Written by: John Francis C. Ybañez
Xavier University - Ateneo De Cagayan

The stories of the victims of Martial Law, many of whom are unknown, are mostly lost in the numbers. Only a few people are aware of their experiences, and even less are aware of the impact of these experiences on the personal lives of the victims and their families. Julian is one of the examples of how the Martial Law era is a horrific and unforgettable memory to many Filipinos.

On September 23, 1972, just two days after Martial Law was declared, Julian and his younger brother Ismael, both still teenagers, were arrested. Julian was made to undergo extreme torture until he admitted that he was a member of the Communist movement.[1] The soldiers stuffed him in an isolation cell or “bartolina,” beat him with guns, nearly drowned him using water torture, and electrocuted his sex organ. Meanwhile, Ismael, who was first imprisoned at a separate camp, was eventually transferred to the camp hospital due to his rheumatic heart disease (RHD), which was worsened by the extreme torture that he experienced during his imprisonment. The types of torture used on him were the same that were used on Julian.[2]

After more than one year in the camp and about five months at the hospital, Ismael was put on house arrest because his condition was not getting any better. It was at around the same time when Julian was given a temporary release order, and only then was able to reunite with his younger brother. Since he was on temporary release and Ismael was on house arrest, the brothers were continuously guarded at home by members of the Metropolitan Command - PC and the Philippine Air Force, who walked in and around their house in full battle gear. The house was so heavily guarded that even the family members who wanted to go outside first had to ask for permission from the military men. The experience caused trauma to the family as they felt like they were being watched over like criminals. After a few months of house arrest, Ismael was rushed to the Philippine General Hospital. The military continued to guard him and his family there. In late 1974, after about three months in the hospital, Ismael succumbed to his illness and passed away.[3]

One year later, in late 1975, Julian finally received a permanent release order signed by then-Major Gen. Fidel V. Ramos. The release order allowed him to find employment and enroll in school, but prohibited him from participating in any interview conducted by the local and foreign mass media.[4] Even though he was released from prison, his family was in shock at how he had changed. They saw it in how he moved, thought, and spoke, as he became fearful, anxious, and timid. At night, he would sometimes shout in his sleep. They knew that it was a result of the trauma from what happened to him in prison.[5]

The family of Julian helped him move on. He was able to enter a financing company and even continued his studies while working. He later on married and migrated to another country so he and his wife could start life anew. However, due to the torture that he experienced, he we was made sterile and was therefore unable to have any children.[6]

The entire family, except for one sibling, also chose to live outside the country after their father’s death.[7] In 2014, Julian’s only sibling who was left in the Philippines filed a claim to the Human Rights Victims’ Claim Board (HRVCB), to seek justice and recognition on behalf of his brothers. The evidence he provided clearly identified the people who took part in the torture of Julian and in the eventual death of Ismael.

When our collective memory of the period fades over time due to distortionist history, the number of Martial Law victims just becomes a statistic. We should recognize that cases like those of Julian and Ismael happened. Although they are not well-known, they still lived and contributed to the Filipino peoples’ struggle for democracy. Their legacy lives on through our remembering of their story.

[1] Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-14-00050, Greater Manila: 2014), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[2] Ibid., 1-2.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Victim’s release order (Case No. 2014-14-00050, Greater Manila: 1975). Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[5] Claimant’s affidavit, 3.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 2.