On the 25th of March 1986, a young farmer named Jose who was summoned to the Regional Trial Court of Abra received some very positive news. He just won a legal battle; he was finally acquitted of the crime of subversion.[1] Had he been found guilty, he would have been sentenced to at least twelve years and one day in prison, or twenty years at most; it would have taken away a big part of his youth.[2] But there he was, assured of a free future not only for himself, but for the entire nation, as it was exactly a month before when the people ousted the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. as President of the Philippines. Jose was given a new lease on life, and much rested in his and the nation’s hands to protect the freedom they had just attained for themselves. In Jose’s case this also meant he needed to secure justice for himself as a victim of human rights violations under the Marcos regime.

Jose had been the subject of multiple violations by the Philippine Constabulary (PC) in Abra just a year before. On 29 January 1985, he was at the house of his brother-in-law Ismael, having spent the night after arriving from a vacation in Manila.[3] At 3:00 PM a group of men from the Abra PC Command came and presented a search warrant for the house of Ismael. They had been tipped off by an asset that there was a New People’s Army (NPA) group hiding in the house, but in the end found nothing but two Sony walkie-talkies hidden in a carton box and wrapped in manila paper. Owning the devices was considered illegal at the time unless done so with permission from the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, and so both were immediately confiscated. Two members of the search team invited him for interrogation at the PC Camp, to which he agreed, knowing well that he had done nothing to raise their suspicions. Their inquiries primarily concerned a recent raid by the NPA at the municipal hall, which had resulted in the death of one soldier.[4] Jose, however, was not aware of the methods that the PC were going to use on him to get the answers they were looking for.

Jose, Ismael, and another young man whom Jose learned was Ismael’s son-in-law were brought to the PC Camp and interrogated separately. They first asked Jose about his personal details, then proceeded to ask what he knew about the NPA’s activities in the province. He claimed that he did not know, and knew not what to do or tell them to make them believe him. His hands were tied at his back with his handkerchief as a Coke bottle was slammed against his leg. Then he was submerged in freezing water for more than an hour. The following day, he was again submerged in ice water, then hung from the ceiling by his neck with only the tip of his toes touching the floor, bringing him inches away from death. Then with a blindfold on, Jose was brought outside and flung onto the ground. He thought he must have been brought to a riverbank, as he felt water and stones on the spot where he had fallen and curled up in pain. One of the soldiers threatened to throw him into the water.

At the end of the day, Jose, pushed to the brink and in great fear for his life, signed a piece of paper handed out to him by his captors without knowing what it said. It turned out to be a sworn statement on his involvement with the NPA raid in the municipal hall, to which he supposedly lent his assistance as a messenger.[5]

His detention continued, but the arrest warrant against him came on the first of February. This meant that his detention from January 29 to 31 was illegal.[6] He, Ismael, and their co-detainee were charged for violating the Anti-Subversion Law of 1981, having as evidence against them the sworn statements that they had signed involuntarily.[7] Jose was facing at least twelve years and one day or at most twenty years in prison.

However, the PC had committed multiple flaws in their procedure. These flaws are what ultimately saved Jose and his companions. Very soon after the EDSA uprising of February 1986, the Regional Trial Court of Abra released its decision on the subversion case of the three men. Each was acquitted on the grounds that the evidence against them was taken through illegal means, that is, through force and maltreatment, and as such were inadmissible as evidence in court. Further, Jose and Ismael were arrested and detained without warrant (Ismael’s son-in-law had an arrest warrant from another case), and at no point in the duration of their interrogation were they informed of their constitutional rights to remain silent and to be assisted by legal counsel of their own choice. “Granting that these allegations [of subversion] … are to be true, nevertheless, this Court can hardly fathom why the PC Investigators who are known to be the protectors of the law, did not have the temerity to have the assistance of counsel for the accused during the investigation…,” so read the Decision. They were also not informed that any statement they were to make could be used against them in court. All of these findings by the Court ran counter with the statements of the PC members, who argued that the interrogations were conducted in full accordance with the law and that the three men gave their statements voluntarily without counsel.[8]

In 2014, Jose submitted his documents to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) to file for recognition as a human rights violations victim under martial law, and to accordingly receive reparations.[9] In accordance with the law, the reparations were sourced from a portion of the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth that was reclaimed by the Philippines by virtue of the December 10, 1997 Swiss Federal Supreme Court Order.[10]

Jose is now one of 11,103 martial law victims whose cases have been documented and verified by the government, taking them one big step closer to justice. Thousands more await the same opportunity.

[1] Decision on Crim. Case No. 263 for Violation of the “Anti-Subversion Law” (P.D. No. 1835), Regional Trial Court of Abra, 18 March 1986.

[2] Section 4 of the Anti-Subversion Law of 1981 (Presidential Decree No. 1835) declared subversion at the first conviction as punishable with reclusion temporal, which in the Revised Penal Code (Act No. 3815, s. 1930), is equivalent to twelve years and one day and up to twenty years.

[3] Victim’s Sworn Statement (Case No. 2014-16-00029, Abra: 2013), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[4] Decision on Crim. Case No. 263 at 1-3, 6.

[5] Ibid.; Victim’s Sworn Statement, 1-2.

[6] Decision on Crim. Case No. 263, 7.

[7] Ibid., 1, 11.

[8] Ibid., 1-5, 11-12.

[9] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-16-00029, Quezon City: 2017), 4. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[10] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-16-00029, Quezon City: 2017), 4. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.