Kin of Martial Law heroes: ‘It feels like a homecoming’

MANILA, Philippines – Nineteen men and women who fought the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos on Wednesday, November 30, joined the 268 other individuals whose names are enshrined at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani’s wall of remembrance.

Among the newly honored “real heroes” of the Martial Law regime was the late Jovito Salonga, the founding chair of the Bantayag ng mga Bayani Foundation that has spent the last 30 years naming the martyrs who fought the Marcos administration.

The other honorees were: 

(Check and share Rappler's Facebook album to know what these new heroes did to fight the Marcos regime.)

For Salonga’s son Steve, the ceremony on Wednesday night was a "homecoming."

“It feels like a homecoming for us. He loved these men and women whose names are here. He grieved when they died during Martial Law,” said Steve.

“He, more than anyone else I think who fought Marcos, felt the burden of the struggle because he counted these lives as his own children. So to come home here and join them finally in the same list is really a feeling of homecoming,” he added. 

Mel Cortez, the brother of honoree and Martial Law victim Hernando, considered the ceremony as the formal funeral for his sibling. (READ: Martial Law, the dark chapter in Philippine history

Masayang-masaya ako dahil after ilang years – 1983 nung mawala ang kapatid ko – 'di nagkaroon ng formal na lamay. 'Di nagkaroon ng formal na libing. Ito 'yung pinakalibing niya,” said Mel.

(I’m very happy because after how many years – my brother disappeared in 1983 – there was no formal wake. There was no formal funeral. This is his burial.)

Hernando is one of the pillars of the labor movement in Mindanao that rocked the Marcos dictatorship. Hernando helped put up Kilusang Mayo Uno’s island chapter Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Mindanao and the Center of Trade Unions in Mindanao.

In August 1983, the Cortez family was informed at the Philippine Constabulary Camp in General Santos City that Hernando supposedly died on August 13 during a military encounter with members of the South Provincial Philippine Constabulary. 

But when Hernando’s father went to the funeral parlor to pick up his son’s body, the funeral parlor owner said soldiers had ordered him to bury Hernando without a coffin at the Lagao Cemetery on August 4. 

Documentation by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines noted that deep, sharp cuts were found on Hernando’s body and limbs, which indicate that he may have been skinned alive.

On Wednesday, Mel said he is thankful that Hernando was still recognized even if he was not among the more popular figures who fought the Marcos regime.

Ang kapatid ko ay nameless – hindi siya kilala, hindi siya mass leader. Pinagbintangang NPA (New People’s Army), kaya nagpapasalamat ako sa ngayon, binigyan siya ng tribute ng Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation,” said Mel.

(My brother is nameless – he was not known nor a mass leader. He was accused as a member of the NPA. That’s why I’m thankful that the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation paid him tribute.)

The 30th Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes in the People’s Resistance to Dictatorship 1965 to 1986 was attended by the honorees’ relatives, their guests, and other personalities who fought Martial Law. 

Some of those present were Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Francis Pangilinan, Northern Samar 1st District Representative Raul Daza, Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, national artist Bienvenido Lumbera, communist leaders Benito and Wilma Tiamzon, and National Democratic Front of the Philippines negotiating panel chair Luis Jalandoni.

The ‘real heroes’

RECOGNIZED. Steve Salonga speaks after receiving the citation from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation for his father. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

RECOGNIZED. Steve Salonga speaks after receiving the citation from the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation for his father.

Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

The event was held as several groups gathered at the People Power Monument to protest against the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani on November 18.

Steve said that having your name included at the wall of remembrance at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani is what constitutes a “real hero.”

“I don’t think being buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani automatically makes you a hero. As far as I’m concerned, being part of this list is a much more accurate way of being a bayani (hero) because we studied every name here, and their story, and their death during Martial Law can be verified. They are tunay na mga bayani (true heroes),” said Steve.

For Ruth Zumel, wife of newspaper editor and highly-placed communist Antonio Zumel, the honoring ceremony was also significant because it serves as a reminder to Filipinos about the atrocities committed under Marcos’ 21-year rule.  

Ito ay pagkakataon na muli nating buhayin para dun sa mga nakalimutan na kung ano 'yung Martial Law, Marcos dictatorship. At dapat, pagkakataon na rin ito na ipaalam sa kabataan kung ano ang Martial Law kasi, unfortunately, 'yung mga sumunod na gobyerno, hindi nila nailagay ang tunay na kasaysayan ng diktadura sa mga textbooks,” said Ruth. 

(This is another chance to remember for those who have forgotten Martial Law, the Marcos dictatorship. This is also a chance to let the youth know about Martial Law because, unfortunately, the governments after it failed to properly record the history of the dictatorship in textbooks.)

Ruth Zumel says she is happy that younger generations have been joining the anti-Marcos protests since the late dictator’s burial. (READ: #NeverAgain: Martial Law stories young people need to hear

Natutuwa ako at nabubuhayan at nakakabuhay ng loob dahil naintindihan nila. Hindi sila basta sumasama lang dahil in na maging bahagi but they know,” she said.

(I’m happy and my spirit is renewed because they understand. They’re not just joining because it’s the in thing to do, but, rather, they know what happened.)

Sana tuloy-tuloy kasi kailangan ituloy 'yung laban para sa tunay na demokrasya. Sabi nga ni Tony Zumel, the peace lies in our people’s aspirations. Kaya kailangang ipaglaban 'yung karapatan. Kailangan maging mapagmatiyag at 'wag nang ibalik pa 'yung Martial Law, 'yung dictatorship,” she added. 

(I hope the fight for democracy continues. Like what Tony Zumel said, the peace lies in our people’s aspirations. We have to continue fighting for our rights. We have to be vigilant so Martial Law, the dictatorship, will not return.) –

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.