44 years too long: The martial-law victims, ‘desaparecidos’ and the families left behind

Photo from desaparesidos.wordpress.com

By Cody Cepeda | Special to the BusinessMirror

SEPTEMBER 21, 2016, marks the four decades since the harrowing days of the Marcos dictatorship. To many, the events are beyond recall, made hazier by those who claim the martial law years are the golden years of the Philippines.

The horrors, however, continue to haunt those 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.

Meanwhile, President Duterte has been nothing but candid on his decision to allow the burial of the late strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos, in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

When Marcos will be buried at the Libingan is up for the Supreme Court to resolve.

This is not surprising since President Duterte has openly identified himself as a supporter of the strongman, even praising him as being the best president the Philippines has ever seen.

On September 21, 1972, President Marcos swore by God’s name and set his hand on Proclamation 1081, affixing his signature and the seal of the Republic on the piece of paper that gave birth to the darkest times of Philippine history.

Two days later, he appeared on national television, declaring the entire Philippines under martial law.

In the proclamation, Marcos said martial law was not a military takeover, but a necessary action to save the Philippines 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 nation, he also suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which did not just give the military the power to detain any person without proper judicial trial, but also the freedom to abuse this power to indefinite lengths.

The people’s lawyer

“HERMON [LAGMAN] was on the way to a meeting with his associate, Victor Reyes, when they were abducted and subsequently disappeared without a trace,” said Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, sister of Hermon.

Hermon 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 University of the Philippines College of Law newspaper.

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

Hermon was also a volunteer lawyer of the Citizen’s Legal Aid Society of the Philippines (CLASP) and a founding member of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG).

Herman was first arrested and imprisoned for two months without charges in 1972. He was again detained in 1976, but was released on the same day. After his second arrest, labor groups had grown increasingly militant; Hermon served as legal counsel to many of these unions that showed open defiance of Marcos’s martial rule through pickets and strikes.

In 1977, however, Hermon disappeared with his associate without a trace and was never seen again.

Searches and inquiries by relatives failed to ascertain the faith and whereabouts of Hermon and Victor. 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 V. Ramos regarding her brother’s case—but to no avail.

Hermon’s disappearance inspired the Lagmans to sustain his labor and human-rights advocacy. They founded then-Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), where Nilda serves as the cochairman. Through FIND, they are able to work for measures that prevent the commission of enforced disappearances.

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

Jan Quimpo, incarceration by school ID  

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

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

Jan was already a student leader before martial law was declared in 1972. He wrote actively for the student paper of Philippine Science High School, and was only a freshman in UP Diliman when he was caught in 1973 by the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (Canu).

Susan said 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 martial law detainee to be tortured and killed in 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 drank muriatic acid.

Jan said Liliosa committed suicide, but Liliosa’s family believed 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,” Susan said. “They gave that to her parents together with her body.”

Upon Liliosa’s death, the torture on Jan and his friends continued. They were released after five months when Liliosa’s family filed a complaint. “When my brother was released, may posttraumatic stress siya, but after a few months, he gained the courage to go back to UP.”

In 1977 he left his house to file for graduation and never made it back. His first arrest and disappearance were four years apart.

Through the years, Susan Quimpo continued the fight for her brother’s justice. Other than writing Subversive lives: A Family Memoir of the Marcos Years, she also spearheaded Duyan ng Magiting, a coalition to oppose the burial of Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani.

The coalition has amassed many groups and people to come together, from people in their 70s to young college students. “I’m very happy because it has become an intergenerational fight.”

Primitivo ‘Tibo’ Mijares, the whistle-blower

PRIMITIVO “Tibo” Mijares was one man who held a unique position during the Marcos regime. As a journalist, Mijares worked closely with Marcos, serving as his confidant and right-hand man.

Being a newspaperman, Mijares stuck to what he knew best: Putting words down on paper.

But in 1975, Mijares went to the United States to testify as state witness in Congress, revealing the secrets and abuses of Marcos by publishing his opus, The Conjugal Dictatorship, a year after.

Joey Gurango, son-in-law of Mijares, said, “I think what my father-in-law produced is probably the most compelling body of work that you can refer to today.”

Mijares knew about the martial law declaration before it happened and was even one of its architects. In fact, it was Mijares who suggested to Don Eugenio Lopez in 1962 to handpick Marcos as his presidential candidate in 1965. “Tibo was there at the beginning, but then he turned. So his work is the only real insider’s account of what transpired.”

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

“Boyet disappeared and his family looked for him,” Joey recalled. “The next I heard, they were informed where the body was. It was found in an empty lot in Antipolo.” Joey said the people living around the area said they heard helicopters the night before they found Boyet’s body.

It bore signs of torture. His skull was bashed in, his eyeballs gouged out, his genitals mutilated and his body covered in multiple stab wounds. It was alleged Boyet was repeatedly tortured in front of his father. Mijares’s body, however, was never found.

Nineteen-year-old JC Gurango, grandson of Mijares, vows to commit to his advocacy to campaign against Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos should he run for the next presidential elections.

JC also took up the project to revive and produce an updated version of The Conjugal Dictatorship with his father, Joey, to counteract historical revisionism. The new edition of the book would feature more citations, references and firsthand accounts of those still alive that confirm the events. This, in JC’s hope, will make the literature a stronger body of evidence.

“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

NO doubt Marcos built infrastructures that continue to benefit Filipinos today, but behind these were thousands of human-rights violations, forced disappearances, deaths and corruption.

Granted, there were people who benefited greatly from the regime or were unaffected, but Joey shares that if people back then were living in certain parts of the Philippines, such as Ilocos, they most probably didn’t get affected negatively.

“You will always find people who have something good to say about the regime, so I’m not surprised people are saying the Marcos regime was the golden years. Then again, we don’t need 51 percent of the population to say the regime was bad to make it bad,” Joey adds.

Susan said, “It’s not an act of closure or unity; it’s poking and reopening wounds. Libingan ng mga Bayani is the cradle of the brave, and ’yung mga tunay na heroes were the people Marcos had raped, killed, oppressed and tortured.  Hindi si Marcos.”

If throngs of Marcos supporters claim the Marcos regime was the Philippines’s golden years, then a multitude would say otherwise: That the regime was built on deception and—if anything—martial law was the truth that revealed the fiction.

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