Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno puts the spotlight on the Human Rights Victims Reparations Act during the oral arguments on a hero’s burial for dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Martial Law victims attend the oral arguments on the hero’s burial for the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Victims of horrifying acts of torture during Martial Law recounted their painful experiences before Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno on Wednesday, August 31.
Etta Rosales, former chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who experienced the atrocities of the dictatorship, recounted: “They had a gun and they threatened me to answer the question, otherwise they [would] shoot [me].”
She was also raped, tortured, and went through electric shock and Russian roulette.
Rosales is among the petitioners asking the Supreme Court to stop the burial of the late dictator at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which President Rodrigo Duterte had allowed supposedly for the country to be able to move on from that period of history.
Another petitioner in one of the cases, Trinidad Herrera, told the Chief Justice about her terrible experience under the dictatorship.
“‘Pinatanggal nila ang aking blusa at ‘nilagay ang linya ng kuryente sa suso ko. Pumasok pa ang kuryente sa katawan ko hanggang di ko na nakayanan,” Herrera tearfully recalled during oral arguments on the petition against a hero’s burial for the late president Ferdinand Marcos.
(They ordered me to remove my blouse and they applied electric shock on my breast. Electricity went through my body until I couldn’t take it anymore.)
“They even put water on the floor so that the electricity would enter my body,” she added in Filipino.
Another victim, Fe Mangahas, shared: “They would scare me again by touching me and breathing down my neck and then I felt something like naihi ako (I peed). I figured it was blood because at the time I did not realize I was two months pregnant.”
“When they found out I was pregnant I was released, but I was asked to report weekly about my whereabouts. I had to do this every Saturday for a year,” she added.
Other victims also detailed what they went through when they were captured by uniformed men.
Maria Christina Rodriguez said her captors burned her skin with cigarette. Her fingers were swollen because of bullet-pressing.
Maria Christina Bawagan said her thighs were hit until they looked like rotten vegetables. She was sexually abused, with her captors inserting objects into her vagina and touching her breasts while blindfolded. She said she may never know who exactly tortured her, but she clearly remembered their voice.
Each of these women remembered the exact date they were captured and went through the life-scarring experience.
Sereno asked the petitioners, who are claimants for compensation under Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparations Act, to speak before the court. She told them, “The Court is listening.”
Not about the money
During her interpellation of former Akbayan Representative Ibarra Gutierrez III, lawyer for one of the petitioning groups, Sereno asked if the monetary compensation for the victims was not sufficient.
Gutierrez responded: “No, your Honor, because the law explicitly acknowledges to recognize the [victims and their heroism and sacrifices].”
He also said that money is not equivalent to the restoration of dignity of the victims.
The late strongman’s state burial, he said, would “prolong and extend” the suffering of the victims.
Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB) Chairperson Lina Sarmiento, who was one of the resource persons invited, said that out of over 75,000 claims, they have only finished processing 17,000.
HCRVB can only start distributing the compensation after every case has been settled because the P10 billion funds allotted will be divided according to the intensity of human rights violations experienced by each victim.
Sarmiento said they are hoping to finish the work before May 12, 2018, when their office expires.
Also appearing as a resource person, CHR Chairperson Chito Gascon said the state has an obligation for “non-repetition” of the trauma they experienced during Martial Law.
“There is a commitment on the part of the state [to] non-repetition, [that] the victims should not be exposed to re-traumatization,” he told Chief Justice Sereno.
Gascon stressed that local and international laws acknowledge reparations as a “positive act that the stake must undertake to [prevent] impunity.”
During the Marcos regime, San Juanico Bridge did not just refer to the longest bridge in the country. It had a far more sinister meaning.
(WARNING: The following illustrations may be graphic to some readers. Kindly view at your own discretion.)
MANILA, Philippines – Liliosa Hilao, or Lilli to friends, was a consistent honor student and scholar of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM). The communication arts student, an active member of different student organizations, was due to graduate cum laude.
Her weak health did not stop her from being an active student leader. She was editor-in-chief of HASIK, PLM’s student publication that openly criticized the Marcos administration. Lilli was too sickly to rally on the streets and channeled her strength through her pen, writing thoughtful essays against the dictator’s regime.
At 23, Lilli made it to history books and publications, but not because of her academic excellence nor her writing talent. She was the first female and student activist to die in detention during martial rule.
Lilli suffered a fate worse than death.
Drunken soldiers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) beat up Lilli and took her to Camp Crame. She was eventually found dead in the detention center. CANU reported she committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid, but her body showed signs of torture: her lips bore cigarette burns, her arms had injection marks, and her body was full of bruises. According to her sister, her internal organs were removed to cover signs of torture and possible sexual abuse.
Lilli’s tragedy is just one of the many stories of torture during the Marcos regime.
Worse than death
Amnesty International (AI) has estimated that during martial law, 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, and 3,240 were killed. The AI mission, which visited the Philippines from November to December 1975, found that 71 of the 107 prisoners interviewed alleged that they had been tortured.
Historian Michael Charleston Chua published a study entitled, “TORTYUR: Human Rights Violations During The Marcos Regime,” that detailed the different kinds of torture used by authorities during this dark chapter in Philippine history, as recounted by victims and published in different reports.
According to Chua, here’s what physical torture looked like during martial law:
Electric shock – Electric wires are attached to the victim’s fingers, arms, head and in some cases, genitalia.
San Juanico Bridge – The victim lies between two beds and if his/her body falls, he/she will be beaten.
Truth serum – An injection administered in hospitals and used for interrogation, making a victim “talk drunkenly.”
Russian roulette – Loading a bullet into one chamber of a revolver, spinning the cylinder, and then forcing the victim to pull the trigger while pointing the gun at his/her own head.
Beating – Victim is beaten by a group of soldiers.
Pistol-whipping – The victim is beaten with a rifle butt.
Water cure – Water is forced through the victim’s mouth and then forced out by beating.
Strangulation – Constriction of the victim’s neck done by hand, electric wire, or steel bar.
Cigar and flat iron burns – Victims of torture are inflicted with burns using cigarettes, and even a flat iron.
Pepper torture – A “concentrated pepper substance” is put on the victim’s lips or rubbed on his/her genitalia.
Animal treatment – The victim is shackled, caged, treated, and fed like an animal.
Other forms of torture
Torture during martial law also came in non-physical forms. Chua noted that the regime also inflicted psychological and emotional torture to “shake one’s principle.” This is done through solitary confinement and isolation. Some reported mental torture by threats of imminent death, rape, and harm to their families.
Stories of sexual abuse were also prevalent inside detention centers. Women were stripped naked, made to sit on ice blocks, stand in cold rooms, and raped and sexually assaulted using objects such as eggplants smeared with chili peppers.
The list of different methods of torture recounted by victims go on.
Even during martial rule, no amount of censorship nor state control could stop the horror stories from spreading then, as they got more and more atrocious every day.
Survivors and families left behind by victims of the regime are still haunted by the trauma they and their loved ones suffered at the hands of those who had sworn to protect them. Decades after the Marcos regime, these stories continue to be told, serving as stark reminders of the country’s darkest years.
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, InterAksyon.com posts a series of testimonies from human rights victims of the Marcos regime. Thousands of Filipinos were murdered, tortured, or disappeared in the 14 years the country was under a dictatorship.
After the fall of the Marcos regime in 1986, close to 10,000 human rights victims – the survivors themselves or their families – filed a class suit against the Marcos estate. A US district court in Hawaii ruled in January 1995 that the victims are entitled to a share of the ill-gotten wealth recovered from the Marcoses: a total of $2.7 billion for their torment and torture.
However, the legal victory remains only on paper. The Hawaii ruling has to be enforced in the Philippines by a local court. The Makati Regional Trial Court is currently hearing the case but the Marcoses have so far been successful in blocking compensation to the plaintiffs.
So far, only $10 million, or $1,000 each, has been awarded to the victims and their kin. The money is not even part of the $2.7-billion compensatory and exemplary damages awarded by the Hawaii court but is from a settlement with Marcos crony, Jose Yao Campos, who has real estate properties in Texas and Colorado.
This is the narrative from the affidavit of a human rights worker arrested on March 23, 1983 along with three others in Davao City by the PC-INP, military intelligence and CHDF. She was sexually abused and suffered post-traumatic stress syndrome and paranoia from her ordeal.
As we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law on September 21, 1972, InterAksyon.com posts a series of testimonies from human rights victims of the Marcos regime. Thousands of Filipinos were murdered, tortured, or disappeared in the country’s decade under military rule.
But aside from those who directly suffered the regime’s atrocities, there were the other victims — their families. The widows and widowers, the orphans, those who saw loved ones savaged or slaughtered before their very eyes, or taken away never to be heard from or seen again. And there were the children born and/or raised behind bars by parents jailed for opposing tyranny, and those who grew up with surrogates as their fathers and mothers acted on their convictions by taking to the countryside to wage actual combat against the forces of dictatorship.
Since he was a child, call center senior executive-turned-human rights activist Ron de Vera, 31, of Amnesty International, found it hard to fit into the “normal” world. He would often lie about the identities and whereabouts of his parents.
“I told different stories about them — they were abroad, had separated, or already dead.”
De Vera’s parents went underground during Martial Law. His mother, Adora Faye, was arrested by the military in 1976. She was stripped, beaten, and repeatedly raped during tactical interrogations. Adora got pregnant after the repeated sexual assaults and was forced to induce an abortion. De Vera’s father, Manuel, disappeared 22 years ago and has remained missing to this day.
This is the story of the orphaned child and his path to awakening.
It’s convenient to look at the past with rose-colored glasses instead of with memories of needles in your nail beds, electric wires attached to your genitals, and the barrel of a gun thrust inside your mouth
Majority of comments on articles about Martial Law seem to be from staunch defenders of that era. There are and will always be citizens who see those years as an era of peace and prosperity in our country.
We don’t need to debate that. Instead we simply need to tell, retell and listen to the stories of those who survived those years. As the younger generation we need to do our own research, take the blinders off our eyes and learn what exactly life was like during Martial Law before coming up with flowery images of those years as a beautiful moment in history.
Silence by force
You would never have seen an article such as this as I would have already been taken, tortured, and killed for my opinions. If Martial Law were still in effect, bloggers who wrote anything even remotely critical of the government or its cronies would be jailed like they do in other countries.
There would be none of your Facebook rants about the administration, Metro Manila traffic, or even the outfit a politician is wearing. In fact, there wouldn’t be Facebook, Instagram, and Gmail in the Philippines the way these websites are banned in China.
If I wrote during Martial Law, I could be taken from my home the way 23-year-old Lily Hilao was for being a prolific writer for her school paper at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. In April 1973, Lily was taken by the military, and was raped and tortured in front of her 16-year-old sister. By the time Lily’s family retrieved her dead body, it bore cigarette burns on her lips, injection marks on her arms, bruises and gun barrel marks. Her internal organs were removed and her vagina was sawed off to cover signs of torture and sexual abuse. Liliosa Hilao is considered to be the first female casualty and martyr of Martial Law.
Martial Law engineer Juan Ponce Enrile defined subversion during a 1977 BBC interview: “anybody who goes against the government or who tries to convince people to go against the government – that is subversion.” Proclamation 1081 gave the military the authority to arrest, detain, and execute anyone who even dared to breathe sadly about the Marcos administration.
Archimedes Trajano was only 21 when he questioned Imee Marcos on why she was the National Chairman of the Kabataang Barangay during an open forum. He was forcibly taken from the venue by Imee’s bodyguards, and was tortured and thrown out of a building window, all because the presidential daughter was irked by his question.
Maria Elena Ang was a 23-year-old UP Journalism student when she was arrested and detained. She was beaten, electrocuted, water cured, and sexually violated during her detention.
Dr Juan Escandor was a young doctor with UP-PGH who was tortured and killed by the Philippine Constabulary. When his body was recovered, a pathologist found that his skull had been broken open, emptied and stuffed with trash, plastic bags, rags and underwear. His brain was stuffed inside his abdominal cavity.
Boyet Mijares was only 16 years old in 1977 when he received a call that his disappeared father (whistleblower and writer Primitivo Mijares) was still alive. The caller invited the younger Mijares to see him. A few days later, Boyet’s body was found dumped outside Manila, his eyeballs protruding, his chest perforated with multiple stab wounds, his head bashed in, and his hands, feet and genitals mangled.
Trinidad Herrera was a community leader in Tondo when she was arrested in 1977. In this video she recounts being electrocuted on her fingers, breasts, and vagina until her interrogators were pleased with her answers to their questions.
Neri Colmenares was an 18-year-old activist when he was arrested and tortured by members of the Philippine Constabulary. Aside from being strangled and made to play Russian Roulette, he witnessed fellow detainees being electrocuted through wires inserted into their penises, as well as being buried alive in a steel drum.
Hilda Narciso was a church worker when she was arrested, confined in a small cell, fed a soup of worms and rotten fish, and repeatedly gang-raped.
60,000 were arrested during the first year of Martial Law alone, and many of their stories will never be told. Michael Chua wrote a paper detailing the torture methods used during the Marcos regime.
Aside from electrocution of body parts and genitals, it was routine to waterboard political prisoners, burn them using cigarettes and flat irons, strangle them using wires and steel bars, and rub pepper on their genitals. Women were stripped naked, made to sit on ice blocks or stand in cold rooms, and were sexually assaulted using objects such as eggplants smeared with chili peppers.
Forty-three years have passed. Time, as well as the circus that is Philippine governance make it easy to forget Martial Law as the darkest and most terrible moments in Philippine history. Many of its victims have died or have chosen to remain silent – silence being most understandable because these stories are truly difficult to remember, and much harder to tell.
Stories need to be told
Yet these horrific stories need to be told over and over until we realize that the pretty cover of the book of the Marcos years is actually full of monster stories. We need to bring the graphic accounts of torture and murder to light so that those who rest comfortably in their illusions that the Marcos years were pleasant will at least be stirred.
Instead we often hear from those who want to erase the evils of the past, those who tell us that these young people, many of them barely past their childhoods when they were tortured and killed, were violent rebels who sought to overthrow the government. Never mind that it was one of the most corrupt and cruel dictatorships the world has ever known, and that it was by the efforts of these young heroes that the reign of the Marcoses ended.
Majority of Martial Law victims were in their 20s and 30s at that time – the same age our younger citizens are now – those who have the luxury of shrugging off the Marcos years as a wonderful time. Unscathed by a more cruel past, the younger generation is only too eager to criticize the current state of our government and our people as being undisciplined and requiring an iron fist such as the one Marcos used to supposedly create peace in the past.
They forget that if we were still under Martial Law (or should it return), such sentiments of “subversion” could cost them their lives, and that the same freedom and voice they use to reminisce about a time they know nothing about would have been muted and extinguished if we did not have the democracy we enjoy today.
Hindsight is always 20-20, as they say. It’s convenient to look at the past with rose-colored glasses instead of memories of needles in your nail beds, electric wires attached to your genitals, and a barrel of a gun thrust inside your mouth, the way thousands of Martial Law victims suffered and still suffer to this day.
Just because it didn’t happen to you or your family doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to more than 70,000 victims during that time. Just because you were spared then doesn’t mean you will be spared the next time this iron fist you wish for comes around.
Liliosa Hilao, who died at the age of 23, was the first reported case of a student activist who died in detention during martial law.
Her asthma may have prevented Lilli—as friends called her—from joining rallies but she found other ways to express her conviction.
A consistent honor student in elementary and high school, she studied communication arts at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM), where she became an editor at PLM’s school paper, “Hasik.”
An active student despite being sickly, Lilli was a leader, the student president of the communication arts department and a representative to PLM’s student central government.
A secretary of the Women’s Club of Pamantasan, Lilli organized the Communication Arts Club in PLM. She was also a member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
Death came for Lilli in April 1973 when she was abducted by drunken soldiers looking for her brother. Troopers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (Canu) raided the family’s house and Lilli demanded a search warrant. In response, the soldiers slapped her.
She was later handcuffed and taken in for questioning. When a brother-in-law came to see her at the camp, her face was swollen. She said she was tortured.
The following day, Lilli was dead.
According to an official Canu report, Lilli committed suicide by drinking muriatic acid. But postmortem findings showed she was tortured.
Her face was severely swollen. Her lips bore cigarette burns. She had 11 injection marks in her arms and deep handcuff marks on her wrists. Her torso was badly bruised with finger marks and gun-barrel marks. It was also possible she was sexually abused.
Lilli died before she could graduate. Because she was a consistent scholar, a vacant seat was reserved for her during the ceremonies. She was given posthumous cum laude honors.
Another young activist, Jan Quimpo, was at the Hilao residence when soldiers from Canu abducted him, along with Lilli and two other Philippine Science High School (PSHS) students.
Jan, along with his brother Ishmael “Jun” Quimpo, was exposed to student demonstrations that marked the turbulent days of the early 1970s after their family moved near Manila’s university belt.
Jan, the first activist of the family, was described as a mild-mannered boy with an occasional rebellious streak. He was 13 when he was awarded a scholarship at PSHS.
After being exposed to rundown facilities, late monthly stipends and substandard living conditions in what was supposed to be a highly regarded institution, he joined his fellow scholars in protesting their poor conditions.
When the student protests in Metro Manila against the abuses of the Marcos administration escalated in 1970, several PSHS students, including Jan, joined the rallies. They forged alliances with college activists from the University of the Philippines (UP), particularly Kabataang Makabayan (KM).
Jan’s ambition changed to being a “kadre,” or someone dedicated to serving the masses in a revolutionary way. He started spending time with squatter families, eking out a living mostly by quarrying adobe blocks.
In 1971, an increase in gas prices triggered widespread demonstrations by students and transport workers. In UP Diliman, a student was shot dead at a student barricade.
FIRST MARTYR Liliosa Hilao was the first student leader to die while in detention during the martial law
regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Aged 23, Hilao was allegedly tortured after she was abducted by
Constabulary troopers in 1973. PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE LOPEZ MEMORIAL MUSEUM COLLECTION
Students responded by blockading the university gates from police and soldiers, triggering the putting up of what was called the Diliman Commune. Jan, a high school senior at PSHS at that time, took part in that event.
Within PSHS, students held daily protests and walked out of their classes. The faculty could not find enough students to fill the classrooms. Eventually, school officials simply allowed the two most senior batches to graduate. Jan was among them.
While Jan passed the entrance exams for college at UP Diliman, he went to school not to attend classes but to meet fellow activists and recruit others. Soon, he dropped out and worked full-time as an activist.
Packing his bags, he left home and lived at the KM headquarters.
On April 4, 1973, Jan was at the house of schoolmate Marie Hilao when a group of antinarcotics troopers came demanding to see Marie’s brother, who was also an activist. Failing to find their target, they took Jan, two other PSHS students and two of Marie’s sisters.
All were subjected to physical and psychological torture. Marie’s sister Lilli died as a result.
After Lilli’s death, the torture sessions ceased. Jan was moved to a detention cell and, three months later, was released.
Never seen again
In October 1977, Constabulary troopers raided the Quimpo house looking for Jan’s brother Jun, who was out at the time. The troopers left without arresting anyone.
Two weeks later, Jan left home, saying he was coming back for dinner. He never returned. All attempts by the family to find him failed.
YOUTH activist Jun Quimpo is shown in this photo which appeared in the San Beda College high school yearbook of 1974. He was shot in the back in 1981 by a former comrade who had surrendered to the authorities.
They received reports that Jan was seen in several public places, curiously turning away if a friend tried to approach him. The conclusion they made was that he had been arrested and was likely being used to trace other activists.
But these reports stopped coming in not long after. Jan was never seen again. He was 23.
Jan’s brother Jun is remembered by friends and family as a talented college dropout who chose to work for the poor and devote his life to the cause of the downtrodden.
Only 13 when the First Quarter Storm erupted, Jun was caught in the spirit of his time. He wanted to participate, and felt he was spoiled by his easy life.
In 1971, 14-year-old Jun joined the KM chapter in San Beda and participated in rallies.
When martial law was declared, Jun was enrolled at UP Diliman. He joined the youth committee of the Consultative Committee on Student Affairs—an alternative to the Marcos-banned student councils.
But Jun was more interested in community work. His first community exposure was at Constitution Hills in Quezon City, then a relocation area for squatters. It is now the site of the House of Representatives.
He also became a member of Alyansa ng Maralita sa Tatalon, a big slum community in Quezon City, where he continued his organizing work, engaging residents in political discussions and urging them to step out of their idleness, hopelessness, and beer-drinking sprees, and take responsibility for their future.
It was during this time that Jun began writing songs, through which he expressed his views and dreams.
At first, he would take existing protest songs and change their lyrics, like those for the Sanggunian, a song composed in 1975 which advocated the restoration of the student councils under martial law.
With a guitar, he would sing for hours, inspiring people and making them feel strong.
After Jun was arrested and detained for 10 days in 1976 for participating in a rally of 5,000 informal settlers in front of Manila Cathedral, he decided to leave the city, give up college and join the antimartial law underground movement in the rural areas, where he worked for the next five years.
In December 1981, in Kalasitan, Muñoz, Nueva Ecija province, Jun was having a meal when someone shot him from the back several times.
A certain Juan Simon, Jun’s former comrade who had surrendered to the Constabulary, admitted responsibility for the slaying. Jun was 24 years old.
Jun’s family came up with a collection of his songs, “Ang Awit ni Jun (The Songs of Jun),” in his honor and memory.