Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hero's Burial for Dong Batul


"Paalam Dong" … We love you.
The simple handmade sign, accompanied by a lone candle on the windowsill, summed up the sentiments of thousands of PalaweÒos who joined the historic funeral march for popular broadcaster and former Puerto Princesa City Vice Mayor Fernando "Dong" Batul last June 3.
Young and old, rich and poor – there were no distinctions among the mourners who braved bomb scares and threats of reprisals from the city government just to pay their last respects to a man whom many people consider a local hero.
Extolled as Palawan’s version of Fernando Poe Jr. and Ninoy Aquino, Dong Batul was brutally gunned down on his way to work as host for the top-rated radio program Bastonero last May 22, just two days before his 37th birthday.
Despite the arrest of one suspect, his family and supporters believe Batul’s murder is far from solved, with the mastermind still actively involved in media manipulation to confuse the minds of the public regarding the first ever media killing in Palawan.
For 12 days and nights, thousands of people from all walks of life trooped to the wake at the Puerto Princesa funeral home and the chancery of the Immaculate Conception parish, where Batul’s remains were later transferred. Every night, friends and supporters recalled his bravery in fighting for the rights of oppressed people, who often sought his help in seeking justice against abusive officials.
Despite statements from city councilor Feliberto Oliveros that they would give proper honors to Batul, the city government did not offer any necrological service for the former vice mayor. The Batul family refused to receive a flag brought by a city official more than a week after the killing, and only city councilor Jimmy Carbonell went to the wake.
A few days before the funeral, text messages circulated in the city that warned residents of bomb threats during the planned march. Many city government employees reported receiving threats of sanctions if they joined the funeral march.

Six-hour funeral

Most people seem to have ignored the warning, as mourners came out in droves to attend the funeral mass and join the eight-kilometer march from the cathedral to the Puerto Princesa memorial park.
It was the biggest funeral march ever seen in Palawan, eclipsing even that of former House Speaker Ramon Mitra who died in March 2000.
Batul’s esteemed stature in the local community was highlighted by the presence of top church and government officials during the six-hour funeral.
Bishop Pedro Arigo celebrated mass at 8 a.m. and made the final blessing for Batul, while Gov. Joel Reyes gave a eulogy and presented the flag to Batul’s family.
But it was the Palaweño masses, impoverished people shod in slippers and unmindful of the baking noonday sun, who stole the show from the few well-heeled mourners.
Anguished supporters wept openly as they filed past Batul’s coffin at the cathedral for a final glimpse of their fallen hero. Many of them wore white T-shirts with the words "Justice for Dong" printed in front together with his image, and his favorite phrase "Ang mali ay nilalabanan, at ang tama ay ipinaglalaban" printed at the back.
In his eulogy, the governor said: "Nakaukit na sa istorya ng libro ng kasaysayan ng Palawan, si Vice Dong ay pinaslang sa pagbubukas ng Baragatan.
"Marami ang nanghihinayang, kasama na po ako. Hindi bayaran si Dong Batul. We hope that we can do as much as you can in a short period of time. We’d rather stay silent than say anything, pero sa ating mga tingin, alam na natin ang ating gagawin para bigyan ng hustisya si Dong," he added.
Jose Torres from the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines vowed: "Ipagpapatuloy namin ang laban ni Dong Batul at mabigyan ng hustisya ang kanyang pagkamatay."
Lawyer Lito Alisuag, who co-hosted a weekly program called Trayanggulo with Batul and former city mayor Dennis Socrates also on DYPR, could not hold back his tears as he sang the Josh Groban song To Where You Are after the mass.
"Di ko lubusang matanggap na ang isang taong peace-loving, maka-Diyos at makabayan ay sasapitin ang ganito. Siya ay matuwid, may paninindigan, may takot sa Diyos at handang ipaglaban ang bawat isa sa atin," said Jojo Gastanes, one of Dong Batul's closest friends.

DYPR Tribute
After the church rites, Batul’s coffin was placed on a flatbed truck festooned with balloons, many of them coming from overseas Filipino workers whose botched contracts in Taiwan had been the subject of Batul’s commentaries a month ago.
Dozens of supporters on motorbikes, as well as the multicab that Batul was driving when he was killed, preceded the truck as it wound its way down major city streets.
At the crime scene, three young journalists read a statement and lit candles as a symbol of their commitment to continue the ideals of principled journalism that Batul followed during his lifetime.
"Iisa lang at walang kaparis si Dong Batul, ngunit marami pang susunod sa kanyang yapak at magpapatuloy ng kanyang nasimulan," a campus journalist from the Palawan State University said.
"Bilang tinig ng mga naaapi, ipinaglaban ni Dong Batul ang karapatan ng mga taong walang boses sa lipunan. Nasa kamay nating mga kabataan ngayon ang tungkulin na tahakin ang landas tungo sa katarungan," she concluded.
The funeral cortege made another brief stop at the DYPR station, where Batul’s colleagues were waiting on the roadside. They aired a radio clip in which the charismatic commentator had spoken, almost prophetically, about death and "evil forces" that are out to harm individuals like him. DJ Regie ended the program with a soulful rendition of Paglisan, bringing tears to the eyes of many onlookers.
Along the road, many residents lit candles and displayed crude posters and banners expressing their support and mourning the loss of Batul. Supporters lining the crowded roads clapped their hands as the truck bearing Batul’s coffin approached.
Near the corner of Junction 1, two women shyly approached the truck and placed a bunch of flowers near his coffin, to resounding applause from the marchers.
5,000 Mourners
About half of the marchers boarded waiting vehicles near the capitol and continued the journey in cramped conveyances, while others braved the summer heat and marched on to the memorial park.
The number of marchers swelled as more people joined along the national highway, while hundreds more waited for the funeral procession at the memorial park. Independent observers estimated around 5,000 mourners by the time the funeral march had reached the memorial park in barangay San Jose at around 2 p.m.
Bishop Arigo officiated at the final ceremony before Batul’s remains were interred beside the grave of his father, who died two years ago.
The overwhelming turnout surprised many people in Puerto Princesa, who are all too aware about the enmity between Batul and Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
But in the end, the desire to honor a local hero who had dedicated his life to the welfare of the city’s underserved masses prevailed. Most of the marchers may have suffered blisters and sunburn, but it was nothing compared to Batul’s ultimate sacrifice.
The message posted on a gate expressed the finality of it all: Goodbye, Dong.


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