Bantayog ng mga Bayani in the Filipino language means “Monument to the Heroes.” It is a landscaped memorial center honoring those individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986.
A 14-meter Inang Bayan (Mother Philippines) Monument designed by the sculptor Eduardo Castrillo stands on the grounds of the memorial center, depicting the self-sacrifice of a fallen figure of a man, held in one hand by the rising figure of a woman who symbolizes the Motherland, while her other hand reaches for the glorious sun of freedom. In the distance stands a Wall of Remembrance, where the names of martyrs are inscribed. The Monument and the Wall of Remembrance were unveiled on 30 November 1992.
After visiting the Philippines immediately after the 1986 People Power Revolution to rejoice over the downfall of an authoritarian regime, Dr. Ruben Mallari, a Filipino-American medical doctor, suggested the establishment of a memorial to honor those martyrs who sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and justice but failed to witness the dawn of freedom.
A group of Filipinos responded to this suggestion and organized the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Memorial Foundation. Dr. Ledivina V. Cariño, former Dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Public Administration, helped draft the concept paper based on the suggestion of Dr. Mallari. The final concept paper stated the rationale for Bantayog :
Freedom has dawned magnificently upon us brought about by our own will, with the help of Divine Providence. We stood together with linked arms as we proclaimed our unity, our dedication to liberty and democracy, and our commitment to our country. With boundless faith, we broke the chains which enslaved us in a regime of terror, intimidation and fraud. But as we enjoy our liberation, 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.
The Bantayog Center aims to reach out mainly to schoolchildren and college students, hoping to help them understand and learn from the people’s struggle against repression. “Never Again!” is a recurring theme of the activities.
Preserving the Memory
Based on a set of criteria for selecting persons to be honored, families of victims, members of civic organizations, and the general public are invited to send the names and personal circumstances of persons who should be honored. A Research and Documentation Committee verifies the factual bases of each nomination and conducts independent researches and investigations, so that the names of obscure, unknown martyrs in remote places may be brought to light. The Executive Committee of the Foundation reviews the recommendations of the Committee, and the Board of Trustees gives the final approval.
The names of the first sixty-five martyrs, some of them well- known such as Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. and many others not as well-known, were enshrined in 1992. The following year, after long reflection, the Foundation decided to include as heroes those who gave their all for the sake of freedom, justice, and democracy during the Marcos years but died after the EDSA Revolution.
Since then, hundreds of heroes and martyrs of the martial law dictatorship have been honored by their names being inscribed on the black granite Wall of Remembrance.
Right behind the Wall of Remembrance is the Jovito R. Salonga Building, which is named after a distinguished political leader who fought against the authoritarian regime. Salonga continues to add his powerful voice to the democratic people’s movement clamoring for human rights, justice and the rule of law.
The Bantayog Museum occupies more than a hundred square meters of space on the second floor of the Jovito R. Salonga Building. On the same floor is the Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco Auditorium where film showings are presented and programs are held. It is named after the Foundation’s Chairperson, a prominent businessman and philanthropist who has served as the country’s ambassador to China and Japan.
A library is now open on the ground floor of the same building. It contains archives and reference materials relating to the same period, and has begun to serve students and scholars wishing to do research.
Awakening a Sense of History
By displaying authentic material objects associated with the heroes and martyrs, as well as with the period of dictatorship, the Bantayog Museum hopes to awaken in its visitors a powerful sense of history as it was actually made by real-life men and women.
In order to place the dictatorship and the corresponding people’s resistance in their historical context while concentrating principally on the period itself of Marcos rule (1972 to 1986), the collection and displays also include the periods immediately before (from 1965) and after (1986-87).
Thus, the pre-martial law section deals with 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.
Methods of torture are documented, and the model of a prison cell draws much attention from visitors.
There is a growing collection of memorabilia from the period of resistance, including underground publications, the “mosquito press,” reports from the various civil-society groups emerging at the time, and expressions of international solidarity. The families and friends of the heroes and martyrs donate much of the Bantayog Museum’s material collections.
Through the years of repression, opposition to the Marcos regime kept growing and broadening until the shocking assassination of the political leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. upon his return to the Philippines from exile in the United States. The ensuing nationwide protests have been well documented; culminating in the world-famous “People Power Revolution” that finally drove the dictator out in February 1986. This event is brought to life in the Bantayog Museum with the scale model of a military tank, stopped in its tracks and covered with flower petals showered by the people gathered to press for the ouster of Marcos.
Meanwhile, a Hall of Remembrance beside the Bantayog Museum is dedicated to the heroes and martyrs, through the capsule biographies and individual photos of each one. This section is meant to inspire love and respect for their sacrifice for the common good, especially in the minds and hearts of young people.
Conscious that many other aspects of the martial law period are not yet included in the permanent display, the Bantayog Museum has been mounting special exhibits from time to time. One of these was a special tribute to the late President Corazon Aquino, who assumed the presidency right after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship, and whose recent demise prompted a massive outpouring of emotions and fresh insights into her legacy of public service. Another special exhibit showed the works of Philippine artists done in the Social Realist style, some of which were painted during the martial law period and others depicting how today realities mirrors those of yesterday.
Concerts and story-telling are among the other activities conducted by the Bantayog Museum. It may be noted that since the Bantayog Center hosts numerous programs, seminars, etc. by various civil- society groups, the latter are also drawn to visit the Bantayog Museum. It is hoped that with more support from the private sector and the general public, more resources will be generated that will allow the implementation of so many ideas that cry out to be done.
Volunteers are the backbone of the staff, a unique aspect of the Bantayog Museum and Library. Many of them were part of the people’s movement against martial law, and are thus able to impart an unforgettable personal touch as they guide visitors around the exhibits. Others are student volunteers with a particular appreciation of the history of the period. Conscious of the need to equip themselves with the requisite professional and technical skills, they have been taking part in a museology training program consisting of visits, seminars and workshops offered by the country’s foremost institutions along this line, led by the National Museum.
The operations of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center are supported and guided by a Board of Trustees headed by the top businessman Alfonso T. Yuchengco as Chairperson and human- rights lawyer Jovito R. Salonga, Chairperson Emeritus, with Nievelena V. Rosete as Executive Director.
Making an Impact
Of the more than forty five thousand visitors who have come to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center, a good number is composed of ex-activists who are now parents and grandparents themselves. Often, they come in groups to relive the time when they put their own lives at stake for the sake of “truth, freedom, justice and democracy” – the watchwords of Bantayog Museum even today.
However, students at all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary) make up the majority of visitors. Because Philippine history is part of the academic curriculum, schools organize annual educational tours of which the Bantayog Museum is increasingly a part. It is not an uncommon sight to see tour buses lined up at the entrance to the Bantayog Memorial Center, loaded with hundreds of students and their teachers all waiting for their turn.
It is mainly because of favorable media coverage over the past two years that these schools (and the tour operators) have come to know about the Bantayog Memorial Center. Bloggers have been a good source of information and promotion, as well.
The Philippine press sees the Bantayog Museum as a timely reminder of the dangers of forgetting the past. “At last a museum for rare courage,” read one headline. One columnist said, “…(S)pend a nice Sunday afternoon there, while the breezes blow and the sun shines, looking at the names carved on the Wall of Remembrance, which belong to those who did something heroic for us in more recent times, which claimed many of their lives, and which is why the breezes blow, and the sun shines for us today.” Not a few have commented, though, that this is still a small museum with fewer items than the bigger ones; others have noted the “little shop of horrors” aspect which are perhaps an unpleasant reminder of the martial law period’s atrocities.
Building up the Bantayog Museum’s collections, as well as properly organizing them with a digitized information system, is the focus of work in the short to medium term. At the same time, the work of educating the public about the Bantayog Museum and its chief concerns should be addressed through more special exhibits, lecture series, conferences and such. A very important complementary task is to dig deeper into the sources of information about martial law; an oral history project must be started while participants during the period are still around to remember and to recount.
This year, 2011, as Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation observes its 25th anniversary, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center envisions itself to be “a leading organization on the martial law years, or the leading organization”.
The words of Senator Salonga sum up what Bantayog ng mga Bayani foundation will continue to aim at:
“We shall proclaim our firm resolve to keep faith with our martyrs and heroes and our deepest conviction that this land of the morning, the repository of our hopes and dreams, is worth living for and dying for.”