A gathering of the brave on the Day of Valor

A gathering of the brave on the Day of Valor
The honorees, all Haligi ng Bantayog —PHOTO BY JOEL SARACHO

April 9, 2024. A new moon has just entered the sign of Aries, coinciding with a total solar eclipse. In astrology, the Aries-born courageously faces the most difficult challenges, and strives to emerge on top.

It was also the eve of Eid’l Fitr, when the Muslim world ends the monthlong fast of Ramadan. A fresh start.

In the Philippines, it was the “Araw ng Kagitingan,” Day of Valor. The day to commemorate the heroism of those who fought in World War II. 

In metaphysical and historical terms, it was a day for a brave, fresh beginning for patriotism.

It was the day set by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation to honor and celebrate the “living martyrs” who continue to contribute in preserving the memory of a generation who fought Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship.  

There could not have been a more auspicious time to gather them and the many who came to honor them, including the street parliamentarians and other survivors of martial law. They answer to many names, they espouse different shades of progressive thinking, and are bound by a collective experience in fighting an oppressive regime. 

‘Mga Haligi ng Bantayog’

By 9:30 a.m. the honorees—“Mga Haligi ng Bantayog,” or the pillars of the Bantayog Foundation—had started to trickle in. Among the early birds was Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte Jr., a former speaker of the House of Representatives and a former mayor of Quezon City, accompanied by the incumbent mayor, his daughter Joy Belmonte.  

Sonny Belmonte was general manager of the GSIS (or the Government Service Insurance System) when he led a fund-raising campaign in 1987 to build the Wall of Remembrance at the Bantayog grounds.

Soon after arrived Albay Rep Edcel Lagman, principal author of the Anti-Torture Act of 2009, the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012, and the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, as well as lawyer Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada. It was under Tañada’s term as chair of the Bantayog Foundation Board of Trustees (2017-2022) that the foundation extended assistance to reparation claimants, and developed and improved the digitization of its archives, even working with Wiki Society of the Philippines to monitor, correct and improve martial law articles in Wikipedia.

Day of Valor honorees
Former senators Rene Saguisag and Bobby Tanada, with former Commission of Human Rights chair Etta Rosales. —PHOTOS BY NIVA GONZALES

Lawyer Rene Saguisag, stalwart of FLAG (or the Free Legal Assistance Group) and one of the petitioners to declare the Anti-Terror Law unconstitutional, came shortly, as did the writer Jose “Pete” Lacaba, accompanied by his wife, the poet Marra PL. Lanot. 

Day of Valor
Writers Pete Lacaba and Carolina “Bobbie” Malay

Carolina “Bobbie” Malay arrived with her husband, the former lawmaker Satur Ocampo, who gamely received birthday greetings from members of the Women in Media, among them Jo-Ann Maglipon, Sol Juvida, Rochit Tañedo, Ceres Doyo, Karina Bolasco and Paulynn Sicam. 

Day of Valor
Some members of Women in Media with Teresita Ang-See

Joy Jopson Kintanar who used to organize the annual honoring of heroes and martyrs, was seated in front, often conferring with Marie Jopson Plopinio, head of the event committee.

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, who remains vocal in asserting the truth about the “organized pillage” of the Marcos regime, sat with lawyer Chel Diokno, now who now chairs the Board of Trustees.

From left: Etta Rosales, former senator Leila de Lima and Niva Gonzales

Inday Sally Perez failed to attend the event on account of an accident the previous day. But she watched the ceremonies live on Facebook and “felt like I was there,” said Niva Gonzales, a member of the organizing committee. Inday Sally pushed for the recognition of those who took up arms against the dictatorship and their inclusion in the roster of martyrs and heroes. 

Other honorees who were not present were GMA top executive Felipe Gozon; philanthropist and businesswoman Judy Araneta Roxas; banker Deogracias Vistan; and writer Helen Mendoza.

Continuing storytelling

Among those who came to celebrate the honorees and who continue to be part of telling stories of the struggles under martial law were Karen Tañada, who was seen in a huddle with Doris Nuval, and Edith Burgos, who shared the table with Raffy Paredes, Xiao Chua, and Iting and Mon Isberto. At another table were Tita de Quiros, Jo Tobia, Alex and Edna Aquino, and Amihan Abueva, who designed the sablay (with the baybayin script that reads “Haligi” given to the honorees.

Mindful that the young must carry on the story-telling, the program closed with a response from Michael Beltran, a son of Bantayog martyr Maita Gomez. In his remarks, Beltran said he and his brother witnessed their mother’s passion and they grew up with met many of his mother’s friends and comrades. 

In closing, Beltran said growing up Left was growing up good: “Ang pagiging mabuting tao ang nasa likod ng pagiging Kaliwa.”

Read more: Project Gunita et al.: ‘The truth will outshine the lies’

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