Kris Lanot Lacaba is a writer, poet, essayist and actor. His father, Jose (Pete) Lacaba (journalist, screenwriter and editor) was a friend of mine during the late 60s and early 70s. Pete was imprisoned in Camp Crame during martial law. Pete’s brother, Eman, another poet was murdered in 1976 in Davao by Marcos forces at the age of 27. Kris very kindly gave me permission to publish this account of two women who were tortured during martial law.

Kris Lanot Lacaba and his wife Francezca (Kit) Kwe
Kris Lanot Lacaba and his wife Francezca (Kit) Kwe

Martial law promised peace and order and economic development. But behind concrete walls, hidden from the eyes of the public, lay a different story.

By the time Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law at 7:15 p.m. on September 23, 1972, he had already begun his full assault on the country’s democratic institutions. The military padlocked Congress and shut down media establishments. Many were incarcerated, tortured or killed.

From Day One, the implementers of martial law knew exactly how to dish out the most horrible forms of cruelty on the people. By Amnesty International’s estimate, 70,000 were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured, while 3,240 were killed during martial law. [Batas Militar documentary. 1999.] The Primer on Desaparecidos [2012] placed the number of the “disappeared” at 759.

Numbers tell us only part of the appalling history. We need to hear the accounts of the women and men who had to endure the most inhuman forms of torture.

The first reported death that occurred under detention during martial law was that of Liliosa Hilao. She arrived home to find drunken members of the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) in her house. Three days after her arrest, on April 7, 1973, the CANU said that Hilao, 23, killed herself by drinking muriatic acid. But an autopsy showed that she was tortured and her internal organs were soaked in acid. [Bantayog ng mga Bayani. 1995.]

Liliosa Hilao
Liliosa Hilao

Women can and were subjected to the same forms of torture as men. Water cure. Electrocution. Solitary con nement. Sleep deprivation. Extended periods of interrogation. Suffocation. Beatings. In addition, a number of women were subjected to atrocities that were gender-specific: rape, reproductive violence, domestic servitude, psychological threats.

Both Hilda Narciso and Etta Rosales were subject to sexual violence by their captors. Former Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chair Rosales was arrested in Parañaque on August 1, 1976. She was detained for a month but it was during her first day in custody when her captors beat and sexually abused her, she says in an interview.

In a safe house in Pasig, “they [her captors] molested me.” At one point, someone poured hot candle wax on her skin. Rosales was also beaten, strangled and electrocuted.

Hilda Narciso
Hilda Narciso

Hilda Narciso also suffered from brutal treatmentat the hands of the military. On March 24, 1983, arresting of cers who were “shirtless and had their ammunition strung across their shoulders, like Rambo,” came to take her. Narciso was blindfolded and made to get into a car where two men started touching her body, while another man interrogated her. Men fondled her at a safe house until someone came and ordered them to leave. “I assumed he was the head of the team… He raped me. Afterwards he took me outside… where more people began fondling me. ‘Will you just shoot me?’ I told them.”

These are just some of the stories of women who experienced first-hand the inhumanity of martial law. Many who survived have their own stories of healing or perseverance.

But torture and other forms of human rights abuses do more than damage individuals. They wreak havoc on families and society. Even the state itself is damaged, because human rights abuses corrupt the institutions party to the atrocities. What happens when the police and armed forces are trained to believe in the primacy of violence over civilian rule?

Human Rights Commissioner Leah Armamento laments that martial law “created a culture… where human rights violations were SOP. There are people in the security sector who still violate human rights, it has become part of the culture, where abuses are thought to be normal.”

There are aggressive and continuing attempts toerase from our collective memory the atrocitiesthat happened during martial law. Nevertheless, there are government entities and non-government organizations that are working to make sure the abuses of the past are not repeated. What is important now is that we hear these and other individual stories and make sure that we, as a people, never forget the national nightmare that was martial law. –

Kris Lanot Lacaba (From Kababaihan at Kapayapaan magazine, September 2015) Author of “Torture of My Father & Other Stories”

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