As part of the National 18-Day Campaign to End Violence Against Women (VAW), the VAW Spotlight series turns its attention to the circumstances of militarization, which brought about a virulent and systematic form of abuse targeted towards women, especially during the Martial Law regime, abuse that still persists today.
Photo from the “Hamletting and other force evacuations”photo compilation, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. Date and location not indicated.
Militarization was a common tactic during the Martial Law regime of Ferdinand Marcos. Battalions from the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the Integrated National Police (INP), and paramilitary forces like the Civilian Home Defense Force (CHDF) were tapped by the military supposedly to drive away terrorists or rebels who had taken refuge in rural areas. On paper, this is a viable option for peacekeeping, allowing the military and the police to protect civilians against violent insurgents lurking near their homes.
However, in reality, militarized areas under Marcos’ martial law actually saw a massive increase in violence and lawlessness precisely because of the military forces deployed there. A significant number of cases of State-sponsored human rights violations occurred in large concentration in areas under militarization. Soldiers looted abandoned houses and stores, killed domestic animals, stole or burned down crops, tortured men, and raped women. These illegal acts became a tool for the government not only to keep its people in check, but also to perpetuate authority through fear and intimidation while escaping accountability for human rights violations.
Photo from the “Hamletting and other force evacuations” photo compilation, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission. At the back of the photo is inscribed, “Forced migration: civilians fleeing their homes following an anti-guerilla military operations in a hinterland village in Davao Province.” Date not indicated.
TRIGGER WARNING (Violence, Sexual Violence): In many cases, the women could be incidental casualties, as the mothers, wives, daughters, or sisters of suspected rebels. However, their being women almost always left them susceptible to sexual abuse – a different yet equally systematic form of violation. This is largely attributed to the patriarchal underpinnings of Filipino culture. Authorities felt enabled to do as they pleased especially in militarized areas where they were the main “law enforcers” – and when military men fail to capture their targets, it is those who are left behind whom they vent their frustrations on. Free-fire zones and “no-man’s lands” virtually gave soldiers free rein to resort to sexual violence and other horrifyingly cruel acts on women and their children.
During the Malisbong/Palimbang Massacre of 1974, for example, women and children were segregated from the men, boarded on a ship off the coast, and then harassed and/or raped. A woman named Neneng Zainal is cited as having tried to kill her molester by stabbing him. She died on the spot when the soldiers shot her. Meanwhile at the Tacbil Mosque of Malisbong, the hundreds of men who were being guarded refrained from attacking their captors for fear of a revenge attack on the women and children whom they were separated from.
Months later, a widowed mother of three young children was stopped at a military checkpoint; the soldiers took her one-year-old son, threw him in the air like a ball, and shot him.
We can only wonder at the depths to which gun-wielding men could descend, finding amusement in brutalizing helpless victims in front of the victims’ families. Situations like these beg the question: Why are men taught to assume that they can do whatever they want, by virtue of their guns and badges? Is it right to bestow authority on them?
The figures and statistics can never be complete. In a study conducted by the Gabriela coalition of women, and as concluded by the Women Studies and Resource Center in Davao in 1986, it was difficult to assess precisely how many women were affected and victimized by militarization under martial law for a variety of reasons. Firstly, in militarized areas, the military would naturally clamp down on organizations that tried to publicize incidents of abuse. An example is the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) who were often raided including their documents being confiscated. This was compounded by the fact that the TFDP was unable to record every instance of violation nationwide given its limited reach, especially in remote barrios and far-flung provinces.
A summation of selected TFDP records managed to tally 15,000 victims of various forms of human rights violations under martial law up to January 1986 (although how far back the tallies went is not clear). Of these, only about 10% were identified in the records as women. This aligns with the currently available data of the HRVVMC based on the partial index of the 11,103 Government-recognized victims. Of these, only 1,754 – or about 15.80% – are female, and of these, 381 are victims of rape or various forms of torture, 282 are of killings and forcible disappearances, and 626 are of various lesser types of violations. (The count of 11,103 does not encompass all victims of human rights violations during Martial Law. This simply refers to the number of victims who were able to properly file verifiable claims attesting to their experiences during Martial Law. Many others were not able to file claims or purposefully did not file claims for a variety of reasons, and this includes victims who no longer wish to talk about their personal experiences.)
Secondly, post-incident tallies and reports often lumped victims together into a collective whole. There were instances where entire sitios, barrios or even barangays were terrorized by military units, under the pretext of searching for rebels or rebel supporters. When a militarized area becomes a “no man’s land,” the civilians could be killed as a collective whole, something that the State-controlled media could later blame on the same rebels that the military were trying to flush out.
Thirdly, the military protected itself by intimidating civilians and victims into silence and complicity. Organizations like the TFDP were unable to record incidents that went unreported, and this would often be the case when the victim refused to speak out for fear of retaliation.
Lastly, many victims of rape find it extremely difficult to talk about their experience because it forces them to recall the trauma of being hurt and defiled. For some, it becomes unbearable to live with the memory of the experience. One victim of the Malisbong/Palimbang Massacre, for example, chose to kill herself rather than live with “shame” for the rest of her days.
Another reason why female victims, especially the unmarried, do not readily expose their experience is because of the reputational risk of making public that they have lost their virginity, especially in communities where female virginity before marriage is maintained as a sacred responsibility. This reinforces the use of sexual violence as a military tool that also forces female victims into silence, thwarts the number of recorded and reported abuses, and ultimately hinders victims from seeking justice for themselves.
Photo: WATCH-Mindanao and Women’s Studies and Resource Center, “Mindanao Women: A Situationer,” 2 July 1986, 25. Accessed in Folder 17.03 [BUKAS, WATCH, GABRIELA] in Box #17.0 (Women: Groups, History, Movement), Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
Women resisted militarization through their own ways. They organized themselves and formed coalitions across different sectors, which enabled peasants, workers, and indigenous women to work hand-in-hand with academics, human rights watchers, and the religious, among others. They monitored the state of women and human rights in the heavily militarized areas and sought to raise awareness on the same through teach-ins, workshops, and mass mobilizations. They provided victims with medical and legal support, and campaigned for women’s demands amidst the country’s many troubles.
Others went underground or actually joined the rebel movement to escape the persecution of the military. As militarization intensified in the 1980s, these groups stayed hidden and remained true to their purpose of helping the victims of militarization. Many chose to join their husbands, brothers, and sons in the underground movement rather than risk getting caught by soldiers at home or while engaging in community work.
Apo Takhay, a Kalinga elder, recalls how a group of indigenous women dismantled and burned the campsites of surveyors and soldiers working for the Chico River Basin Development Project. They disrobed and displayed their tattooed bodies to the trespassing men, as it was believed to bestow harm and bad fortune on whoever laid their eyes on them. During the militarization of the Samar provinces in the mid-to late-1970s, civilians floated placards downstream at a local river to publicize accounts of military abuse, hoping they would be picked up and reported accordingly. They also organized public meetings where they reported evidence of people being killed or maimed, including women who were raped. Political detainees went on hunger strikes to protest cruel treatment and poor living conditions in prison. Though not always successful, these attempts prove that militarization did not always completely silence the people.
Such was the condition of women under militarization during Martial Law. In truth, even non-militarized areas saw cases of women being targeted by soldiers stationed, deployed, and/or conducting operations in the area. This situation becomes all the more egregious in these areas under the control of the armed forces. Although it has been nearly 40 years since the end of the Marcos dictatorship, this form of abuse against women, be it by State forces or their fellow ordinary citizens, remains common. The contemptible history of violence against women, rooted in the outmoded perspectives of the patriarchal Filipino society and perpetuated by patriarchal regimes with equally outmoded laws, principles, and mechanisms, must end.
 Women Studies and Resource Center: Davao, “Women and Militarization,” January 1986, accessed November 30, 2022, Box 17.0 Women: Groups, History, Movement, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 1; Militarization of Samar, Hong Kong: Resource Center for Philippine Concerns, 1979, Human rights + Militarisation (old PPT) Militarization and Situationers, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 10.
 “Women and Militarization,” 1.
 “Women and Militarization,” 1.
 Sheilfa Alojamiento, “Carnage in the Mosque,” Moro Kurier, 1987. Accessed in Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre: A Reader, 2nd ed. (Quezon City: Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission, 2022), 73.
 Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre, 15.
 Municipality of Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat, “7-Man Committee’s Findings and Report,” September 2010. Accessed in Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre, 91.
 Furthermore, losses would also be incurred by the TFDP as it attempts to evade such raids.
 “Women and Militarization,” 1.
 748 cases have not yet been fully indexed. As such, complete data on these, such as the year and location of the incident, the type of violation and, more importantly, the sex of the victim, are unavailable as of 30 November 2022.
 “Women and Militarization,” 2-3; Data from the Resource and Archives Division of the HRVVMC.
 Ibid., 1-3.
 Ibid., 2.
 Tacbil Mosque Palimbang Massacre, 159. This information was sourced from the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Listening Process Report of 2017.
 “Women and Militarization,” 5-6.
 Ed Maranan, ed., Bakun: Three Martyrs for the People (Metro Manila: Bakun Martyrs Committee, 1987), 35-36, accessed through the archives of the Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission; “Women and Militarization,” 5-6.
 Analyn Salvador-Amores, “Honoring Macli-ing Dulag, Defender of the Cordillera,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 22, 2015, accessed December 1, 2022.
 Militarization of Samar, 16-17.