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: Clipping from the pamphlet with the header “Break the Isolation: Free our Sisters, Free Ourselves” by GABRIELA, a national women’s coalition formed under Marcos’ martial law that actively campaigned for women’s rights and provided support for women victims of human rights violations.
Political detention was rampant in the Marcos years from 1972 to 1986. Arrests with no warrants and detentions with no formal charges were commonplace, and thousands of human rights violations were committed in law enforcement, a profession that is male-dominated even to this day. Among these violations are gender-based forms of violence, which have more commonly targeted women than men as a result of perceptions on female passivity and the sexualization of women’s bodies – perceptions that were stronger and more prevalent in the 1970s and 1980s. Women detainees at the hands of male officers have thus been strongly susceptible to sexual forms of violence ranging from voyeurism to rape.
Aside from its short and long-term psychological effects on victims, sexual violence also exposes women to sexual and reproductive health diseases. Unsanitary facilities heighten risks of infection, and inadequate healthcare for pregnant and nursing women places them and their children at risk. Meanwhile, the separation of mothers and wives from their families are likely to have debilitating effects on familial relations, and may cause serious emotional harm, especially for mothers and for their young children left at home. These have effects that last long if not addressed properly and sufficiently.
Adora de Vera, now in her late 60s, is once again a political detainee. She was arrested on 24 August 2022 by the Philippine National Police on charges of rebellion, murder, and multiple frustrated murder. Her family and friends continue to lobby for her immediate release.
Adora experienced her first arrest 46 years ago at the age of 22. She was a graduate of the Philippine Science High School and a former scholar at the University of the Philippines, married, and with one child. On the first of October 1976, while she was onboard the Philippine National Railway (PNR) train on the way to Bicol, a group of men took and dragged her and two other passengers into an ambulance, their eyes covered and heads shoved onto the laps of their captors so they could not see where they were headed. They were brought to a dark apartment and locked into separate rooms. Because the men were in civilian clothing, Adora thought they were kidnappers. But after repeatedly demanding to know who they were and what they wanted, one man told her he was a peace officer and a member of an intelligence group.
TRIGGER WARNING: In a room full of men, Adora was ordered to strip naked while a light was flashed onto her face so her eyes could not adjust to the dark. They threatened to do more than just make her strip down if she did not cooperate. Meanwhile, she was also aware that the two passengers she was taken with, Rolando Morallo and Flora Coronacion, were going through something similar. She could hear Rolando being beaten up in the room next to hers. This was only the beginning of what would be a horrifyingly cruel experience.
The men took endless liberties to make the three captives admit that they were subversives. Once, Rolando was beaten up and repeatedly stabbed with a screwdriver until he passed out, in full view of Adora and Flora. The two women were also beaten, always by multiple officers taking turns. Sometimes they were interrogated and tortured at the same time. Adora was once forced to stand naked in the middle of a room while Rolando was forced to masturbate in front of her and the men. When he refused, he was hit several times on the genitals with a broom and laughed at by the men. On the tenth day, Adora was made to strip and threatened with rape if she refused to answer their questions. A certain Capt. E.S. told her that since they will be killed anyway, they might as well exploit them while they were still alive. Days passed during which the captives were not allowed to wear any clothes.
During her interrogations, Adora’s fingernails and toenails were burned with cigarettes and her thighs and hair were repeatedly stroked. On the thirteenth day, she was isolated in a room with two officers, where they touched her private parts and told her obscenities. On the fourteenth day, she was raped. This was done because she did not have the information that they wanted to hear. Flora was also raped multiple times. On the seventeenth day, Flora and Rolando were taken somewhere else, leaving Adora behind.
On November 12, Capt. E.S. said to her, “Your two companions were under military custody. They did not escape, but now they are missing. You know the implications.” The bodies of Flora and Rolando are still missing to this day.
Adora’s requests for medicine for her asthma, for legal counsel, for her parents to know where she was, and for a transfer to a proper detention center were all denied. All the while, Capt. E.S. kept doing to her as he pleased. In March 1977, she was forced to sign a pre-typed testimony, and on June 30 was finally released. But the harrowing experience prevented her from seeking help. She knew that she could be hunted down again at any time and killed, just like Flora and Rolando.
The details in this narrative come from the testimony that Adora wrote herself in December 1977. It includes a list of the names of the men, both high and low-ranking officers, and one civilian, who took part in the brutality that lasted nine months. It was published in the Amnesty International Mission Report on the Philippines from 11-28 November 1981 along with other cases of gross human rights violations. When Adora was arrested a second time in 1983, she was treated much, much better – they gave her proper medical attention and allowed visits from her family.
Now that she is once again detained, with her children grown up and herself a senior citizen, her life has become a testimony of grit and human endurance, but also of the beastly capacity of men to hurt and defile other human beings. Recent history teaches us that justice is elusive for victim survivors like Adora. The amount of post-incident requisites for this, such as proving the crimes of the perpetrators and punishing them, providing comprehensive post-traumatic care for the survivor and psychological intervention for the family, and providing reparations for moral and economic damages, means that delivering justice and preventing human rights violations is a gargantuan task that the State must dedicate itself to. Awareness and acknowledgement are the first steps; always remembering is a must.
 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Handbook on Women and Imprisonment, 2nd ed. (United Nations: New York, 2014), 10-11; Break the Isolation: Free our Sisters, Free Ourselves (GABRIELA Commission on Women’s Human Rights: Manila, n.d.), accessed in Women/Children 2, Women/Children, Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.
 Handbook on Women and Imprisonment, 17-19.
 Jairo Bolledo, “Alleged top Western Visayas communist rebel arrested,” Rappler, 25 August 2022, https://www.rappler.com/nation/ched-chairperson-prospero-de-vera-sister-adora-de-vera-arrested/.
 Statement of Adora Faye de Vera, Report of an Amnesty International Mission to The Republic of the Philippines 11-28 November 1981 (Amnesty International Publications: Great Britain, 1982), 106.
 Ibid., 106-7.
 Ibid., 107.
 Ibid., 108.
 Ibid., 108-109.
 “Adora,” Filipino Women in Struggle, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (March-April 1984), 8.
 Open letter of the victim survivor, in Gabriela Materials (1984-1989) Project Proposals, Gabriela Materials (1984-1989), Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, HRVVMC.
 Testimony by two women political prisoners dated March 1977, in Folder 17.10, Political Prisoners Women, Box #17 (Women: General), Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, Human Rights Violations Victims’ Memorial Commission.