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Looking Back
Sacrifices of heroes and their families

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:05:00 08/01/2008

Filed Under: history, Personalities, Human Interest

MANILA, Philippines?Email response to last Wednesday?s column was positive, except for one major correction: Plaridel?s remains are not in Plaridel, Bulacan. These are in the M.H. del Pilar Shrine in Bulacan, Bulacan, administered by the National Historical Institute.

As I was reading the materials sent by Plaridel?s granddaughter, lawyer Benita del Pilar Marasigan, I wondered what documents she was quoting from regarding the translation of Plaridel?s remains. A reader, P.T. Martin, sent a bibliographic citation: the full document can be found as an appendix to a seldom-read biography of Norberto Romualdez, entitled ?Master of His Soul.?

I should gather all my materials on the identification and transfer of remains as they will make an engaging paper at some future academic conference on Philippine history. So far I have a handful of reports on the exhumation of the remains of Gregorio del Pilar, Artemio Ricarte, and even the fake bones that were believed to be those of Andres Bonifacio. There is an autopsy of the controversial ?Bonifacio bones? as well as that of Apolinario Mabini that finally laid to rest speculations on the cause of his disability. One school of thought, which included that of the historian Teodoro Agoncillo, maintained that Mabini lost the use of his legs due to syphilis. The autopsy conducted in 1980 by a team headed by Dr. Jose M. Pujalte of the National Orthopedic Hospital determined the true cause as polio.

A few years ago, a group of doctors asked if I would permit them to exhume Rizal?s bones from under the Luneta monument so that they could pour mongo seeds into his skull to estimate the size of his cranial vault. I did not think this was appropriate or respectful, but with MRI and other non-invasive methods I think the bones will tell us a lot more than we bargain for. The old saying that ?Dead men tell no tales? has been overtaken by advances in forensic medicine and made obsolete. Anyone who follows the TV series ?CSI? or listens to Dr. Raquel Fortun testifying in court will realize that the remains of the dead can sometimes be more eloquent than the person when he or she was alive.

Nineteen years ago, I made an appointment to see Fr. Vicente Marasigan, SJ, grandson of Plaridel. Although he did not meet his lolo, he heard enough from his mother Anita, one of Plaridel?s two daughters. I expected an afternoon of warm personal memories and little-known anecdotes, perhaps some other inspiring stories about Plaridel we never heard before, but when I arrived at the Loyola House of Studies, Father Marasigan stood me up. However, he left a letter for me that saw the life of the hero from a personal rather than textbook point of view. The family sees and knows more about the man rather than the hero of bronze and stone, and Father Marasigan?s memories should make us rethink sacrifice for love of country.

Father Marasigan read a speech in Club Filipino in 1983, a part of which said:

?[My] first flashback recalls April 1942. Radio listeners in Manila had just been stunned by the announcement of the surrender of Corregidor. There was an emotional scene between my father, my mother, and myself. My mother was objecting to something my father wanted to do ?para sa kabutihan ng bayan.? My mother answered, ?Lagi na lang bang para sa kabutihan ng bayan?? [?Is it always for the good of the country??] And she choked in fits of hysterical sobbing. All her childhood years have been spent in emotional starvation due to the absence of ?Lolo? [Grandfather] Marcelo, far away in Barcelona sacrificing his family para sa kabutihan ng bayan.

?The second flashback is rather dim in memory. I was then two years old, in December 1920. I think I was on board a ship that had just docked at the [Manila] pier, carrying the remains of Lolo Marcelo. All our relatives from Bulacan were present for the festive occasion. Some aunt or grandaunt was telling me how proud and happy I must be. I did not understand what it meant to feel proud, but I knew I was unhappy because I felt that my mother was unhappy. In the presence of that casket of bones, how could she forget the emotional wounds inflicted on her by her father ?para sa kabutihan ng bayan? [for the good of the country]??

When students learn about sacrifice for love of country today, everything seems so far away in the past. If not for the actual sacrifice of our heroes all talk about para sa kabutihan ng bayan would be an abstraction.

Father Marasigan?s words came as a shock to me when I first read them, but it also made me realize that the life sacrificed for country is more than just a historical event, it has a personal dimension to it. A dead hero is someone?s father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife or lover. The sacrifice is more painful for those who are left behind. When a folded flag is given to the relatives of a soldier who has fallen in battle, it is conferred with the stirring words, ?Take this symbol from a grateful nation.? It will never replace the loved one lost, and when I think about the living people left behind by our heroes, I appreciate an even greater sacrifice on their part.

History will not move us unless it speaks to both the head and the heart.

* * *

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu.



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