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Reopening wounds: The Martial Law victims and the families left behind

If there is anything that precipitates a national outcry, it is the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to bury the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in the Libingan ng Mga Bayani this September. This comes as no surprise—President Duterte has praised Ferdinand Marcos as the best president the Philippines has ever had, even identifying as a staunch supporter of the former president.

Close to four decades have passed since the days of the Marcos dictatorship, and to many, the events are beyond recall, made hazier by those who claim the Martial Law years as the Golden Years. The horrors, however, continue to live on for those who were tortured and victimized under the regime, with families of those who disappeared taking it on their shoulders to carry the great warring fight for justice.

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The New Society

On September 21, 1972, President Ferdinand Marcos swore by God’s name and set his hand on Proclamation No. 1081, affixing his signature and the seal of the Republic on the piece of paper that gave birth to what many would consider the darkest time in Philippine history. Two days later, he appeared on national television, declaring the entire Philippines under Martial Law.

In the proclamation, President Marcos assured that Martial Law was not a military takeover, but a necessary action to save the Republic from rebellion and communist overthrow. It was, in his own words, a prelude to our dream of a New Society—a society of peace, order, and reformed politics for a brighter Philippines.

But as he urged for law and order to be maintained throughout the country, he also suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, which did not just give the military the power to detain any person without due process, but also the freedom to abuse this power to indefinite lengths.


Atty. Hermon Lagman, the people’s lawyer

“Hermon was on the way to a meeting with an associate when they were abducted,” narrates Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, Hermon’s sister.

Hermon Lagman was a student council president and editor in chief of his high school paper. In college, he served as managing editor of the Philippine Collegian, and the editor in chief of the Law Register, the UP College of Law newspaper.

When the uncompromising student activist passed the bar, he became a militant advocate of labor rights. Nilda shares, “He offered his services for free, especially to poor workers pursuing cases of unfair labor practices.”

It was in 1972 when Hermon was first arrested and imprisoned for two months without charges. He was again detained in 1976, but was released on the same day. In 1977, however, Hermon disappeared without a trace and was never seen again.

Nilda’s mother and eldest brother tirelessly searched for Hermon in military camps in Metro Manila, even writing to then-President Marcos and Philippine Constabulary Chief, Fidel Ramos, regarding her brother’s case—but to no avail.

Hermon’s disappearance inspired the Lagmans to sustain his labor and human rights advocacy. Together with eight families of forced disappearance victims, they founded Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), where Nilda serves as co-chairperson. Through FIND, the families are able to work for measures that prevent the commission of enforced disappearance.

“We in the Lagman family don’t want other families to suffer the same anguish and harrowing experience we went through when Hermon disappeared.”


ml-fastnumbersJan Quimpo, incarceration by school ID

 “I was the last in the family to see him,” says Susan Quimpo, youngest sister of Jan Quimpo.

In October of 1977, Jan told Susan he was going to UP Diliman to file for graduation. Before he left the house, he reminded his sister to save him dinner. “He was only carrying a jacket and notebook that time. He never came home.”

Jan Quimpo was already a student leader before Martial Law was declared in 1972. He wrote actively for the student paper of the Philippine Science High School, and was only a freshman in UP Diliman when he was first caught in 1973.

Susan shares that during Martial Law, meetings of more than two people were illegal, so Jan often went to a schoolmate’s house for meetings. This schoolmate was Marie Hilao, the younger sister of Liliosa Hilao; Liliosa, a student activist and writer, was the first ever Martial Law detainee to be tortured and killed in a military camp.

“They were meeting at Marie’s house when there was a knock on the gate. It was the military unit from Crame. They saw my brother’s UP ID, so they were taken to camp. Ang ginawa sa brother ko, hinubaran, tinali sa isang armchair, and hot spotlights were placed on his face.”

When it was Liliosa’s turn to be tortured, she went to the bathroom and locked herself in. They heard a bottle break from inside and when Jan and his friends broke the door down, they saw Liliosa on the floor, foaming from the mouth. She had drank muriatic acid.

According to Jan, Liliosa committed suicide, but Liliosa’s family believe she was forced to drink the acid. Either way, Liliosa’s body was split from the mouth down to the stomach when it was returned to her family.

“They took her innards and for some reason, they also took her brains and put it in a pail,” says Susan. “They gave that to her parents together with her body.”

Jan, on the other hand, was released after five months of being tortured in Camp Crame. In 1977, he left his house and never made it back. His first arrest and disappearance were four years apart.


Primitivo “Tibo” Mijares, the whistleblower  

Primitivo “Tibo” Mijares was one man who held a unique position during the Marcos regime. As a journalist, Tibo worked closely with President Marcos, serving as his right-hand aid. The newspaperman that he was, Tibo stuck to what he knew best: Putting words down on paper.

But in 1975, Tibo went to the United States to testify as a state witness, revealing the secrets and abuses of Marcos by publishing his opus, The Conjugal Dictatorship, a year later. Joey Gurango, son-in-law of Tibo, shares, “I think what my father in law has produced is probably the most compelling body of work that you can refer to today.”

Tibo knew about the Martial Law declaration before it happened and was even one of its architects. In fact, it was also Tibo who suggested to Don Eugenio Lopez in 1962 to handpick Marcos as his presidential candidate. “Tibo was there at the beginning, but then he turned. So his work is the only real insider’s account of what transpired,” Joey shares.

A few months after publishing The Conjugal Dictatorship, Tibo disappeared. His 16-year-old son Boyet received a call from someone a year later, telling him his father was still alive. Hopeful for a reunion, Boyet set out to meet his father.

“Boyet disappeared and his family looked for him,” recalls Joey. “The next [I’d] heard of it, they were informed where the body was. It was found in an empty lot in Antipolo.”

Boyet’s body showed military torture signs: His skull was bashed in, his eyeballs gouged out, and his body covered in multiple stab wounds. It is alleged that Boyet was repeatedly tortured in front of his father. Tibo’s body, however, was never found.

Nineteen-year-old JC Gurango, grandson of Tibo, vows to commit to his advocacy to campaign against Bongbong Marcos should he run for office in the next presidential elections. JC also took up the project to revive and produce an updated version of The Conjugal Dictatorship with his father, to counteract historical revisionism.

“This is what we’re focusing on right now, but of course we’re being careful. We don’t want another Boyet in the family.”


Cradle of the brave

When Ferdinand Marcos ruled as president, he brought with him his burning ambition, which was his power, bane, and downfall, all at once. Marcos built infrastructures that continue to benefit Filipinos today, but was also responsible for thousands of human rights victims and deaths, and immeasurable corruption.

There were people who benefitted greatly from the regime or were left unaffected. Joey comments, however, “We don’t need 51 percent of the population to say the regime was bad to make it bad.”

And it is the recent decision to bury Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani that has once again kindled the uproar and furor over the Marcoses, with the fire now burning larger than ever.

“It’s not an act of closure,” presses Susan. “It’s poking and reopening wounds. Libingan ng mga Bayani is the cradle of the brave, and yung mga tunay na heroes ang dapat andun, hindi si Marcos.”

If, on one hand, throngs of Marcos supporters claim the Marcos regime as the Golden Era, then a multitude on the other would say otherwise: That the regime was built on deceit and—if anything—Martial Law was the truth that revealed the lie.

Cody Cepeda

By Cody Cepeda

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