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





Freedom is a word that many Filipinos are very familiar with. From the earliest battle cries in Mactan against the Spanish colonizers until the very last breath of the guerrillas in the sieges against the Americans and the Japanese, Juan Dela Cruz has been fighting all his life. Yet unimaginable for the war heroes of yore, little have the Filipinos ever expected freedom to be a battle cry against fellow Filipinos.

On September 23, 1972, the eyes of many Filipinos were shot with uncertainty, shock, and fear as then-President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law, supposedly to battle against the growing Communist insurgency in the country. Under Martial Law, countless human rights violations occurred. Countless lives were taken away. Countless voices were silenced. A glimpse into this bloody page in our history books shows the story of Rodolfo, a young farmer from Cotabato who was arrested on nary a valid basis.[1]

On one fateful day in 1980, Rodolfo, then in his early twenties, was celebrating the feast day of San Juan with his family by the local river in his community. Suddenly, a group of armed men from the Philippine Constabulary (PC) and Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF) arrived and asked Rodolfo if he worked with the South Davao Development Corporation (SODACO) Company. Rodolfo told them that he did not.[2] After this, the armed men took him, along with his brother, Julio, and brother-in-law, to the SODACO Office. There, Rodolfo was interrogated by the local Mayor Mariano Zafra. The interrogation was anything but pleasant, as it quickly turned into physical and psychological torture.[3] In his sworn affidavit, Rodolfo alleges that Zafra simply asked for his name, but when he answered, he was punched in the chest. Afterwards, Zafra’s son, along with members of the PC, brought the three to the staff house. It was here that Rodolfo was struck repeatedly in the foot until it was broken. Afterwards, the three were brought to the local provincial jail, where they were detained for one week.[4]

Years later, with the enactment of Republic Act No. 10368, which allowed the human rights violations victims (HRVVs) of Martial Law to seek justice, Rodolfo was able to submit a claim to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) for recognition and compensation for him and his brother.[5] The HRVCB approved their claim for unlawful arrest, as it was sufficiently established that they were indeed arrested without a valid arrest warrant or any valid circumstances justifying a warrantless arrest.[6] Though their initial claims of torture and arbitrary detention were not upheld due to insufficient evidence,[7] they were nonetheless recognized by the HRVCB as HRVVs, based on the story they were able to share.

Behind Marcos Sr.’s double-sided intentions for the country, bloody massacres were in suit. In the darkness of the night or even in broad daylight, one could see the fear in the eyes of many Filipinos. When Martial Law is declared, the freedom of the people is suspended, which could mean that authorities can abuse their power, leading to an unimaginable number of cases of human rights violations. Rodolfo’s case was an example of how power-hungry monsters prey on the vulnerability of the civilians, capturing them, and exercising unrestrained power over the helpless.

Rodolfo’s story is just one of the many eye-openers for today’s time of how power can be used to terrorize. Rodolfo was merely enjoying a day with his family when he and his brothers were taken by authorities. However, it was through his own efforts that he was able to attain recognition for himself and what had happened to him, proof that, despite the horrors that awaited him outside the comfort of his home and outside the safety of secrecy, the freedom, justice, and the strong-will of every Filipino can prevail. Rodolfo chose to make his story known, not only so he can be recognized and compensated, but also to prove that the stories of Martial Law are no myths. This is just a glance of that page we have already left unopened, let this glance be a warning and a bookmark, for the pages of the history books we should not relive again.


[1] “Declaration of Martial Law,” Martial Law Museum, accessed May 31, 2022,; Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-11-00988, Cotabato City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[2] Ibid; Witnesses’ joint affidavit (Case No. 2014-11-00988, Cotabato: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Though the affidavit of Mariflor and Josefino corroborates what Rodolfo is claiming, their affidavit is quite identical to that of Rodolfo himself and provides little to no other information.

[3] Victim’s affidavit

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-11-00988, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1. As Rodolfo’s brother Julio had already passed away by this time, a claim was filed for him on his behalf by a legal heir or representative.

[6] Ibid., 1-2.

[7] According to the HRVCB, the claims were not sufficiently corroborated as the witnesses, Mariflor and Josefino, were deemed not to possess personal knowledge of the incident, given that their affidavit was identical to Rodolfo’s. Further, there is little substantial evidence to prove the same. This follows Sec. 5 and Sec. 10(i), Rule V of Republic Act No. 10368’s Implementing Rules and Regulations.