Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“Never Again to Dictatorship!”

Note:  This photo-essay was on the filam special page of the 26 Sep-02 Oct 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', published in San Francisco CA. This blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in Manila of the newspaper.

The Inang Bayan at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani compound
designed by the sculptor Eduardo Castrillo
The sun was out and the floodwaters that came with Typhoon Mario were all gone on Sunday, 21 September 2014, the 42nd anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by Ferdinand Marcos. 

We dared to see a five-hour film in black-and-white by Lav Diaz: “Mula sa Kung Ano ang Noon (From What Was Before)”, which recently won the Pardo d’oro (Golden Leopard) grand prize at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. It was being screened for free as “handog sa bansa” (gift to the nation) of the Film development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), Sine Olivia Pilipinas and SM Cinema.  The film is said to be based on the film maker’s memories as a young man in his village in Maguindanao before the onset of Martial Law.

“I was just an observer,” Diaz told filmmaker Pepe Diokno in an interview published in the Philippine Star, “but I could see it, how hell was coming in. There was so much happening in our village. Suddenly, there were killings that we didn’t understand. Suddenly, there were burnings of houses that we didn’t understand. We would hear wails from the forest — scary. It turned out, it was the military. They conditioned everything, they started everything. People would come. There would be a carpenter, a shoe seller — they turned out to be military agents. They started destroying the barrio. Martial Law was a well-oiled machine.”

When Martial Law was declared toward the end of the movie, we learn that the village was classified as part of the war zone based on the case built by a military agent.  The female sergeant was immersed there for two years under the guise of a vendor of sleeping mats and other household items.  
After his frank discourse with the lieutenant, the priest became the subject of surveillance. The officer ordered one of his men to keep the priest under constant watch.  The polite argument was about the military presence there.  A camp was to be built albeit temporarily at the school yard. The officer contended it is for keeping peace, the religious argued it would disrupt the lives of the people.  True enough, families would eventually evacuate to safer grounds.

The Wall of Remembrance bearing the names of martyrs and heroes like Ninoy Aquino and the Escalante martyrs. 

The last frames focused on two activists, purportedly from the University of the Philippines, hanging upside down and being tortured by the militia.

The movie actually spurred us to visit the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument to the Heroes) the next day. This is neighbor to the National Power Corporation (NPC), Transmission Company and National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) complex on Quezon Avenue.  We only passed by the Bantayog during all the years we worked in NPC.  Our first purposeful visit was in November 2011 when a fraternity brother’s name was inscribed as a martyr-hero on the Wall of Remembrance.

The Bantayog is the memorial center honoring men and women who lived and died in opposition to the repressive regime under the Marcos dictatorship for fourteen years, 1972 to 1986.  The landmark is a 14-meter Inang Bayan (Mother Philippines) Monument designed by the sculptor Eduardo Castrillo.  It depicts a fallen man, held in one hand by a woman symbolizing the Motherland while the other hand reaches out for freedom. 

Exhibit: Popular Bayan Ko and photo-cutout
of Sen. Jose Diokno
The other distinct feature is the Wall of Remembrance of black granite, where the names of martyrs are inscribed.  The first sixty-five martyrs were enshrined here in 1992, which include Ninoy Aquino. Today there are now more than two hundred names of heroes inscribed comprising “those who gave their all for the sake of freedom, justice, and democracy during the Marcos years but died after the EDSA Revolution.”

The Bantayog Museum has several sections. One portrays “the economic, political and social problems of the 1960s (mass poverty, abusive government officials, violation of civil liberties) that gave rise to popular discontent especially of the youth” during the pre-martial law years.

The death of democracy is shown by the documentation on the methods of torture, and the model of a prison cell done by an ex-detainee.  The memorabilia from the period of resistance include underground publications, the “mosquito press,” reports from the various civil-society groups at that time, and expressions of international solidarity.

Museum visitors will also find reminders of the assassination of Ninoy Aquino and the nationwide protests that ensued.  The scale model of a military tank surrounded by a photographic mural of the people on EDSA brings to mind the “People Power Revolution” of February 1986.

We gave some time to read the exhibit of a pastoral letter dated 11 August 1973 by four Catholic bishops of Western Visayas led by then Archbishop Jaime Sin of Jaro who were “deeply disturbed by recent events [in July] in the local Church of Antique  ... One priest was taken prisoner and one church building was declared off limits to the people. Many priests are warned to limit their pastoral work, and rumors circulated discrediting all. It has all the appearance of harassment.”

EDSA 1 reminder.
Fr. Benjamin E. Alforque is still alive and well, but he has a story to tell that many other religious, like the Antique priest, might have gone through and did not survive.  “I’m afraid but I must write to let young people know,” he said in his article in the 21 September issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Fr. Alforque, fresh from the seminary and on regency at the Virgen de Regla parish of Lapu-Lapu City, was arrested in October 1973 being accused of subversion. He wrote of the physical, mental and moral torture he went through for eight months and 13 days. He confessed he lost his faith in God for some time while in prison. He regained his faith that enabled him to give Holy Communion to his torturers later on.

A Hall of Remembrance features the capsule biographies and individual photos of the enshrined martyrs and heroes. These can also be accessed through the website of the Bantayog.

Remembering the departed with candles and roses. 
We looked up our friends Antonio Hilario (Tonyhil) and Antonio Tagamolila (Taga), and our fraternity brother Wright Molintas, who all died in the field. The two Antonios were our friends at the university when the winds of the First Quarter Storm were stirring. Our fraternity brother was of 1980’s vintage, and was known for his Ibaloi name: Ka Chadli. There was also Denis Deveraturda, a young province mate who was our classmate in an elective subject. He was killed in February 1972 before the declaration of Martial Law. We also remembered Monico Atienza who gave us lifts on his motorcycle during our brief stay in Batangas in 1970. He survived the war against the dictatorship.

“... let us not forget those who fell during the night. Let us honor the Filipino patriots who struggled valiantly against the unjust and repressive rule of Ferdinand Marcos. Let us build a memorial to those men and women who offered their lives so that we may all see the dawn... For as we remember those victims of authoritarian rule, we shall become more vigilant about preserving our freedom, defending our rights, and opposing any attempt by anyone to foist another dictatorship upon us. ... In honoring our martyrs, we proclaim our determination to be free forever.”  This is the rationale of the Bantayog in its final concept paper..

The Oct 1971 Phil. Free Press editorial opposing extension of presidential term beyond 1973, and
the Sept 1972 issue of the only newspaper allowed to operate after the declaration of Martial Law.

Thus,  “Never again to Martial Law, Never again to Dictatorship!” is a timely call as the media is abuzz with loud talks of ChaCha (sharter change), term extension of Benigno Aquino III, and clipping the powers of the judiciary.

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