“The martyrs and heroes of the martial law days take intensified significance these days when, after more than 30 years, the spectre that haunts those of us who lived through the Marcos regime is of that dynasty poised to take power again.
“It seems that we are going to need our heroes more than ever before. I’m hoping the coming days will not see more martyrs added to the list. As it is, names from the struggle of decades ago are still being added to the Wall of Remembrance.”
Thus did former health secretary Esperanza Cabral spark her inspirational talk last Nov. 30 at the annual honoring of martyrs and heroes in the people’s resistance against the Marcos dictatorship. The event took place at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center in Quezon City where, so far, 320 names are engraved on a granite Wall of Remembrance.
The Bantayog Board of Trustees chose Dr. Cabral as guest of honor and speaker because three of the six honorees this year were health workers: nurse Minda Luz Quesada (as hero) and physicians Remberto dela Paz and Juan Escandor (as martyrs), who both opted to serve the people in the countryside and were murdered by state forces. She called Quesada “a patriot, leader… someone I know and admire.” Escandor was Cabral’s classmate in college at UP Diliman, and Dela Paz she came to know through her association with his widow Sylvia, also a doctor.
Datu Masiding Alangadi Alonto Sr. of Lanao del Sur (as hero), David Borja, trade unionist of Iligan City, and Necitas Perez, student activist of Laguna (both as martyrs), were the three other honorees.
Dr. Cabral delved on the qualities that make a hero and related these to the health workers and other frontline workers in the valiant fight against the COVID-19 infection.
Her forewarning on the possibility that the ousted dictator’s son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., would be elected president in the May 9, 2022 elections was echoed, in stronger terms, several minutes after she spoke to an appreciative audience (including myself).
“We have come full circle and now see a rebirth of despotism repackaged to be more palatable to the new generation,” declared the son and namesake of Datu Masiding Alonto Sr. Speaking in behalf of the family, Alonto Jr. added:
“The ugly head of tyranny, lies and deceit has raised itself in the most difficult of times as we find ourselves in a pandemic of massive disinformation and historical distortion never seen before in Philippine political history.” Historical distortion, he stressed, “must be confronted with historical truth. Historical wrongs should be rectified by justice in the Bangsamoro as well as in the rest of the country.”
Everyone ought to face the “reality that we are once again facing a malevolent threat from those who are obsessed in restoring what has already been rejected by the people,” he said, adding: “We, the descendants of those who fought for freedom, justice and peace, have to stand together to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again… We want this fight to end now and end well for the Filipino people.”
Alonto Sr. is honored for his “unrelenting support to the Muslim cause even as the Marcos dictatorship retaliated against him by confiscating his family home, closing his businesses and banning him from traveling.”
“For him to stand up against tyranny and oppose the dictatorship was not a matter of choice,” his son pointed out. “As a Muslim, it was an obligation and a duty.”
Alonto Jr. recalled the following among the Marcos dictatorship’s devastating impacts on the Bangsamoro:
• In 1970, many parts of their homeland were laid to waste by the ethnic-cleansing depredations of the Ilaga paramilitary gangs unleashed by the regime. “The horrendous atrocities and ritual mutilations of innocent and defenseless Moro men, women and children were too much to bear for my father.”
• More than 300 mosques were destroyed and desecrated, while farms by the thousands of hectares were forcibly seized from their Moro owners by politicians, military men and “entities fronting for Marcos crony corporations.”
• “Martial law turned Bangsamoro into one huge military garrison, long before Gaza in occupied Palestine came into existence.”
• Thousands were either killed, injured, displaced, dispersed or forced to flee as refugees. All of these are documented in local and international reports.
Back to Dr. Cabral, abstracting an academic study on what makes a hero, she cited four aspects: 1) heroism is performed in service to others in need; 2) it’s engaged in voluntarily; 3) it’s performed with the recognition of possible risks and costs and 4) it’s performed without external gain anticipated at the time of the heroic act. What seems clear, she noted, is that “heroism often starts with compassion.”
Summing it up, she said: “A hero is someone who does good and courageous things for other people without being asked to do them. A hero is someone who has a strong sense of justice and goodness and acts upon that sense.”
Calling attention to the frontline health care workers dealing with the risk of COVID-19 infection, Cabral said: “Now we’re perhaps recognizing that the title [hero] may be deserved by many more people who are genuinely putting themselves at risk, which is clearly the case for health workers in particular now.” Risks like this, she emphasized, “were never in their job description. What’s more, they are doing it every day. That’s heroism with a capital H.”
“What this suggests is that everyone of us can be a hero, and that acts of heroism don’t just arrive from truly exceptional people,” Cabral concluded. “[It comes] from people placed in the right circumstance, given the necessary tools to transform compassion into heroic action.”
Invoking everyone’s duty and obligation to stand up against tyranny, she called out: “Let us stir our inner heroes awake. The times call for it. Yet again!”
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Published in The Philippine Star
December 4, 2021