How Antique celebrated Evelio Javier day

The Inbox

By Alex C. Delos Santos, VERA Files

Twenty-eight years ago, a murder at high noon was executed in San Jose, the capital of Antique in Panay Island that outraged the Filipino people struggling to free themselves from the clutches of a dictatorship.

The assassination of Evelio Bellaflor Javier (EBJ) on Feb. 11, 1986 sparked the flame of democracy that burned bright in the succeeding days and culminated in the historic February 22-25, 1986 People Power that ended the 20-year Marcos dictatorship.

Today, there’s hardly a flicker about Evelio Javier in the younger generation of Antiqueños.

Last February 11, San Jose de Buenavista was abuzz with activities. The town was hosting the West Visayas Regional Athletic Meet. To attract the delegations from other provinces, the Provincial Tourism Office organized an expo at the park as part of the commemorative activities, but half of the booths were empty. Only the yellow banners printed with EBJ’s familiar profile dotting the whole park provided festive relief.

In the morning, the Capitol organized the requisite wreath-laying led by Governor Exequiel Javier, brother of Evelio, before the EBJ monument, a life-size bronze statue by National Artist Napoleon Abueva, which has been designated by the Historical Institute as a national historical monument.

In the previous administration with Sally Perez as governor and Exequiel Javier as the province representative in Congress, this ritual had become politically divisive. Exequiel considered the ritual as something that belonged only to his family and office, but then Governor Sally Perez, a close friend of Evelio, thought that EBJ as a public figure and folk hero of Antique, belongs to the people and deserves to be honored by the people. Nevertheless, this ritual had always been brief and perfunctory, with heads of offices, civic societies, and EBJ supporters offering bouquets and wreaths before the monument. The crowd that gathered for the ritual dispersed as quickly, most of them going towards Bagumbayan, a nearby barangay celebrating their fiesta. Besides, no one could stand the noon-day heat in the park to meditate before the monument, as most of the trees have been felled to give way to the new park design.

In the afternoon, the sound system relentlessly played Evelio’s theme song “The Impossible Dream,” the Matt Monroe cover. One by-stander commented, "It is sickening, a mockery of Evelio. That impossible dream has become more and more impossible to Antiqueños, seeing the kind of leadership that father and son are showing. They have shamed Evelio Javier.”

Exequiel has been leading the province alternately as governor and congressman since after his brother’s death. In the 2010 elections, when his term as congressman ended, he ran again for governor and fielded his son Paolo Everardo as congressman.

Until recently a huge billboard at the EBJ Freedom Park showed the pictures of Exequiel and Paolo Javier proudly claiming 25 years of faithful service to their beloved Antique. Now, that billboard has been replaced with something of a touristic theme.

Antiqueños, whose lives were touched by Evelio, remember his admirable concept of public office: “Bukut burugasan, bukut paranubliun” (Not a source of livelihood, not an inheritance).. In 1980, when he turned over the governorship to Enrique Zaldivar, he rationalized his act by saying that public office is not something one holds on to.

Over the radio program Crazy Cris of Love Radio Iloilo, a listener asked who Evelio Javier was and why was that day a holiday. The host candidly answered that he was just as clueless but obviously googled EBJ immediately and read out the information.

In the evening at the EBJ Freedom Park, after the candle lighting and procession organized by EBJ supporters and mostly nuns from the Mensa Domini, a singing competition was held with barely half a dozen contestants, and a few more people in the audience. Both the governor and the congressman were no show. A representative from the governor’s office explained that they were both busy.

A sports official from Capiz, noticing the rather scanty program at the park, asked why Antique does not have a more elaborate celebration. “We thought we are going to witness how Antiquenos really love and honor Evelio,” he said.

Evelio was governor of Antique from 1972 to 1980. He was credited for inspiring Antiqueños to take pride of their province and heritage.

He voluntarily left the post, despite his popularity under Marcos’ KBL party, to pursue a masteral degree under a scholarship at Harvard University. In 1984, he came home and ran against Arturo Pacificador, a known Marcos henchman, for the position of assemblyman.

Evelio lost in that election, but was posthumously declared winner in 1987. He became a staunch Cory Aquino supporter in the 1986 snap elections. He was closely overseeing the canvassing of the votes of the elections when he was killed.

His death was declared martyrdom, and was considered as a catalyst to the EDSA Revolution. His burial and the collective national grief were considered by many as second only to that of Benigno Aquino, Jr, who was murdered upon his arrival in the Philippine from the United States on Aug. 21, 1983. Thereafter, February 11 became a holiday in Panay in his honor. A library, gymnasium, park, airport, barangay – even a high school in Benguet – have been named after him.

Sadly in Antique, Evelio Javier’s legacy is becoming a distant memory.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)