Bonifacio Ilagan had an important thing to say at the Edsa rites last Monday. Translating from the Tagalog, he said:
“I don’t know of anyone—because there was no one—who raised a fist at the Marcos dictatorship who imagined that at the end of things they would reap all sorts of rewards. That is the mark of heroism….
“That is why, for all the heroes who stood up against martial law, the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act is a fine thing in many ways…. It is a collective tribute to an entire generation of Filipinos who rose up to fight tyranny…. It is a testimony to the continuing need and duty of every citizen to struggle for justice, freedom and democracy.”
Ilagan spoke on behalf of the victims of human rights violations during martial law, whom the law means to indemnify—through their living kin where they are dead or disappeared. Ilagan himself was one of those who were jailed and tortured and who lost a sibling in the pit of the dictatorship. He knows whereof he speaks. He knows what pain is, he knows what sacrifice is, he knows what heroism is. And he knows what reparation is.
What makes his statement important is his point that the martial law victims are not just victims, they are heroes.
Of course they are victims, too. The Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act lists them thus: the tortured, the summarily executed, the disappeared, and the variations in between. You do have to classify them as victims to entitle them to reparations. You do have to identify the various ways in which they were victimized to entitle them to restitution.
Heaven knows they can do with all the financial help they can get. Many of them were dirt-poor: peasants, workers, squatters, “lumpen” elements (people given to petty and not-so-petty crimes), quite apart from teachers and students, nuns and priests, lay leaders and human rights lawyers, who took up arms or worked clandestinely against martial law. The poorer they were, the more likely they were to become victims of torture, “salvaging,” disappearances. They had no relatives to aid their cause, they had no connections to ease their torments, they had no lifeline to save their lives.
But they were more than victims, they were heroes. Unlike victims of a crime like rape or robbery or murder, they were not victimized because they just happened to be there. They were victimized because they wanted to be there. They were not victimized because they happened to be in Marcos’ way, they were victimized because they put themselves in Marcos’ way. They were not innocent bystanders, they were “guilty” participants. Guilty of opposing Marcos, guilty of fighting martial law.
It was a risk those who took up arms or raised fists against martial law knew they were taking. But who took it nonetheless, not for reward, not for honor, certainly not for money. Who took it because the task needed to be done, because, as the Collegian posed it, “If we do not do it, who else will? If not now, when?”
Ilagan is right: He doesn’t know of anyone—because there was no one—who entertained the thought that they would do it because, like veterans, they could look forward to benefits after retirement, or to medals (or their cash equivalent) after service. All they could hope for was to survive. All they could look forward to was to be remembered well if they did not.
No, they are not just victims, they are heroes.
I personally know some of them who initially thought to opt out of the reparations—they didn’t need the money, anyway—but who eventually stayed on out of a fundamental recognition. That is that the reparations have to do with more than money, they have to do with justice. What is being repaired isn’t just an injury to the body, it is an injury to the soul.
I’m glad that the 27th anniversary of Edsa became an occasion to mark the passage of the reparations act. I’m even gladder that Edsa by that act has incorporated the story of the victims/heroes into its narrative. Or given an opening for incorporating it into its narrative. For all its glory, for all its triumph, the Edsa celebration has also suffered from one thing. That is that it is an incomplete story.
Every year, we see the pageantry of the Salubungan, we see the triumph of prayer over tanks, we see Fidel Ramos jumping for joy to mark the dawning of a new day. Until they tried to mount one coup attempt after another against Cory, Juan Ponce Enrile and Gringo Honasan used to be there, too, preening with their Uzis like liberators at Anzio. Which makes the story not just incomplete but skewed, not just selective but perverted, not just unusual but unjust. What ever happened to the people they oppressed during the pit of martial law? What ever happened to those who were tortured, “salvaged,” or made to disappear? What ever happened to those who made monumental sacrifices to keep the embers of freedom alive, whose vigil made possible the thunderous grief over Ninoy’s passing and the grieving thunder of Cory’s coming?
The reparations law, despite the limitations of its intent, opens the possibility for the better telling, the fuller telling, the more truthful telling, of the Edsa story in future. It opens the possibility for the reappearance of those whose faces have been forgotten in the claim-making that took place after Edsa, indeed for the appearance for the first time of the names that have been deleted from the struggle for freedom for being activists and communists and leftists but who were and are heroes nonetheless.
In the end, the reparations law may not just repair the tattered limbs and lives of those who were waylaid by martial law, it may repair the tattered pages of history itself.
You can’t have better reparations than that.