Plunder, desaparecidos, and the Libingan ng mga Bayani

Tin Bartolome

Posted at Aug 08 2016 11:56 PM

I had hoped decision makers would have enough sense—or at least be cautious about burying fake heroes at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. I was supposed to write about food and family when I came across this post:

“AT THE MOMENT, talks are reportedly being held at the Defense Department to decide on the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Remember, a person who siphoned off billions of dollars from our country, who violated human rights, who circumvented our laws, who enriched his family whose members are still wallowing in money until now, who authorized the torture, killing, and disappearance of thousands -- IS NOT A HERO! Never was, never will be. NEVER AGAIN. (Please share hanggang marinig nung nasa Palasyo)” 

I had also hoped I would not have to write about my indignation. But now I think I do. Let me start by telling my father’s story.

My father was the youngest boy, the sixth in a brood of 8. My aunts used to tell me how bratty he was as a toddler. He was barely out of his teens when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. A member of the guerilla propaganda team, he seemed to have matured so fast—from a brat to a brave young soldier.

He was a young lieutenant of the 41st Infantry Division under the command of Brigadier General Vicente Lim. He was shot by a sniper and was at the hospital when Bataan fell. Forced to join the Death March while still recovering from that gunshot wound, he miraculously survived to tell me about encounters, his bout with malaria and other adventures as a soldier.

This is why bedtime stories during my childhood were not fairy tales but first-hand accounts of my father. He used to say that his men were brave but had a soft spot for those in need as they were very kind. Their feet bare and heads protected only by coconut husks, these men were always on the frontlines. He also said he would not have survived if his men hadn’t taken care of him. While they were marching, the Japanese soldiers would throw rice balls at their captives and those who were unable to catch their rations would have to find other sources of food. The bullet that hit my father entered his left upper arm and exited through his back, hitting his lung. He was no longer able to raise his left arm even after the wound had healed.

But that injured arm was not the worst he went through. Just before the Japanese surrendered, he was one of those arrested and imprisoned in Fort Santiago. He said a number of times that he never saw any of his cellmates after the war.

At dusk, he would sit at his favorite chair, look out the window and say, ”They’d take me from my cell around this time each afternoon. Then they’d put me in a sack, hang it up and hit me indiscriminately with bamboo poles. But I never admitted that I was a guerilla. I insisted that I went to Col. Baja as a researcher for his book ‘How to Display the Philippine Flag’.” My father said they were fed porridge or lugaw—piping hot, but in bowls that had holes. He said it was either he burned his fingers (to cover the holes) or starve.

My father said the Japanese had become desperate at that time and so was he, but he kept calm. He tore off the hem of his shirt and made a rosary to calm himself. When I asked why he did not hide from the Japanese who came to arrest him, he said that one big reason was that he was afraid for his five sisters—the older ones as well as the two who came after him.

When the war was over, he retired from the military and worked for a private company. Today, we have his Purple Heart medal, his old uniforms, some pictures and records of his military service. When my father passed away a little over ten years ago, I was told by the daughter of Brig. Gen. Lim that he deserved to be given an honorable burial at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. His ashes were accorded the standard procession, gun salute and my mother received the folded Philippine flag in a solemn ritual. I had not doubt he deserved it.

This is why I have to write this today and say this: no man whose claims to heroism and fantastic exploits have been proven false and is believed to have caused the disappearance of thousands, plundered the country’s coffers and twisted the law to suit his needs should be given the same honor. This fake hero does not deserve a place among the past presidents. He does not deserve a place even among the soldiers who really fought for the country. To bury this fake hero there is to desecrate the memory of real heroes.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.