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