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




During Ferdinand Marcos’s Martial Law years, many were abused, tortured, and even killed. They were tortured without evidence on the crimes they allegedly committed, were abused in many ways, and were not given the chance to speak up against their abusers because of fear and intimidation. This story is one of the thousands of martial law stories that elders have never told you about. This is the story of Ruel.

Ruel was born in Negros Occidental in 1949. He later on became a farmer and a member of the local Kristianong Katilingban (translated from Ilonggo as Chrisitan Community), which organized the poor, farmers, and laborers under Bible-based tenets on the liberation from poverty and oppression. In the context of his home city, communities were organized in the struggle against land-grabbing and military abuse.[1]

The island of Negros in the 1970s and 1980s was suffering an economic crisis that drove malnourished Negrenses into their graves at a very young age. This was due largely to the extortionate policies of the Philippine Sugar Commission (Philsucom), headed by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto, which developed a sugar industry in which thousands of farmers and laborers either lost their jobs, or went overworked and underpaid for years. The deplorable living conditions were driving people into vehement opposition to the individuals who governed them and managed the economy, and was making rebels out of hungry citizens. In connection with this, Negros was becoming a hotbed of military and paramilitary harassment against suspected subversives.[2]

In 1978, Ruel, who was in his late twenties, and some of his friends were cutting and loading sugar canes in a farm, when they were approached by a team of men belonging to the Civilian Home Defense Forces (CHDF), a self-defense paramilitary unit tasked to take action against threats of local insurgency, rebellion, and subversion.[3] The group, suspecting them to be New People’s Army (NPA) members, arrested the young farmers on the spot and ordered them to board a weapon carrier. They were hit by rifle butts as they boarded the vehicle, and brought to the barangay police station, where they and their captors waited for another group from another barangay. It turned out that a mass arrest was taking place in their city that day.[4]

After waiting for a while, they and the rest of the detainees were blindfolded and brought to the a military detachment in Negros Oriental. The military only took their blindfolds off upon their arrival at the detachment. They were forced to live in a very small cell, described by Ruel as “pigpen-like,” as it was so small, it did not even have enough space for them to stand. In the mornings, they were only taken out whenever they were brought along to act as guides during the CHDF’s NPA-searching operations. At night, they were taken out whenever it was time for them to be interrogated separately. They were struck with rifles, boxed, and kicked on a daily basis until their bodies ached. Ruel also recalls that everyday at around 5:00 pm, someone would thrust a burning piece of wood into their small cell, causing them great discomfort and burning the hair and skin of whomever was not lucky enough to evade it.[5]

They were later transferred from one detachment to another, until they had been detained in four different municipalities over a period of just two weeks. Ruel and his friends were finally released, without being issued any release papers, and not before being forced to sign a piece of paper – the content of which was not explained to them.[6]

The trauma, however, did not stop there. Because of the maltreatment that they went through, the members of the group suffered various ailments and miseries thereafter. This included having to abandon their own places, as individuals connected to the military continued to harass them and their children.[7]

In 2014, Ruel submitted his documents to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) to apply for reparations and for the Philippine government to recognize the atrocities and abuse that he and his friends experienced.[8]

They are now recognized by the Philippine government as human rights violations victims under Republic Act No. 10368. As stated in the same law, it is the policy of the State to recognize the atrocities committed under the Martial Law Regime, placing upon the Philippine government the history-honoring responsibility of remembering the victims and their sacrifices under the administration of its former president and dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.


[1] Joint affidavit of two witnesses (Case No. 2014-06-00497, Negros Occidental: 2014), 1, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Kristianong Katilingban,” Negros Nine Human Development Foundation, Inc., accessed May 31, 2022,

[2] Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, “The Story of Negros and the Escalante Massacre of 1985,” September 20, 2021,; Inday Espina-Varona, “Under Marcos, the lush sugar lands of Negros Island turned red,” LICAS News, September 22, 2020,

[3] Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, “Alleged Perpetrators” (Quezon City: 2020), 5.

[4] “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-06-00497, Quezon City: 2014), 3-4; joint affidavit of two other witnesses (Case No. 2014-06-00497, Negros Occidental: 2014), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[5] Victim’s affidavit (Case No. 2014-06-00497, Negros Occidental: 2014), 1. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[6] Joint affidavit of two other witnesses, 1.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Resolution,” 2. Accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.