ON THE DEATH OF MARTYRS: REMEMBERING THEM ALL

Tomorrow, we mark the first death anniversary of Rafael Markus Bangit.

On 8 June 2006, Makoy, with his eldest son, Banna, boarded a Baguio City-bound GL bus. It had a stopover in San Isidro, Echague, Isabela where the passengers took dinner. By the time the bus was to resume its trip, it was dusk. On his way back to the bus, Makoy was suddenly shot four times by a hooded man who got off a dark-colored van. Another passenger, Gloria Casuga, principal of Quezon National High School, screamed upon witnessing the violence. The assassin trained his gun on her. She sustained two gunshot wounds. Thankfully, Banna was unhurt. The assassin immediately rushed back to his vehicle parked in a dark corner. Nobody took note of its plate number, or if it had one at all. The atrocity was, perhaps too numbing that witnesses were robbed of their equanimity and concentration. Both Makoy and Mrs Casuga were rushed to the Echague District Hospital. They gave up the ghost there.

Before the killing, Makoy reported that he was being cased by unidentified men in Tabuk, Kalinga where he was residing with his family. Why would they do that?

At the time of the killing, Makoy was a servant of the masses. A leader of the Malbong Tribe of Tomiangan, Tabuk, Kalinga, he was the spokesperson of the Bodong Pogors Organization, a federation of indigenous community elders in the Cordillera. Furthermore, he was a coordinator of the Cordillera Peoples' Alliance' elders desk and Vice Chair of Bayan Muna-Kalinga Chapter. Everybody knows that the CPA and Bayan Muna are progressive organizations that have consistently been critical of the anti-people State policies.

Makoy died a martyr and hero like Albert TerredaƱo, Alyce Claver, Romy Sanchez, Pepe Manegdeg and others like them.

In November 2005, my friend Atty. Manja Bayang and I met with Pepe Manegdeg in a restaurant somewhere in Baguio City. In that meeting, we talked about the human rights situation in the Ilocos and the Cordilleras. I remember that he was agitated at the way the government was violating human rights left and right. We talked about extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances. Halfway through dinner, the leg of Pepe's chair broke. It just broke. We had a good laugh. Surreptitiously, we put the broken chair in a corner (We did not inform the owner. Hah! That was mischief on our part.). Pepe pulled another chair for himself. That was the last time we would see Pepe. Manja would later remark that the breaking of the leg of the chair may have been a portent of things to come.

Three nights later, he was dead in San Esteban, Ilocos Sur.
He was to pick up his wife Dom-ay from the airport. (Dom-ay was coming home from Hongkong where she was an OFW.)
An unidentified assassin took his life while he was waiting for a bus that would take him to Manila. The assassin pumped twenty-two bullets into his body. Twenty-two bullets. Did the assassin believe Pepe had more than one life that he committed his dastardly crime as if he was killing twenty-two human beings?

The next day, Albert TerredaƱo died a similar death. Subsequently, Alyce Claver died. And then, Makoy. There were more before them. There were more after them. From the looks of it, there will still be more like them. The government won't stop until everyone is too terrorized to resist oppression and injustice.

The Cordillera martyrs' deaths, and similar deaths in other parts of the Philippines made me so livid with anger more than sad. These people and others like them dedicated the most productive years of their lives working to alleviate the poor's dismal condition.

How painful that their deaths would inspire me later to write a poem. But how liberating is the thought that their deaths are not really about death; they are also about life.

We Have Not Fallen at All
(Remembering the Cordillera Martyrs)

We are as leaves that have fallen
from puny twigs on a blustery day
Soon verdant leaves will bud
from the trunks of the hoary tree
Such is how death becomes life.

Our blood streamed through vile holes
created by shells, into empty cups
of our weary comrades who drank as
thirsty athletes on a hot summer day
now eyes slanted towards the finish.

Our flesh putrefied into fecund ashes,
amalgamated with the parched earth
A new plant eager for life will burgeon,
a moribund tree will be rejuvenated
on that spot nourished by our dust.

Our memory will suckle those who
will be born from our senseless death.

We have fallen but they will rise
Then we have not fallen at all.

-30 June 2006-

Long live the dead heroes. May their tribe increase!
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