Photo by Frances Urbiztondo

Text by Agatha Gregorio

Razor-sharp headlines punctuate the national dailies. The newspapers, it seems, are warning us of an oncoming storm, delivering the sign of the times.

‘Malacanang declares holiday in Ilocos Norte for Marcos’ 100th birthday’

‘Marcos buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani’

“Masakit talaga na inilibing siya sa Libingan ng mga Bayani, kasi symbol ‘yun eh, that this government has recognized Marcos as a hero,” said Maria Cristina Rodriguez, a torture victim during former President Ferdinand Marcos’ administration.

A beat passed before she continued, “But in exchange, ‘yung awakening ng youth, ay hindi ko ‘yun ipagpapalit.”

According to her, monuments can be shattered and rendered meaningless, but nothing surpasses the worth of the youth’s awareness of the dark years of authoritarian rule. When she talks of the hashtags that have been spreading all over the internet such as #MarcosNotAHero and #NeverAgainToMartialLaw, there is a sense of both gratitude and relief.

People like her have recognized the need for truth to reign in a censored society, shackled within the cages of a restrained media. This, a large contrast from today’s liberty in social media expression, was the kind of world she had to live in.

Yet, people like her found ways to voice out their political concerns. Most became victim to the martial law era’s unethical, extrajudicial practices, with some leading to death.

Their stories, however, are more than deserving of the same, if not more attention than the ways in which the late Philippine dictator continues to be commemorated today.

They were, and continue to be, the heroes that have sacrificed greatly in the name of our freedom.

Mapagpalayang ‘Malaya’

Joe Burgos is known for being the journalist who established “We Forum” and “Malaya”, newspapers which have contributed significantly to the overthrow of the Marcos administration.

With print media mainly consisting of state-owned newspapers, or those established by Marcos’ cronies, Burgos had been one to pave the way towards alternative news during a time wherein press freedom was truly lacking, if not totally non-existent.

According to his son, JL Burgos, he worked at the Philippine National Oil Company, right after having written for the Manila Times. However, after seeing how the suppression of information during the Marcos administration, he left the big paychecks that came with working at the company to start “We Forum”.

It had taken some adjustments and personal sacrifices for both him and the family to start the newspaper.

“Nanay ko nagsangla ng mga jewelries para makapagtayo ng dyaryo, dahil kailangan talagang maglabas ng dyaryo na independent; na ipapakita ang human rights violations, corruption, at iba pa,” he said.

Joe had originally applied for a permit for the newspaper under the name “We for the Young Filipinos”, making it appear as a campus publication. Due to low budget allocation, campus journalists were recruited for the newspaper.

Soon enough, they began publishing articles that opposed martial law in the Philippines. One article, in particular, exposed the dictator’s medals as fake–and Marcos himself threatened those involved in the writing of the article in a press conference that followed.

A month later, the “We Forum” office was raided, resulting in the arrest of Joe Burgos and his lawyer. He was later put under house arrest, but this did not stop him from starting another independent newspaper, which was “Malaya”, in the hopes of continuing the goal to inform the public of the truth.

“Malaya”, in fact, was the first newspaper to publish an article on Ninoy Aquino’s death.

The journalistic work that Burgos had engaged in could have played a great role in the collaborative forces that came about at the time, leading to the People Power Revolution. However, there were also other actions from beyond the media that helped propagate the injustices accompanying the martial law era.

Sacrifice and Activism

Maria Cristina Rodriguez is the executive director of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, which is dedicated to the commemoration of martial law victims during the Marcos administration. In addition to this, she had been a student activist in college, also having been a torture victim at the time.

Despite the dangers present, activists such as students had played a great role in forwarding the movement to end martial law, she said.

“‘Yung mga taga-UP, they’d leave little notes sa toilet. Gagawa sila ng mga stickers, ilalagay nila sa doors ng mga cubicles ng toilets, just to let the other person know that others are still free in their minds. Hindi lahat nabola. Hindi lahat natakot.” Rodriguez shared.

Most anti-Marcos activists had to hide out in the provinces and take up arms, despite not being trained to handle them, due to the need for protection. According to her, most of them still died under the hands of the government.

Evident in her words were admiration for their bravery and courage, as she recalls all these people had sacrificed themselves to overthrow the dictatorship, or at the very least, recognize the injustices that plague the Philippine government and its people.

She said,“Marami diyang mga aktibista, they had promising lives. They could have been lawyers, senators or successful businessmen. But still, they decided, at that time, nung panahon pa ng Marcos dictatorship, some urgent thing had to be done, and they did it.”

Testaments to heroism can be clearly seen through the youth’s slow, but steady awakening towards the truth, and to what the martial law victims gave up to earn us our freedom and our rights. And perhaps, this is the symbol of who the Filipino people truly recognize as heroes.

These people rose to the call that eventually led to a great deal of suffering and sacrifice, without thinking of the possibility of reward or recognition. And perhaps, they are without monuments or statues or accolades written and sculpted in their name. But what is there to hollow monuments without true cause for struggle?


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