Methods and Torturers of Martial Law
can be no talk of martial law without mention of torture, for it played one of
the most prominent parts in the Marcos dictatorship’s arsenal of terror. Very
rare was the political prisoner of those times who was “fortunate” enough
not to be tortured, physically or mentally.
Alexander Martin Remollino
There can be no talk of martial law without mention of torture, for it played
one of the most prominent parts in the Marcos dictatorship’s arsenal of
terror. Very rare was the political prisoner of those times who was
“fortunate” enough not to be tortured, physically or mentally.
A form which martial law victims under the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainee Laban sa
Detensyon at para sa Amnestiya (Selda, an organization of ex-political
prisoners) used to file cases defines torture thus: “Torture as used herein
means any act, directed against an individual in the custody or physical control
of the Philippine military, by which severe pain or suffering (other than pain
or suffering arising only from or inherent in, or incidental to, lawful
sanctions), whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on that
individual for such purposes As obtaining from that individual or a third person
information or a confession, punishing that individual for an act that
individual or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed,
intimidating or coercing that individual or a third person, or for any reason
based on discrimination of any kind.”
Torture also includes mental pain or suffering from prolonged mental harm caused
by or resulting from:
The intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or
The administration or application, or threatened administration, of
mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly
the senses or the personality;
- The threat of imminent death; or
- The threat that another individual will be subjected to death, severe physical
pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering
substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or
The methods of torture during the martial law years can easily be compiled into
a sort of encyclopedia of barbarism for their sheer number.
Benjamin Pimentel’s The Unusual Journey of Edgar Jopson is
an account of the torture of a certain Laura, an underground organizer in the
same team as Jopson. She was stripped naked in an airconditioned room and her
breasts mashed by her interrogators. An eggplant dipped in crushed chili pepper
was inserted into her sex organ.
Jopson himself was heavily tortured. He was repeatedly punched and slapped while
under interrogation. In some instances pictures of his wife and children were
dangled in front of him while he was being questioned.
A document in the files of Selda tells of a man squeezed into a rubber tire with
his knees to his chest. He was left in that position for some time.
In his book, The Philippine Revolution: The Leader’s View, Prof. Jose Ma.
Sison, founding chairman of Kabataang Makabayan (Nationalist Youth) and the
Communist Party of the Philippines, tells of having a towel pressed against his
mouth and water flushed through his nostrils. He also relates being physically
beaten, usually in the form of punches to the floating ribs and solar plexus.
There were times when his interrogators threatened to bang his head
against the wall.
But the most painful form of torture for him and most other victims was
psychological, especially long periods of solitary confinement that physically
isolated him from loved ones, friends and fellow political detainees.
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo is one of the better-known political prisoners of
the martial law period, not only because he was one of those held longest
(1976-85), but also because he had the utter misfortune of being subjected to
many of the worst forms of torture. He has described his experiences as a
torture victim in various media interviews. He was electrocuted in the genitals,
nipples, and forehead, had his head banged repeatedly against a wall and was
made to lie naked on a block of ice.
article by Elizabeth Lolarga for Planet Philippines narrates how Rep. Ocampo, at
one point, was made to eat human feces. He was also slapped several times in the
ears; as a result, he said in a guesting on Larry Henares’ Make My Day, his
hearing was affected.
Writers Pete Lacaba and Boni Ilagan both recount being made to “lie in air,”
or to rest their heads and feet between two benches placed far apart—which
means that the rest of the body has to be suspended in air. They were also
subjected to punches, especially whenever they were sliding down as a result of
the fatigue from “lying in air.”
May Verzola-Rodriguez was newly wed when she was arrested. In an article written
by Lorna-Kalaw Tirol for the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1999, Rodriguez is
quoted as saying she was repeatedly punched, slapped and sexually molested.
Bullets were inserted between her fingers and her hand was squeezed whenever she
was asked a question.
Posa of Iloilo City, in the same article by Kalaw-Tirol, is quoted as recalling
having been undressed, slapped, and given a soft-drink version of the water cure
(gallons of soft drinks were poured on her face, blocking her mouth and
nostrils). She was also subjected to the Russian roulette, whereby the barrel of
a revolver is loaded with a bullet and spun, and the trigger pressed in between
Prof. Judy Taguiwalo’s first torture was also physical. She was undressed and
made to sit on a block of ice overnight. She was also given the water cure.
After that ordeal, she escaped from prison but was again arrested shortly after.
The second time around, the torture was mental: pregnant by then, she was given
a book to read, a Latin American novel about a pregnant woman who gets raped
while searching for her husband.
The case of former navy captain Dan Vizmanos, which he has written about in his
book Through the Eye of the Storm as well as in the forthcoming Martial Law
Part One, is more of mental torture but no less severe. While undergoing
interrogation, he was given several injections of truth serum, a mind-altering
substance. He was also subjected repeatedly to the Russian roulette.
The website NeverAgain.net (http://www.neveragain.net/)
of Gaston Z. Origas Peace Institute has lists of military officials and
personnel, as well as civilian employees of the armed forces, who were involved
in prominent torture cases.
The name that appears the most frequently is that of the late Rodolfo Aguinaldo.
(He was executed by the New People’s Army in 2001.) He had a hand in the
tortures of Ocampo, Lacaba, and Ilagan, as well as that of former presidential
spokesperson now Palace chief of staff Rigoberto Tiglao.
Another name that appears more than once is that of Victor Batac.
The NeverAgain.net lists mention several more names: Miguel Aure, Cesar Alvarez,
Robert Delfin, Cecilio Panilla, Virgilio Saldajeno, Laurel Valdez, Cirilo
Batingal, Cayetano Fajardo, Cesar Garcia, Eduardo Matillano, Lucio Valencia,
Alejandro Galido, Luis Beltran (not the late journalist), Jesus Caluanan, Welen
Escudero (civilian), Florante Macatangay, Joseph Malilay, Pablito Pesquisa,
Eduardo Sebastian, Charlie Tolopa, Hernani Figueroa, Amado Espino, Benjamin
Libarnes, Lazaro Castillo, Arsenio Esguerra, Eduardo Kapunan, Rolando Abadilla,
Billy Bibit, and Gregorio Honasan.
Alfred McCoy’s Closer than Brothers, from which the NeverAgain.net lists are
culled, also names Panfilo Lacson as one of the torturers.
In Selda documents
are the names of Balbino Diego, Roger Anista, Felicito Ricardo, and Pat
The widespread practice of torture during the martial law era can be partly
traced to the fact that hazing is sort of a standard operating procedure in the
Project Sea Hawk: The Barbed Wire Journal, a prison diary by writer and UP
professor Dolores Stephens-Feria, who was detained during martial law, tells of
one officer whom she calls “Reggie” (most of the persons mentioned in the
book appear under code names) defending the practice of hazing at the Philippine
Military Academy, where he graduated.
The admission of “Reggie” is corroborated in an interview Lacson gave to the
Philippine Graphic in 1999. In that interview, Lacson admitted to having
experienced hazing at the PMA, where he graduated together with Honasan in 1971,
and even said, “You can’t stop hazing any more than you can stop murder.”
Military officials who experienced hazing in their cadet days often replicate
the process on their subordinates and other people under their physical control
such as detainees as a way of getting back at those who hazed them. The case is
the same with their subordinates who bear the brunt of their “vengeance.”
the roots of torture in the Philippines go back even further.
Torture in the country is in fact a carry-over of both Spanish and
American colonialism, under which occupation troops and police popularized the
use of water cure and other brutal methods against revolutionaries and
resistance fighters. Many AFP officers who trained in U.S. military institutes
were also taught interrogation techniques including torture.
Not well known
The widespread employment of torture on political prisoners during martial law
is one aspect of the period that is not known to many people today. To many,
even to some who claim to have lived through martial law, the period was simply
one of quiet throughout the country, one when Filipinos were exceptionally
Such people are at risk of falling into the trap of martial law apologists, such
as Ilocos Norte Rep. Imee Marcos, who takes every opportunity to claim that
martial law was the best thing that happened to the country.
Awareness of the prevalence and severity of torture during the martial law era
should be enough to prevent anyone from justifying the declaration of PD 1081 on
September 21, 1972, or any new form of martial law. Bulatlat.com
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