A Huk vet in the Libingan ng mga Bayani
Last July 26, Bartolome “Bart” Pasion, 88, was buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. On the cross marking his grave he was simply identified as a private in the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Born in 1928 to a peasant family in Mabalacat, Pampanga, Bart joined the anti-Japanese Hukbalahap at the age of 14, and, later, the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP). He participated in the Huk Rebellion in 1946-1950, and was captured and imprisoned for nine years. In the 1960s, he was in the PKP’s Central Committee and Politburo and was active in various mass organizations.
In the martial law years and thereafter, he continued his peasant organizing activities. He was recognized as a war veteran by the Philippine Veterans Administration Office through the help of an organization of Huk veterans. In 2007, he organized an agrarian movement in Mabalacat called “Boluntaryo Laban sa Kagutuman, Kahirapan at Kawalang Pag-asa,” which unilaterally occupied an abandoned 40-hectare
estate and made it productive.
Bart Pasion died last July 19 at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City. His family was surprised to be informed that, being a war vet, he was entitled to be interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. His wake could even be held at the Hall of Heroes at Camp Aguinaldo, the AFP headquarters. But the family vetoed the latter and decided to hold the wake in Mabalacat.
Bart’s widow, Rogelia Flores Pasion, and their eight children discussed the pros and cons of burial in the Libingan. The family was divided over the issue: The six sons opposed such a burial, but their mother and two sisters argued that it would be a fitting and just tribute to their father. They also pointed out that, from a longer historical perspective, a resting place in the Libingan would be for all time, and their children and children’s children could always proudly refer to the lasting honor accorded their ancestor by pointing to his tomb.
Former comrades and fellow activists also wanted to juxtapose the impending burial in the Libingan of the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who they regard as a “fake hero,” with that of the “real hero” in the person of Bart Pasion.
A memorial tribute for Bart was held last July 24 in Barangay Mawaque, Mabalacat. Several speakers extolled his life and revolutionary struggle. At the end of the program, a call was adopted as a pledge to the departed leader: “Pinanday mong kasaysayan, aming durugtungan” (The history you have forged, we shall continue).
At the funeral, a military escort accompanied Bart’s flag-draped coffin to the burial site in the Libingan. A military brass ensemble played the traditional Taps. As a final tribute, an honor guard fired a 21-gun salute as the coffin was lowered into the earth. Some mourners unfurled a white banner with the slogan “Bayaning tulad ni Ka Bart ang dapat ilibing dito, hindi ang diktador” (It’s heroes like Ka Bart who deserve to be buried here, not the dictator).
The irony of soldiers paying tribute to a departed communist Huk leader against whom their predecessors fought in the bitter class wars of the late 1940s and early 1950s was not lost on the activists who were at the funeral. But no one seemed to mind the seeming incongruity. The site, after all, is called the “Cemetery of Heroes.”
There are 49,000 others buried there, not all of whom may have been real heroes or led exemplary lives. Thus, Bart Pasion’s unique presence among them pointedly calls attention to the true significance of the law establishing the site, which is to provide “for the inspiration and emulation of this generation and of generations still unborn.”
Eduardo C. Tadem is a retired professor of Asian studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman and current president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition. His book on the life history of Bartolome Pasion, “Living in Times of Unrest,” will soon be published by the UP Press.
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