Marcos regime victims relive pain
Dahlia Arnan was only nine years old when soldiers beat up and killed her father, and later let a tank crush his body in the hinterland village of Lutay in Malungon, Sarangani province, in 1985 at the tail-end of the dictatorial rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
“They were not satisfied,” she said. “They burned our house.”
Now 39 and married, Dahlia recalled her tale of atrocity near a row of garbage bins in front of Almendras Gym in Davao City, where a group of martial law survivors was resting under a tree.
She joined a group that left the Upper Talas village in Sulop town, Davao del Sur province, at dawn on Aug. 4 to catch the Davao City leg of the processing of claims and compensation of martial law victims like her.
The human rights board is tasked with processing documents of martial law claimants in southern Mindanao, like Dahlia, but two or three days later, she was still in the queue, waiting for her name to be called.
Dahlia continued her story:
Earlier that day in her village in 1985, soldiers and guerrillas of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) clashed in front of her house. Her father, who had been collecting coconut sap several meters from their house, rushed home.
The soldiers quickly picked up her father, accusing him of being an NPA member. He was struck with rifle butts and made to admit that he was a guerrilla.
“They beat him,” Dahlia said. “Afterwards, they made him run. It was when he was running that they shot him.”
A long pause broke her narration. Then she said the soldiers ran a tank over her father’s body and burned their house.
Her mother rushed into the raging fire to collect important documents, like birth certificates. With their house reduced to embers, the family was left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“We had to bury him without a coffin,” Dahlia said of her father.
“We were in a rush because we had to get away as fast as we could. So, that’s about what I can remember every time I think of my father,” she said, “That soldiers beat and killed him and they were not satisfied.”
Martial law survivors came in droves to the gym, bringing with them stories of torture and beatings and memories of loved ones killed during the Marcos dictatorship.
Poet-activist Don Pagusara described the intent of Republic Act No. 10368 for the reparation and recognition of victims of martial law as something good. “This is not really thorough justice, but at least, they (victims) are recognized,” he said.
But instead of getting justice for what they had endured, they were made to endure a different type of torture—the agony of waiting under the sun amid hunger and exhaustion.
“We feel like evacuees in this huge evacuation center they created,” said Fe Navidad, who traveled all the way from Digos City. “At least in evacuation centers, they have emergency assistance, but here, we can’t even go out to eat for fear that our names will be called while we’re not here.”
The absence of a system to process claims was glaring at Almendras Gym.
“Most of the claimants are senior citizens and people with disability,” Navidad said. “They’re made to sit here like internally displaced persons.”
Among those who went home on the third day with a smile on his face, Catalino Cantaluna, 50, from Panacan, Davao City, proudly showed his approved claim stub, officially declaring him a legitimate martial law victim entitled to compensation.
Yet, his face turned sad and full of regret when he recalled an entire lifetime almost gone to waste after Marines picked him up inside a jeepney on Feb. 4, 1984, and tagged him as a member of the NPA.
The soldiers set up a checkpoint on a road, stopped Cantaluna’s jeepney as it was passing through, and ordered him out.
When he hesitated, the soldiers struck him with a blunt object. He was forced out of the vehicle, causing him to fall on the road. As he lay there, the soldiers beat him up, tied him, and hauled him to an Army detachment.
“They tied up my legs and hung me for four hours, beat me with an M-14 rifle and, for two days, deprived me of food,” he said.
“I collapsed because of pain, thirst and hunger.” Later, he was moved to the Marine headquarters where he was detained in a room so small that he and four other detainees who shared it had to sleep sitting up and had to urinate on the floor.
He said lawyer Diosdado Mahipus, who became a city councilor, and former human rights lawyer and Speaker Prospero Nograles helped in his release on April 6, 1984.
Before he was detained, he said, he was full of hope. “I was planning to study at the University of Mindanao. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer,” he said.
But after he was released, he drifted away and flitted from one job to another, abandoning his dreams.
Fe Salino, secretary general of political detainees’ group Selda, said the waiting was made more agonizing by the absence of any explanation why the line was not moving or when it would.
On the third day, Salino demanded to see the list to make sure it was the same one they filed on the first day. Instead of helping, the Commission on Human Rights staff threatened to file a case against them, she said.
Most of the survivors—former political activists—described the treatment as humiliating, a torture after all the torture they went through under Marcos.
“After we survived a massacre, we are massacred again,” Navidad said. But they decided to go through the process to register their stand against the dictatorship and put it on paper.
Pagusara said it was possible for one to suffer grave injustice during martial law and die without even seeing justice.
“So many people who were killed and who suffered different forms of abuses in far-flung places remained unaccounted for,” he said, “You can’t estimate their number. In the countryside, where people have no way of airing their side, many don’t even know what’s going on,” he said.
“Others failed to comply with the required paperwork or did not have the capacity to prepare the documents,” Pagusara added.
After they buried her father, Dahlia recalled running away with her mother, her aging grandmother, her four other siblings in tow, including the youngest, the 3-month-old baby in her mother’s arms.
Her mother, shaken by the turn of events, had refused to go out of the house where they took refuge, and only sent her out to claim food rations being given by priests.
Dahlia said she and her siblings never recovered from the pain through the years. Her father’s name was on the list of claimants who won the case in a Hawaii court, but they were unable to claim the compensation because her aunt had claimed it for herself.
This time, Dahlia said, she was in the queue for her father’s sake.
Along with 200 other claimants from Davao del Sur and surrounding areas, she had to sleep on the pavement of Almendras Gym for two nights just to process her claim. They all slept without blankets or mats, just like evacuees. In the morning, they waited once more for their names to be called.
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