Three individuals and a group of 19, mostly teenagers, are to be honored Tuesday as martyrs and heroes in ceremonies at Bantayog ng mga Bayani (Monument of Heroes) in Quezon City. Their names will be added to the list etched on the black granite Wall of Remembrance, bringing the total number to 223.
To be honored are Inocencio Tocmo Ipong (1945-1983), a church worker and former political detainee; Nicasio Manalo Morales (1955-1999), a consumer advocate and, later, a US-based antimartial law activist; Cesar Ella Hicaro (1947-1980); and a group of 19 young Filipinos collectively known as the Escalante martyrs, who were mostly in their teens when shot dead during a 1985 rally in Negros Occidental province.
All were opposed to the martial law regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and considered freedom advocates. The way they lived and died varied but they all had a heroic streak that made them worthy to be included in the list of names engraved on the Wall of Remembrance.
The wall stands a few meters from the 45-foot bronze monument by renowned sculptor Eduardo Castrillo. The monument depicts a defiant mother raising up a fallen son.
The monument, the commemorative wall and other structures at the Bantayog complex are dedicated to the nation’s modern-day martyrs and heroes who fought against all odds to help restore freedom, peace, justice, truth and democracy in the country.
Born in North Cotabato, Ipong spent three college years at a seminary in Davao City and later transferred to San Carlos University in Cebu City where he graduated. In college he got involved in farmers’ struggles. Eventually, he joined the Federation of Free Farmers as an organizer.
When martial rule was declared in 1972, Ipong saw the abuses brought about by authoritarian rule. He worked as a lay assistant of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, an organization founded by the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. He organized marginalized communities in order to empower them to fight exploitation.
In 1982, Ipong was abducted and illegally detained in Camp Catitipan in Davao City. He was declared missing for some time until his father, who was looking for him, heard him calling from behind the grills. Ipong had been tortured by his military captors who wanted him to admit he was the man they were looking for.
On Nov. 20, 1983, Ipong, along with a group of 12 religious and lay, was traveling to Cebu on board MV Cassandra when they encountered bad weather. The group was on their way to a seminar. The boat sank and with it more than 200 passengers. Among the fatalities were religious/human rights workers (who had been honored in Bantayog ahead of Ipong).
For his elementary and high school education, Morales attended De La Salle Grade School and Ateneo de Manila University, respectively. He was a college freshman at the University of the Philippines when martial rule was imposed in 1972. He was among the activists arrested at the time. His father, too, spent time in detention.
After his release, Morales continued his studies. He took up graduate courses and became the Grand Chancellor of the Alpha Phi Omega fraternity. It was during his term that the so-called “Oblation run” or running naked for a cause was begun.
After completing his graduate studies, Morales worked with the National Environmental Protection Council. He also became involved with Kilusang Mamimili ng Pilipinas, a consumer protection group that decried the dumping of unsafe products on the market. His group also opposed the building of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.
Being an anti-Marcos activist and organizer, Morales was a marked and wanted man. To elude arrest, he decided to leave the country. For a while his comrades thought he was missing until he wrote, from his hiding place, an article, “Why I am where I am,” which was published in Mr. & Ms. magazine.
Even while abroad, Morales did not stop his advocacy. He joined patriotic Filipino organizations, lobbied for the stopping of US military aid to the Philippines, and condemned militarization and human rights violations.
With the toppling of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986 and the administration of Cory Aquino in place, Morales led the Alliance of Philippine Concerns to lobby the US Congress for Philippine interests and help the new administration.
Morales and his family returned to the Philippines in 1990. All the work he had done must have taken a toll on his health. In 1999, at the age of 44, he died of heart attack.
Shot dead at 26
Born in Quezon province, Hicaro spent his early schooling in different provinces because of his father’s work as a school teacher. Still, he graduated high school valedictorian and won a scholarship at the UP Los Baños College of Agriculture.
Majoring in Agronomy, Hicaro hoped to contribute to nation-building. With the rise of student activism in the 1960s, Hicaro became involved with activist groups, such as Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan. He campaigned for academic freedom and better student services.
After finishing college in 1968, Hicaro stayed on for graduate studies, becoming a botany teaching fellow. Considered a nationalist-scientist, he questioned government agricultural policies that favored foreign interests. When martial law was declared in 1972, Hicaro went underground and continued to do organizing work.
On Oct. 24, 1973, while Hicaro’s group was asleep in an underground house in Malabon, armed military men came to raid the place. In the scuffle, two were shot dead—Hicaro and Alfredo Malicay (also a Bantayog hero). Two escaped, while three women were arrested.
Hicaro left a wife and a daughter.
Sugar-producing Negros Occidental, then considered a social volcano because of the wide economic gap between the haves and the have-nots, was the perfect setting for an encounter between a throng of demonstrators and military men.
In 1985, the 13th year of the Marcos dictatorship, a nationwide protest was in the making. It was called “welgang bayan” (national strike) meant to draw thousands. On Sept. 18, the eve of the three-day strike, people began to gather in the town of New Escalante, 95 kilometers north of Bacolod City.
On Day 1, Sept. 19, more people came, many from remote areas, bringing with them family members and food for the duration of the protest. On Day 2, Sept. 20, protesters filled the roads while armed soldiers, policemen and paramilitary forces surrounded them. Fire trucks were brought in to disperse the crowd.
At around noon, the water cannons fired. Tear gas followed. People shouted, “Bigas, hindi tear gas!” (Rice, not tear gas!) At high noon or thereabouts, the firing began. Several farmworkers and a student leader were instantly killed. Armed soldiers pursued those who ran to the cane and rice fields.
Twenty in all were killed that day: William Alegre (18), Michael Dayanan (17), Rodney Demegilio (age undetermined, a father of two, whose two other children died of malnutrition), Rovena Franco (14), Alex Labatos (18), Angelina Lape (17), Norberto Laconilao (16) and Rodolfo Mahinay (23).
Rogelio Megallen Jr. (21), Claro Monares (age unknown), Maria Luz Mondejar (16), Rodolfo Montealto (21), Aniano Ornopia (27), Nenita Orot (20), Edgardo Salili (23), Ronilo Santa Ana (17), Juanito Suarez Jr. (24), Manuel Tan (18) and Caesar Tejones (24).
Juvelyn Jaravello, 20, a parish worker and protest leader, had been recognized as a Bantayog martyr ahead of the rest. In that tragic incident, the first shot that was fired killed her instantly. She was holding the microphone. Many of those killed were farmworkers.
The anniversary rites and conferment of honors will be held at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Bantayog Memorial Center located near the intersection of Edsa and Quezon Avenue. Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno will be the guest speaker.
The Bantayog complex now includes a P16-million building that houses a small auditorium, library, archives and a museum.
Bantayog’s 1.5-hectare property was donated by the first Aquino administration, through Landbank, the year after the Marcos dictatorship was toppled and Cory Aquino was swept to the presidency in 1986.
Every year, names are added to the Wall of the Remembrance. The first 65 names were engraved on the wall in 1992. The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation is chaired by Alfonso T. Yuchengco. Former Senate President Jovito R. Salonga is chair emeritus.