Quezon City, the Philippines. November 30, 2011 was the day Silme Domingo and Gene Viernes were the first Filipino Americans and the first labor union leaders to be added to the Wall of Martyrs at the Bantayog Center in Quezon City, near Manila. That morning, Silme’s 84-year-old mother, Ade Domingo, seemed a bit distracted. She has mourned the brutal death of her second son and his ILWU 37 colleague in their Pioneer Square union hall for 30 years. So many things must have been going through her mind.
Silme’s widow, Terri Mast, looked forward to the ceremony that would acknowledge the role that Silme and Gene played for justice in the Philippines as well as the Seattle union that dispatched workers to the Alaska salmon canneries.
For Cindy, Silme’s sister, it was vindication. She had focused ten years of her life to lead the Committee for Justice for Domingo and Viernes. The day after the Wall of Martyrs ceremony, she presented the Domingo/Viernes vs. Estate of Ferdinand Marcos case at a symposium at the University of the Philippines Law Center. For her 21-year-old son, Malik Silme Domingo Owens, it was the first time he heard “the whole story” in all its international political context.
The ceremony lasted over three hours. Fourteen people were added to 193 others already so honored in the years since the 1986 fall of Philippines Dictator, President Ferdinand Marcos. The ceremony began with the emotional raising of the flag as 500+ people sang the Philippine national anthem. Just as they had helped to raise the flag, one designated member of each martyr’s family then held the rope and lowered the flag to half mast, as taps was played in the background.
Eleven martyrs were inducted, as their families and friends, sometimes even fraternity brothers, took to the stage to receive a plaque and floral arrangement, which would later be laid at the Wall. As each martyr’s name was announced, a large gong was rung followed by the crowd yelling out, “MA-BU-HAY!”
The final names included Dr. Arturo Taca, a young Filipino doctor who, like many others against the Marcos Regime, was able to survive by moving to the U.S. As an expat he did intensive research to uncover Marcos’ fake military record and medals as well as organize opposition to the Marcos Regime.
Stan Viernes and best friend, Andy Pascua, represented Gene. Terri Mast joined Ade, Cindy Domingo, and Malik Domingo Owens who represented Silme on the stage. They were joined by longtime friends from the Bay Area, and former ILWU 37 member, Angel Doniego, who now lives in the Philippines. And others, including Philippine Congressman, Walden Bello and Philippine labor leaders joined the families. Spouses of some of the other martyrs also spontaneously joined in. It was a clear recognition that Silme and Gene’s anti-Marcos work in Seattle was respected in the Philippines.
By the time the ceremony was over, it was dark. Everyone lit candles as they walked from the large tent across the park to the Wall of Martyrs. Everyone lit candles and walked to the long marble wall, not unlike the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. A red, white and blue (also the colors of the Philippine flag) curtain opened to reveal the 14 new names. A member of each family laid the floral arrangements, followed by the crowd putting their candles into the sand below. Family members touched their loved one’s name carved into the black marble.
Some people lingered. Ade Domingo stepped back and watched. I had seen that before. After the 30th anniversary commemoration symposium at Seattle University in June, out-of-town friends wanted to visit Silme’s grave. I took photos, and listened to some of the friends talk about Silme. As I was leaving, I noticed Ade Domingo, standing alone and back from the grave and the visitors.
Silme and Gene’s names grace the Wall of Martyrs forever, along with distinguished leaders in the Philippines. Gene, ever the historian, would be touched that he’s more than a footnote in history on two ends of the Pacific. Silme would probably crack a joke, but would be bursting with pride.
Members of their families have passed on, moved on and grown a whole new generation of activists.
Back in the 1970’s, Ade Domingo and her late husband were active community leaders that were shunned because of their “communist” or “socialist” children. Many have never acknowledged that Ferdinand Marcos has anything to do with the brutal murders of Silme and Gene, not even after the families won an unprecedented wrongful death suit against the Marcos Estate – to this day, the only case in which a foreign head of state was found liable (1989) for the deaths of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Ade Domingo gave her son, and also her husband, Nemesio Domingo, Sr. – a close friend of Tony Baruso, the ILWU 37 president who hired the gunmen that shot and killed Gene and Silme. Nemesio Domingo, Sr. was never the same after that betrayal by his friend. Perhaps it’s not for me to say, but in this holiday season, isn’t it time that the Filipino American community of Seattle acknowledge Ade Domingo?
NOTE: Viewers cannot use the photos.