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



Javier was a man in his early thirties in May 1974. He lived in Samar, in a certain municipality blessed with abundant water and ample forests: a perfect environment for a life that knows no lack of food and all the other basic human needs. Yet, for reasons Javier himself summed up in one word – fear – his family decided one day that it was best to pack up and leave. Their barangay had begun to feel too unsafe, what with bands of soldiers roaming around in search of dissidents and terrifying the families that lived therein.[1] This was the New Society that Javier came to know in the early years of martial law.

They successfully transferred to another barangay, but their worries were far from resolved. Javier recalls that one day in May 1974, while he was taking his sick father to the municipal health center, soldiers arrested him at a military checkpoint and took him to their camp. He says that they interrogated him and repeatedly beat him with rifles, forcing him to confess that he was a member of the New People’s Army (NPA), who took part in an ambush on a military unit. He also recalls that the soldiers at at least one point during his detention resorted to publicly shaming him, making him walk from the camp to the checkpoint where he was arrested, carrying a car wheel around his neck. His detention lasted until the day when a neighbor of his came to the camp to gather medicines for their barangay. When the soldiers asked her if she knew him, she said yes, and explained that he was an evacuee from another barangay. Upon hearing this their captain ordered for his release, apparently convinced that Javier was not someone they needed to detain in the first place.[2]

Javier might have simply been in the wrong place and at the wrong time, or perhaps it was bound to happen sooner or later. He was, after all, an able-bodied young man in a place that the State determined to be in need of a purge. But his case is an example of the ruthless and unwise abuse of power which, from very early on in the 1970s, germinated like seeds in the most favorable environment – one that incentivized violence and encouraged hostilities among groups of the same society. Javier was not only a victim of circumstance, he was a victim of the system, and there were tens of thousands more like him.

It took almost exactly 40 years until Javier found an opportunity to claim for reparations and recognition as a victim of human rights violations. In 2014, he filed a claim for illegal detention and torture at the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), and after a long three-year wait, received the resolution on his case. Unfortunately, the evidence he had managed to gather was not enough to prove that he was indeed detained and tortured, although the testimonies of two witnesses who confirmed that they saw Javier’s wheel-carrying incident helped him prove at least a portion of his claim. This gave the HRVCB enough basis to recognize Javier as a victim of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment.[3] His name is now included in the Government’s Roll of Victims, along with 11,102 other names of individuals who faced the wrath of martial law.

Our nation would do well to not forget each of them, for it is the truth which these stories bear that will one day set us free.

[1] Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-08-00515, Samar: 2014). Accessed from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Resolution (Case No. 2014-08-00515, Quezon City: 2017), 2-3. Accessed from the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.