"My heart tells me not to be a masochist by sharing the harrowing and painful experience of my family during Martial Law. But my mind asserts that I should speak out and disseminate the truth for silence kills. It kills the truth. It kills freedom of expression. It kills the right to dissent. It kills democracy.
Many were forced to keep quiet by the might and terror of Martial Law. But not a few refused to be cowed into submission and be muzzled, notwithstanding the threat to their life, liberty and security.
My two younger brothers, Hermon and Filemon or Ka Popoy, whose minds were both molded in UP Diliman, were among these courageous dissenters and resistance leaders.
My personal narrative on Martial Law is inevitably interwoven with the collective experience and shared oppression of the Filipino people under the various Martial Law executive edicts, policies and practices.
I learned about the declaration of Martial Law before it was publicly announced from Hermon who also said that Popoy, who was already with the underground movement, was safe. Ka Popoy was a UP student when he dropped out to join the forces against the dictator Marcos. He survived the darkest years of Martial Law when he escaped from incarceration, and continued his crusade for the Filipino workingman. He was assassinated by unknown hired killers at the steps of the UP Bahay ng Alumni on February 6, 2001, or 19 years ago.
On September 22, 1972, the day following his signing of Proclamation No. 1081 putting the entire country under Martial Law, Marcos issued General Order No. 5. It prohibited “… rallies, demonstrations, picketing or strikes in certain vital industries, and other forms of group actions …” The Order warned that “… any person violating this Order shall forthwith be arrested and taken into custody and held for the duration of the national emergency or until he or she is otherwise ordered released by me (Marcos) or by my designated representative.”
This inordinately suppressive edict that sought to keep “all inhabitants” submissive robots was defied in no time by militant trade unionists who struck one after the other and later simultaneously in sympathy strikes.
These protest actions were staged by workers at the Gelmart Industrial Philippines, Inc; the Navotas Fish Landing and Market Authority; La Tondeña Distillery, Inc.; Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co.; and Solid Mills, among others.
All these unions had my brother Hermon as their counsel. We were collaborating counsel in the case of the batilyos or fish haulers in Navotas. As their counsel, Mon, as we fondly called him, was no ordinary lawyer. He rendered legal service pro bono. He even paid for the transcript of his client-workers’ testimonies in labor tribunals.
It was in his law firm, hardly three months into Martial Law, that on December 12, 1972 he was taken into custody by elements of the Philippine Constabulary. After undergoing tactical interrogation at Camp Aguinaldo, he was transferred to Fort Bonifacio where he was detained for two months. He was released without charges.
Mon’s detention was typical of many deprivations of liberty during Martial Law – indefinite detention without formal charges. His jailers, however, dismally failed to subdue his militancy. In the words of my sister, Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, “Mon’s courage to resist repression intensified after detention, and his passion to serve the masses was inflamed by incarceration.”
Mon’s incessant advocacy for workers’ empowerment was suddenly halted on May 11, 1977. That day, he and Victor Reyes, a labor organizer, were to attend a lawyers’ meeting in Pasay City. They did not make it to the meeting. They were abducted and forcibly disappeared between Bago Bantay, Quezon City and Pasay City.
Our family learned about Mon’s disappearance three days later. An informant told us that he was seized together with Reyes by military elements. My mother, father and I immediately searched for him daily in various military camps and police stations. He was nowhere to be found. As expected, no one in the military and police establishments admitted his abduction and detention.
My mother was a very courageous and resilient woman. But she would cringe and I could feel her anxiety heighten in every denial of Mon’s captivity. When we returned home, weary and exhausted from our failed search, she could not sleep. She could not tame or restrain her boundless imagination that would take her to torture chambers, to cruel, inhuman and degrading inquisitions, where Hermon was a hapless but defiant victim.
Months turned into years of agonizing search, unanswered questions, endless waiting, and arduous striving for justice.
We are only one of the tens of thousands of families who are still endlessly waiting for justice. For many Filipinos, Martial Law was not only a bad dream, it is a continuing nightmare.
We should not forget the tragedy of martial law. We should not forgive the perpetrators and beneficiaries of Martial Law. National amnesia must be purged as an abhorrent malaise. Never again!"