Remembering Filipinos who fought against martial law

Published September 16, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Sonny Coloma


Sonny Coloma

Two out of every three Filipinos were born after 1972.  It is not surprising that, if asked about what they think about the imposition of martial law by Ferdinand Marcos, they would probably shrug their shoulders to express their indifference. But for those of us who were in college during the first quarter storm of 1970, this era has left an indelible imprint on our consciousness.

Once my grandson grows old enough to comprehend, I hope to be able to bring him to Bantayog ng mga Bayani along Quezon Avenue just off EDSA.  A prominent feature of the memorial is the 35-foot Inang Bayan sculpture of National Artist Eduardo Castrillo. It depicts “a woman reaching out to the sky for freedom, holding the body of a fallen young man…(who) represents self sacrifice and heroism, alluding to the martyrs who gave their lives for the freedom of the Filipino people.”

Below the monument are three plaques containing the original Spanish, English and Filipino versions of Jose Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) that he wrote before he faced a firing squad in Bagumbayan, Manila.  Inscribed in the English plaque is the following stanza:

“I die just when I see the dawn break
Through the gloom of night, to herald the day:
And if color is lacking my blood thou shall take,
Pour’d out at need for thy dear sake,
To dye with its crimson the waking ray.”

 Professor Ledivina Cariño, then serving as dean of the University of the Philippines college of public administration, wrote the concept paper for the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Foundation that subsequently solicited nominations from the public on who should be honored.  Those who defied and struggled against the martial law regime, regardless of political affiliation, were deemed as deserving recognition.

The first batch of 65 names was enshrined on the shrine’s Wall of Remembrance in 1992, including such figures as Kalinga tribal leader Macli-ing Dulag; publisher Chino Roces and journalist Alex Orcullo; former Supreme Court chief justices Roberto Concepcion and Claudio Teehankee; missionary Father Tullio FavaliCaoayan, Ilocos Sur, parish priest Zacarias Agatep; Sister Mary Bernard Jimenez; lay social worker Puri Pedro, Philippine Independent Church priest Jeremias Aquino; poet-activist Emman Lacaba; student activists such as Rizalina IlaganCristina Catalla and Liliosa Hilao; entrepreneur Gaston Z. Ortigas; as well as political leaders such as former senators Lorenzo TañadaBenigno Aquino Jr.Sen. Jose W. DioknoAntique Province governor Evelio JavierZamboanga City mayor Cesar Climaco, and Dipolog City councilor Jacobo Amatong.

Other friends and colleagues from that era who are honored at the Bantayog include Jessica Sales, Carlos Tayag, and William Vincent Begg.

Jessica Sales was elected student government president; then she served as school paper editor at Centro Escolar University from which she graduated with honors.  She then taught at the University of the Philippines Manila and Los Baños. She disappeared on 30 July 1977 after she was known to have been arrested with five others, namely Gerardo Faustino, Rizalina Ilagan, Bong Sison, Ramon Jasul and Cristina Catalla.  Neither the police nor the military have verified their arrest.

Carlos ‘Caloy’ Tayag was on the last phase of his studies toward becoming a Benedictine priest when he opted to do a sabbatical, enrolling for a master’s degree in literature in UP. He joined the Student Christian Movement, later renamed as Kilusang Kristiyano ng Kabataang Pilipino, and went underground when martial law was declared.  His disappearance was reported in August 1976.  In the book Martyrs and Heroes is this testimonial from his younger sister:  “We have stopped looking for Caloy, the physical Caloy. After all, he spent most of his years away from home. We are used to his physical absence. Instead we have now focused our search for that part of Caloy which is more real, indestructible and eternal: who he was, what he was fighting for, and why?”

Also recorded in Martyrs and Heroes is the story of Bicol-born Billy Begg who renounced his American citizenship when he turned 21 in 1971.  He took up philosophy at the Ateneo de Manila University in preparation for the priesthood. He was arrested in 1972; upon release, he enrolled at UP to take up history but chose to join the underground movement in 1974.  With five others, he was involved in an encounter with the military in Echague, Isabela, where he was wounded and captured while covering his companions’ escape.  His body was later discovered, with telltale marks of torture. This is the epitaph on his tombstone: “He laid down his life for his friends.”

Visitors to the Bantayog museum would see a standee of then Senator Jose Diokno before the picture of the crowd at Plaza Miranda in Quiapo as he spoke at a rally led by the UP-Based Movement of Concerned Citizens for Civil Liberties (MCCL) a few hours before martial law was set into motion on the evening of Friday, 22 September 1972.  Other features are the replica of a detention cell, no bigger than three square meters, in which church worker Hilda Narciso and 20 others were held. Also noteworthy is a diagram of various organizations involved in opposition and resistance to the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship, proof positive that there was a broad spectrum of citizen militancy and protest against the dictatorship.