By ALEX C. DELOS SANTOS
The murder of Javier on Feb. 11, 1986 while overseeing the results of the snap election between then incumbent Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino, widow of the assassinated Benigno Aquino Jr., helped spark a bloodless revolution that brought democracy back to Filipinos.
Every year since 1987, Feb. 11 was a holiday in Panay. Javier’s heroism is acknowledged in other parts of the country as well. In Benquet, the Benquet Exploration, Inc. High School was renamed Gov. Evelio Javier Memorial High School “in honor of a patriot who gave his life to usher in the new administration.” In Manila, then Mayor Lito Atienza installed at the Baywalk a statue of Evelio Javier contemplating the sunset of Manila Bay.
This year’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of Evelio Javier’s martyrdom was a grand one. Weeks before Feb. 11, yellow and blue banners sprouted all around the EBJ Freedom Park, which was named after Evelio Javier. The park’s centrepiece is a bronze statue of the hero flashing his signature victory sign. The monument was done by National Artist Napoleon Abueva.
The floral offering at the statue and the many commemorative activities that followed was led no less by Evelio’s brother Exequiel, who is now governor of Antique, and his nephew Paolo Everardo, who is the congressman, and the other members of the Javier family.
In the afternoon was a concert by the Kabayao Quintet, led by world-class violinist Gil Lopez Kabayao. The celebration was capped with a candle-lighting ceremony at the very spot where Javier was first shot.
Evelio Javier is a hero not only because he was assassinated while protecting Cory Aquino’s votes but more importantly because he taught the ordinary people to dream beyond their reach. He was a symbol for people empowerment. The victory sign that became his trademark was for the farmers, peasants, fishermen, vendors, and the youth–those found without a voice during the years of dictatorship, for which Javier stood when he was governor of Antique from 1971 to 1980.
Born in the farmlands of Lanag, Hamtic on Oct. 31, 1942, Javier grew up seeing the value of education. He graduated valedictorian of San Jose Elementary School and pursued high school and law studies at the Ateneo de Manila University.
Running as governor under the Liberal Party ticket , he themed his campaign as a battle cry against poverty brought about by the lack of education of the youth. Because of ignorance, the poor lose their ability to dream of a better future. “What difference is there between the life of a poor, ignorant youth and the carabao he tends to pasture.”
Javier’s quixotic approach earned him the votes. At 29, he became the youngest governor in the Philippines, and in his inaugural speech on Jan. 2, 1972 at the San Jose Public Plaza, he declared that the victory is not his, but of the youth and their parents who cared for the future of their children.
Writing about how he became governor in his application to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he revealed that when he entered politics, no one took him seriously. “Nobody thought I could win, not even my wife. Only my father told me he believed I would win. But even so, I thought he was only trying to be nice.”
“But 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, “he said attaining the “Impossible Dream”, which was his battle song.
As governor of Antique, Evelio Javier encouraged citizen participation in reforestation, in building more small irrigation systems and a sports complex. He made Antiqueños proud of their heritage through the Binirayan Festival.
In these times when reports of corruption shake the people’s trust in government, Evelio Javier can serve as example to leaders and public servants.