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





Ferdinand Marcos Sr. cemented his rule of tyranny by declaring Martial Law on the night of September 23, 1972, shortly after signing the declaration a few days prior. During Martial Law, the military had unchecked power, the government silenced all forces of opposition, and citizens were persecuted for simply fighting for their right to live in a just and humane society.[1]

Gabriela was one of the many Filipinos who walked the streets fighting for human rights and in doing so, her life was changed forevermore.

Born 1947 in Sorsogon,[2] Gabriela strived to live in a country of peace with a governing body that was competent and effective. This led her to follow a call to action and to take to the streets opposing the injustices committed against her fellow Filipinos. Consequently, her inclination to fight for her ideals led the military to label her as a threat.[3] Fearing she would either be salvaged and killed, she sought refuge in the mountains with her months-old son with neither food to eat nor shelter to sleep in.

Finally, in 1974, Gabriela surrendered to the government only upon the condition that she and those like her who opposed the rule of the administration would be granted amnesty and therefore would not be incarcerated.[4] This condition was never met; Gabriela and her son upon surrendering to the chief of police of a local municipality in Sorsogon, were turned over to Col. Guillermo de Luna, the provincial commander of the Philippine Constabulary (PC). They were taken to and illegally detained in a local camp in Sorsogon where they were detained in a cell with nothing but a bamboo bed — leaving her and her son to suffer from insect and mosquito bites.[5]

One night, one that would both make and break Gabriela, a certain intoxicated Capt. del Pilar, a commanding officer of the local Infantry Battalion, wandered into her prison cell. He pulled on her hair and, with his other hand, pointed a .45 caliber gun at her head yelling, “o, ano, lalaban ka? Pwede kitang patayin sabihin ko lang na inaagaw mo itong baril ko kaya nabaril kita!”[6] Powerless and paralyzed in fear, all she could do was look at her son, sound asleep, and decided then and there she would not protest nor speak against Capt. del Pilar as he raped her. She feared she would be killed but above all, she feared her son would no longer have a mother should she choose to fight back.[7] At this moment, Gabriela was both a woman with her chastity and womanhood forever tainted but also a mother who exhibited unconditional love for her son.

On other occasions, Gabriela was used by the military in line with their “propaganda operation” and was taken to different municipalities in Sorsogon to bait those still in hiding into surrendering in their attempt to subdue the opposition. One particular day, she was made to ride on a helicopter alongside Col. de Luna as they mercilessly fired onto a nearby mountainside, above which they hovered, in an act they called “strapping.”[8]

In late 1974, she was once again raped by Capt. del Pilar, who was drunk, just as he was the first time he violated her. He again threatened to kill her if she refused to submit to him.[9] The very same month, she was released from the local camp. However, in her mind and her heart, she knew her detention by the military went beyond just being confined within four walls. She would constantly be summoned back to take part in their operations to lure out those who were still fighting against the government into surrendering. This became a point of conflict for her, as these were her former companions, and her actions led them to believe she had turned loyal to the military. On different instances, she would also be called in to entertain high-ranking officials and their men, doing so alongside other women of her age. She did so against her will, acquiescing simply to protect herself and her son.[10]

Gabriela has since left the province of Sorsogon and is now residing elsewhere.[11] While Col. de Luna relented in the triumph of his military operations against those who fought against the government, he did so at the expense of Gabriela’s womanhood and the lives of many others like her. However, Gabriela did not live without her own victories. In 1991, she was recognized as one of the claimants in MDL No. 840, CA Nos. 86 – 0390 86 – 0330, a class suit against the estate of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. filed at the Federal District Court of Honolulu, Hawaii.[12] She also filed for Reparation and Recognition for Illegal Detention, Rape, and Sexual Offense before the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) in 2014, with the board ruling in favor of her case of illegal detention and rape.[13] This was supported by a joint statement, provided by her companions during her refuge in the mountains, wherein they supported several statements about her time in the camp. After four years of proceedings, in 2018, the Board ultimately granted her recognition as a human rights violation victim.[14]

The story of Gabriela endures not because she won but because she fought. Amidst the nightmarish situation she faced, she endured because she had someone else to fight for. Even as death was staring her in the face, her love for her son allowed her to overcome her fear. To forget stories like Gabriela’s would mean to remove from our memory all the heroes and martyrs who fought for our rights, the leaders who held strong in protecting our freedom, and the mothers who sacrificed for children’s futures.


[1] Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, “Essential Truths About Marcos’ Declaration of Martial Law” (Philippines: Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 2019), 2.

[2] “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition” (Case No. 2014-14-03084, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[3] Victim’s sworn statement (Case No. 2014-14-03084, Sorsogon: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.; Joint affidavit of two witnesses (Case No. 2014-14-03084, Sorsogon: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Other information was also obtained from what was written in a photo submitted by Gabriela.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 2; “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-14-03084, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1-2. She recalled her fear of being killed by the military at the time, as she considered greatly the possibility of them throwing her overboard, only to declare her as lost to absolve themselves of culpability.

[9] Victim’s sworn statement, 2.

[10] Ibid.; Resolution, 2.

[11] “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition,” 2.

[12] Victim’s sworn statement, 2. This was the consolidated class action suit filed by thousands of human rights violations victims and/or their families in the 1990s. The two consolidated cases are Hilao et al v. Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos and DeVera et al v. Estate of Ferdinand Marcos. According to Gabriela’s affidavit, however, she later discovered that her name was supposedly deleted in the list of claimants.

[13] “Resolution,” 2. The Board ruled that the acts inflicted upon Gabriela failed to qualify as “torture,” as defined in the Anti-Torture Act of 2009. Nonetheless, the acts failing to meet the legal definition does not equate to the Board ruling her claims as untrue, as further evidenced with their ruling on her allegation of rape and detention.

[14] Ibid; Joint affidavit of two witnesses. The witnesses attested to her ordeal under Col. de Luna and Capt. del Pilar, as well as to her being incarcerated without a warrant, and being repeatedly threatened and abused.