#NeverForget the killing of Archimedes Trajano
THE DAY was Aug. 31, 1977. This Wednesday, we commemorate the forced disappearance and vengeful killing of Archimedes Trajano. It has been 39 long years since it happened, but disremember it we cannot opt to do. And neither should the Filipino people and their country’s 46-percent millennial population, let alone the principal figure of that ill-fated day—Imee Marcos.
Today we write without fear of the Marcoses and we should, for history is still being written. That wasn’t so 39 years ago. Trajano was taken away in Imee’s very presence precisely because he had that daring in an atmosphere of dread. He showed us the way. He is a martyr-hero.
Trajano’s killing may have been routine in a regime that numbed people from effective and rightful opposition. But no, killing can never be routine. Mere criticism of the Marcoses was a ground for one’s extrajudicial death sentence. Imee Marcos—and I hope she reads this—is not only alive today; she wields political power as though the glory days of their bacchanalian reign had never ended. We are all the more obliged to refuse to consign this family to our collective amnesia. It is not the reverse of “moving on”—the evils wrought upon us in the past, as a nation, must always lead us to a constant reevaluation of who we are as a nation. Only when we do so can we move on.
The facts of the case:
“Trajano, then a 21-year-old student of the Mapua Institute of Technology, stood up in an open forum in August 1977 and questioned the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos as to her capability to lead the youth.
“The nation was then under martial law and Imee Marcos had been appointed by her father to head the national youth organization Kabataang Barangay. She was at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, where she addressed thousands of students, when Trajano raised the issue.
“Trajano told Marcos that she would not have assumed a leadership position if she was not the presidential daughter. He also questioned her on her father’s role in human rights violations.
“On Sept. 2, 1977, the bloodied body of Trajano was found on the streets of Manila. The student’s parents were told he got embroiled in a dormitory fight.
“Witnesses later came forward to testify that Trajano was last seen being forcibly removed from the university forum by Marcos’ security escorts.
“It is believed Trajano was tortured for 12 to 36 hours before he died.
“His mother sued Marcos before the US district court in Honolulu, Hawaii, on March 20, 1986, barely a month after the Marcos family fled the country, following the Edsa people power that year.”
In a forum at Ateneo de Cagayan last week, a speaker challenged a student who had spoken against the planned Marcos burial. The student narrated that her late father was a desaparecido, his name now inscribed in the Bantayog ng mga Bayani. The speaker rebutted her—“Why didn’t you file cases?” That is an evasive retort and certainly an attempt at historical revisionism. Cases had been filed, hundreds in fact. The Trajano case is one among hundreds of extrajudicial killings that were perpetrated during the Marcos regime.
On Oct. 21, 1992, the US Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, rendered a verdict affirming the ruling of the Hawaii District Court: $236,000 for lost earnings to the estate of Archimedes Trajano, $175,000 for moral damages, including physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, bodily injury and wrongful death. It also awarded Trajano’s mother $1.25 million for mental anguish and another $2.5 million in punitive damages.
The Philippine Supreme Court did not echo that verdict, overturning a lower court decision only because of a technicality that the summons had not been properly served to Imee Marcos. And yet Archimedes Trajano never had that benefit of a proper summons. He was to turn 22 in a few weeks before his life was ended by people who were not God.
In the court hearings in Hawaii, Imee was ably represented by an American abogado de campanilla. She argued for dismissal: She said she was immune from suit, being an official of government at the time.
Trajano had simply asked: “Must the Kabataang Barangay be headed by the president’s daughter?” Today we ask, “Is the family that killed Archimedes Trajano above the law as to even consider their dictator father a hero?” It is correct to ask.
We have no more fear now and, hence, could not care less if recalling Trajano’s martyrdom gets under the skin of the Imee of today. Agapita Trajano herself never found the answer to her own question: “He was covered in a white sheet, lying on a table. And when I opened the sheet . . . I saw him black and blue . . . I could not talk . . . nothing . . . but I think my heart hardened. I said, My God, why him?”
In Trajano’s bloodied body we see the blood of thousands of martyrs the Marcos regime had sacrificed on the altar of dictatorship and tyranny. May we see this on the road to the Libingan ng mga Bayani.
We must remain outraged. We must remain outraged. Otherwise, we are a nation of cowards.
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