In the eyes of a survivor: Remembering bravery in the face of tyranny

In the eyes of the survivors, Martial Law was no Golden Age of the Philippines.

It was, instead, an era that saw thousands of Filipinos arrested, tortured, and even killed. It was an age when millions of pesos were pocketed by a family and its cronies, buried under the guise of service – millions that have yet to be returned to the Filipino people.

Some who are lucky enough to tell the gruesome stories do so as a cautionary tale, in the hopes that it will not happen again. But they also live to fight for our freedom and for our rights.

In a forum held by the University of the Philippines Education Society (UP EdSoc) entitled In the Eyes of a Survivor: Delving into the Stories of Martial Law Victims last September 18, Martial Law survivors Judy Taguiwalo and Danilo dela Fuente urged the Filipino youth to continue the fight against dictatorship, one which they have long started.

Taguiwalo, the former Department of Social Welfare and Development Secretary, and dela Fuente, a trade union organizer during the Martial Law era, were staunch activists at the height of the Marcos dictatorship.

In 1982, dela Fuente, the current Vice-chairperson of the Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA), was caught along with other activists and brought to Camp Crame. During his imprisonment, dela Fuente was blindfolded for about 79 hours. He was also hit in the abdomen and his head repeatedly bashed into a wall.

He battled against the mental anguish of his fate’s uncertainty. “Mahirap ‘yon, hindi mo alam kung saan ka dadalhin, kung papatayin ka, he said. Eventually, he was brought to a different place where his captors tortured him with Russian Roulette and electrocution.

Despite the constant threats of violence, their will was left unfazed even in prison. “Kahit sa loob ng bilangguan, may ipinaglaban kami,” recalled Taguiwalo, who was imprisoned twice in 1973 and 1984.  During her arrests, she experienced both mental and physical torture from her captors.

Both Taguiwalo and dela Fuente were freed after the 1986 People Power Revolution. “Produkto ang paglaya ko ng samasamang pagkilos ng mamamayan para patalsikin ang diktadurang Marcos,” Taguiwalo said.

Still, in the eyes of the survivors, the fight for justice continues, as history seems to be repeating itself with instances of drug-related killings and disappearances of the youth.

Today, Taguiwalo and dela Fuente continue to fight a similar war against historical revisionism and the cyclical events of history that have doomed the Filipino people.

According to the Human Rights Watch, the government’s War on Drugs has claimed the lives of at least 12,000 Filipinos since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.

“Under the Duterte administration, nagpatuloy pa rin ang enforced disappearances Hindi lang sa mga aktibista. Yung mga victims of what we call yung mga War on Drugs, ganito na yung nangyayari, said Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights. “Noong una pinapatay sila diretso, sa ngayon may shift. Dinudukot sila, next thing hindi na natin alam kung ano na ang nangyari sa kanila.”

The disquieting return of the Marcoses in politics is presumed to be the biggest threat against their crimes long embedded in history. Imee Marcos, the daughter of the late dictator is the current governor of Ilocos Norte. In 2016, Ferdinand ‘BongBong’ Marcos Jr. ran for and almost won no less than the second highest position in the government.

“I think ang major na problema yung panumbalik ng mga Marcoses sa kapangyarihan, sa lipunan it is the return of Martial Law forms of oppression and suppression. It is also the rise of corruption and plunder,” Taguiwalo said.

UP EdSoc President Psalm Guevarra said the goal of the forum was to challenge the notion that teachers must be unbiased in teaching their students about the Martial Law Era.

Dapat meron talaga itong kinikilingan which is towards doon sa ating masang api,” he said. “Kapag yung education ay neutral, implicitly ka nang pumapanig doon sa nangaapi dahil wala kang say doon sa nagaganap na oppression.”

Taguiwalo admits that under the current administration, Filipinos live in frightening times that make fighting against injustice difficult; however, she also believes if being afraid means staying complacent in the face of rampant killings of the youth and Indigenous Peoples, then it is just as good as surrendering to tyranny.

Maraming kabataan, maraming mamamayan ang namatay, pinaslang na wala sa panahon ng Batas Militar para mawakasan lamang ang diktadura,” she said. “Wag nating sayangin ang kanilang sakripisyo. Tayo na nakita ang liwanag, wag natin hayaan na ipabalik ang kadiliman bunga ng batas militar. Tutulan, labanan natin ang diktadura at tiraniya.”

Though people’s memories have proven to be vulnerable to the lies of those who wish to rid themselves of grave crimes, in the eyes of the survivors, there is still more to be done. True justice will not be served until the perpetrators have paid the price for their actions.

Survivors continue to revisit memories, albeit grim, in remembrance of their fallen friends who struggled against tyranny. Taguiwalo and dela Fuente, who reopen wounds as they tell stories, hope that whatever still bleeds will someday heal through the undying collective effort towards justice.

In the eyes of the survivors, Filipinos must remember not only the ache but also the courage to fight for today so that Martial Law will never again have a place in the Filipino society. “Bilang mga human rights defenders, hindi dapat tumigil hanggang ngayon, hindi pa naparusahan ang may kagagawan,” dela Fuente said.

Makibaka tayo, huwag matakot.” added Taguiwalo. Sabi nga ng isa pa, makibaka tayo kahit natatakot.”


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