Written by: Kyle Marie P. Malaya
Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan

"Tandaan mo ang mukha ko! Ako ang papatay sa iyo!" How would you feel after hearing those words? Can you imagine the fear and uncertainty you would feel? What would you do? Would you run away? Would you bravely stay? Or would you simply count the days with your eyes closed, hoping and praying for the nightmare to be over?

The military regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., which began in 1972, resulted in widespread and severe human rights violations. People were illegally detained by the authorities, and many of them were abused or even killed.[1] The Philippines felt the brunt of the tyrannical and unjust regime, until 1986, when millions of Filipinos mobilized for a historic movement, demonstrating the strength of the people, later known as the People Power Revolution.[2] Unfortunately, up until today, there is still a lack of justice and recognition for many human rights violations victims (HRVVs). This has led to the malicious push to distort history, completely removing and invalidating the dark past of our country. Therefore, as the new generation, we move forward, but we should not forget. As we embrace changes, we bring the voiceless and the silenced a chance to be heard.

One of the many Martial Law victims is Tibian, a survivor who had experienced firsthand the terrors brought by the Marcos regime, and this is his story.

Tibian was born in 1955 in Misamis Occidental. He was only a college student in his early twenties, taking up Zoology at the University of the Philippines (UP), when he experienced the harshness of Martial Law.[3] In 1976, Tibian, who at the time had no idea what was to come, was arrested inside a residential apartment in Metro Manila.[4] Recalling this moment and his experiences from his arrest, he noted that his captors were armed men in civilian attire. He later learned, however, that they were a composite group of members from the local Constabulary Security Unit (CSU), the local Military Intelligence Group (MIG), the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) and the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA).[5]

Clueless and scared about the situation, Tibian was grabbed, slammed, and pressed against the wall by the six men inside the apartment. They made him stay still and did a body search while pointing a .45 caliber pistol at his head. Even when they transferred him to the second floor, they continued to assault him — he was kicked, slapped, and punched, resulting in his bleeding.[6] Later that day, he was shoved inside a vehicle for a short drive. They made him wear a blindfold and pushed his head between his legs, making him unable to see anything. However, Tibian could hear bell sounds nearby, thus sensing that he was brought to a distant safe house near a local church. Upon arrival he was taken into a room, had his blindfolds removed, and was confronted by military men who were also wearing civilian clothes. Like his captors, they never bothered to identify themselves or explain anything to Tibian. He, again, received a series of beating from his captors.[7]

Among all the State agents that Tibian encountered, the notorious Lt. Ranhilio of the CSU and Lt. Bernabe treated him and other captives very harshly. Lt. Ranhilio ordered him to remove his underpants and made him stand against an air-conditioner. Upon learning that Tibian was a UP Zoology student, Ranhilio repeatedly punched him on his temple and in his private parts. Ranhilio was a bulky man compared to the skinny Tibian, so the latter could not help but fear for his life.[8] On the other hand, Lt. Bernabe, while still having him stand against an air-conditioner, repeatedly slapped and punched him on his chest and stomach for no reason. He was not asked anything and was simply beaten until he was left black and blue, particularly in his chest and abdomen. Two more unknown agents approached the already weakened Tibian. One of them started to squeeze his throat for no reason, and the other did a karate chop to it, making it hard for him to breathe properly. This made it difficult for Tibian to properly swallow food and drink water for a whole week.[9]

Tibian’s suffering seemed to never end. After Lt. Ranhilio and Lt. Bernabe, another group of State agents came to meet him. The group attempted to engage him in political discussion, but he refused. Later that night, a certain Constabulary Security Unit (CSU) Chief, Col. San Jose, attempted to scare him by presenting to him another captive as a symbol of the futility of not cooperating, adding that there was no consideration for people who oppose the government.[10] After the interrogation with Col. San Jose, they moved him into another room, where they cuffed his hand to a bed. He recalled that he was strictly guarded at night by a NISA agent, who would sleep next to him on the same bed he was lying on while keeping the lights open. Tibian’s situation reached a point where he began contemplating drinking his urine, only so that he would get sick and force the authorities to bring him to a hospital.[11] He was kept in the first safe house for five days, and during his stay there, he received a lot of verbal threats from the agents. He was also not allowed to contact any of his family members or a lawyer.[12]

A few days later, Tibian was transferred to another safe house. By then, he no longer knew what was going to happen to him at any given point. He was frightened by the idea that they could instantly kill him. One night, blindfolded and lying down on a bed, an intoxicated agent came inside his room and began forcefully asking him about the whereabouts of Victor Corpus, a controversial military officer, who at the time briefly defected to the New People's Army (NPA). The same agent would visit him a few days later. He was aggressive and even verbally threatened Tibian that he would kill him. "Tandaan mo ang mukha ko! Ako ang papatay sa iyo!" he shouted.[13]

Though he was no longer subjected to further physical torture, Tibian was rendered constantly anxious, sleepless, and frightened after this incident. He feared that one day, agents would just come in his room and torture him. It felt to him like he was simply counting the days with his eyes closed, not knowing what would happen to him next and expecting the worst-case scenarios.[14] A few days after he received his belongings and a letter from his sister, and five weeks after that he was taken back to the local CSU Office before being transferred again to a separate stockade. It was here that Tibian managed to reunite with his family for the first time in months. Detainees, including Tibian, were transferred to a rehabilitation center elsewhere. However, just a few months after their arrival, they went on a hunger strike to protest against strict detention rules. Their hunger strike led to several detainees, including Tibian, collapsing and being brought to the local clinic.[15]

Tibian never figured out the motive behind his arrest. The authorities – who were also his torturers and abusers – never provided a proper explanation nor even an arrest warrant to justify his arrest during his seven months in detention in 1976 until his release from prison later that same year, when then-Philippine Constabulary (PC) Chief Fidel Ramos signed his release order.[16]

Tibian signed a "Certification of Release," which supposedly certifies that he has no complaints and was treated fairly during his confinement.[17] However, it was obviously not the case. It was one of the many ways that the military sought to absolve themselves and conceal what they did to the victims. In 1977, the year after, he also signed an Application for Amnesty, stating that his criminal offense was his connection with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) or to a subversive organization, through his affiliation with the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan.[18]

Years later, Tibian sought justice for the ordeal he went through. He became one of the plaintiffs in the landmark class action suit “Human Rights Litigation Against the Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos” (MDL No. 940), and, in 2014, was one of those declared eligible to receive payment from the settlement fund of the same.[19] Moreover, that same year, Tibian personally filed for reparation and recognition to the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB). The HRVCB formally acknowledged him as a human rights violation victim and granted him seven (7) points for torture, deeming his testimony and the evidence presented sufficient. They recognized his illegal detention as well, but the board rule can only award one claim, the one with the highest points. Hence, he was awarded the higher seven (7) points for the claim of torture.[20]

Close to the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, various human rights advocates have consistently been fighting for the acknowledgment of the victims and atrocities of the period. The struggle to present, uphold, and defend the truth is challenging. For now, the fight continues. If we fail to share stories and experiences like what Tibian has gone through, people will forget the atrocities committed by those who had power during the Martial Law period. Let us be cautious and internalize that there were a lot of other similar cases of "Tandaan mo ang mukha ko! Ako ang papatay sa iyo!" Perhaps, there will be more to come if we fail to exert a collective effort in fixing our government and justice system. Hopefully, we can share Tibian's and the thousands of Martial Law victims' stories so they can be widely known and accessible to the public. By raising awareness, we strive to create the Philippines a safer place. Let us also take their experience as a lesson that now and in the future: never again.

[1] “Five Things to Know about Martial Law in the Philippines,” Amnesty International, April 25, 2022, accessed May 28, 2022 https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/04/five-things-to-know-about-martial-law-in-the-philippines/.

[2] “1973 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines,” Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines, accessed May 28, 2022, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1973-constitution-of-the-republic-of-the-philippines-2/. Despite the lifting of martial law in 1981, the late dictator managed to extend his military rule in the country and retain many of his political powers until his deposition in 1986.

[3] “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition” (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Resolution” (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission; Victim’s statement (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[4] At this point in time, Metro Manila was a newly designated and established region, having been established in 1975 through Presidential Decree No. 824.

[5] Victim’s statement.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.; Victim’s affidavit. (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Quezon City: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[8] Victim’s statement, 1-2. Victim’s affidavit. Lt. Ranhilio was a notorious military figure during Martial Law, personally torturing numerous renowned personalities. His interrogation of Tibian was also moot, as, according to Tibian himself, they were just asking him questions to which they already knew the answers.

[9] Victim’s statement, 2. Victim’s affidavit.

[10] Victim’s statement, 2.

[11] Ibid. Tibian did his best to stop moving, as he feared that the agent would think he was attempting to escape and proceed to beat him up.

[12] Ibid., 3; Victim’s affidavit.

[13] Victim’s statement, 3; “Victor N. Corpus,” Martial Law Files, December 5, 2012, accessed May 29, 2022, https://martiallawfiles.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/victor-n-corpus/.

[14] Victim’s statement, 3.

[15] Ibid., 4. After authorities settled the hunger strike, the Philippine Constabulary (PC) sought to punish those who participated, and Tibian was transferred again back to the stockade sometime that year.

[16] Ibid.; Fidel V. Ramos to Director, Administration of Detention Centers, Camp Crame, Quezon City, August 25, 1976, “Temporary Release of Detainees” (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Metro Manila: 2014), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[17] “Certificate of Release” (Metro Manila: 1976), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission.

[18] “Application for Amnesty Under Presidential Decree No. 124, as Extended by Presidential Decree No. 206, Dated June 6, 1973,” (Metro Manila: 1977), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission. His mother was also asked to accomplish a pledge, signifying that she will personally oversee Tibian becoming a peaceful and law-abiding citizen lest she report him to authorities.

[19] “Re: Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, MDL No. 840," Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C. to Tibian, Philadelphia, PA, January 9, 2014, (Case No. 2014-14-11182, Pennsylvania: 2013), accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violation Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Republic Act No. 10368,” Official Gazette, February 25, 2013, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.officialgazette.gov.ph/2013/02/25/republic-act-no-10368/. Under Sec. 17 of R.A. No. 10368, Tibian, being a claimant in this class action suit, is presumptively considered a human rights violations victim, even before the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB), to be discussed below, would process any claim.

[20] “Application for Reparation and/or Recognition;” “Resolution.”