Philippine history

Even ‘pakwans’ can be ‘heroes’: Martyrs and heroes as defined by Bantayog foundation

Isagani de Castro Jr.

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Even ‘pakwans’ can be ‘heroes’: Martyrs and heroes as defined by Bantayog foundation

MARTYRS AND HEROES. The Wall of Remembrance of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation on February 23, 2022.

Who are martyrs and who are heroes? Officers of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation explain the basis for honoring the more than 300 individuals whose names are now etched on the Wall of Remembrance in Quezon City.

MANILA, Philippines – For over 30 years, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation Incorporated has been honoring “martyrs and heroes” whose names are etched on a Wall of Remembrance in a lot in Quezon Avenue, Quezon City. 

But who exactly are “martyrs” and “heroes,” as defined by the foundation? 

In an event last February 24 that honored the late green activist Isagani Serrano on his fifth death anniversary where Rappler was invited, officers of the foundation elaborated on how they reworded their definitions of “heroes” and “martyrs.”  

Former Commission on Population executive director Juan de Perez III, a member of the board of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, said their original definition of “martyrs” covered those who died in the struggle for justice and freedom during the 20-year reign of Ferdinand E. Marcos, father of the current Philippine president, from 1965 to 1986.

These were people who either died in armed struggle or those who were involved in legal activities and passed away during the reign of Marcos Sr.

Sixty-five martyrs led by freedom fighter Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. were included in the first batch enshrined in November 1992. 

The following year, however, Perez said the foundation decided to revise the definition to include those who fought for justice and freedom but did not pass away during the Marcos dictatorship. Thus, in November 1993, the first batch of “heroes” were recognized: former senator and Presidential Commission on Human Rights chair Jose W. Diokno, Manila Times newspaper publisher Joaquin “Chino” Roces, and nationalist and former senator Lorenzo M. Tañada

A year later, three heroes were honored by the foundation: ­civil libertarian and former Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberto Concepion, disabled people advocate and former congresswoman Estelita G. Juco, and former Asian Institute of Management professor Gaston “Gasty” Ortigas. More are added yearly by the foundation after passing its scrutiny.

“All martyrs are heroes but not all heroes are martyrs. Ang heroes ang nagsurvive (Heroes are those who survived),” said Edicio de la Torre, vice chairperson of the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, during the February 24 event organized by Serrano’s long-time partner, social enterprise advocate Marie Lisa Dacanay.

HEROES. Edicio de la Torre explains why Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation recognizes not just ‘martyrs’ who died fighting but also ‘heroes’ who continued the struggle for justice, freedom, and other noble causes post-EDSA Revolution on February 24, 2024. Isagani de Castro Jr./Rappler

Under this reworded definition, even “pakwans” (watermelons) can be heroes, De la Torre said, citing Serrano as an example. 

Kasi ang social justice, ang kulay ay pula, pero ang environment ay berde o luntian, so ano ka? E di pakwan. Berde sa labas, pula pa rin sa loob – at may buto-buto pa,” he explained, drawing laughter from the audience. “Gani was the epitome of that.” 

(Because the color of social justice is red but it’s green for the environment, so what are you? A watermelon. Green on the outside but red on the inside – and with seeds even.)

Serrano was an activist who was detained twice during Martial Law and released after the EDSA Revolution in February 1986. He became a leader of various nongovernmental organizations that pushed for sustainable development until he died of cancer on February 22, 2019.

Isagani Serrano: The Philippines’ ‘little prince’

Isagani Serrano: The Philippines’ ‘little prince’

He was honored by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation on November 30, 2023. Others recognized with him in 2023 were Jesus Antonio Carpio, Luis de Castro General Jr., Melecio “Tatin” Marimon, Emerito “Pekong” Rodriguez, and Manuel “Buyog” Sampiano. 

De la Torre said Serrano, a former president of the rural development nonprofit, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement or PRRM, “wanted us to reflect on the best possibilities of a Filipino and I think that is the best function of a hero or bayani we honor.”  

“As [the late former] Senator [Jovito] Salonga said, a nation should be defined by the people it honors.  So, in honoring Gani, we also honor our nation,” he said. 

On Tuesday, De la Torre said at a Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation event that each generation faces its own challenges from where martyrs and heroes develop.

As of 2023, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation has recognized 326 martyrs and heroes. It maintains a website of most of their biographies.

The women of Bantayog ng mga Bayani were not ready for the lies

The women of Bantayog ng mga Bayani were not ready for the lies
‘Haligi ng Bantayog’

On Tuesday, April 9, Araw ng Kagitingan, the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation honored 13 special individuals  – Haligi ng Bantayog or Pillars of the Bantayog – who, according to its current chairman Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, “devoted their time, effort, and expertise to a most worthy cause – memorializing the heroes and martyrs who fought for our rights and freedoms during the darkest period in recent memory, when we were ruled by a dictator.” 

The 13 are: 

Gloria Jopson Kintanar, wife of the late activist Edgar Jopson. She served as a member of the Bantayog screening committee from 2013 to 2015, and a trustee from 2004 to 2014. 

Deogracias Vistan, who was president of Landbank of the Philippines from 1986 to 1992. He served in various capacities for the foundation, including head of its screening committee and member of its finance committee from 1992 to 1993. 

Wigberto “Bobby” Tañada, who served as senator from 1987 to 1995. He served as trustee and foundation chair from 2016 to 2022. 

Rene Saguisag, who was senator from 1987 to 1992. The human rights lawyer served as foundation trustee from 1998 to 2000. 

Artemio Panganiban, who was Supreme Court Chief Justice from 2005 to 2006, and justice from 1995 to 2005. He was a trustee from 1999 to 2000. 

Judy Araneta Roxas, chair of the Gerry Roxas Foundation who was among the initial sponsors of the foundation. 

Edcel Lagman, currently congressman representing the first district of Albay. He served as trustee from 2005 to 2006. 

Jose “Pete” Lacaba, award-winning writer, editor, and activist. A Carlos Palanca Awardee for poetry, he was a trustee from 1999 to 2005. 

Felipe Gozon, current chairman of broadcasting firm GMA Network Incorporated. He was a trustee and treasurer from 1999 to 2022. 

Feliciano Belmonte, former House Speaker and Quezon City mayor. He served as foundation benefactor. 

Carolina “Bobbie” Malay, teacher-writer. She served as head of the Bantayog Museum Committee from 2013 to 2015, and trustee from 2010 to 2022. 

Helen Mendoza, a UP professor and writer who helped start the documentation of the martyrs and heroes. 

Salvacion Perez, former Antique fovernor who was a trustee from 2002 to 2008. 

“Sa ngalan po ng buong Bantayog family, nais kong personal na magpasalamat sa inyong lahat…. At dahil ngayon ay Araw ng Kagitingan, napakaganda ng timing ng ating pasasalamat at pagkilala sa kanila,” Diokno said in a statement.

(On behalf of the Bantayog family, I wish to personally thank you all. And because today is Araw ng Kagitingan, it’s the best time to thank and honor you all.)

“What better day than today to honor the members of the Bantayog family who gave so much of themselves to keep the memories of our heroes and martyrs alive for our youth and for future generations of Filipinos. Sa tulong ninyo, napapanatili nating buhay ang alaala ng mga lumaban at nagbuwis ng buhay noong panahon ng diktadurya para maibalik natin ang demokrasya at kalayaan sa ating inang bayan,” he added.

(With your help, we have been able to keep alive the memories of those who fought and sacrificed their lives during the dictatorship so that we can restore democracy and freedom in our country.) – 

‘Ang Bantayog’ website hopes to rethink how we remember Martial Law

‘Ang Bantayog’ website hopes to rethink how we remember Martial Law

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Isagani de Castro Jr.

Before he joined Rappler as senior desk editor, Isagani de Castro Jr. was longest-serving editor in chief of ABS-CBN News online. He had reported for the investigative magazine Newsbreak, Asahi Shimbun Manila, and Business Day. He has written chapters for books on politics, international relations, and civil society.