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




On September 21, 1972, then-President of the Republic of the Philippines, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., declared martial law in the country, ushering in a major period of change in Philippine history. Motivated by greed and selfishness, it was a golden age of crime and human rights abuses. The dictatorship suppressed the Filipino people and restricted the information that citizens had access to.

Student activism was common during the Martial Law period. In 1973, Juan, a college student from Iloilo City, went along with his friends to protest and disseminate anti-Martial Law materials. One morning before sunrise, as they were doing their dikit job, painting and pasting propaganda materials onto public walls, police officers apprehended and detained them.[1]

While most of Juan’s friends were able to flee, he and another companion, Rey, were captured. They were initially brought and questioned at a police station, where they were subjected to an interrogation led by the Philippine Constabulary. Both of them were questioned regarding the identities of their escaped companions. After obtaining nothing after two hours of intense grilling, both of them were brought to a prison facility where they were further interrogated by other officers.[2]

Juan and Rey were escorted to an investigation room, where two agents alternately interrogated them.[3] Once again, both were questioned about the identities of their escaped companions. The agents employed “carrot-and-stick” methods on them. When they declined to answer, they were tortured and beaten.[4]

Juan was given three consecutive punches in the chest, causing him to tumble from the chair he was seated in. He recalls the unbearable pain, detailing that when he checked his chest, a small amount of blood had collected in the area due to the wounds caused by the punches. He looked at his torturer’s hand and saw a large ring on his middle finger. This was why later on, after his wounds had healed, there remained three dents on his chest.[5]

This was not enough for the policemen though. One agent continued the grilling and torture, extracting the bullets from his gun, and inserting three of them between Juan’s fingers. Every time Juan gave an unacceptable response, the agent would torment him by squeezing his hands. Despite the horrific torture, the agents did not acquire any sufficient information, and Juan was sent to his cell. Meanwhile, his companion, Rey, was taken to the same investigation room and given the same treatment.[6]

The officers continued to torture the two detainees, and when they were still unsatisfied with their responses, they imposed the “battery electrocution” treatment. Wires connected to a 12-volt telephone battery were attached to Juan’s arms and other areas of his body, sending electric shocks through his flesh whenever he made an insufficient reply. Juan recalls that the painful sensation caused him to involuntarily “levitate” from his chair and then fall down with a painful crash every time the wires were withdrawn. He would lose consciousness several times during the torture, and after the eighth round of being electrocuted, he gave in, and revealed the names of his fellow activists. The policemen then apprehended and questioned his other companions in the same prison facility.[7]

Two days following his arrest, Juan was transported to another detention center for political detainees. Emil and Rico, two political detainees in the same facility, attended to him and helped him treat his wounds and bruises[8]

Without any legal justification, Juan was imprisoned for more than fourteen months at the camp in Iloilo City, and was forced to drop out of school as a result.[9] His two co-detainees, Emil and Rico, learned about Juan’s discharge from prison sometime in 1974, as they continued to meet each other during their required weekly reports at the Iloilo PC Provincial Command.[10]

While police officers’ responsibilities should have been to uphold peace, to protect civilians, and to improve citizens’ lives, Juan and his companions experienced the opposite. Due to the tyranny at the time, it was the “protectors of justice” who committed unlawful acts against the people they were supposed to protect.

Due to what Juan experienced, he sought justice by submitting an application to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board, which studied the evidence he submitted and verified that he was indeed a victim of arbitrary detention and torture. The Board also acknowledged that his torture included sexual assault, as he was also electrocuted on his sex organ.[11]

His experience serves as a lesson to the youth of today, on the atrocities of Martial Law, as well as the lives and sacrifices of HRVVs since then. This allows us to see how vital it is for us to remember our history. If the stories of Martial Law are forgotten, we will be bound to repeat the past. It is necessary for Filipinos to fully comprehend and examine what transpired throughout this period so that we can continue to safeguard our freedom and rights, and ultimately, prevent anything like this from ever happening again.


[1] Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-14-11186, Iloilo: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Ibid., 1.

[6] Ibid., 2.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Joint affidavit of witnesses (Case No. 2014-14-11186, Iloilo: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[9] Victim’s affidavit, 1.

[10] Joint affidavit of witnesses, 1.

[11] Resolution (Case No. 2014-14-11186, Quezon City: 2017), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 2.