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
WRITTEN BY: ANGELA MARIE C. O’CONNOR
XAVIER UNIVERSITY – ATENEO DE CAGAYAN
Every single one of us has a story to tell. During a crisis or downfall, some people are greatly affected by this. On the other hand, other people turn a blind eye to the effects of the crisis or do not know about them at all.
Fifty years ago, in 1972, the entire Philippines was placed under Martial Law. Despite legally ending in 1981, the violence and oppression remained until 1986 when Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. and his family fled the country. During this period, many Filipinos suffered and endured physical or emotional pain. Some of those who survived are still fighting and spreading awareness. However, some have also been unable to share their stories due to several reasons. These include those who were not able to live to share their experiences themselves. This story is one of them.
The case began in 1985 with the involved persons going about with their usual activities throughout the day. Consuelo was resting at her family’s home in Negros Occidental, awaiting her husband’s return from the weekly market, where he sold tuba. She was not present when he was taken away by a group of men. Although she did not personally see what happened, two male friends, one who was with Reuben at his stall and another who was at a volleyball court next to them, witnessed the taking.
According to both, at about three o’clock in the afternoon, Reuben had been tending to his tuba stall when he was approached by a small group of men. These men, dressed in fatigues and carrying long firearms, appeared to be members of the military. “Gie, dali bala kay may i-estoria ko sa imo,” (“Gie, can you spare the time? I need to talk to you,”) was the first thing they heard from them. Ismael , the friend who was with him, was not acknowledged, as the men focused solely on Reuben. One of the men placed an arm around Reuben’s shoulder and began to lead him away. Reuben did not utter a single word. The friend who was at the volleyball court next to Reuben’s stall thought that the situation was perplexing and decided to watch them carefully. He followed them with his eyes as they walked out the market compound into a highway, crossed a wooden bridge, and turned right into a beach, in the direction of the local Philippine Army detachment.
At the tuba stall, Ismael thought of this as an alarming situation and immediately left to inform Reuben’s family. He started on his way to the house of Reuben’s parents. When he was a short distance from their house, Ismael heard a loud gunshot. To him it seemed to have been generated by an M14 rifle, somewhere in the direction of the detachment. At this he feared for his life and ran.
Back at home, Consuelo woke from her nap to find that her husband had not yet returned. Three hours later, at around 6 o’clock, Ismael arrived and told her what he saw that afternoon. He asked her to not panic since the military men said that they would return him. Listening to him there, in the home that she shared with Reuben and their toddlers, Consuelo’s heart was filled with fear. She begged Ismael to escort her and her children to the house of Reuben’s parents. The family spent the night in great fear of the unknown, waiting for Reuben to show up any minute at their doorstep. He did not come home that night.
Consuelo and her mother-in-law left for the army detachment at the crack of dawn. They were made to wait at a guardhouse and asked about the purpose of their visit. However, one of the soldiers stationed outside with them spoke up angrily, saying, “When civilians go missing, you look for them in the army, but when military men go missing, you don’t bother looking for them at all!” At this, Consuelo and her mother-in-law felt that it would be hopeless to try to get information about Reuben from them. So, instead, they returned home and hoped that the military men would stay true to their words of returning him. They all awaited his safe return.
In early 1986, Consuelo decided to report her missing husband to the police. However, days turned into months, and Reuben still did not return home. They still had no other clues as to what had become of him.
Around a year later, Reuben’s family received shocking news from a family friend named Carmen . She warned Consuelo that what she was about to say was going to be very painful to hear. She explained that her brother, a member of the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF) who was under the command of a battalion officer, divulged to her that Reuben was indeed taken to the army detachment. He said that at his arrival, Reuben was instructed to disrobe, then climb a coconut tree. While he was coming back down, a soldier came near and wounded him on the buttocks with a bayonet. They asked him to tell them where the New People’s Army was, but he claimed that he did not know. Hearing this, one soldier became more aggressive and sliced off one of his ears. They asked again more forcefully, but Reuben insisted that he did not know where the NPA was. The soldier cut off his other ear. At this point, Reuben cried aloud, telling them that he has family, a wife, and children. He wanted to come home to them. The soldier responded to this by slicing off his lips.
Consuelo let out a wail and begged Carmen to stop. “Gina-amo guid gali nila ina ang bana ko, Su?” (“Cousin, is that what they really did to my husband?”) she exclaimed. “Huo, Su,” (“Yes, Cousin.”) Carmen said.
There has been no confirmation of the account from the army detachment, but, as mentioned above, the military men thought Reuben to be associated with the NPA. By failing to acknowledge his disappearance after taking him, and for not giving information on his whereabouts, the army had committed a gross violation of human rights.
Decades later, Reuben remains to be a missing person. In 2015, his family filed for his death certificate, assuming his death was on the same day he was taken by the military. In the same year, they filed for reparations and the recognition of Reuben’s enforced disappearance and torture by the State. The Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), the government body tasked to review all cases filed under Republic Act No. 10368, recognized the claim of enforced disappearance as a violation committed against him, but did not recognize the claim for torture because the only available evidence was mere hearsay.
Thus, what would happen if stories like this are forgotten? If stories like this are simply forgotten, we might allow for something similar to happen. The impact these stories have on us who listen may change our moral compass and help us know better. Change happens all the time, but it is a must to stay wary and alert, as well as to think critically. Stories like this are supposed to drive us to fight for our rights and justice. Simply forgetting stories like this could mean that we might let someone or some people walk all over us regardless of whether or not we are aware of it.
Reuben was not able to make his story known because he was silenced. How many others have suffered the same fate? Let us be their voice! Let us never forget!
 Claimant’s affidavit (Case No. 2015-6E-00426, Negros Occidental: 2015), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Witness’s affidavit (Case No. 2015-6E-00426, Negros Occidental: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Second witness’s affidavit (Case No. 2015-6E-00426, Negros Occidental: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Witness’s affidavit.
 Claimant’s affidavit.
 “Resolution” (Case No. 2015-6E-00426, Quezon City: 2017), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; claimant’s affidavit.
 Claimant’s affidavit.