Detention and torture by Marcos military

Community Opinion & Analysis Sep 9, 2011 at 11:27 am


(Editor’s note: Martial Law was imposed by then President Ferdinand Marcos on Sept. 21, 1972. This month marks the 39th anniversary of that event that installed a dictatorship in the Philippines. This article is the first of a number of first-hand accounts of the unparalleled repression that lasted up to the EDSA uprising on Feb. 26, 1986. We invite others to share their martial law experiences with our readers in future issues.)

By Christopher C. Sorio

I am presently working as a part time community worker assisting newcomers and live-in caregivers. My full time employment is colour management team leader for a packaging company in Toronto.

I was a first year high school student when Martial Law was proclaimed. Few weeks before the proclamation I was part of school integration group that visited farmers in Batangas. We were able to talk to peasants and activists about the issues of their respective sectors. Two weeks later ML was proclaimed.

I remember that morning that we woke up with no TV shows, no radio shows and no newspapers. Rumors spread that ML was proclaimed then in the afternoon, we saw and heard on the television President Ferdinand Marcos announcing his proclamation of Martial Law. Curfew had been imposed and people were being arrested.

For several days and weeks, the only show we could watch was cartoons and in between was Francisco Tatad who read the presidential proclamation and decrees.

Marcos was running the country  by decrees and presidential proclamation.

The letters ABC in the alphabet got a new meaning: Aguinaldo, Bonifacio at Crame (military camps).

I was a campus journalist and student leader during the martial law years. In the university belt area I joined the boycott movement and eventually became a member of League of Filipino Students. I can still remember the violent dispersal we encountered near Sta. Cruz church in 1976 or 1977. I was recruited to the LFS when I actively joined the Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral Laban sa Pagtaas ng Tuition fee. We protested tuition fee hike, militarization of campuses, the ban on campus papers and student council.

Since I was working in the campus ministry in the university I helped the student  leaders to have a dialogue with the bishops to understand the reason for boycott  movement. This was the time that I met my partner and wife, she was a student  leader.

As a result of this boycott movement we won the right to have a campus paper and I was selected to be part of the Editorial Board. We had to submit articles to the Adviser and without the Dean of Student Affairs’ approval we could not publish. So we had  to find creative ways to bring our message across the campus community.

I was arrested twice. The first was inside the university and I was only questioned when an element of the university security force searched my bag and found a leaflet on the boycott movement and tuition fee hike.  A possession of leaflets like this could land you in jail. I was detained, questioned and released but was blacklisted from enrolling in the next term. I had to bring my mother to the university and sign a waiver that I would not be an activist.

Then my next arrest was in April 1982, I was arrested in La Loma, Quezon City by the elements of 5th MIG -Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

For almost two years I was detained in Camp Bago Bantay on EDSA.  Under Operation Masagana, a number of individuals who were suspected to be part of the underground movement were arrested in this series of raids in April 1982.

My arresting unit raided the house I was staying in. I was able to evade the encirclement at first where I was able to run and took my first-born son and the baby sitter to my mother’s house. When I went back home to take more belongings, plainclothes men now surrounded the house. I locked myself inside the house and after a few hours, they came and broke the door. I was hiding in the bedroom at the second level of the house.  I opened the door and introduced myself. They took me down and I saw many men with M16 rifles searching every part of the house. They said they were looking where I was hiding the AK47s. I told them I knew nothing about that. They took me back up in the bedroom where a person whom they called captain was sitting at the center. He shouted “Hubad, Putang ina ka lilibing ka naming buhay” (‘Undress, you SOB, we will bury you alive!’). I stood in front of this person and answered questions. Then he told me to dress up. They blind folded me and took me in a vehicle. I was able to loosen my blindfold and that gave me a chance to see the feet, shoes of people who questioned me. With the recollection of the voices of these people and their feet, later on I was able to put faces to them.

MARCOS declaring Martial Law on Sept. 21, 1972

When my blindfold was removed, I was told I was in a safehouse. I was asked to write on a piece of paper my name, rank in the underground movement and the organizational structure of my unit. As I was writing, armed men would come in and out of the room I was staying, there I saw other people, one of them was my friend. I told them she was not involved and knew nothing about underground movement. Every time I was interrogated I would tell them she was innocent. A few days later she disappeared. When I had my first visitor, word was whispered to me that she was released but they could confirm from her if she was raped.

On my first night of captivity I was offered pinakbet for dinner and beer as I was eating, the interrogation started. Whenever I could not answer the question or refused to answer the question, they would slap me. I was told to sleep on top of the conference table and was told to be ready for a very hectic day ahead.

When I woke up, I was questioned again and beaten up. I was asked if I was an officer in the underground movement. The government has put a prize on people who were arrested so if you were only a member the prize was little that is why they forced you to admit that you are an officer.

Afterwards, I was brought to an interrogation room. As I was moved to other parts of the camp, my blindfold was placed again. In the interrogation room, I was shown pictures and was told to identify people that they pointed out. Then a big built person they called the Berdugo, came out with a field radio. With radio cable wires, he approached me and gave me jolt on the elbow. The questioning stopped, they told me to take off all my clothes. They yellow striped jockey brief I was wearing was also taken. I was tied up on a chair. They wrapped the cable wire to my genital and slowly the Berdugo turned the crank of the field radio, as he cranked it electricity shocked my body. I screamed on and off as the crank kept turning, they started pouring water over my body.

“Tama na po” I kept on shouting. The electric shocks got more intense. I screamed. They stopped and one guy picked up my brief and stacked it into my mouth. I was prepared to die. They stopped and took out my brief and asked where the other underground houses were. They wanted to know names and what can be found. This time there were 20-armed men who just came from a raiding operation and did not find anybody there. They shouted: speak up or we will kill you now! The torture continued until I could not anymore breath. I was hoping I would collapse and die but they stopped and continued questioning me with the threat that they would torture me again.

After two weeks, I was allowed to have a visitor. After all it was my birthday. A few days later the writ of habeas corpus was filed with the Supreme Court and we were presented to the court. For several years even after my release from prison I would be attending the court trial. I was charged with rebellion with four other detainees. Our group was known as the Bago Bantay Five.

In prison for almost two years I took care of pigs and chickens and we set up a greeting cards production. The income we generated was used as our money that we sent to our loved ones. I spent a lot of time taking care of the kitchen and marketing. We were able to negotiate that we cook our meals and plan our menu.

In between this, I was introduced to Zen Buddhism. We meditated and played pelota. The International Red Cross team called our prison four star compared to Bicutan. They asked us if prison condition were this comfortable why would we want to complain. We said we do not complain, we just want our freedom back.

After my release in prison I worked with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines through their Research and Documentation desk. Together with other released detainees we formed SELDA, the association of ex-detainees.

When Marcos was deposed, I joined the class action suit seeking compensation as victims of Martial Law. This January 2011, it was announced that we would be compensated $1,000 US.

The money appears to be little given the amount that we sought. But one thing was clear, the compensation proved that there were violations of human rights during the presidency of Marcos. The compensation recognized that we were victims of the martial law regime.

After contacting the lawyer I was finally able to receive the cheque in May 2011.