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Paeng was a farmer in Ilocos Sur. He was part of a group of men who were arrested by Philippine Constabulary (PC) soldiers in 1984, for allegedly helping twelve New People’s Army (NPA) members by giving them food when they passed by their area. The six farmers were arrested without warrants, denied the right to legal counsel during interrogation, and detained without formal charges against them in court.[1] Records from the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) provide a detailed account of these events from the eyes of Paeng’s wife, Theresa:

It was an early day in August 1984 when the quiet of dawn was disrupted by screams and howling at a rural barrio in Ilocos Sur. Armed men swarmed into the barrio and began capturing the men, including Paeng. His wife, Theresa, who happened to be bathing herself at the time, was guarded by a man with a gun until she finished. Outside, women and children trembled at gunpoint as they watched their husbands and fathers being beaten, then tied by the hands and linked to each other before being taken away. Theresa took two of her sons with her and secretly followed the group of men trundling in the direction of a nearby mountain, not being allowed to rest. Along the way she witnessed her tired husband collapse to a sitting position on the ground and struggle to stand up. The soldiers forced Paeng to carry a grenade in his mouth until they reached their destination.[2]

Paeng was detained for two weeks at the police station and was transferred at the end of August to a PC camp. He was given an endless amount of errands with no compensation whatsoever, not even meals for his and his companions’ daily sustenance. Theresa and the other wives made sure to visit them regularly to bring them food, fearing that their husbands were being starved.[3] Perhaps their captors thought it was poetic justice to deny food to the men who allegedly fed the NPA. Meanwhile, Theresa and the other affected households were left to fend for themselves throughout the ordeal, living in fear of the soldiers who took the men of their barrio away and what they might do to them. Paeng was finally released in October after six long weeks of detention.[4]

The case of the six farmers was not isolated. The same paranoia over NPA presence is seen throughout a handful of other violent cases in the Ilocos Sur and Norte regions in the year 1984, as reported by the Fact-Finding Committee of the North Luzon Human Rights Organization and echoed by the National Secretariat of Social Action, Justice and Peace (NASSA). In Dumalneg, Ilocos Norte, about 50 farming families were forced out of their homes by the military reportedly because the NPA had infiltrated their area. Forced to live in relocation sites, the families suffered through food shortage and overcrowding while their farms were left unattended and their farm animals neglected. They were told that they would be massacred if they returned to their homes. In Suyo, Ilocos Sur, a priest suspected of having links with the NPA was gunned to death by a group of Criminal Investigation Service (CIS) agents after having treated them to a meal. Then there were newspaper reports of an armed encounter between the NPA and government soldiers in Vintar, Ilocos Norte, which killed four individuals. The encounter occurred at the house of a farmer, where the soldiers said NPA members were being kept. The farmer is said to have later testified that of the four victims, two of them were a teenager and his 24-year-old friend, who were visiting him to borrow shoes. The third was a mere passer-by and the fourth, as of the fact-finding report, is unidentified.[5]

The NASSA report emphasized that it was farmers who were most affected in the anti-rebel operations of the government in Ilocos, as they were commonly suspected of giving food and shelter to the NPA. These allegations carried a bitter irony, as farmers lamented having too little food for themselves and their families, much less for the roving dissidents. The report says that during non-harvest seasons, farming families in Ilocos were forced to subsist on only bananas. It also quoted a farmer questioning the military operations: “If the NPAs are enemies, the military should seek them in the hills and not take it out on the civilians.”[6] One is led to think similarly, seeing how disruptive and destructive the government forces were in attempting to flush out the NPA from the localities of late-martial law Ilocos, the so-called Solid North and home province of then-President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

Paeng lived a few more decades after the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship, but not long enough to witness his wife’s continued struggle to attain justice for him and their family. She joined thousands of other victims and victims’ relatives in the Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation and later also processed Paeng’s State recognition as a human rights violations victim under the Marcos Regime through the HRVCB. In 2016, the HRVCB recognized Paeng as a victim of Arbitrary Detention and included his name in the Roll of Victims.[7]

Whatever amount she and her family has received in reparations is not enough to compensate for what was taken from them during those long and harrowing days from August to October 1984 – not so especially when one considers the opulent lifestyle of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.’s family and network of cronies, whose well-documented and legally proven plunder of the nation has not been enough to land them in prison, not even for a day. No, Filipinos should not be expected to move on, not for as long as generations upon generations of their children continue to inherit the poisons of the past. Truth is their only weapon in this struggle for justice.

[1] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-01-00282, Quezon City: 2016), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[2] Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-01-00282, Ilocos Sur: 2014), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[3] Ibid., 2; “Injustice for All (Special Report on Human Rights),” NASSA News vol. XXI, no. 12 (December 1984), 5. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[4] Claimant’s affidavit, 2; “Resolution,” 2.

[5] “Injustice for All,” 5.

[6] Ibid., 6.

[7] Letter from Robert A. Swift, lead counsel of the Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, MDL No. 840 (9 January 2014); “Resolution,” 2.