Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 32              September 14 - 20, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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Torture Methods and Torturers of Martial Law

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.

By 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 suffering;

- 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 personality.

Torture methods

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.

An 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.

Luisa 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 verbal threats.

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 Diary:  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 Ordoña.

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 military.

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.”

But 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 “well-behaved.”

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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