In order to understand what Evelio Javier did for the Philippines, one must consider what Ferdinand Marcos did to the islands.
When Marcos first ran for president, he could have run solely on his distinguished record in Congress. However, he decided to gild the lily by citing his service in World War II and the 27 medals that made him “the most decorated war hero of the Philippines.”
A survivor of the Bataan Death March, Marcos received three of those medals during the war. He obtained the other 24 decorations in 1962 while running for reelection to the Senate.
Historians later discovered that those two dozen medals were as counterfeit as his claims to have led a guerilla force of 9,000 men against the Japanese.
In fact, Marcos may have been a double agent. Filipino freedom fighters executed his father for collaborating with the invaders, and some questioned the son’s loyalty, too.
But few knew any of this in 1965, so the “war hero” swept to victory by a convincing margin, defeating the incumbent president. He won reelection in 1969. Then, to circumvent term limits, he declared martial law in 1972.
Meanwhile, Marcos introduced unprecedented corruption, converting the country into a world-class kleptocracy. He borrowed recklessly and embezzled public money on a massive scale. His staunch anti-Communism garnered lavish annual US foreign aid, from which he always skimmed a generous cut. He lived large and stashed billions in overseas banks and investments.
As Marcos consolidated power, a young lawyer considered running for governor of Antique on the island of Panay.
“Nobody thought I could win, not even my wife,” Evelio Javier remembered. “Only my father… believed I would win. But… I thought he was only trying to be nice.”
Inspired by his favorite song — “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha — Javier decided to run, anyway.
“I spoke to the children, even the grade school kids. I shook hands with them. They volunteered to campaign for me. They swarmed all over the province. My campaign turned out to be a children’s crusade. Against all odds, without money, without political machinery, without goods, the children and I won by an overwhelming majority.”
During his two terms as governor of his impoverished province, Javier augmented meager tax receipts by securing foreign aid for reforestation, sustainable agriculture and antipoverty projects.
In the early ’80s, Javier attended the JFK School of Government at Harvard University on a scholarship. After earning a Masters of Public Administration, he came home.
By then, Marcos had ended martial law, but perpetuated his reign through a tainted election and the convenient assassination of his most serious rival, Benigno Aquino.
Javier ran for Congress, challenging a local crony of the Marcos regime. This time, he lost, due to blatant electoral fraud. He filed suit to challenge the result.
Meanwhile, as popular unrest mounted, Marcos called a snap election in 1986 in a desperate bid to legitimize his rule. His challenger was Corazon Aquino, the widow of his slain rival. Widespread fraud and violence marred the election. Both candidates claimed victory.
As a supporter of Aquino, Javier took part in the certification of ballots in his province. He was standing on the courthouse steps of the provincial capital when a carload of masked gunmen drove up and opened fire on him.
Shot in the shoulder and leg, Javier fled across the courtyard. Guns blazing, the assassins followed on foot, tracking him into a shop. They cornered him in a restroom. The coroner found two dozen bullets in his corpse.
Javier’s assassination provoked widespread outrage. His murder helped spark the People Power Revolution, a massive series of protests that forced Marcos from the presidency and restored democracy to the Philippines.
Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of his death. Since 1987, Panay Island has observed the occasion as Evelio Javier Day.
Five years after his death, the Supreme Court confirmed Javier’s claims of electoral fraud and declared him the rightful winner in his congressional contest. In his decision, Associate Justice Isagani Cruz wrote:
“Let us first say these meager words in tribute to a fallen hero who was struck down in the vigor of his youth because he dared to speak against tyranny. Where many kept a meek… silence for fear of retaliation and still others feigned and fawned in hopes of safety and even reward, he chose to fight. He was not afraid. Money did not tempt him. Threats did not daunt him. Power did not awe him. His was a singular and all-exacting obsession: the return of freedom to his country.
“And though he fought not in the barricades of war amid the sound and smoke of shot and shell, he was a soldier nonetheless, fighting valiantly for the liberties of his people against the enemies of his race, unfortunately of his race too, who would impose upon the land a perpetual night of dark enslavement. He did not see the breaking of dawn, sad to say, but in the very real sense Evelio B. Javier made that dawn draw nearer because he was, like Saul and Jonathan, swifter than eagles and stronger than lions.”