How I met hundreds of Martial Law victims in five days
The online news portal of TV5
Editor's Note: For much of the past September, InterAksyon.com embarked on a special coverage and commemoration of the 40th year of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines. As part of that commemoration, we launched an admittedly ambitious "Memory Project", an attempt to record, in audio form, the nearly 10,000 affidavits of human rights victims under the Marcos years. That project is still continuing, drawing on volunteers who over the past two weeks have literally been giving voice to these not so silent testimonies. The first volunteers to our Memory Project, inevitably, were InterAksyon.com's young staff of writers, artists, and even programmers. We have since been joined by hundreds of students from the University of the Philippines, professionals, and members of other academic communities.
The old cigarette boxes had different labels on them: "summary", "torture", "salvage". Each had rows of numbers written on them, too. "001–100", "2001–3000", "4001–4100". We lugged one of them out of the musty-smelling room and into the yard that would become our headquarters for a week or so.
These boxes had remained untouched for over a decade. We scraped the masking tape off and opened the lids. Inside were thick folders overflowing with documents, sturdy rubber bands tying each gaping bundle together.
"Torture 4601–4900," one bundle read. I flipped the brown, well-worn folder open, wondering how it would make me feel the rest of the day.
My coworker and I – both in our early twenties, both having been born years after the EDSA Revolution – would be meeting the human rights victims of Martial Law as soon as we began reading the documents before us. And there would be hundreds, thousands of them. Each document was an affidavit. Each affidavit - many written by hand - our editors reminded us, represented at least one real person, a human rights victim of Martial Law and the Marcos years.
"Name of victim"
"Date of birth"
Name, address of victim’s next-of-kin or beneficiary. Date of arrest. Place of arrest. Military or para-military unit making the arrest. Injuries sustained. Cause of death. To whom was the death reported.
Variations of these items were found on the first page of each stapled affidavit, depending on what happened to the victim: torture, salvage, or summary killing. The following pages were for a more detailed account: "Describe here the circumstances and details of summary execution."
Attached were medical certificates, death certificates, photos of survivors, of funerals, of the dead exactly the way they were found, lying on the grass, with clothes or without, bruises coloring their skin or blood coating their flesh. One man's eyes were still open, his head having fallen to the side. In another photo, the woman's shoulder was torn open to reveal the pink stuff inside, ripped open by a bullet. There was even a picture of a massacre in South Cotabato, where 17 people, including four children aged 1, 3, 5, and 7, were shot. The scene was eerily reminiscent of the pictures we've seen of the Ampatuan massacre, except these corpses did not have the benefit of banana leaves for cover.
There were newspaper clippings, arrest warrants, and release papers attached to these legal documents. There were handwritten descriptions of what had happened to them or their loved ones. Some were in impersonal typewriting, some in beautiful cursive, some in laborious scrawl. Some descriptions were short and to the point; scientific, even. People needed coping mechanisms, and if distance was the way to keep the terror away, so be it.
"Describe here the circumstances and details of your torture."
While most affiants would fill that page with information. One man wrote only the following:
- Walang-hintong bugbog sa lahat ng bahagi ng katawan (Relentless beating of all parts of the body)
- Pagkoryente sa bayag (Electrocution of testicles)
- Pagpapakain ng tae (Feeding of feces)
- Walang-hintong interogasyon (Relentless interrogation).
Another sworn statement was even shorter:
- "Cutting a part of my ear and threatened to death."
Others read like novels.
"At one point, they [the police] brought in an artist member of my group who pointed to me as the one who recruited him. The police ordered him to hit me since it was presumably 'my fault' that he was now in trouble with the government. Under threat of being beaten up himself, the artist punched me on the stomach a few times, after which the police told me it was my turn to hit him back. Instead of hitting him back, however, I hugged the artist and he wept in my arms. The police was enraged and that was when I was subjected to electric shocks over and over again."
We learned that there were some standard methods of torture: being made to run around the military camp with only your underwear on as the sun beat down on your back, then being immediately stationed for an hour or so in front of the air conditioner; being forced face-down into the toilet – lucky you if there weren't anything floating in there; being boxed and kicked until you turned black and blue, or a rib was broken, or a tooth had fallen to the ground.
In those days, military camps were apparently sorely lacking in ashtrays. Not that this was a huge problem. They could always stick the glowing ends of their cigarettes into their captives' palms, nostrils, and eye sockets.
The military's captives were well-acquainted with the butts of soldiers' rifles. With it, soldiers hit people's faces, stomachs, napes. And they were just getting started. Every now and then my colleague and I would come across a particularly inventive method and would it read aloud.
"Na noong... 1982, ay nagsimula na akong dumanas ng 'di makataong pagtrato ng mga sundalo tulad ng paggapos sa akin nang patalikod ang mga kamay; pagtatali sa leeg (tali ng kalabaw) habang hinihila nila ang lubid papunta sa lubluban ng kalabaw; pambubugbog sa iba’t-ibang dako ng katawan, pagsipa, pagsuntok, pagsampal, dalawang kamay na pasalubong ng pagsampal sa aking mukha na sakop ang teynga; pagsesepilyo ng katawan ng bulaklak ng rose sa aking labi at gilagid kaya nagkasugat-sugat ang aking bibig; pagsundot ng tingting ng walis sa aking ari..."
(That in 1982, I began to experience inhumane treatment from the soldiers, such as being hogtied with my hands behind my back; being tied around my neck (with the use of rope for carabaos) while being pulled toward the mud where the carabaos bathed; being beaten in different parts of the body, kicked, boxed, smacked, two hands walloping either side of my face, over my ears; being made to brush my lips and gums with the stem of a rose, which led to cuts all over my mouth; they poked reeds into my penis…)
Another account read:
"I was... further detained for six months more, and there I was buried three times in a throat-deep [pit] forcing me to accept being a rebel..."
Still another read:
"By means of what seemed [to be] a small wooden hammer, my testicles would be hammered by quick sharp blows... At other times, the hard blows to the chest would be delivered simultaneous with the twirling of chicken feathers and thin coconut-leaf midribs into my nostrils."
These victims were drivers, carpenters, factory workers, fishermen, businessmen, soldiers, nuns, housekeepers, housewives, teachers, students, farmers upon farmers upon farmers.
They spoke Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Ilocano, English.
They were from Zamboanga del Norte, Davao del Sur, Agusan del Sur, Maguindanao, Antique, Samar, Quezon, Laguna, Pampanga, Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, and literally every province in the country.
Before they were captured or killed, they had been setting rice out to dry, cutting wood for fuel, coming out of church after Mass, waiting for jeepneys, watching the TV news with their families.
Their houses were razed to the ground. Their animals were stolen from them. Their children, wives, husbands, mothers, fathers were manhandled before their very eyes. They were ordered to climb the coconut trees they were harvesting fruit from, and just as they reached the top, shot dead, because shooting them on the ground wasn't exciting enough. They were riddled with bullets, their eyes gouged out and ears torn.
Their remains were found in wells, muddy creeks, deep pits, rice fields, out in the open.
This wasn't peacekeeping. This was murder.
At the back of my mind was the thought that I had seen it all, after a few days into the job. But no. Each day would come with its own unpleasant surprise, in gruesome detail. Humans, I realized, could be ingenious when coming up with ways to hurt their fellow men and women.
I learned that the Marcos regime did not only leave people with dark memories of days in detention. It did not just take away loved ones from their families. It also left many people crippled as a result of torture, their hands and legs reduced to immobile limbs. How many stories of farmers no longer able to work had I read? How many pictures of them leaning on crutches had I seen?
"Pilay, bali, at bugbog ang maraming parte ng katawan. Nagkaroon ng deperensiya sa likod, dibdib, at baga (Many parts of the body were crippled, broken, and beaten up. Had a problem with the back, chest, and lungs)."
"Payat, mahina, at naging masasakitin na ang biktima mula noon (The victim became thin, weak, and sickly since then)."
"Masakit ang likod at dibdib dahil sa kulata ng baril at matagal na 'di nakapagtrabaho dahil sa dinanas (The back and chest hurt because of being hit by the butt of the gun, has not able to work for a long time because of the experience)."
What was even more horrific was that majority of these people – there were hundreds of them – were arrested or killed "on mere suspicion." In various accounts from Mindanao, it was because they were "Muslim-Filipino," and therefore suspected to be allied with the Moro National Liberation Front.
- "And there they picked up the victim without justifiable grounds and shot him to death before the eyes of the public."
- "No one dared to prevent the killing for fear of being harmed also."
- "Q - Did you submit for medical treatment after that incident? A - No sir, because I feared that the moment I will submit for medical treatment they will liquidate me."
How could the recent mauling of MMDA officer Saturnino Fabros spark such widespread outrage, yet the death, torture of countless human rights victims under Martial Law elicit comment upon comment of: "The Marcos era was fantastic; it was so orderly back then; he was the greatest President ever"?
Why do some people insist and believe that these victims deserved the beatings they received? Oh, it's because they're members of the New People’s Army. It's because they're Communists.
Never mind that most of the people whose affidavits I read denied any affiliation with the CPP or the NPA. They were farmers busy tilling their fields, fishermen setting out for the day's catch, harvesters readying to climb a coconut tree. These were people trying to make a living, who caught the eye of a military-man, and without even a "What's your name?", were seized and beaten up.
These were men who were ordered to get out of their houses, line up next to their neighbors, and shot dead. These were men who wanted to visit their ailing mother in the next barrio at five in the afternoon – breaking curfew because they wanted to see how their loved one was doing – only to be stopped in their tracks by a truck full of soldiers, questioned, and, unable to give a satisfactory answer, beaten up until bones were broken, and tossed into a canal, left for dead.
To say that under Martial Law the Philippines was a prosperous, peaceful country is like spitting on the graves of each of the victims. It is like spitting in the faces of those men and women who fought so hard against a dictator, one who could have you or your relative thrown into prison in the snap of a finger. It is an insult to those who suffered so we living today could enjoy the basic human rights which Ferdinand Marcos trampled all over.
I truly believe that if people who think that Marcos was such a great leader had gone through even a few of the files we did, they would never have such delusions.
Wrote a family member of one of the victims of summary execution:
"Mayroon sana akong itatanong kung puede? (May I ask something?)
Puede bang patayin kung ang isang tao ay suspect lang? (Should a person be killed when he is just a suspect?)
Hindi ba dapat na ikulong ito? (Isn't he supposed to be put in jail?)
Bakit ang mga pulis ay walang action? (Why didn’t the police do anything?)
At wala na bang hustisya para sa kanila? (Is there no justice for them?)
Ano ngayon ang aming dapat gawin? (What are we supposed to do now?)"
If I were alive during the time Marcos had the country in his control, I would not be able to write this at all. Or if I did, what guarantee would I have had that I would be free or alive tomorrow?
I write this to pay tribute to those who sacrificed their lives for the Filipino people - those I only met by way of sworn affidavits.
Wrote a teacher who was arrested during Martial Law:
"This application for some financial relief could be one way of rendering justice to us victims of this violation of our rights to dissent and resist dictatorship in our land. I owe it to my son... and to the future citizens of this country that we get some kind of justice."