CHICAGO — During the martial-law regime in the Philippines, the people in Cavite were allowed to vote but were not allowed to watch the canvassing of the ballots, Sally Richmond recalled during a candle-light vigil held here as part of the Memorial Service and Forum that marked the observance of the 45th anniversary of the declaration martial law in the Philippines in 1972.
The memorial event, which was sponsored by a new group called Filipino American Human Rights Alliance (FAHRA-Chicago), was held last Thursday (Sept. 21) in the Hana Center at 4300 N. California Ave., Chicago, Illinois.
Jerry B. Clarito, who was then a college student at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila), recalled that at that time his family was dirt poor and watching his neighbor eating adobo and other expensive food that they could not afford.
This reporter remembered that when he was commuting to work at the Pilipino/Daily Star in Port Area, Manila on the day martial law was proclaimed, the atmosphere was peculiarly very quiet like that of Good Friday.
Marlon L. Pecson was already in high school when he realized the existence of martial law a few months after Senator Ninoy Aquino was assassinated. The assassination, Pecson said, eventually led to the dismantling of the martial law regime.
Juanita Salvador Burris was teaching at the Far Eastern University some four years before the imposition of martial law. She said she had noticed that at that time there were already mass actions, including explosions of Molotov cocktails in the University Belt, particularly on the campus of the government-run Philippine College of Commerce.
These were recollections of some of the events that happened during the period of martial law which was proclaimed by President Marcos on Sept. 21 1972.
Clarito, convenor of FAHRA-Chicago, said he did not know about human rights and freedom of assembly and other freedoms until he attended rallies, where he learned why Filipinos are very poor.
He said that as then host to two huge U.S. military bases, the Philippines used those bases to protect the interests of Americans living and doing business in the Philippines.
Clarito said, “Most Filipinos didn’t appreciate their human rights nor demand that the government provide them access to health and mental care services. The military during martial law was rounding up activists in urban communities while protecting rich people and government employees.
“I was a victim of Arrest, Seizure and Search Order (ASSO) issued by then Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile. Our house was raided but I escaped. But my friends were not as lucky.”
Clarito, now a senior citizen, said activists Popoy Lagman, Rellosa Hilao and the Arceo brothers, who were his classmates, were tortured and killed by the martial-law authorities. Hilao’s private parts were soaked in muriatic acid and her brains were placed in her stomach. The Arceo brothers joined the rebel forces and fought the martial regime instead of continuing their studies.
So that the “reign of terror” will not happen again, Clarito urged millennials to educate themselves of the horrors of martial law by visiting “The Digital Museum of Martial Law in the Philippines (http://martiallaw.ph/) where “you can see the period of 14 years, the values that we learned. You can see how Filipinos were killing Filipinos. Why Filipinos were resisting violation of human rights. Why it took us more than 300 years to defy the Spaniards.”
The website “will give you access of what is happening to the whole nation, grassroots history, so there will be no repeat of the atrocities of Marcos to the community, historical depth of Philippine history and the coming together even if the Philippines is 10,000 miles away from us.”
The forum participants in the memorial service remembered their relatives and friends who died during martial law as they lighted candles light. The others said “present” to indicate that the souls of the victims were there during the vigil.
Among the heroes remembered were Edgar Jopson, Bobby de la Paz, Macling Dulag and Senator Ninoy Aquino.
This reporter honored the memory of reporter Tim Olivarez of Tempo, who disappeared on Feb. 4, 1985. Olivarez told this reporter on the eve of his disappearance that Major Roberto “Bobby” Ortega called up theManila Bulletin and was looking for him because Jose “Don Pepe” Oyson was upset over Olivarez’s expose of Oyson’s smuggling activities in Tempo, sister publication of the Manila Bulletin.
Olivarez told this reporter that Ortega and members of the PC Metrocom Strike Force were protecting the smuggling activities of Don Pepe.
Salvador-Burris recalled that even prior to martial law between 1968 and 1969 while she was teaching at the Far Eastern University, the University Belt was the hotbed of student activism.
She remembered that the explosions of Molotov cocktails were rocking the area, particularly the campus of the nearby state-run Philippine College of Commerce. “When you have a strong love for your country, you were branded communist,” she said.