was killed somewhere in Zamboanga del Norte.

According to Jun’s sister: “We have not found his body. According to some stories, his body was “gipaanod sa suba” (thrown to the river) after being interrogated and tortured to a crime he never committed. I hope to visit the place where he was last seen someday to achieve full closure. According to one of the local priests in Dipolog, this place is like “heaven on earth where one can almost touch the clouds.”

I knew personally several people like Jun, including Dave and Dean Barrios who were also of Dipolog City.

Several student leaders from Xavier University, where I taught in the early 1980s, were also killed in that sad episode of the anti-Marcos struggle. Although it was not the Marcos military that killed these young people, their names and faces must be remembered and never again must what happened to them be repeated.

Never again! Let’s all say this out aloud today—never again!


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