Living and Dying During Martial Law

Continuing with my series on martial law, I borrow from a book Living and Dying: In Memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila Martial Law Activists written by Cristina Jayme Montiel and published by the Ateneo University Press in 2007. The book chronicles the life, times and death of 11 Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) activists. Each chapter capsulizes the human journey of an Ateneo activist from childhood days to turning points in the radicalization process to stories about personal involvements at the peak of activism. Each biography concludes with the violent death inflicted by Marcosian military forces.

The book memorializes the life of 11 Ateneans who gave up their lives during the horrendous first 10 years of martial law. These intrepid souls are—Ferdie Arceo, Bill Begg, Jun Celestial, Sonny Hizon, Ed Jopson, Eman Lacaba, Dante Perez, Ditto Sarmiento, Lazzie Silva, Nick Solana, and Manny Yap (whose body has not yet been found). In this column, I share the stories of Arceo, Begg, and Celestial.

They were misunderstood and often disowned by their alma mater. As Antonette Palma-Angeles put it in the foreword of the book: “Student activists were not always well-received in the Ateneo, for they questioned our traditions, disturbed our complacency, even set us against each other while they were with us. But now, 30 years or so after the declaration of martial law, we see with a clarity enhanced by time, that these young men did indeed absorb the best of our lessons to them, giving themselves up for justice, truly living as men-for-others.”

“Ferdie” Mirasol Arceo was born on 18 January 1952 at the Delgado Memorial Clinic along Kamuning Road Quezon City, the first child of Atty. Regaldo and Thelma Arceo. In 1968, he enrolled as an AB Humanities student at ADMU and in 1970 Ferdie, together with several fellow student activists, established the Ligang Demokratiko ng Ateneo (LDA), the first radical activist organization of Ateneo. The LDA later split into two factions: the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and the Samahang Demokratiko ng mga Kabataan (SDK).

Ferdie became involved in labor unions and decided to drop out of school to go full time into political activism. When martial law was declared in 1972, he joined the New People’s Army in Western Visayas. On 29 July 1973, the 21-year old Ferdie was walking along with a companion in San Joaquin, Iloilo when military operatives bore down on them and gunned them down.

William Vincent “Bill” Acuna Begg was a native of Legazpi City, Albay. He was the third among five children born to John C. Begg, an engineer employed at the Clark Air Base, and Zenaida Acuna from Legazpi City. At 14, Bill entered the seminary in Balintawak, Quezon City. In 1970, even as he excelled academically and was a leader in extracurricular activities in college, Bill was also active in nationalist student circle of radical students on campus. He joined Kabataang Makabayan (KM) and immersed himself in student and community organizing work.

In 1971 the writ of habeas corpus was suspended and Bill, together with three fellow KMs, were detained for putting up subversive posters in Marikina. Because of his radical activities, Bill was dismissed by the Board of Discipline. When martial law was declared, he joined the underground and three years later, in March 1975, while waiting for a doctor in a hut in Villa Rey Echague, Isabela, Bill’s NPA unit was attacked by the military. Bill was captured alive. Before killing him, the soldiers mercilessly tortured him, leaving him with 17 stab wounds and 11 gunshot wounds.

Finally, Artemio “Jun” Somoza Celestial Jr. was born 16 September 1950 in Maragondon Cavite, Jun was a son of Artemio Celestial, superintendent of Public Schools in Cavite, and Maria Celestial. Jun entered college at a politically charged period. He joined the Ateneo Catechetical Instruction League (ACIL) and the Student Catholic Action (SCA). Due perhaps to his encounters with the military and martial law’s suppression of open political activist organizations, Jun’s political involvement and the extent of his participation from 1972 to 1974 became less clear-cut at this point. The circumstances of Jun’s death have not been fully established. As far as the family recalls, he was gone for several days before they found his body in the Montalban River near the Wawa Dam in Rizal province on 21 February 1974. There was a big gash on his head, and his body was bloated. The police investigation established that Jun was held by a military unit in the mountains.

September is a month when we remember bad things that happened in this country. But it is also a good time to remember our heroes, those brave and courageous young people—Ferdie, Bill, and Jun who stood up to be counted and fought as darkness veiled our land.


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