Gutsy moms who know but don’t approve
Quoting Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Dirge Without Music” was how Lydia de la Paz, mother of slain physician Dr. Remberto “Bobby” de la Paz, began her speech that became a classic during the dark days of martial rule.
She was speaking these words to fellow mothers, who had lost their sons and daughters to the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship, at the 1985 founding of Mothers and Relatives Against Tyranny (Martyr):
“Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave/ Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind/ Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, and the brave./ I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.”
No, she was not resigned.
“No, I am not resigned to Bobby’s sudden, brutal, horrifying death,” she said. “How can I, when I know that he went to Samar—a brand new physician with a brand-new wife, vibrant with life, brimming with energy, joyous…”
A 1976 graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, Bobby de la Paz was killed by soldiers in April 1982 in his small clinic in Catbalogan, Samar. His death caused national outrage.
His widow, Dr. Sylvia de la Paz, as well as his mother Lydia and next of kin, found refuge in the movement for justice.
“Suddenly he is no more. Why? He went there because he wanted to serve the people,” the grieving mother said of his son, who was killed during a medical mission for the rural poor. “He was shot repeatedly because he did not ask his patients to pay what they could not afford; he was brutalized because he could go into any barrio, distant or near, morning, noon or night alone; ‘to relieve often, to heal sometimes, to comfort always,’ he treated military and rebel alike and for that, he had to die.”
As the country celebrates Mother’s Day today, we remember the mothers who fought hard and without letup during the years of terror—1972 to 1986—to achieve justice for their offspring and freedom for the motherland.
Today’s mothers are often pictured as warm, sweet-smelling and cuddling types or as superwomen at home and at work; women of glamour and substance who deserve pampering at this time of year; great providers, innovators, carers, givers; and the kind for magazine covers and who can sell milk supplements, instant noodles and condominium units.
There are mothers and there were mothers.
Brave and furious
Among the brave and furious during the dark days of martial rule were mothers who lost their sons and daughters to the abuses of the Marcos dictatorship and military executioners.
These were mothers who searched for their missing children in jungles and jails, hoping to find them alive, never mind if maimed; mothers who pleaded without ceasing and humbled themselves before authorities in order to seek freedom for their children and the fathers of their children.
Many of these sons and daughters are now honored at Bantayog ng mga Bayani Wall of Remembrance, in the memorial grounds where there stands a Pieta-like bronze Castrillo monument of a defiant mother raising a fallen son.
And their mothers? The women made sure their sons and daughters’ heroism would not be forgotten, not just for their own sake, but for the sake of generations to come who need to know what sacrifice, heroism and love for freedom mean.
In 1985, when freedom was a mere glimmer in the horizon, parents and relatives of victims of “salvaging” (forced disappearance) and massacres committed by the Marcos regime formed Martyr.
Among the founders was Bobby’s mother. The speech she unleashed shook the ground on which many mothers stood.
“Among all of you,” she told the mothers, “I was fortunate to be with Bobby when his life was snatched from him. I was there when he lay on the operating room table, literally giving his lifeblood to the people of Samar whom he vowed to serve. I was there, when with anguish and pain in his eyes … he said, ‘Mammy, masakit… Mammy, why me?’”
Martyr was engaged mainly in organizing victims’ relatives to actively pursue true justice, freedom and democracy, the very ideals for which the martial law victims died. Martyr launched campaigns to seek justice for victims of human rights abuses and to raise human rights consciousness among the general public.
It formed local chapters in the provinces of Davao, Samar, Aklan, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Iloilo. Among its founding members were: Lydia, Bobby’s mother; Josefa and Hernan Jopson, parents of Edgar Gil M. Jopson; Thelma and Reginald Arceo, parents of activist Ferdie Arceo; Cecilia Lagman, mother of the missing Hermon Lagman; and Justice Abraham Sarmiento, father of Abraham “Ditto” Sarmiento Jr., who died in prison.
Even as Martyr was actively involved in the protest movement of that era, its members also did a lot of data gathering and documentation on the life and death of those who were killed or vanished during the Marcos regime. The group also honored the martyrs recorded on their list on Sept. 21, the anniversary of the imposition of martial law, and on All Souls Day.
The work of Martyr would later be continued by Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, which was established in 1986 after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. Most of the founding members of Martyr became the founding members and board members of Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation, an organization dedicated to honoring the martyrs and heroes of the martial law years.
Thanks to the early efforts of Martyr and later, of Bantayog, there is now a strong and credible database that can be used for the compensation of martial law victims as provided for by the Human Rights Violation Victims Compensation Law passed and signed by President Aquino three months ago.
The late Cecilia Lagman, whose missing activist son Hermon was never found, said during the making of the organization: “It is the task of Martyr to urge the mothers and relatives of today’s heroes to turn their grief into courage. To let the memories of our children’s heroism inspire us to cast away our fears … We must seek no less than the triumph of their cause. Only then can justice prevail.”
Lagman is the mother of Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman and the late Popoy Lagman, a breakaway communist revolutionary who was killed by his former comrades.
If the Philippines had Martyr, Argentina had its own Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) composed of human rights activist-mothers and grandmothers who fought and worked for over three decades to find their abducted children. The group was named after a plaza in Buenos Aires where the women first gathered. For more than a decade they gathered there every Thursday to amplify their demands.
To symbolize their search, they wore head scarves with the names of their missing children and grandchildren who were abducted by government agents during the years 1976 to 1983, known as the Dirty War. The protests started with only 14 people but the number of searching mothers soon grew.
The government called them madwomen or “las locas.” The madwomen gained world attention especially during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.
The military would later admit that over 9,000 of those kidnapped are still unaccounted for, but the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo insisted that the number was closer to 30,000. Some 500 of these were believed to be children born in concentration camps to pregnant “disappeared” women. The babies were given to military families. The exact number was hard to establish because of the secrecy that surrounded the abductions. Three of the founders of the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo had also disappeared, with their bodies later exhumed and identified.
The Filipino mothers who fought for justice for the missing and slain sons and daughters were just as zealous as their Argentine counterparts. Many of them pursued justice through legal means and were part of the class suit against the Marcoses and sought indemnification for some 10,000 martial law victims.
Thelma Arceo, mother of Ferdinand who was killed by the military in the 1970s, said when she received the first small sum from a recovered Marcos stash which the class suit claimants had won: “This small amount is not a measure of our suffering. This is not a measure of the Marcoses’ guilt either. This is proof of their guilt.”
Said Lagman on the sons and daughters that the mothers had lost: “Yes, our children are gone. But I wish to emphasize: revolutionaries may die, but as martyrs, they will live forever. They are immortalized in the heart and soul of the Filipino people whom they had served to the full.”
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