September 14, 2019
WHEN Ferdinand Marcos was president, he instituted the week of September 21 as History Week and that day as Thanksgiving Day. Because on that day in 1972, Marcos supposedly signed a historic move which saved democracy from the communist insurgency, and we have to thank his proclamation of Martial Law for it. What is ironic is that the imposition of Martial Law actually strengthened the communist rebellion by radicalizing the moderates. Its repressive ways left many people with no choice but to join the communist New People’s Army (NPA). One of them was Edgar Jopson — Edjop.
When Edjop, who was president of the Ateneo Student Council and also president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), met Marcos at a Palace meeting while the First Quarter Storm was happening before the very gates of Malacañang, he asked the president of the land to sign a document promising not to change the Constitution and run again for a third term. This made Marcos retort, “Who are you to tell me what to do? You’re only a son of a grocer!”
Did the president mock him for his humble beginnings? Those humble beginnings made Edjop the leader that he was. As a youth, he helped in the running of the store and was already immersed with the orphans of Boys Town, established by his uncle, Father Jose Mirasol. When he was told by their maid Sianing Pedrapan about her family’s land problems and how this led her to go away from her family, he told her: “Hayaan mo, Sianing, balang araw… tutuklasin ko lahat iyan para mataniman niyo ang mga iyan.”
He did not seek land though; what he sought was Magis. Like any good Atenean, he was taught how to strive for excellence and inspire people by being a man for others, seeking the Magis. He organized people to fight for their rights and he also helped win the La Tondeña strike even if it was forbidden. But when he felt it was not enough, he joined the NPA. He was caught in 1979, and tortured, but managed to escape by bribing the guard.
On Sept. 19, 1982, Edjop’s wife Joy, who was also in the underground, thought, “Itong taong ito, nakapabait naman; siguro madaling mamamatay.”
The following night in Davao, Edjop was at a dentist friend’s house when they were informed by the maid that many soldiers were gathered along the highway. The dentist told his friend to just stay for the night, but Edjop said not to worry because he believed it was just a routine alert since the Martial Law anniversary was nearing. The dentist bid him goodbye, but was deeply worried. Edjop made his way to a safe house in a nearby subdivision, Skyline. Unbeknownst to the residents inside the house, they had been under surveillance and when Edjop arrived, the military surrounded the house.
They planned to surprise the rebels and make them surrender easily at gunpoint, but one of the soldiers got his pants caught on the steel points and fell, slamming his rifle on the fence. Edjop heard and saw the shadows from the window and shouted, “Andyan na sila!” These made all his companions scramble to destroy documents, one even got a gun. Edjop told a shaken comrade, “Be brave. Just follow me once we jump over.” They needed to scale a wall that was 7-feet high, but on the other side it was a 10-foot drop to the cogon field below.
“Let’s go,” his friend said and without hesitation jumped to the other side. Edjop leaped too, but hesitated when he reached the top of the wall.
He was caught by gunfire, but dropped to the other side still alive. He died on the way to the hospital with nine bullet wounds. Lorna Kalaw-Tirol wrote that Hernan, Edjop’s father, was told by eyewitnesses that, “Edjop was captured alive and that later some soldiers were overheard, during a drinking spree, expressing amazement at Jopson’s courage.”
Benjamin Pimentel, in his classic book on Edjop, U.G.: An Undergound Tale, wrote dramatically: “But in that second or two, as he stood on the wall, perhaps he felt that, once again, he was on a platform making himself heard, seen, recognized….” By dying a martyr at 34, his spirit was freed to be heard more, seen more, recognized more.
Around the same date, September 19, five years after, while preparing for the anniversary of Martial Law in 1987, a year after Marcos left the country, another youth leader received a gunshot wound in the head — Lean Alejandro. Two martyrs. Yet, there were more deaths that should be commemorated around these dates: Edjop, Lean and the death of democracy in 1972, which led to more deaths. But this should also inspire us and see the extent to which young people will go to lead meaningful lives and transform their country.
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