Cory Aquino, nun, 4 activists join Bantayog heroes

(Written by Ma. Ceres Doyo for the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Former President Corazon C. Aquino leads this year’s batch of heroes and martyrs whose names will be inscribed on the Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes).

Besides Aquino, the latest additions to the roster are Sr. Asuncion Martinez, ICM, and activists Antonio G. Ariado, Melito T. Glor, Alfredo L. Malicay and Ronald Jan F. Quimpo.

The yearly Bantayog rites are held either on Nov. 30, Bonifacio Day, or Dec. 10, Human Rights Day.

Both Aquino and Martinez have been classified as heroes. They died of natural causes at a late age—Aquino at 76 on Aug. 1 and Martinez at 84 in 1994. The four young men, who all died in their 20s in the 1970s, are considered martyrs.

This year’s honorees bring to 179 the number of names etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance near the 45-foot bronze monument by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo that depicts a defiant mother holding a fallen son.

The monument, the wall and other structures in the Bantayog complex are 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.”

The Bantayog recognition is conferred only after a close examination of a person’s life and manner of death.

Aquino couple

Aquino, fondly called Tita Cory by Filipinos, continues to be recognized around the world as an icon of democracy and had received numerous honors here and abroad while she was alive.

Her husband, former Sen. Benigno S. Aquino, who was assassinated in 1983, was among the first 65 persons whose names were etched on the Wall of Remembrance in 1992. The Aquinos are not the first couple to be included in the Bantayog roster. Their sacrifices and love of country are known to almost every Filipino.

Bantayog is honoring the former President for leading the fight to end the Marcos dictatorship, restoring civilian supremacy, reestablishing government accountability and helping restore the faith of the Filipino in themselves, their country and in democracy.

She is also being cited for “upholding her electoral mandate by stepping down at the end of her term, thus ensuring a calm transition.”

Nun at barricades

Martinez, or Sister Asun as she was fondly called, of the Immaculate Heart of Mary began her missionary work in the academic setting. When she was nearing her 60s, she responded to the call to work for the “church of the poor” and immersed herself among sugar workers in the Visayas.

She worked with the National Federation of Sugar Workers and the Federation of Free Farmers, and became exposed to the plight of sugar workers and farmers. She was among the founders of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines.

When she returned to Manila in 1972, she immersed herself among workers and the urban poor. In 1975, when workers of the La Tondeña Distillery decided to strike to press their demands, she was among those they trusted to help them.

When soldiers broke up the strike and hauled the strikers to prison, Sister Asun dared them to arrest her, too, and held on to the bus that carried the workers.

“La Tondeña was my second baptism,” Martinez wrote in the book “I Climb Mountains.” She said: “I acquired a new heart, a new vision, a new understanding of my country’s history and my people.”

After La Tondeña, Sister Asun became involved with the Urban Missionaries, the Friends of the Workers and other groups that supported workers. She continued to live with the poor in Bagong Barrio in Caloocan City, long after she had reached “retirement age.”

She ran The Wooden House which became a haven for distressed workers and activists.

Martinez died in 1994.

Escribiente

Born in 1949 to a well-to-do family in Sorsogon, Ariado excelled in academics. A gifted orator, poet and stage actor, he was also called escribiente or writer. He was also into sports.

When he went to college at Far Eastern University, Ariado became exposed to national issues. He joined demonstrations and experienced rough police dispersal. Undaunted, he continued to join rallies against US involvement in Vietnam.

Ariado became a member of the National Union of Students of the Philippines and, later, of the militant Kabataang Makabayan (KM). In 1970, he transferred to Araneta University but soon dropped out and returned home.

He then began organizing a local chapter of KM. He organized a long march in Bicol so that ordinary people could air their grievances and press for reforms.

When martial law was imposed in 1972, Ariado learned that he was on the government’s wanted list. With other activists, he went underground and joined the guerrilla movement. His family suffered harassment because of his activities.

A year later, Ariado and 12 others died in a military operation. He was 24.

Guerrilla fighter

Glor, who was from Quezon province, also came from a well-to-do family.

In high school, Glor was often called the campus James Dean. Bold and daring, he was a natural leader. In his yearbook, he wrote that his ambition was to be a soldier.

But Glor went to the University of the Philippines for a pre-med course, hoping to become a doctor. Soon activism got in the way of this ambition. He was often in protest rallies.

When martial law was declared in 1972, Glor went home to Quezon and recruited people for the armed resistance. He soon became one of the leading officers of the communist armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) in Southern Luzon and Bicol.

Glor married someone named Flor in 1973, but marriage did not stop him from doing his guerrilla work. He was a wanted man.

While on a trek with his pregnant wife and comrades, military troops caught up with them and opened fire without warning.

Glor died in the first volley. He was 24.

His wife, who was unhurt, was arrested. One of their companions, Manuel Blasco, was executed the next day.

The Melito Glor Command, an NPA command in Southern Luzon, was named after him.

Scholar

Malicay was the son of poor farmers from Davao. As a student, he was hardworking and showed natural leadership. He graduated from high school with honors and was awarded a college scholarship by the 4H Club Scholarship Program.

He enrolled at the UP College of Agriculture in Los Baños, Laguna, and studied agricultural chemistry.

Malicay showed exceptional writing skills and became editor in chief from 1968 to 1969 of the Aggie Green and Gold, the student publication of the college. He joined the KM and, later, the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity.

As a KM organizer, Malicay recruited members from different schools. He wrote articles for the school publication, urging students to embrace nationalism, democracy and academic freedom.

He also supported friends from the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan.

Malicay and his friends organized a Friday discussion group which met and discussed the books of nationalist Renato Constantino and Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong.

Malicay finished his course in 1971 but he did not seek employment after graduation. He went into full-time organizing in Laguna, Quezon and Batangas, calling on the youth to demand social reforms for the exploited sectors of society.

He went back to school for graduate studies in UP Diliman, but when martial law was imposed in 1972, he returned to Los Baños to do full-time recruitment work against the dictatorship.

In 1973, while Malicay was in Malabon for a meeting with fellow activists, the house they were in was raided by the military. Three were arrested and two were shot dead.

Malicay was one of the dead. He was 27.

Because his family was too poor to travel from Davao to Manila, Malicay’s fraternity brothers took charge of retrieving his body and burying him at the Navotas Public Cemetery. Three of his brothers later also joined the anti-Marcos movement.

Well-behaved boy

Quimpo was known to be a well-behaved boy, but he also had a rebellious streak.

Born in Iloilo City, Quimpo was the seventh of nine children. He attended San Beda College in Manila for his elementary schooling and went to Philippine Science High School (PSHS) where he got exposed to activism. He was only in high school when he joined the KM.

He joined rallies to protest a sudden increase in gas prices in 1971. The shooting of a student further fanned the flame of protests.

Although he was only a senior at PSHS, Quimpo joined the students in barricading the UP campus in Diliman, Quezon City. The standoff became to be known as the Diliman Commune.

Quimpo went to UP for a degree in BS Geology. But his love for science could not match his desire to become a revolutionary and “serve the masses.” He left school and spent time in poor quarrying communities on the outskirts of the city where he felt like he was in a “Little Isabela,” the northern province where many activists dreamed of going.

Quimpo became aware of police abuses against the poor and was determined to work for their cause.

One day in 1973, while Quimpo was in the house of a fellow activist, narcotics agents raided the house. He and two other students, and two sisters who lived in the house were taken to a camp and subjected to psychological and physical torture.

One of the sisters, Liliosa Hilao, died after suffering torture.

Quimpo was a changed man after the experience. He quietly resumed his geology course. One day in 1977, the Philippine Constabulary raided the Quimpo house to arrest him and his younger brother, Ishmael Jr.

Not finding them, the soldiers left. One morning two weeks later, Quimpo, then 23, left home, saying he would be back for dinner. He never returned. He was never found.

Memorial

Located at the corner of EDSA (Epifanio delos Santos Avenue) and Quezon Avenue in Quezon City, the Bantayog Memorial Center complex now boasts of a P16-million building, with a 1,000-square-meter floor space. It has a small auditorium with 72 seats, symbolic of the year (1972) tyrannical rule was imposed through martial law.

A museum and library-archives are also housed in the building.

Bantayog’s 1.5-hectare property was donated by the government, through Landbank, a year after the Marcos dictatorship was toppled and Aquino became president.

Every year, names are added to the Wall of Remembrance. The first 65 names were engraved on the black granite wall in 1992. An estimated 10,000 Filipinos are believed to have suffered and died during the Marcos dictatorship that ended in 1986.

Set up after the 1986 People Power Revolution, The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation Inc. is chaired by Alfonso T. Yuchengco. Former Sen. Jovito R. Salonga is chair emeritus.

Bantayog’s facilities could accommodate special gatherings for special occasions.