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





When Martial Law was implemented by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr., this placed the country under a dictatorship. It was clear to the dictator’s critics that the proclamation was a looming threat to their basic rights and freedoms — which, in fact, was already a reality to some whose lives were tangled with danger. To take a closer look, we will explore the case of Maria and her two companions Leonora, and Teresa, all of whom were youth activists in Albay in the early 1970s.[1] What we know of their experience is based on their sworn statements and the resolutions that were filed by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board after investigating their respective cases.

Maria, as a member of Kabataang Makabayan, chose to go “underground” to become a full-time activist when Martial Law was imposed. She and a few companions lived in an apartment and operated in secret for a few weeks. Unknowingly, however, they were under surveillance by agents of the state. One evening in 1972, she, Leonora, and Teresa, were riding a tricycle on their way back to their apartment when they were stopped and arrested at gunpoint by members of the Philippine Constabulary.[2]

There were no charges filed against them and were only apprehended under the assumption that they committed crimes against the State. Furthermore, all of the personal belongings and furniture in their apartment were confiscated and hauled off in an armored car. Their two other companions who were inside the apartment at the time were also arrested.[3]

Maria recalls that after being arrested, she and her companions were ordered to board a military jeep and were taken to a PC camp for interrogation. Deprived of sleep, food, and water after a night-long interrogation, they were then transported to a heavily guarded military barracks. During this time, they were detained separately and incommunicado for a month. Maria was relieved of the isolation when a military general finally allowed her parents to visit. But it was only in October 1973, a year after the arrest, when she was finally given release papers. Leonora’s account shows that she underwent a similar experience to Maria’s, and that she was released in the same month as well.[4]

Teresa supported the statements of her co-claimants and provided a more detailed account of the events she went through. Aside from being deprived of food and sleep, being held incommunicado for months, she allegedly also experienced sexual abuse.[5] A female soldier entered her room, stared at her, and then ordered her to take off her blouse, to which Teresa refused. The soldier eventually left after being reprimanded by Teresa. Teresa and her companions were also forced to bathe in bathrooms where soldiers could watch them as they were naked. On top of that, they were interrogated every night, and Teresa was even threatened that her family, including her child, would be killed. She was also coerced, not once but twice, to make false statements in front of guests and the media by telling them that she committed a mistake when she joined the democratic struggle and that she is calling on her comrades to surrender. As Teresa refused to do so in both instances, the military continued to interrogate her and forbade her from receiving visitors. She was only released in 1974.[6]

The Claims Board granted recognition to the three women as human rights violations victims.[7] This pulled through after they provided substantial evidence to back up the offenses committed against them. Maria and Leonora were awarded five points under the reparations system for illegal detention, while Teresa was awarded six points for Illegal Detention with Cruel, Inhumane, and Degrading Treatment (CIDT).[8] The state agents had no valid excuse for the inhumane handling and illegal detainment of their detainees. This proves that instead of siding with the oppressed to protect them against aggressors, they became the aggressors themselves. The unjustifiable experience of the victims along with being denied the right to be fairly judged under the law must make the perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Maria, Leonora, and Teresa only managed to get a share of justice for their insufferable experience because they luckily managed to break away from it and decided to take a stand. Maria completed her studies and worked for the government, and she now lives happily with her family. This, however, is not the case for every human rights violations victim under the Marcos regime, as many were silenced in unimaginable ways. Thus, the Filipinos must be educated about the extent of which Martial Law caused trauma to our country, which led to many ills in our society that we still experience today. It will forever be a hindrance to forget the atrocities of the Martial Law era, and will not allow the Philippines to further move forward and progress. By never invalidating the experiences of the people who endured these abuses, this may lead to a better understanding of our country, and perhaps the better Philippines that we all hope for.


[1] “Resolution,” (Case No. 2014-05-00833, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[2] Ibid.; Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-05-00833, Sorsogon: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1.

[3] “Resolution,” 2.

[4] Ibid.; Victim’s affidavit, 1.

[5] “Resolution,” 2.

[6] “Resolution,” 3.

[7] Ibid, 5.

[8] Ibid., 5-6.