“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.
~ Alex C. Delos Santos, 2014
For thirty-three years, Evelio Javier Day has been widely celebrated in the four provinces of Panay — namely Antique, Aklan, Capiz, and Iloilo. It is a special non-working holiday celebrated since 1987 to commemorate the death anniversary of Antique’s Late Governor Evelio B. Javier.
Evelio Javier Day is a holiday, but do you know why you celebrate it, or why it’s highly regarded in the city of Panay?
A Little History About the Late Governor, Evelio Javier
Born on October 14, 1942 in Baranggay Lanag, Hamtique, Antique, Evelio Javier was the son of Evardardo Autajay Javier and Feliza Bellaflor. Similar to other Philippine heroes, Evelio Javier was noted for his academic excellence.
A first-honor graduate in high school, he entered and finished college education at Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in History and Government. And in 1968, he earned his bachelor degree for a law degree at the Ateneo Law School, passing the bar examination in the same year. He entered politics when he was 29 years old — earning him the notoriety as the youngest governor of Antique.
But his passion for learning didn’t stop there; even when he was married to Precious Bello Lotilla and had two sons — Francis Gideon Evardardo and David — with her. Evelio Javier took his masters course in public administration at Harvard University.
Upon finishing his studies, the accomplished Antiqueño returned to the Philippines to commence his career as a lawyer.
Evelio Javier and His Political Career
Evelio Javier’s political life and education pursuits melded together. Before he flew all the way to the United States to take a master’s degree at Harvard University, he ran for governor first and won. He was largely inspired by the idea that politics was the concern of the good and the decent. For this reason, he served out his term for eight years, despite his personal opposition to Marcos’ dictatorship.
“His first instinct was to resign, but he was prevailed upon by his family, friends, and supporters because everybody thought that martial law, being a temporary measure, was not going to last long. As it turned out, the temporary measure became a permanent way of life,” and he realized that “it was preferable for the Antiqueños to have a leader in such times than none at all.”
The Death of Evelio Javier
Following Benigno Aquino’s assassination in 1983, Evelio Javier returned to his home country and ran for a seat in martial law parliament as the representative of Antique. But shortly before the election, seven of his supporters were ambushed and killed. Consequently, Marcos-supporter Arturo Pacificador was proclaimed the winner and was also chosen as majority floor leader for Marcos’ party — Kilusang Bagong Lipunan.
Despite the obviously cheated win, Evelio Javier wasn’t deterred. Instead, he delegated all his energy into campaigning for Corazon Aquino and Salvador Laurel — then President Marcos’ competitors for the snap presidential elections set to happen during the first week of February 1986.
It’s not popularly known, but Evelio Javier worked diligently behind the curtains, uniting the opposition behind Mrs. Aquino. He even served as the provincial chair of the Unido-Laban party.
But this active participation in campaigning for the opposing party — at the time — was going to cost him his life. And five days after the snap presidential elections, Javier was killed by gunshot in broad daylight and less than a hundred meters away from Antique’s provincial capitol.
A Late Governor’s Legacy
The Philippines’ political climate at the time was already rife with straining tension. And any more untoward incidents would have snapped the tightly wound strings.
And Evelio Javier’s assassination on February 11, 1986, lit a fire under the Filipinos’ hunger and thirst for democracy. The outrage that sparked because of the late governor’s unsolved murder culminated in the historic events of February 22-25, 1986 — the People Power Revolution that put an end to Marcos’ 20-year regime.
In Memory of Evelio Javier
Today, as much as it has been for the last 33 years, Javier’s entire family along with his supporters commemorate his deeds and his acts of heroism. They offer flowers at the Freedom Park — the exact spot of Javier’s untimely death. Masses are also held simultaneously with tolling bells across many of Antique’s Catholic churches.
And today, in Antique, Evelio Javier’s loyal supporters play his favorite song, Frank Sinatra’s The Impossible Dream to remind the people of Antique what sort of political leader Evelio Javier was.
And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star
~ Frank Sinatra’s The Impossible Dream
For this man was a dreamer and an idealist in a land where most had given up. He was brave enough to stand for what he believed in, “to right the unrightable wrong,” “to be willing to die so that honor and justice may live.”
“People who cease to dream are the ones who are impossible.”