(By Carmencita Karagdag, representing the families of Bishop Julio Labayen, Jose Tangente and Romulo Peralta, on November 30, 2016, at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, Quezon City)
Isang maalab at mapagpalayang pagbati ngayong makasaysayang araw ng pagbubunyi sa ating mga yumaong bayani na buong giting at walang humpay na nakibaka laban sa mapaniil na diktadurang Marcos.
That we are honoring today our heroes–and let me stress, genuine heroes–against the backdrop of the dramatic upsurge of mass and youth protests against insidious attempts at rehabilitating the dark legacy of Marcos makes this afternoon’s event even more relevant and compelling.
I am deeply honored, yet humbled, to represent in this response, families and comrades of three extraordinary church people who made it their sacred vocation to give flesh to the Gospel imperative of serving the poor and liberating the oppressed. Theirs was the heroic mission to be faithful to the sterling example of Jesus Christ who valiantly defied the despotic regimes of his times.
Today we salute our church heroes: the late Bishop Julio Labayen, Jose Aquilino Tangente, and my own husband, Romulo Peralta. Their exemplary role in the anti-dictatorship movement and passionate stories of struggle against the evils of their times underline the fact that progressive church people have been an integral part of the Filipino people’s struggle for freedom and liberation.
Bishop Julio Labayen–a legend of his times who touched many lives–embodied the Christian precept of preferential option for the poor, making it his life vocation to be a builder of the “Church of the Poor”, integrating with, and helping organize, impoverished communities. It was while administering their family estate, that he first witnessed the deprivations suffered by sugar plantation workers. Coming from a landed clan in Negros province and graduating with a string of honors, including summa cum laude from a Catholic university in Rome, he had no qualms giving up comfort and relinquishing power and pelf to be true to his Christian calling. His book, “Revolution and the Church” and his preachings on “how to be a shepherd in solidarity with his flocks” resonated with the Marxist inspired liberation theology then current in Latin America. Thus, all through his long ministry, he was hounded both by his fellow church leaders and by the military who labelled him a communist, making him a target for assassination. While the official church hierarchy had remained silent for the most part of dictatorial regime, he was among the first Catholic bishops, the so-called Magnificent Seven, to issue an open letter to Marcos strongly condemning the atrocities of Martial Law.
Less known but particularly moving is the account of extraordinary valor and heroism displayed by former seminarian turned Red fighter, Jose Aquilino Tangente. At an early age in the early seventies, he joined the Kilusang Kristiyano ng Kabataang Pilipino, of which–I am proud to say–I happen to be among the early founders. His student and church activism took a more dramatic turn when, after Martial Law was declared–and to his mother’s frustration who long dreamed that his son join the priesthood–he abandoned his studies in a Catholic seminary and decided to join the armed struggle. On his way to the countryside, he was arrested, detained and heavily tortured by the Philippine Constabulary. He managed to escape later and subsequently took up arms as an unrepentant revolutionary. In villages close to his encampment, Boy, as he was then called, used his intellectual resources and political skills to conduct teach-ins that empowered indigenous peoples in their struggle against unwanted encroachments on their ancestral land. It was during these meetings with local villagers that he was spotted and killed by soldiers while heroically helping three of his women comrades to escape.
Finally, I wish to express my profound appreciation to the Bantayog ng mga Bayani for including my late husband Romulo Peralta in this year’s roll of honorees. Coming from a devout Protestant family and with a kind and gentle mien, it was not easy to see through the rage that burned in Romy’s heart against an exploitative system that robbed the poor of their humanity. Perceptive and generous to a fault, it was not long before he would give up his medical studies and commit himself to selfless activism. He did not falter in his commitments even when we were forced to go underground after a raid in our house, that resulted in the incarceration and torture of my four siblings. Upon the intervention of the World Council of Churches and the Christian Conference of Asia, we were allowed later to surface and go on exile in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan where Romy employed his immense resourcefulness in establishing the first solidarity center for the Philippines, earliest solidarity groups in Asia-Pacific and the first Filipino migrant organization overseas, A natural diplomat, his wide realm of international solidarity linkages spanned a whole gamut of ideological persuasions–from left-wing communist parties and militant labor organizations to church groups, human rights organizations, socialist parliamentarians, and progressive academics. As his wife of many years, I knew all along that our difficult years in the underground and in exile–separated from our small children–had been particularly trying and painful to my late husband who was at heart a devoted family man and nurturer.
Friends, may these compelling stories of resistance infuse us with renewed vigor to persevere–against all odds–in our just struggle for human rights and genuine liberation. May these shining examples of defiance energize and propel us to new heights in our mass mobilizations against insidious attempts at rehabilitating the dark legacy of Marcos.