Victims Recall Life in the Philippines Under Marcos’s Martial Law

They are organizers and community members. Teenagers and pro-democracy activists.

Those detained under the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos in the Philippines numbered in the tens of thousands. The dictator declared martial law in the country 50 years ago on Wednesday, a macabre period when the opposition was jailed, tortured and killed.

The regime was overthrown by peaceful pro-democracy protests in 1986, forcing the Marcoses into exile. Those who survived those years were shocked when Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son and name of the dictator, was elected president in May.

Mr. Marcos won a resounding victory after years of trying to restore his family’s name and, by enticing many supporters of Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, even included the former president’s daughter in the ticket.

Although Mr Marcos has asked not to be judged by his father’s actions and insists that opponents unfairly attacked his family, critics worry that he will continue the culture of unpopularity. sanctions have flourished under his father and Mr. Duterte. The Marcos family has never apologized, although some victims have received compensation from the government.

With the Marcoses returning to the presidential palace, some martial law survivors feared their stories would be lost. Here are nine of them.

Cecilio Bejer, a labor activist, was imprisoned twice during the years of martial law. The first time was in 1972, when he worked as a machine operator at a rubber factory. “All the men 12 and older, were told to come out, no one was spared,” he said. Authorities separate workers with tattoos or long hair from those without. Mr. Bejer said that after searching and questioning the men, they were released.

When the factory closed in the mid-1970s, Mr. Bejer became a full-time activist. In 1980, he was arrested again and sent to prison after the military claimed he had made anti-government posters. The guards accused him of being a protest leader, kicking and beating him. He was then transferred to a facility for political prisoners and held there from July to December 1980. “Was it all a waste?” he say. “I feel that there is no change at all. But I will continue to fight for what is right, while I still have the strength.”

While working on behalf of the residents of Tatalon, an urban poor community outside of Manila, Carmencita Florentino was arrested twice, first in 1977, and then again the following year. “More or less 500 of us go to jail,” Ms. Florentino said. She said some roommates were tortured and sexually abused.

“I fear the Marcoses now they are in power again. Those of us who can testify that Marcos committed the crime are still alive,” she said. She blamed Ferdinand E. Marcos and his regime for her suffering. “If he hadn’t ruined our future, he might have earned our respect,” she said. Ms. Florentino said she now lives in a small house like the cell in which she was once held.

Pedrito Cipriano, a dock worker in the 1970s, was an active union organizer. One of the demonstrations he attended was disrupted by Marcos forces. Mr. Cipriano said he was detained, beaten and tortured before being released a few months later. He is one of many Filipinos who accuse the Marcos family of siphoning billions of dollars from the government when they took power decades ago. “Not only Marcos Jr., but the entire Marcos family benefits from the stolen property,” he said, his voice weak.

Mr. Cipriano remains active in community organizing. Many young people have no memory of martial law, and an older generation of Filipinos fear the Marcos family covered up the brutality of the dictatorship. “What happened before is true,” Mr. Cipriano said. “They can try to change history, but they can’t.”

A shy, quiet but determined grandmother, Silvestra Mendoza is part of a mother-led civic group focused on helping the urban poor. Ms. Mendoza was accused of being a subversive and was detained for weeks in 1977. “I was accused of violating article 1081,” Ms. Mendoza said, referring to the president’s declaration that put the Philippines under dominion. of the army.

In prison, she struggles to maintain her composure because she knows she did nothing wrong. “You shouldn’t be afraid. It was right to defend your country, the Philippines. What else do I have to do? ‘ she said. She now feels that many Filipinos have squandered the fruits of the peaceful, pro-democracy protests that overthrew the Marcos regime. She laughed at Mr. Marcos’ suggestion that The eldest Marcos is innocent. “Were they not with his father when he was kicked out of the country?” she said.

The police officer who arrested Loretta Sipagan was a friend’s husband. Ms. Sipagan was a community organizer in a slum in the 1970s. She said she was fighting for better homes, not lofty ideals like democracy and human rights. . However, she spent two months and 10 days in prison. While incarcerated, she worked to grow her network of activists.

“I was in prison with other political detainees. I don’t know why I’m in jail or why I’m called a subversive. We just have one organization that works for the common good,” she said. She recalls being reunited with the arrested policeman years later. He apologized and said he was just doing his job. She said she held no ill will towards him, and even thanked him for opening her eyes to the reality of martial law.

In his 20s, Romeo Fortez Mendoza was part of a group of young people who often faced police and military forces during protests. He was arrested by the authorities in 1978 when he protested against the regime’s plans to demolish homes.

“Nothing has changed,” he said, referring to the Marcos family’s return to power. “President Marcos may be worse than his father.” The weather activist said one of his daughters is now a police officer. “I told her about martial law, about my suffering,” he said. But he ran into his daughter during a protest, “I’ll just walk away.”

Lydia Sanchez and her husband were arrested by the authorities in 1973. She was released after two days. Her husband, Nicolas, spent five months in prison, where he was regularly beaten. “They banged him on the head until his ears bled, and then they drowned him in the toilet,” she said. “They’re asking him about something he knows nothing about.”

Despite being arrested, this couple has never stopped working on behalf of the poor. They are forced to move from place to place. When the Marcos dictatorship fell in 1986, they were among the first to storm the presidential palace. “I was very happy. We all went there crying,” she said. But now that her son is in power, she is very angry. race,” she said. “I think we’re a hopeless case.”

Pacita Armada was living at her uncle’s house when authorities arrived to make a raid. Her uncle was a unionist, and Armada said she was grabbed by the hair, dragged outside and taken to the police station with about a dozen other people. She was only 16 years old.

“They forced me to say something about my uncle’s activities. I told them I didn’t know anything. They kept hitting me in the head. I cried and cried,” she said. “They told me I would never be freed.” Ms. Armada was detained for four months during which her father died. “I think he died for me,” she said. “He was stressed and had a heart attack and died.”

George Obedosa has Parkinson’s disease. His back is arched, but he attributes his posture to the torture he endured during his incarceration under the Marcos dictatorship. “At least Marcoses can say sorry for what they did,” Mr. Obedosa said of his two years in detention. He was arrested in Central Samar province in 1972, the year martial law was declared in the Philippines.

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