Ateneans who Fought the Darkness

In this third instalment of this series featuring “Living and Dying- In Memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila Martial Law Activists,” a book written by Cristina Jayme Montiel memorializing the life story of 11 Atenean martial law heroes, we revisit the journey of three more of these extraordinary individuals—Dante Dizon Perez, Abraham “Ditto” Pascual Sarmiento Jr. and Lazaro P. Silva—who, for their courage in fighting the dictatorship of Marcos and service to the people, left an indelible mark in their short lifetime, ultimately laying their lives for a cause they believe worth dying for.

Dante Dizon Perez was born on 7 May 1951 in Sampaloc, Manila. His parents Amador and Remedios, natives of Batangas province, early on migrated to Manila where they settled after marriage. Dante was the eldest among  seven boys. Dante enrolled at the Ateneo for first year high school, but transferred to De la Salle High School in Lipa City, Batangas. In college he first enrolled at De La Salle in Taft Avenue but in the second semester, he transferred to the University of the East.

With his brother Romy, Dante began attending student rallies and personally witnessed the violence against demonstrators. Following the series of jeepney strikes, an association of student activist called the Samahan ng Kabataan para sa Ikauunlad nang Tsuper (SKIT) was established to support the strikers. Dante decided to join SKIT. It was through SKIT that he met fellow activists and started attending seminars and workshops conducted by Father Jose Blanco, S.J. The Jesuit strongly influenced Dante’s political transformation toward increased mass-based organizing.

When martial law was declared on September 1972, Dante was in Mindoro organizing. In Mindoro, Dante and his group tried hard to learn the culture and way of life of the local people. They also prepared themselves for military skirmishes. Unknown to them, a deep penetration agent was reporting their activities to the military. On the night of 3 November 1972, three truckloads of soldiers descended on them. When shots were fired, Dante was hit on the abdomen, causing his death. He was 21 years old.

Abraham “Ditto” Pascual Sarmiento Jr. was born on 5 June 1950. He was the son of lawyer Abraham Sarmiento who later became a justice of the Supreme Court and Irene Montano Pascual. Ditto spent his elementary and high school days at Ateneo de Manila. He belonged to the honor section, garnered general academic excellence awards and frequently topped his class. Ateneo strengthened the core principles that Ditto held throughout his life.

In college, he entered the University of the Philippines and became editor in chief of The Philippine Collegian. On 24 January 1976, he was arrested and incarcerated for seven months and three days. In time, through the efforts of his father, he was released from prison. But the harsh conditions in prison took a toll on his health; his asthma deteriorated. On 11 November 1977, he suffered a heart attack brought on by seizures resulting from his ailment. He died at age 27.

Ditto will never be forgotten. Forty-five years ago, he wrote these stirring words that generations of youth activists and student leaders still proclaim with courage and conviction: “Kung hindi tayo kikilos? Kung di tayo kikibo, sino ang kikibo? Kung hindi ngayon, kailan pa?” (“If we do not act, who will act? If we do not care, who will care? If not now, when?”)

Lazaro P. Silva was born on 4 March 1952 in San Jose, Nueva Ecija. Within the Silva family, he was known as Cedric though he came to be called Lazzie by his friends. In 1965, Lazzie passed the qualifying examinations for a scholarship at the Philippines Science High School (PSHS). When the First Quarter Storm heated up in 1970, Lazzie was in his last three months in high school. After high school, he enrolled at the Ateneo de Manila College. Thereat, he joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan and began attending rallies and demonstrations.

In September 1976, Lazzie left for the countryside. A comrade brought him to his designated area in Central Luzon where Lazzie was to work among the peasants. Castilla, a fellow activist, was making arrangements to see Lazzie somewhere in Zambales when she received a phone call from his brother, informing her of Lazzie’s death. Apparently, on 13 August 1975, members of the military surrounded the hut where Lazzie and his comrades were staying. Lazzie volunteered to stay to keep the military at bay so his comrades could escape. He was killed in the process. He was only 23 years old.

Dante, Ditto, and Lazzie were only in their twenties but their youth did not stop them from fighting the darkness that covered this land one September 21 some 48 years ago.

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