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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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.”[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

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.[11]

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.

TRIGGER WARNING: Cely (alias) was arrested in Davao at the age of 16 for allegedly murdering another woman, but was released a few months later through the help of her lawyer and the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP). On the first day of her detention, she was electrocuted, beaten, kicked, and subjected to bullet massage, or the placing of bullets between fingers, which are pressed hard to elicit excruciating pain. That same night, she was forced to strip naked and dance in front of military men. When she cried and refused to do so, the men pulled her hair and pointed their guns at her until she was forced to comply. This happened again on two separate days, with some of the men aggressively touching different parts of her body during the process. She was also forced to sign a testimony that had been pre-typed for her. On three different occasions, she was raped, while either unconscious or fatigued, by a certain officer. It took her some time before she was able to confide in her mother during her visits, because her rapist threatened to kill her and her parents if she told anyone about it.[12]

Cely was finally transferred to a women’s cell on the tenth day of her detention. She was in very poor physical and mental condition, and was in great anxiety at the thought of other women being treated the same way. Eventually, this same thought made her decide to speak out so that other women would be made aware of what the military had been doing, knowing fully well that it was going to threaten her life. She was able to confide in her fellow detainees, who advised her to seek legal and medical help. She wrote to women lawyers and to the TFDP, and was soon connected to two lawyers who lobbied for her release as well as helped her file a criminal case against the rapist.[13]

However, Cely’s suffering was not yet over. She eventually found out she was pregnant, and was horrified at the thought of bearing the child of her rapist. She decided to bargain with her life and sought the help of her companions to have an abortion. This was done successfully, rendering Cely bedridden for two weeks. Soon after, upon finding out about her case against the officer, the Commanding Officer (CO) repeatedly threatened her into dropping the case. When it was seen that threats were not working on her, she was bribed with money and educational opportunities, on the condition that she will marry her rapist. Though fearful, Cely resolved that she is ready to die for the cause, not only for her sake but for the sake of all women.[14]

She was finally released after 5 months of detention. She wrote an open letter not only to expose the crimes of her detaining officers, but also to thank all of the people who helped her seek justice, and to encourage all victim survivors like her to be courageous, because their struggle is not only for their own sake, but for the country as a whole.[15]

TRIGGER WARNING: Late one evening in August 1976, Gina (alias) was tending to her infant, who was very ill at the time, while her husband was away on a medical mission. Two men appeared at her doorstep “inviting” her to come with them for interrogation but were unable to present an arrest warrant. When Gina insisted on seeing a warrant, the men said they will wait for the morning before taking her with them – on the condition that they stay in her house for the rest of the night. Gina had no choice and was anxious at the fact that the house only had women and children in it. Despite having neither a search nor an arrest warrant, the men searched her house, and the following day took her to Fort Bonifacio.[16]

Gina spent several months in solitary confinement while still having no charge against her in court. Men in civilian clothes visited her in the evenings and early mornings to interrogate her, sometimes making threats and inappropriate insinuations. When she demanded to know why she was being kept, she was given various inconsistent reasons. The Commanding Officer (CO) in particular pestered her in her cell in the evenings and showered her with expensive, imported gifts and books.[17]

One evening, she was invited for an interrogation with the CO. This turned out to be a late night ride through the city and a dinner, and it became obvious that the CO had no intention to conduct an interrogation at all. On their way back, the CO parked the car and invited her to step out. Gina realized with horror that they were the only people in the place. He began embracing her, but Gina pushed him and walked away, trying to make small talk to distract him. She knew that if she did anything drastic, he could easily shoot her with his gun. He then began kissing her. This went on for a time, with Gina frozen to the ground in fear. Thankfully, another officer arrived before the CO could do anything else, and the two were accompanied back to the camp.[18]

In March 1977, when she wrote her testimony, Gina was still in prison and was concurrently on a hunger strike. This testimony is the sole available source of this narrative to date, and it is unclear if Gina was released soon after or if the CO has been held accountable for his grave misconduct. Nevertheless, her case illustrates the circumstances that many women inside and outside of prison find themselves in, where men who hold authority over them assume they have the right to do as they wish with the women around them. This attacks not only the woman’s dignity, but also her chances of attaining enough respect and credibility to be listened to when she finally speaks out on her experience.



[1] 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.

[2] Handbook on Women and Imprisonment, 17-19.

[3] Jairo Bolledo, “Alleged top Western Visayas communist rebel arrested,” Rappler, 25 August 2022,

[4] 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.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 106-7.

[7] Ibid., 107.

[8] Ibid., 108.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 108-109.

[11] “Adora,” Filipino Women in Struggle, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (March-April 1984), 8.

[12] Open letter of the victim survivor, in Gabriela Materials (1984-1989) Project Proposals, Gabriela Materials (1984-1989), Filippijnengroep Nederland Collection, HRVVMC.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] 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.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.