WATCH: A message from real heroes. (Edited by Vic Valbuena Bareng)
So it’s been decided: A fake hero, a bully who murdered and tortured thousands will be given a hero’s funeral at the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
News of the Supreme Court decision enraged those of us who remember what Ferdinand Marcos did to the country and the young Filipinos who sacrificed everything to fight him.
The news reminded me of an audio recording. It is perhaps the most moving and most powerful record of that fight, that heroism. More on that later.
News of the Marcos Libingan burial also reminded me of a day in 1973.
I was nine. Marcos had just seized power a few months earlier with the declaration of martial law. My father picked me up from school, looking troubled and distressed.
I didn’t understand what was going on. But I soon found out why.
Martial law should not have had any serious impact on a typical middle class family like ours. But it did.
My parents were against Marcos but they, my father in particular, embraced the typical perspective of middle class Filipino families: just keep quiet; focus on your studies and your careers. Nothing can be done — Marcos was in charge.
But my two oldest sisters had another idea: fight back.
That day in 1973 I remember my parents feeling distressed over news that my oldest sister, Nymia, had left to join the underground resistance. My second sister, Janet, would later join her.
Martial law, and their decision to defy it would end up defining my childhood and teen years.
In the beginning, as a young boy, I became annoyed with the consequences of what they did.
Nymia was captured and imprisoned twice. For nearly a year, I had to give up playing with my friends on Sundays because we had to go to Fort Bonifacio to visit her.
When I was a teenager and already driving, one of my responsibilities was to wait for a message with instructions from my sister, Janet, on when and where I should pick them up so they could visit with our family.
For a teenager, it was a hassle of a responsibility especially since I had to keep in mind many precautions, including making sure I wasn’t followed on the way to their UG house or the agreed meeting place.
Eventually, as I became aware of the killings and the torture and the brazen abuse of power under Marcos, I joined the fight too. I became a student activist at UP Diliman in the early ‘80s.
My involvement certainly was nothing like my sisters’. I became an activist at a time when it was much easier to be one, after the wall of silence and fear had already been shattered, when protesting had become common.
My sisters joined the fight when it was a lonely, isolated, dangerous struggle against a demagogue at the height of his power.
Our family survived those dark years. When she visited me in San Francisco in the early ‘90s, I told my sister Nymia: “Buti na lang hindi tayo namatayan, ano. It’s good that we didn’t lose anyone.”
She just nodded. It wasn’t exactly true. It was, in fact, a somewhat insensitive, stupid remark.
We didn’t lose a family member. But she and my sister Janet lost friends and comrades. I remember coming home from school in the ‘70s and finding Nymia in tears. “Boying, patay na si Kirk. Kirk is dead.”
Kirk was one of her good friends. He used to play chess with me during visits to our house. He was killed in Samar.
My sisters and brothers-in-law lost another friend and comrade. I never knew Edgar Jopson, although my sisters told me he visited our aunt’s place several times for secret meetings.
He used an alias of course and wore a disguise. For he had once been a famous person, the youth leader who demanded that Marcos promise not to run for a third term, for which he was mocked by the tyrant who dismissed him as a mere son of a grocer.
Edjop was a revered figure who could have had a promising and prosperous career in business or politics. But confronted by the repression and abuse under Marcos, he did what my sisters and many others did: He also fought back.
I never personally knew Edjop. But I had the privilege of writing about his incredible journey.
It was a story I grappled with for years. My first attempt, Edjop: The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson, which came out in 1989, was a failure. It was an incomplete story with an incomplete, naive portrait of the underground movement that Edjop led.
I tried again in 2006 with “UG: An Underground Tale,” which I feel is a more complete, more truthful retelling of Edjop’s life and of the movement he became part of.
For one thing, I came to understand is this: The underground movement that led the fight against Marcos involved two competing storylines: on the one hand, the narrative of young, idealistic activists willing to offer up their lives for the weak and oppressed; on the other, the tragedy of a violent, dogmatic political force.
My sisters eventually left and were rejected by that movement. Nymia, a human rights activist, was denounced by the UG movement for exposing the New People’s Army’s recruitment of minors.
Today, the movement that once courageously led the fight against dictatorship is an ally of the fascist president who wants to give the dictator a hero’s funeral, an ally of a leader who instigated a bloodbath that has killed more than 4,000 Filipinos.
It is no longer the movement that Edjop and my sisters joined.
What’s not complicated is the inspiring courage of the young Filipinos who sacrificed everything to defeat dictatorship.
Which brings us back to the cassette recording and why I was reminded of it when news of the Marcos Libingan burial broke.
The recording begins with a simple greeting: “Kay Nonoy sa kanyang ikalimang kaarawan. Mula kay Tatay ‘Tats’ at Nanay, narito ang aming pagbati.”
Edjop and Joy Jopson were UG activists in Mindanao when they made the recording for their son, Noy. The dangers of UG life had forced them to leave their
Sending letters and audio recordings were how they kept in touch with him.
They sing activist songs for him on the 20-minute recording. They ask how he is doing in school and tell him stories of their life in the resistance with ordinary Filipinos who bore the brunt of the dictatorship’s cruelty.
“We are still living in a probinsya, but it’s different from the place you visited before,” Edjop says. “But here, we also have a lot of good friends, the poor, the masa. Ordinary people. They are good to us. They share their food, their blankets, their pillows, with us. They let us stay in their houses. They help us in many ways. When you come here, we will introduce you to them.”
Noy never got the chance to meet the ordinary people Edjop was fighting for and who in turn embraced his Tatay as one of their own. Edjop was killed in a military raid in Davao two years after they recorded the message.
The recording moved me when I first heard it in the late 1980s. The impact was much more intense and powerful when I listened to it again 15 years later when I was working on UG An Underground Tale.
Hearing Edjop’s voice again, I felt a tightness in my chest. I choked up. I had to stop playing the tape a few times.
I was 42 then, eight years older than Edjop when he was killed. By then, too, I was a father. The magnitude of Edjop’s sacrifice hit me hard.
It hit me again last week when it became clear that the tyrant Edjop sacrificed everything to defeat has been proclaimed a hero.
I’m sharing the recording here with Edjop’s family’s permission and with the help of filmmaker and documentary photographer Vic Bareng.
Please share it with your friends, especially the young Filipinos who never knew martial law.
So more of them would understand how young Filipinos from an earlier generation were willing to sacrifice everything to fight for the freedoms they now enjoy.
So more of them would know about the time when young Filipinos, when it was neither fashionable nor safe, in a time of fear and silence, stood up to a bully.
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Between a rock and a hard place