Museum puts a face on little-known martial law martyrs

By TJ Burgonio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:51:00 09/21/2008

MANILA, Philippines—There are only close-up pictures lifted from yearbooks and family albums, and yet this gallery contains the official records of some of the countless people who died fighting the Marcos dictatorship.

President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law 36 years ago on Sunday.

In his picture, Emmanuel Lazo of Nueva Vizcaya sports a thick head of hair and looks like someone in his 20s.

But Lazo’s profile offers startling information: As a student of the Central Luzon State University in 1985, he joined the League of Filipino Students, and took part in the five-day “Lakbayan” march to Manila. He was fatally shot in the head on Taft Avenue in Manila on Oct. 21, 1985.

He was 17—the youngest of the 52 young martyrs profiled in the gallery.

And Lazo was not alone.

University of the Philippines economics student Dennis Rolando Deveraturda, who worked with farmers in his home province of Zambales, was abducted from the family home in February 1972.

His bullet-riddled body was found days later. Hundreds of people attended his funeral. He was 19.

High school student Delia Cortez, who led women and youth in rallies against factory pollution and later went to the countryside to help tend to the sick, died from a shot in the back in Bataan on Jan. 23, 1977. She was 19.

In the flush of youth

And then there were the brothers Romulo and Armando Palabay, 22 and 21, both UP students who organized anti-Marcos campaigns in their home province of La Union, and who were killed separately by military and paramilitary units.

“It’s clear many of the martyrs were the young ones,” said museum director Carolina “Bobbie” Malay. “In Philippine revolutions, many of our heroes were in their teens.”

Opened in February at the year-old Bantayog ng mga Bayani Museum, the Hall of Remembrance helps flesh out the more than 170 martyrs (those who disappeared and died before 1986) and heroes (those who survived beyond 1986) of martial law and puts their heroism in context.

In this gallery, the visitor gets acquainted with the youth, educators, farmers, activists, artists and public servants who resisted the dictatorship through black and white photos and brief profiles mounted on floor-to-ceiling panels.

Until February, people knew most of them only by their names engraved on the black granite Wall of Remembrance beneath the 35-foot bronze sculpture inside the Bantayog Memorial Center in Quezon City.

Most are smiling in their palm-sized pictures, but the accompanying vignettes inform the visitor of their violent end.

“I wanted to give them a face, what were their advocacies, and how they died,” said Felissa “Fei” Supapo, who mounted the exhibit as part of the requirements for her master’s degree in cultural heritage at the University of Santo Tomas.

Prominent names

Her inspiration was the Holocaust Museum in the United States.

In the shrine one cannot miss the prominent personalities who stood up to President Ferdinand Marcos from the time he declared martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, until he was toppled by a bloodless people’s revolt in February 1986.

They were the likes of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Lorenzo Tañada, publishers Joaquin Roces and Jose Burgos Jr., poet Emmanuel Lacaba, and student leaders Lean Alejandro and Edgar Jopson, among others.

How it started

Supapo, 32, and the museum staff mounted the exhibit in a small room on the second floor of the Sen. Jovito Salonga Building to mark the anniversary of the February 1986 “people’s revolt.”

The museum decided to make it permanent, for obvious reasons.

(“This is very interesting, and very informative,” National Transmission Corp. engineer Juanito Santos mused on his first visit to the gallery on Thursday morning.)

The museum, which opened in August 2007, keeps some files of pictures and personal data of only a number of the heroes and martyrs. Supapo found these insufficient and decided to write letters to the families, requesting materials about their sons and daughters.

Thus, between January and February, graduation and group pictures culled from yearbooks and family albums, as well as mementos, such as letters, books, and even clothes, arrived at the museum by mail or personal delivery.

“What made it tough was the dearth of materials,” Supapo said on the phone Friday morning from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila, where she teaches interior design. (She holds a degree in interior design from UST.)

“[But] the families were very happy to share the materials because they wanted their children to be remembered, too,” she said.

Rare pictures

With a P70,000 budget from the museum, Supapo scanned the pictures and reduced each to a standard size of 4 cm x 6 cm, and wrote the profiles based on museum files and recollections of the living family members.

Still, one would notice that some lacked pictures. Malay said this was hardly surprising because families then would burn pictures of their children who were on the military’s “wanted list” lest these end up in soldiers’ hands.

“The military would come barging into your home to ask for pictures of your children who are involved in the resistance. Many families burned and disposed of their children’s pictures. What we have here are rare pictures,” she said.

Sketches took the place of some nonexistent pictures, as in the case of Macli-ing Dulag, a respected Kalinga elder who was shot dead by government agents on April 24, 1980, after fiercely opposing the Chico Dam that threatened to inundate homes, terraces, orchards and graveyards in the Cordillera.

In response to Supapo’s request, many families brought not only an album of their children’s pictures but also personal items.

The family of Fr. Nilo Valerio Jr., SVD, brought his favorite striped T-shirt, the one he was wearing when he and community organizers Resteta Fernandez and Soledad Salvador were beheaded by soldiers in Bakun, Benguet, on Aug. 24, 1985. Their heads were tied to poles and paraded in the villages.

Valerio was then 33.

His shirt, washed clean of the bloodstains, and some letters of activists to their families are on display in a glass case in the middle of the gallery.

There is also the compilation of “propaganda songs” recorded by student activist Ishmael Quimpo before he was shot to death, and a narration of poems by Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, which one can listen to on an MP3 player installed at the gallery entrance.

“It was a learning experience,” said Supapo, who was born in 1976 and grew up in Blumentritt, Manila, in a time of midnight curfew.

“I came to know our heroes, especially the students who were willing to sacrifice their lives to right wrongs for the good of our country,” she said.

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