Half a century ago, the Philippines was second only to Japan as one of the most progressive nations in Asia. Today, even Vietnam, ravaged by decades of war and a destructive invasion by the world’s most powerful military force, is poised to overtake the country economically. In 1986, Filipinos deposed a repressive dictatorship in a peaceful uprising. Twenty years later, the basic problems that hinder the development of the nation continue to torment the people.
The prevailing mood of despondency and cynicism in the country is situated in this context. Abetted by a predominant world outlook that shuns truth and wallows in pessimism, many Filipinos have come to conclude that no change is possible. When you call for the ouster of a corrupt and thoroughly reprehensible administration, you just want your own share of the pie. When you cry foul over human rights abuses, you’re simply a communist whose death or disappearance doesn’t matter anyway. The middle class have been leaving the country in droves. Nothing can be done. Just run along and have fun. Stick to your own business. You shouldn’t care.
Such an entirely bleak and one-sided outlook has made such deep inroads in the local consciousness that we often forget human dynamism and its ability to overcome great challenges. Amidst the reality of social conflict, cloaked in the depressed and false prognosis of never ending anguish, is the reality of people learning from their experiences and partaking in great events. The following is part of an article by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo about nine more Filipino heroes who will be added to the roster of heroes and martyrs at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani today. Remembering them would be a step in shunning the stifling cynicism and pessimism of our times:
The latest additions are Nemesio E. Prudente, Sedfrey A. Ordoñez, Lucio P. de Guzman, Catalino D. Blas, Alfredo V. Jasul, Bayani P. Lontok, Pastor R. Mesina and couple Alex G. Torres and Nimfa B. del Rosario.
They bring to 173 the names of heroes and martyrs etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance near the 45-foot bronze monument by sculptor Ed Castrillo that depicts a defiant mother holding a fallen son.
The facility is dedicated to “the nation’s modern-day martyrs and heroes who fought against all odds to help regain freedom, peace, justice, truth and democracy in the country.”
Prudente and Ordoñez died natural deaths in their 80s. The rest, mostly in their early 20s, died violent deaths.
“Doc” Prudente (1927-2008) was president of Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) from 1962-72 and encouraged political activism on the campus.
He spoke publicly against President Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule and was among those arrested and detained during the dictatorship.
After the Marcos regime fell, Prudente went back to Polytechnic University of the Philippines with his activist spirit very much alive. He opened the university to rural folk escaping militarization, and he was suspected of harboring communists.
Prudente survived two serious attempts on his life in 1987 and 1988. He died at 81.
His writings include “The Revolutionists” and “Quest for Justice,” both sharp commentaries on the problems of the Philippines.
Ordoñez (1921-2007) was probably the quintessential public servant—dignified, humble, thoughtful, committed, creative and productive. He had worked with four Philippine presidents.
Lawyer, diplomat, poet
In 1970, he was elected delegate to the Constitutional Convention which was overtaken by martial rule. Using his legal skills, he was among those who opposed Marcos’ manipulation of the 1973 Constitution.
Ordoñez served as secretary of justice under President Corazon Aquino and as ambassador to the United Nations under President Fidel V. Ramos.
The dedicated public servant also had a passion for creative writing which he did mostly in Filipino.
Through Bantay Katarungan, Ordoñez worked for the delivery of judicial service and was an active trustee of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation and Kilosbayan.
He died at 86.
De Guzman was an undergraduate architecture student of Far Eastern University when he joined 3K, a community-based organization.
He dropped out of school and joined Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) and organized students to fight martial rule.
Hounded by military spies, De Guzman moved to the countryside to work among villagers. There he became a good acupuncturist.
As an organizer in Mindoro, he mobilized groups to join protests against the assassination of former Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983.
Even after Marcos had fled, De Guzman stayed on in Mindoro. In 1987, he and a local leader were arrested by the military.
De Guzman was heavily tortured and killed, his mutilated body displayed in the town plaza for townsfolk to see. He was 38.
In their early 20s
They were in their early 20s when they died. Blas, Jasul and Del Rosario were 21; Lontok and Torres were 22; and Mesina was 18.
In 1971, Blas helped mobilize the youth in Bataan to protest against the pollution from Bataan Pulp and Paper Mills. Later, as a student at University of the East, he became an active member of the militant group Kabataang Makabayan (KM).
Shortly after the declaration of martial law in 1972, Blas, 21, was killed by soldiers. His body was riddled with bullets.
Also a KM member, Jasul began organizing farmers and the youth in 1971 in his hometown of Lucban, Quezon. The military had him under surveillance.
When martial law was declared, Jasul went into hiding. He and a fellow activist, Eugene Grey, died during a military raid in 1973.
Unknown grave, 1st martyr
Lontok, also a member of SDK, was an agriculture student at the University of the Philippines (UP) in Los Baños, Laguna. His exposure to the countryside opened his eyes to the plight of peasants.
With his comrades, he stayed on in Mount Banahaw to continue their work.
In November, 1972, he and three activists were killed in an Army raid. Their bodies were buried in unknown graves and have never been recovered.
Though born in Mindanao, Mesina grew up in Metro Manila. He enrolled at UP-Diliman for a chemistry course with plans of later studying medicine. But he found himself drawn into campus activism.
In February 1971, Mesina, along with fellow SDK members, joined a protest march and put up barricades for the boycott of classes.
Without warning, a mathematics professor took a rifle and fired at the anti-Marcos activists.
Mesina’s death fueled the clamor for academic freedom that led to the so-called Diliman Commune. He was considered its “first martyr.”
2 for the mountains
He was great in math and chess while he was in UP High School. As a UP government scholar, Torres became a tireless student organizer who took students to the countryside for “integration trips.” He and his brother Boy were members of SDK.
Del Rosario was already exposed to activism while she was studying at Philippine Science High School. She and Torres met at UP-Diliman and became “a couple” during the turbulent months of 1970 to 1971 which gave rise to the so-called First Quarter Storm. This was followed by the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus by Marcos.
Despite the risks, the two set off to organize underground youth groups in Quezon City and Marikina.
In 1973, Torres, his brother, and Del Rosario were arrested while conducting a teach-in among workers.
After 10 months in detention, they were released but were required to report regularly to camp authorities.
Feeling stifled, Torres and Del Rosario decided to leave the city for Ifugao province. Torres worked as a political officer of an armed unit and Del Rosario as a propagandist. Based near the famous Rice Terraces, they adapted to the local culture and the harsh mountain conditions.
In 1975, Torres was reported to have been captured by the military. Efforts to find him proved futile and his body was never found. Del Rosario was on a dawn watch over her armed unit when a military raid ensued. She was killed during the attack.
Torres and Del Rosario had no offspring. ■