Written by: Adrian Jose J. Sabunod
Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan

Celso was a farmer in the province of Cagayan. He and his family lived in a purok consisting of only a few houses, with one warehouse standing adjacent to the houses.[1]

One morning in 1974 or 1975, just after the corn harvest, a group of armed individuals who were reportedly affiliated with the New People's Army (NPA) came to their purok. There were twenty-three of them, with twenty-two men (one of whom was suffering from malaria) and one woman. The group stayed for lunch and left some time between three o’clock and four o’clock in the afternoon, heading towards the South.[2]

At about six to six-thirty that same afternoon, a group of about twelve men clothed in full war gear and military fatigues emerged from the West at a nearby creek and approached their houses. It turned out that these were members of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU). The men entered in between the houses, their weapons aimed ahead of them. When they had become certain that their targets were not present, they turned their attention to the civilians.[3]

They questioned them extensively, asking from which direction the NPA group came from, what time they arrived, how many they were, what weapons they brought, and where they went. They became upset when they discovered that the residents of the purok supplied the NPA group with lunch. They insisted that rather than helping them, the residents should have instead reported the rebels to the military immediately. Celso, who was then nearing his senior years, addressed the military by firmly justifying why they had offered them food, and why, ultimately, they could not report the rebels' presence immediately. One of the military men became enraged with Celso and struck him on the chest with the rear end of his armalite.[4]

The military investigated the area and threatened one of Celso’s sons at gunpoint to open the warehouse. The military also told the residents that if they welcome rebels into their purok once again, they will not think twice to use all of their bullets on them and their houses. They then ordered the people to serve them some of the native chicken being raised in the purok, an act that may well have amounted to taking the residents’ source of income and/or food. They complied with this only to appease the soldiers.[5]

The soldiers left at around ten o’clock in the evening, taking with them Celso and another resident, who was of more or less the same age as Celso. The two men stayed in the military’s custody for two days and were used to help them track down the NPA group. Both men came home on the third day - exhausted, hungry, and sleep-deprived.[6]

A week after the incident, Celso was again unlawfully arrested, this time with all of the male heads of the families that were present during the visit of the NPA group. They were illegally detained for one week at a local PC detachment.[7]

In supposedly pursuing their duties, the military overstepped the bounds of what is right and just during their interactions with the residents. What they did was extensive; they used their power to harass the residents, even threatening to rain bullets on them. These actions are not justifiable, even if one were to argue that the soldiers committed them in pursuit of their duties. Is stealing one's source of food or livelihood justifiable in the pursuit of one’s duties as a member of the military? Is deliberately hurting a resident, because he was trying to explain his community’s actions, justifiable in the pursuit of these duties as well? In the same vein, was the unlawful arrest and detention of the residents justifiable, or was it just a show of power amongst the people?

If people in authority think as such, given their power, then the existence of gross human rights is no surprise. The Martial Law era is a textbook example of that.

[1] “Municipal Form No. 1A (Birth Available),” Office of the Civil Registrar (Cagayan: 2004); “Certificate of Death,” Office of the Civil Registrar (Cagayan: 2000); “Annex G,” Affidavit (Cagayan: 2014). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[2] “Annex G.”

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-02-00450, Quezon City: 2016), 2; “Affidavit of Two Disinterested Persons” (Case No. 2014-02-00450, Cagayan: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.