This is an entry of the 50 Before 50 Martial Law Commemoration Series. To see the full list of entries, press this link: 50 before 50 Project Page
The 1972 declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., supposedly intended to maintain peace and order amid the tumult of protests, rebellion and secession, instead plunged the Philippines into a dark era. Waves upon waves of human rights violations previously unseen in our history were unleashed upon the defenseless. Marcos’ Martial Law caused many Filipinos to suffer. Many sunk into poverty and hunger. Those who tried to change the status quo, those who tried to challenge their circumstances, bore the brunt of military abuse. The case of Benjamin was one such instance.
Benjamin was born in Nueva Vizcaya in 1965, the same year Marcos assumed office for his first term as president. By the time he was 11, he was already working alongside his parents in the farm, tending to rice and other crops. They were paid by the farm owners for their labor. At a young age, Benjamin was already working hard to help his parents make ends meet, to put food on their plate, and to send his younger siblings to school. By 1981, their financial issues had forced him to drop out of school and spend most of his youth working in the fields. Their town, as a whole, was impoverished, and there were many like him who had to sacrifice for their families.
One day, a young Benjamin overheard his older neighbors discussing how they can raise the prices of their squash crops so they can earn more from it. As this was something he was also very much concerned with, he was convinced to join the conversation. Their discussions continued until they decided to form an organization to lobby for an increase in the prices of their crops. Benjamin was elected as one of the ranking officials of this group. The organization eventually attracted more members from other nearby barangays and towns, all with the common goal of improving their livelihoods so they could raise themselves out of poverty. Benjamin rose through the ranks and became a full-time organizer for the farmers in the area. He facilitated holding a dialogue with companies and a businessman to discuss raising the prices of their products among other concerns.
The activities of Benjamin and his organization, however, soon drew the attention of the local police, the military, and even the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF), a paramilitary force attached to the military deployed in local areas. Nueva Vizcaya was seen as one of the hotbeds of the New People’s Army (NPA) operations, with Marcos himself citing the place as one the NPA had expanded in. As such, it is also one of the places with increased military presence. Benjamin and his fellow farmers were branded as rebels or NPA sympathizers. They soon found themselves being monitored or followed from time to time as they conducted their work and activities, forcing some of them to lay low for some time.
However, in late 1982, Benjamin woke up to find that CHDF members had surrounded his house, calling out for him to surrender. No arrest warrant was ever presented to him. He was handcuffed and taken to the municipal hall where he was immediately brought before a certain , who repeatedly punched and kicked him until he lost consciousness. When he came to, a policeman and a CHDF operative continued to punch and kick him, questioning him on the whereabouts of his fellow “NPA organizers.” Benjamin could not answer, as the pain from the beating he endured rendered him unable to. He was kept detained for two days and was not fed by his torturers and captors. On the contrary, they would actually hit him whenever he requested food and water.
Benjamin was afterwards transferred to the headquarters of the local Philippine Constabulary/Integrated National Police (PC/INP) Company where the interrogation continued, led by a certain . Every time he could not answer, he was struck on both ears — a torture process known colloquially as “pompyang.” The torture carried on even at night. To escape his constant suffering, Benjamin conceded to signing a document, the content of which he did not even know. This turned out to be a written confession wherein he would “admit” to being an NPA member and organizer, and “name” the fellow organizers who had been arrested as well in their aim to recruit other people and overthrow the government.
It was only after this that Benjamin was finally allowed to eat. He was later transferred to the Barracks Officer’s Headquarters (BOQ) of the same PC/INP Company, where he would eventually see his fellow leader-organizers. He was kept in the BOQ for years. In early 1984, he and his fellow organizers were charged with Conspiracy to Commit Rebellion with no recommendation for bail, on the basis that a Presidential Commitment Order (PCO) was issued against them. Benjamin and his fellow detainees would be locked up for two more years after this until they were finally freed in 1986 on the basis of President Corazon Aquino’s “Free All Political Prisoners.”
Benjamin became one of the 9,541 class members of the Hawaii class action suit “Human Rights Litigation Against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos” (MDL No. 840, CA N. 88-0390). With the establishment of the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), he also submitted a claim in 2014 for recognition and reparation. The Board found sufficient the victim’s narrative and documentary evidence to rule that he was indeed detained for more than three years and, throughout his incarceration, subjected to torture in order to obtain a confession. Thus, Benjamin was recognized as a victim of torture.
Benjamin simply wanted to lift himself and his family out of poverty. He simply wanted to help his fellow farmers do the same. For his attempt to change the status quo, he bore the brunt of military abuse. He was detained for years and subjected to torture all throughout. His case was one out of many. However, we must not downplay what he had gone through. In fact, this also holds true for all victims of Martial Law. To trivialize their suffering or to downright deny what happened to them would not only disrespect the many human rights violations victims (HRVVs), but also excuse the wanton human rights abuses of the State forces.
 “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition” (Case No. 2014-02-00265, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.
 Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-02-00265, Nueva Vizcaya: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.
 Ibid., 1-2; “Resolution.” (Case No. 2014-02-00265, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.
 “Radio-TV Address of President Marcos,” Official Gazette, September 23, 1972, accessed July 3, 2022, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/1972/09/23/radio-tv-address-of-president-marcos/.
 Victim’s affidavit, 2.
 Ibid, 3. Benjamin only got through because he settled on drinking leftover water from the inmate that had been detained in his cell before him.
 Robles, Raissa (2016). Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. Quezon City: Filipinos for a Better Philippines, Inc. ISBN 978-621-95443-1-3; Dignity – Danish Institute against Torture. Telefono. Retrieved from https://www.dignity.dk/en/dignitys-work/health-team/torture-methods/telefono/. The method is called “pompyang” (cymbals) due to the similar action used when playing the instrument. Alternatively called “telepono” or “telephone,” pompyang often causes bleeding or ear damage, akin to explosive trauma.
 Baria v. Benjamin et al, I.S. No. 82-455 – Resolution. 1984. Office of the Provincial Fiscal (Case No. 2014-02-00265, Nueva Vizcaya: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1. Document name altered to protect the identity of the victim.
 Victim’s affidavit 3-4.
 Victim’s affidavit, 4. In 1995, Benjamin’s court case was finally archived on the basis that a court date was never set for their case.
 “Resolution,” 2-3. See https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/910/1460/1943938/.
 Ibid., 3. Benjamin was eligible for both claims, but given that the Board recognizes the claim corresponding with the highest point, he was recognized for the higher category of torture and awarded 9 points accordingly. The Board also accorded special notice to the fact that he had been tortured during Martial Law when he was merely 17 years old.