Profiles of Courage

Nestor Bugayong

The resistance movement to Martial Law and the People Power Revolution that ousted Marcos is often associated with names of personalities. In actuality, it was a revolution of the masses. The revolution did not last for mere days either; resistance had gone for decades. Many Filipinos, in their own way, challenged the false promise of the New Society and laid their lives on the line to push for their rights, for justice, for freedom throughout those tortuous years.

One of the everyday Filipinos who exhibited resolute courage was Nestor Bugayong. He was born in the slums of Altura, Manila in 1953. While studying, Bugayong worked as a bibingka seller and ‘taxi boy’ (hailing taxis for passengers) to support his family. However, Nestor and his sister would stay at their uncle’s house as the family moved to San Mateo, Rizal, making it difficult to support transportation cost for their schooling in Manila.[1]

Nestor toiled through countless household chores and endless mockery for his circumstances, having lived his whole life in stark poverty, and came out on top. Nestor was enrolled in Victorino Mapa High School, where he became more acutely aware about societal injustice and inequality. While he continued to excel academically, he also started to become more active in student movements. He joined the Malayang Kilusang Makabayan (MKK), participating in rallies, and, during the height of the First Quarter Storm, engaging with the government’s anti-riot squad on school grounds.[2]

Bugayong never neglected his studies, and he was able to pass and enter the University of the Philippines, albeit after an argument with his parents regarding tuition. In UP, Bugayong joined the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan (SDK). Through immersion, he was more exposed to the oppression of the Filipino poor and the marginalized. Having come from poverty himself, empathy came naturally for him, but moreso, a sense of belongingness. He left UP in 1971 to help the community, to which he became attached.[3]

Bugayong spent the following years with the masses. He helped workers and laborers unionize and form collectives, while he worked odd jobs to support himself and the families who would take him in. As he was a community organizer for the SDK, which was branded a communist front, he would become a target for state forces.[4] Though the families he helped would often invite him in to elude capture, this would not last long as Bugayong was arrested in 1975.[5]

Bugayong suffered immensely in detainment. Like with thousand other victims of Martial Law, Bugayong was beaten up and threatened with death by having the nozzle of a gun placed in his mouth.[[6]] According to Raissa Robles in her book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, Bugayong was “stripped naked and tied up with steel wire,” then he was made to place his back against an air-conditioner, with ice water being periodically poured over him.[7] The toll proved heavy on Bugayong’s body, so when a chance presented itself for him to be moved, he took it. Despite the torture, Bugayong signed a waiver attesting to his being in perfect health, just so he could be transferred to Camp Crame.[8]

In Camp Crame, Bugayong found art to endure the pain and as a form of escape. Handicrafts were initially a way for prisoners to earn income (allowance in prison). However, with Bugayong and many others, it turned into a subtle medium of expression. It became protest art, as they imbued their craft with messages of resistance and rebellion against the dictatorship. When Bugayong was released in 1978, however, he had nowhere to go. His artwork and art pieces were a way for him to provide for his family. He also opted not to return to the underground resistance movement, as it could endanger his comrades if they were traced from him. Lost and purposeless, Bugayong turned to alcohol and drugs. His health, already weakened by years of torture, worsened.[9]

In 1981, Bugayong briefly regained his footing when he joined a non-government organization, under which he produced illustrations and drawings for their materials. He also continued producing protest artworks. By 1983, Bugayong was married.[10] However, Bugayong’s health never recovered. He contracted several ailments that caused problems with his breathing. His lungs were rendered beyond repair due to damage sustained from the cold torture he endured in detainment.[[11]] Bugayong passed away in 1988, battling his illness to the very end and continuing his devotion to his art, having released an anthology of it shortly before his death.[12]

Sources on Bugayong are very limited. A huge bulk of this narrative is sourced from the Martial Law Files, an initiative started with the support of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and Claimants 1081, documenting not only the bigger picture of Martial Law and the leaders of the resistance movement, but also provided testimonies of the lives of normal people who contributed to the cause of the revolution in their own way.[13]

 Given the media blackout during the chaos of Martial Law, the struggle of the everyday Filipinos was not as documented. Their individual struggles and efforts to overcome adversity, however, remain integrally woven in the grand narrative of resistance — in the revolution of the Filipinos to overthrow a dictator. Nestor Bugayong’s part in this revolution, both as an activist and as a protest artist, endured long after he had passed on and, so long as people remember, will endure for years to come.

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References:

Gaerlan, Kristina. “Nestor Bugayong.” Martial Law Files WordPress. November 21, 2012. Accessed June 10, 2021. https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/nestor-bugayong/.

Robles, Raissa. Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines, 2016.

[1] Kristina Gaerlan, “Nestor Bugayong,” Martial Law Files WordPress, November 21, 2012, accessed June 10, 2021, https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/nestor-bugayong/.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Raissa Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again (Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines, 2016), 111.

[5] When raids happen, he would flee and lose his pursuers, knowing the ins and outs of the area, and would be hidden by different families he became acquainted with through his community teach-ins and meetings. He stayed with one “Ka Kiko,” from whom he learned much as a revolutionary, with the latter being an experienced one since the Japanese Occupation.

[6] Gaerlan, “Nestor Bugayong.”

[7] Raissa Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, 111.

[8] Gaerlan, “Nestor Bugayong.”

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid. According to the article in the Martial Law Files, it was a marriage “founded on a commitment to each other and to the people’s revolution,” which may suggest that Bugayong married someone from the underground movement or from his time as an artist producing protest art.

[11] Raissa Robles, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, 111.

[12] Gaerlan, “Nestor Bugayong.”

[13]Claimants 1081 is a group of Martial Law victims who were part of the class action suit against Marcos in Hawaii. Many of the profiles in the Martial Law Files are written by acquaintances and relatives of the victims himself. Bugayong’s profile was written by a certain Kristina Gaerlan. Given the available sources, she is likely the issue editor and layout artist for Isis International’s Woman in Action, which in 1995 featured Bugayong’s work “Babae,” which he had produced in 1984.Unfortunately, other than this, no other link can be definitely established. Unfortunately, due to lack of other sources, it is currently impossible to establish a link between Bugayong and Gaerlan. See: “Women in Action 1995-1,” Feminist Archives, accessed June 10, 2021, feministarchives.isiswomen.org/36-feminist-archives/women-in-action/women-in-action-1995-1/1397-women-in-action-1995-1 and “Women in Action 1995-2,” Feminist Archives, accessed June 10, 2021, http://feministarchives.isiswomen.org/64-feminist-archives/women-in-action/women-in-action-1995-2/1398-women-in-action-1995-2.

Bugayong, Nestor
A mock-up sketch of Nestor Bugayong, artist and activist. Image taken from Martial Law Files at https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/11/21/nestor-bugayong/

Bugayong, Nestor

Birthday: 1953

Death: 1988

Parents: N/A

Spouse: N/A

Children: N/A

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