About midnight of May 23, a friend woke me up with worrying news: President Rodrigo Duterte has just declared martial law in Mindanao. I got up to ponder why the threat of martial law is becoming very real again. After an exchange of information with friends, I went back to sleep with the resolve that first thing in the morning, I would surf the internet to find out what and why it happened, and to ascertain reliable reports on what is happening in Marawi, Mindanao.
On the afternoon of May 24, I attended an emergency meeting where various organizations gathered to talk about the president’s declaration. NDFP peace consultant Vic Ladlad, a martial law survivor and former political prisoner, was also there. (Ka Vic’s first wife, Leticia Pascual, was among the listed missing activists or desaparecidos in Southern Tagalog during the martial law regime). Ka Vic shared his thoughts as we discussed President Duterte’s martial law declaration.
As I listened to Ka Vic and the other participants, a stream of thought came rushing to my mind. Suddenly, it was déjà vu. It revived the horrible memories of Proclamation No. 1081, otherwise known as the imposition of military rule all over the country by the fascist dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
Later in the evening, another friend asked me if I could write about my experiences during martial law. I did not readily say yes because the period of martial law bore painful memories, forever carried by those who lived through it. However, I thought about our obligation, how it is imperative for us survivors to intensely study our history, learn valuable lessons from it, and relay our humble experiences and learnings to the next generation. To forget it, to choose historical amnesia would throw our nation back to the dark depths of terror and paralysis where people wallow in the morass of underdevelopment, without foresight or direction.
To senior citizens like me, I posed the following questions: Were you sheepishly happy in singing every morning the Hitlerite anthem “May Bagong Silang, May Bagong Lipunan”? Were you not insulted mimicking the infamous line: ‘”my beloved countrymen, it’s not good for us to talk about the ugly things in our country. Let us talk instead of the good, the great and the beautiful things in our country being ushered in by New Society”? Did you not cower in shame while shouting in unison that “this nation will be great again”?
Fast forward to today: Do you not feel any repugnance hearing the above script being played over and over again in another time of our still unfolding country?
And so, I jotted down my recollections of martial law as a probinsyano activist. I hope these bitter memories of the recent past, the despicable scenes of the 14 dark chilling years in the chapter of our history could enlighten not only the millenials but also the naive, those who choose to be ignorant and timid amid these trying times. This is but an attempt, in less than a 3,000 word count, for the Filipino people to stand up and make their voices count. Martial law is never a “smiling martial law”, and never again will we watch it happen again – in all its harshness and brutality. Such fascist policies are implemented at the expense of civilians’ lives and people’s rights.
Suspension of the writ, a prelude to martial law
Forty eight years ago, I became a social activist while taking up a liberal arts course at Aklan Catholic College (ACC) in Kalibo. I was involved in campus journalism and a member of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP). My political involvement went deeper when in 1971, universities in vast backwaters of the country like Aklan, Antique and Capiz were finally swept by the First Quarter Storm (FQS).
On August 21, 1971, former President Marcos engineered the Plaza Miranda Bombing which gave way to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Right after the indignation rally denouncing the senseless Plaza Miranda Bombing, I joined the open, legal national democratic movement. First as a Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) member, and later as a member of Kabataang Makabayan (KM)-Aklan chapter where I served as the deputy for education and propaganda.
Despite our spirited discussions on the martial law scenario triggered by the September 13, 1972 exposé of “Oplan Sagittarius” by the late Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr., we did not expect that Marcos would impose it too soon. Historian Ambeth Ocampo, studying Marcos’ diaries which fell into the hands of American journalist Stanley Karnow during the EDSA 1 Uprising, said that Marcos could have signed the martial law proclamation either on Sept. 18 (backdated) or Sept. 23 (postdated) given his penchant for superstitions. All throughout his two diaries covering the last few months before the declaration of martial law, “Marcos raises the specter of communism to scare the people and justify martial law following 18 bombings in Metro Manila from March to September 1972.” Adding to this was the fake assassination attempt on then Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile.
Unlike today in the age of smartphones and the internet, there were no quick means to know about what was going on in the country. In the early 1970s, there were no cellphones, only telegraphs used in public post offices. There was only one telexfax machine operated in by the PT&T in the capital town of Kalibo.
Two days before the public declaration of Proclamation No. 1081, there was a news blackout. All that came out from radio and TV stations were just static sounds and a blank screen, as if the Martians have already invaded our air space. Midnight of September 22, we heard the National Anthem being played. Then it went bleep, bleeeppp, and kaput!
Martial law na?! Some activists jokingly shouted in our KM provincial headquarters (HQ). Few days before that, State forces like the Metrocom conducted several raids in Metro Manila, including the national HQ of KM. Many activists were arrested, and one of those arrested was Concha Araneta, now among the NDFP peace consultants.
A ghost town
On Sept. 23, we held an emergency meeting and talked about the current political situation. The student leaders convened a meeting in ACC and decided to mount a big indignation rally at the Kalibo Park the following Monday, Sept. 25. I was left in our HQ in order to prepare a manifesto and to meet other activists from other colleges. Before noon, a comrade arrived and broke the news: there was an en masse arrest right after the ACC meeting! Only two activists escaped the dragnet.
News of warrantless arrests spread like wildfire. The once busy streets of Kalibo were suddenly deserted. I went out of our HQ and bought some cigarettes out of the 25 cents left in my pocket. There was an eerie feeling as you walked the deserted streets. The town of Kalibo suddenly became a ghost town.
Seventeen student activists headed by Manuel “Warren” Calizo, Jr. were rounded up by the Philippine Constabulary (PC) even without a warrant of arrest. As they went out of the main gate of ACC, a military six-by-six truck screeched to a stop and caught the activists by surprise. Several of them tried to evade arrest but the fascist soldiers were quick and manhandled them. With PC Capt. Orville Gabuna in command, activists were hauled to the PC stockade at Camp Pastor Martelino in Old Buswang, Kalibo. They were detained for six months without formal charges filed against them. They experienced torture (physical and psychological), suffered deprivations, humiliation, insults and blackmail. More illegal arrests followed in the subsequent days and weeks, among them Dr. Ciriaco “Acong” Icamina, Jr., MD.
After scouring the streets and boarding houses on Sept. 23, we three surviving activists called it a day. It was exactly 6:00 o’clock in the evening when we entered the house of a friend, just in time for the government TV station to go live on air. There we heard the baritone voice of fascist dictator Marcos proclaiming that the whole country under martial law, giving all the excuses for his presidential proclamation along with his assurance to make this country great again.
On the wanted list
We were distracted from the newscast when a military truck arrived and soldiers quickly disembarked, rushing towards a birthday party in the other side of the street. The PC hauled all the occupants found inside the house and brought them to camp.
Classes were suspended in all levels. Despite this, we stayed in Kalibo, in the houses of friends. For two days, we scoured boarding houses hoping to find student activists and friends but to no avail. During the night, deathly silence prevailed, punctuated only by the goose steps of patrolling PC troopers on the asphalt and cemented streets.
Check points were established in strategic places and those caught with long hair suffered grave consequences. We cut our hair short and passed the check points without any suspicion. As soon as we were out of Kalibo, we took another tricycle for a long ride– out to the countryside. The dark blue mountains of Madyaas were beckoning us. We briefly stayed at the house of another activist. After dinner, we walked barefoot in the long rice paddies, stumbling but still continuing with the myriad stars guiding us. After the long walk, we took a rest in a peasant’s hut. It was a first for me to spend the night in the middle of vast rice fields and under the stars twinkling like fireflies.
Few days after the declaration of martial law, my mother went to Kalibo and asked the help of Gov. Roberto Q. Garcia, who aside from being our kababayan was also an acquaintance of the family. The governor called the PC provincial commander, asking my whereabouts. In response, the PC authorities told the governor that I’d better surrender, or they’ll get me, dead or alive. I was on their wanted list!
We went to another barrio to the nearby town of Malinao on our second night in the countryside. This was the context of why I went underground. As an organizer, I lived with the peasants in the plains and hinterlands of Panay.
“Karumaldumal ang mga abductions, torture, extrajudicial killings, pagsamsam ng lupa at ari-arian ng masa, maramihang pagkulong ng mga inosenteng tao, bombardment at artillery fire, evictions at force evacuations…,” said Prof. Jose Maria Sison of Marcos’ martial law.
Yes, I survived martial law but not my friends and acquaintances like the De la Fuente brothers – Edward and John, Antonio Mijares and his friend, Fraydel Maglantay, Marcelo Gallardo, Merlinda Dionisio, Jojo Paduano, Maria Luisa Posa, Pepe “Hagibis” Garcia, Nicomedes Dailisan, Generoso “Manong Gener” Magluyan, Manong Edoy Salido, Crispulo “Marx” Sabandal, Jimmy Bautista and his wife, Ka Leda, Brigada “Briding” Omambing, Baby Terano, Ka Johnny, and many other comrades whom I’d known only through their nom de guerre. Aside from the above mentioned names were the countless, nameless and heroic masses of peasants, farm workers and poor fishermen who supported the burgeoning national democratic movement in the countryside. We should remember martial law, always with their bravery and sacrifices in mind.
Vestiges of martial law remains
I survived martial law, but I still see its vestiges throughout regimes. Even as Corazon Aquino became the president of the Philippines after the downfall of the most hated regime, she did not do anything to do away with the most oppressive and repressive laws and decrees of Marcos. The imprints of Marcosian rule still remains even today.
On November 22, 1999, enroute to Capiz, I was abducted in the busy highway of Benigno Aquino, Jr. Avenue in Mandurriao, Iloilo City. I was aboard a taxi together with a companion when, in broad daylight, about five military agents took us. They loudly shouted for all to hear they were after “kidnappers.” Two men in civilian clothing pointed their guns at me – one armed with a cal. 45 pistol and the other, an Uzi submachinegun. They identified themselves as members of the “Rejectionists Group,” and then, finally, they were the “Anti-Terrorist Group-Panay.”
I was subjected to psychological torture and soldiers kept me incommunicado in several safe houses for 30 days. They threatened to kill me since, according to an intelligence officer, no one witnessed my abduction. But because of the continuing mass actions, I was surfaced by military agents and turned over to then Col. Pol Bataquil, after the filing of the writ habeas corpus and an appeal from NDFP Peace Negotiator Luis Jalandoni.
On the early morning of December 22, 1999, I was surfaced near the Passi Sugar Central, Passi City. Nine trumped criminal cases were filed against me in the courts of Aklan and Antique, most of which were during the abhorrent US-Marcos martial law regime. Eight of my cases were dismissed after a year in prison. I gained temporary liberty on Dec. 17, 2000 after I posted a bail bond in Aklan.
With or without martial law, illegal arrests and detention, filing of trumped-up charges, and political persecution persisted. Indeed, as Jose Maria Sison said in his recent statement, “only those greedy for power or fools will say martial law is good and will solve the problems of the nation.”
*Ruben Saluta is an NDFP consultant. He was re-arrested on March 4, 2015 by combined elements of the AFP and the PNP during the Aquino regime for trumped-up charges of illegal possession of firearms and explosives. He was detained at the Special Intensive Care Area-Taguig City Jail before he was allowed bail to participate in peace talks between the GRP and the NDFP.
Read other Martial Law stories here.