Bantayog ng mga Bayani honors 13 ‘pillars’

AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo - The Philippine Star

Engraved in golden letters on the granite Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog Memorial Center in Quezon City are the names of the heroes and martyrs who fought with the people against the long Marcos dictatorship.

Each year, for 38 years now, families have come together to commemorate the sacrifices and achievements of their loved ones. Over time, this peaceful place crowned by trees amidst the busy traffic of Quezon Avenue has come to be a pilgrimage site not just for families both proud and grieving, but for countless others who want to remember.

By honoring them in this manner, Bantayog ng mga Bayani “tells the stories about the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship and the valor of the Filipino people who fought against it to regain democracy,” says a recent commemorative publication. Since its founding, “Bantayog has pushed back against attempts to erase the memories of the dictatorship from the consciousness of the Filipino people.”

The Bantayog founding chairperson was the esteemed patriot, Jovito R. Salonga. His sterling intellect and unbending moral principles have guided the work of the foundation. The current chairperson is Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, whose human rights work continues the legacy of his father, Jose W. Diokno. These are the names that are still remembered today as having been among the truly shining stars of the Philippine Senate.

Last April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan, was marked by a different celebration by Bantayog as it paid tribute to five women and eight men, all elders of the community, who made meaningful contributions in the early years before stepping aside to give way to a younger generation of leaders.

The 13 honorees (in alphabetical order) are: Feliciano R. Belmonte Jr., Felipe L. Gozon, Gloria A. Jopson Kintanar, Jose Maria F. Lacaba, Edcel C. Lagman, Carolina S. Malay, Helen N. Mendoza, Artemio V. Panganiban, Salvacion Z. Perez, Judy Araneta Roxas, Rene Augusto V. Saguisag, Wigberto E. Tanada and Deogracias N. Vistan.

“Today, in solidarity with the Filipino nation celebrating Araw ng Kagitingan,” Bantayog said, it “celebrates these men and women who, like many of our countrymen, love this nation and fought for its freedom in various ways. Saludo kami sa inyo!” Each one was declared a “haligi” or pillar of the organization.

As the original stalwarts of the anti-dictatorship resistance retire from public life, Bantayog has been trying mightily to keep the flame alive. Year-round activities – symposiums, museum tours, concerts and other cultural events – gather the families and, more importantly, the youth and students.

Although funds continue to come in small amounts, these are not enough. One remembers that in the very beginning (1987-88), there was a fundraising drive, “Bayan Muna Bago ang Sarili” to support Bantayog. This was spearheaded by one of the April 9 honorees, Sonny Belmonte, who was three-term mayor of Quezon City and former Speaker of the House of Representatives. That led to a long-term partnership between Bantayog and the QC government, now headed by his daughter, Mayor Joy Belmonte.

A second honoree was Felipe Gozon, GMA Network chair, a close collaborator of Jovito Salonga and one of Bantayog’s incorporators. As trustee for 30 years (1992-2022), he served as treasurer and Bantayog Executive Committee member. He sought to ensure that the foundation had sufficient funds to run its operations.

Gloria Jopson Kintanar was another long-term trustee. She was married to Edgar Jopson (an outstanding student leader derided by Marcos as being merely “a grocer’s son”) – killed by government troops in Mindanao. She later married Romulo Kintanar, a leader of the New People’s Army. As Bantayog trustee from 2004 to 2014, she headed the important Screening Committee (2013-2015).

The renowned journalist, activist, poet, essayist and screenwriter Pete Lacaba was also honored. He and his brother Emman (killed in Mindanao) were among the best writers of their generation. As Bantayog trustee (1999-2005), Pete headed the Journey with Heroes committee that told the stories of the struggle for democracy against authoritarian rule. Active in the underground press, he was arrested, tortured and detained for two years but released without charges.

Human rights lawyer Edcel Lagman has performed a critical fiscalizing job as a member of the House of Representatives for many years now. He played a key role in abolishing capital punishment in 2006. He served as Bantayog trustee. In 2016, he joined the call to exhume the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ body that was hastily and surreptitiously buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

A former journalist and journalism professor, Bobbie Malay was Bantayog trustee (2008-2022), vice chairperson (2018-2022) and headed the Bantayog Museum Committee (2013-2915). She worked with experts and a big pool of volunteers to set up the small museum, which continues to be a key feature of Bantayog’s educational program. Her parents are both honored as Bantayog heroes.

Helen Mendoza, a UP professor of English and comparative literature, became a member of Bantayog’s first Research and Documentation Committee, which documented the life of those who died in fighting the dictatorship. She helped craft the policies and rigorous process in the selection of heroes and martyrs.

Artemio V. Panganiban, former Chief Justice, was honored by the Philippine Bar Association as “a principled and visionary leader by example.” He wrote 1,200 court decisions, plus 12 books between l994-2021. He voted to convict Imelda Marcos in a case. On Marcos Jr.’s attempt at historical revisionism, “he fearlessly reasserted the truth about the ‘organized pillage’ of the Marcos regime and enumerated the Marcos assets that the (Supreme Court) has found ill-gotten.”

Judy Araneta Roxas, widow of former Sen. Gerardo Roxas and mother of former Sen. Mar Roxas, was one of the earliest supporters and sponsors of Bantayog.

Human rights lawyer Rene A.V. Saguisag was a Bantayog trustee and frequent resource speaker. He was one of the senators who voted against the extension of the RP-US military bases treaty, opposed the EDCA and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

Former Antique Gov. Sally Zaldivar Perez, as a trustee (2002-2008), helped spur Bantayog to recognize that during martial law many Filipinos opted for armed struggle because efforts through peaceful means in opposing the dictatorship were curtailed.

“Ka Bobby” Tañada, human rights defender, was Bantayog chairperson from 2017 to 2022. He was the son and helpmate of Lorenzo “Ka Tanny” Tañada, hero of the popular movement against Marcos martial rule. Ka Bobby led the Senate “Magnificent 12” in voting to reject the extension of the RP-US military bases agreement.

As Landbank president, in l988, Deogracias Vistan facilitated the long-term lease, authorized by then president Cory Aquino’s Presidential Proclamation 319, of the 1.5-hectare Landbank property for Bantayog to build its Memorial Center. He was Bantayog trustee from 1992 to 2013.

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