Human rights lawyer Ilagan, student activist Petalcorin honored as heroes, martyrs

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/02 December) –  Laurente “Larry” Calanog Ilagan and Raymundo “Rhyme” Ortega Petalcorin. Heroes. Martyrs. Dabawenyos. Mindanawons.  Two of 12 heroes/.martyrs honored by the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation on November 29 in Quezon City, their names now engraved on the black granite Wall of Remembrance there.

Ilagan gave up his lucrative corporate law career in favor of human rights lawyering during the Marcos dictatorship, was at the forefront of the Welgang Bayans (People’s Stike) in Mindanao and was one of three Davao lawyers arrested and detained by the Marcos military. Petalcorin, a student activist  from the University of Mindanao,  gave up his studies to serve farmers in the countryside.

Ilagan succumbed to cancer on November 15, 2001 at the age of 55  while Petalcorin, founder and president of the Young Christians for Liberation Movement and composer of several progressive songs, was killed by the paramilitary CHDF (Civilian Home Defense Force)  on February 27, 1976 at the age of 27.

A total of 219 names of heroes and martyrs in the struggle against martial law. have been engraved on the Wall of Remembrance.

The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundation was founded after the 1986 EDSA Revolution by its Chairman Emeritus, former Senate President Jovito Salonga. It is presently chaired by former Ambassador Alfonso Yuchengco.

Ilagan’s wife Luzviminda, Gabriela Party Representative, and their children Tito, Deo and Ding, attended the Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes rites at the Quintin Doromal Amphitheater, Bantayog Center in Quezon City on November 29 along with Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and former Justice Secretary Silvestre Bello III.

A graduate of the Ateneo de Davao University, Ilagan served briefly as City Legal Officer under then mayor Duterte in 2001. Duterte was a city prosecutor during the Marcos years while Bello, who headed the Justice for Aquino, Justice for All (JAJA) Movement after the assassination of  former Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983, was named Justice Undersecretary and later Justice Secretary.

Ilagan’s six-paragraph citation noted how he put on hold “a promising career as corporate lawyer and (chose)  instead to become a human rights lawyer, a much less financially rewarding and a more dangerous, even life-threatening career under conditions of martial law.”

He was also cited for “taking up cases on behalf of  poor  and moneyless individuals and groups in Mindanao which were engaged in actions or programs to resist martial law, including student activists, community and labor leaders, church people, and human rights groups” and for using his influence “to win over fellow lawyers to become involved in human rights work under martial law, recruiting them to join or support the Free Legal Assistance Group” or FLAG and “for organizing the FLAG’s Davao chapter.”

The Bantayog ng mga Bayani Foundaion also honored Ilagan for “taking a public stand against the dictatorship, providing a model of resistance for his community, a stand that required courage, humanity and great love of country” and for “suffering arrest and long months of imprisonment, yet never giving in to discouragement or fears for his own or his family’s safety.”

Ilagan influenced other lawyer and professionals to join the parliament of the streets. “While before it was very rare for a lawyer to take up social sissues and use parliamentary struggle…. I would say I set an example for others to follow. Other lawyers joined the parliament of the streets after the Aquino assassination,” he recalled in a May 1997 interview published in Inquirer Mindanao.

He joined, helped organize, and even chaired organizations, including FLAG in Davao and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) Mindanao.

He returned to corporate lawyering a few years after EDSA 1986 but made an agreement with his firm that he would not accept assignments that would pit corporate clients with the marginalized.

He was also firm in choosing which side to take. Asked what he would do if his clients as FLAG lawyer were pitted against clients of their corporate law firm, Ilagan replied: “I’m inclined to think that I would have taken up the plight of the victims. I certainly hope this thing will not happen. But given the choice, I know what my choice will be,” he said in the 1997 interview.

Ilagan also recalled how he and the two other detained lawyers – Antonio Arellano and Marcos Risonar, Jr. – had planned to escape from their detention in Camp Catitipan, Davao City, to “go underground” but the plan was aborted because EDSA 1986 happened.

Ilagan, who taught civil, criminal and remedial law, opened his classes with this lecture: “So you choose to become lawyers. I want you to determine for yourself if you want to be a lawyer because you want to be rich or because you want to serve the ends of justice. There’s nothing in between.”

Petalcorin was a 4th year Criminology student of the University of Mindanao when he left school to serve the farmers in the rural areas. He was cited for “supporting farmers’ issues and  advocating farmers’ rights and welfare in Mindanao  during the late 1960s up to the early 1970s when Marcos installed his dictatorship,” for exerting his influence with the farmer’s organizations “to expand the reach of the anti-dictatorship movement;” for “:applying artful forms, particularly songs, to help explain to the rural people, particularly those from indigenous groups, the issues pertaining to martial law.”

He was also honored for “giving up a chance at education, a better life and a secure future, choosing instead to live with the society’s oppressed and downtrodden in order to give them these same things he foreswore; and  for suffering death from the local militia in Compostela Valley.”

Front 27 of the NPA in Southern Mindanao  is named after him – the Rhyme Petalcorin Command.

According to the Bantayog’s profile on Petalcorin, “engraved on his tomb were words he often uttered: ‘Maulaw ako nga aduna pay tawo nga pobre pa kanako’ (I am ashamed that there are people much poorer than I am) and this self-made acrostic which expressed his attitude of servility to the people: ‘Remember Human, You’re My Everything.’”

The ten other heroes honored this year were Bishop Miguel G. Purugganan from Ilagan, Isabela;  Oscar D. Francisco, Capt. Rogelio C. Morales; disappeared labor organizer Victor D. Reyes and seven young men killed during martial law — Virgil M. Ortigas of Iloilo City,   Petalcorin of Compostela Valley and Bulakeños Danilo M. Aguirre, Edwin G. Borlongan, Teresita E. Llorente, Renato T. Manimbo and Constantino R. Medina. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)