ON THIS DAY, 40 years ago, the lengthening shadows finally swept across the land. Asia’s first republic, the freest country in the region, was under Martial Law. What followed were some of the darkest days in the country’s history, where basic civil rights were suppressed, not by foreign conquerors, but by the same people who were sworn to uphold and defend these rights. Voices were stifled, activists were dragged to jail, and people disappeared without a trace.
As the country commemorates the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, Filipinos all over the world remember the days when raising an objection took the supreme act of courage, when having a voice was a risk in itself, when questioning the decisions of the President was to court jail time. Yet it was a time of heroism and boundless acts of courage.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism presents THE LETTER: The story of Father Edgardo Kangleon, a short video on the life and mysterious death of a diocesan priest who was arrested and detained allegedly for supporting the communist rebels in poverty-stricken Samar. Father Kangleon is just one of some ten thousand human rights victims who suffered or died during Martial Law.
But make no mistake – Father Kangleon was an imperfect hero. Two months after his arrest in 1982, after undergoing daily tactical interrogation by his military captors, his “confession” was presented by the military as proof that some priests in the countryside were actively supporting the communist insurgency. He died under mysterious circumstances while in military custody in 1984.
After his death, his brother Rey discovered a letter that Fr. Kangleon left for his family. And in this letter, Father Kangleon finally gave a face to the thousands of unlikely heroes who fought for the right to be free – he was, at various times, brave in the face of captivity yet terrified of the interrogations, strong in his faith yet vulnerable to the threats of violence, decisive in his causes yet sometimes uncertain of himself. In the end, he was confronted with the ultimate question – did he live up to the lofty ideals that he fought for all those years? His was the face of the ordinary man who did his best during an extraordinary time.
To be sure, Father Kangleon had his moments of doubts about himself. Many times, he wrote of his fear of his interrogators, and of his uncertainty of his future.
And finally and so unexpectedly,
my turn came.
And God, there was nothing more excruciating
than to be confronted by
the final leap to eternity
From the journal of
FR. EDGARDO KANGLEON
In his last entry in his journal, made just four days after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr, and four months before his own death, he sees himself as merely a flitting shadow and a ghost of his former self, one of many millions of shadows living, fighting, and praying in the dark.
With the situation I am in, who can expect definition of purpose? I am just a mere shadow flitting through the corridors of life’s paradoxes and contradictions.
An entity shorn of the will to protest, humiliated, semi-comic, and most of all, uncertain of the future.
Just like the millions of brown shadows cast about this land as the oriental sun races across the skies of an archipelago known to be the pearl of the Orient.
So, why not write for uncertainty’s sake?
FR. EDGARDO KANGLEON
25 August 1983