Paredes, Barcenas: Surviving martial law

·6 min read

ON SEPTEMBER 23, 1972, a young Meinrado Paredes and Democrito Barcenas were both thrown into jail two days after then president Ferdinand E. Marcos declared martial law.

The year before, Marcos had suspended the writ of habeas corpus, allowing authorities to arrest anyone without due process, after the bombing of Plaza Miranda, which he blamed on the communist party.

Paredes was picked up by seven members of the military in his apartment on Lopez Jaena Street in Cebu City. He was reviewing for the bar.

Paredes was the second person to be taken into custody and brought to the Camp Sergio Osmeña, now the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas headquarters. The first was a 19-year-old woman who came from a prominent family.

"Wa gyud mi kasabot nganong gidakop mi. Tungod lage kay aktibista mi kontra ming Marcos. Mao ra gyud toy nahunahunaan namo. Sakop ko kaniadto sa Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan," said the retired executive judge.

(We didn’t understand why we were arrested. It must have been because we were activists against the Marcos administration. It was the only reason we could think of. I used to be a member of the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan.)

At 4 p.m. later that day, it was the turn of Barcenas, then a young lawyer, to be picked up by the military. He was brought to the camp around 5:30 p.m.

"Nagtuo sila nga molaban ko nila kay pirmi man ko mangabogar sa mga aktibista. So nadismaya sila kay pagkakita nila nako nag-finger printing man sab ko. Pareha diay ko nila dinakpan," said the human rights lawyer and former vice mayor of then Carcar town, Cebu.

(The others who were arrested earlier thought I was there to help them because I always assisted activists only to be dismayed when they saw me being fingerprinted. I turned out to be under arrest like them.)

This was confirmed by Paredes, who said that in the first week of martial law alone, 127 individuals in Cebu were arrested without any charges.

“Pagkahapon naabot man si Attorney Barcenas. Mao tong lipay na kayo. Namakpak mi kay naa nami abogado. Ay, sus, pagsunod nagpiano (fingerprinting) man sad,” Paredes recalled with a smile.

(Attorney Barcenas arrived in the afternoon. We were all very happy. We clapped because we thought our lawyer had arrived. Then we saw that he was being fingerprinted.)

Barcenas was detained for 90 days. During this period, his wife Lourdes, who was then eight months pregnant, traveled 80 kilometers back and forth every day to visit him. She was only given five minutes to talk to him.

"Na-release ko after 90 days but conditional. Dili ko makaadto sa laing probinsya kon di ko mananghid sa military ug way interbyu sa media. Wala’y physical torture apan adunay psychological torture. Sigehan mi og hulga nga dad-on mi sa Corregidor." Dugang ni Barcenas.

(I was released after 90 days, but it was conditional. I needed to ask for permission from the military if I wanted to go to another province and I couldn’t give an interview to the media. I wasn’t physically tortured but I suffered psychological torture. They kept on threatening to ship us to Corregidor.)

Paredes spent one year behind bars, three of which were at Camp Sergio Osmeña. The remaining months he was jailed at Camp Lapu-Lapu in Barangay Apas, Cebu City, which is now the Armed Forces of the Philippines Visayas Command headquarters.

"About sa torture, ako nakadungog lang ko kay daghan man kaayo ang estorya ba. Credible man sad nga naa’y torture but ako I have not personally witnessed nga naa gyu’y torture. Sa bag-o pa ang martial law, di man to bangis ang mga PC (Philippine Constabulary). Kadtong nadugay na kay naabuso na sila," he said.

(As for torture, there were so many stories. There were credible cases, but I personally didn’t witness anyone getting tortured. In the beginning of martial law, members of PC were highly disciplined. Some of them became abusive much later.)

When Republic Act (RA) 10368, also known as the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, was passed, Barcenas received closed to P1 million from the Philippine government, while Paredes received a higher amount.

RA 10368 was considered unprecedented legislation not only in the Philippines, but in Asia, with the Philippine Government “acknowledging its legal and moral obligation for the gross human rights violations committed by the regime of Marcos.”

“Even if they gave me P20 million, it could not pay for what I went through. They took away my liberty. They harassed me. My wife was forced to travel 80 kilometers back and forth every day. We endured so much hardship and no money during that period,” Barcenas said in Cebuano.

"For me, the money was not important. What is important are the historical facts that there was a dictatorship, that human rights were violated and, in my case, I was detained without being charged,” Paredes said in Cebuano.

Half a century after their harrowing ordeal, Marcos’ son, Ferdinand “Bonbong” Marcos Jr., is back in Malacañang, 36 years after the Marcos family was forced into exile by the People Power Revolution in 1986.

Barcenas considered Filipinos who voted the younger Marcos into power in the last presidential election as a “laughing stock.”

The two men believed that the Marcos family used their ill-gotten wealth during the election to hire trolls, or “persons who intentionally try to instigate conflict, hostility or arguments in an online social community,” to spread fake news to dupe the public.

"Assuming nga siya maoy nidaog kay daghan kaayo ni sila og stolen wealth, unlimited ni ilang gasto magsuhol og mga trolls, magsuhol og mga propagandist nga bakakon. Kami ‘tawon wala man mi kwarta. Di mi kasuhol og trolls ug bakakon," Barcenas said.

(Assuming Marcos Jr. won because of their stolen wealth. Their camp had unlimited money to pay trolls and propagandists who were liars. As for us, we didn’t have money. We couldn’t afford trolls and liars.)

"Apan wa gyud ko makauyon sa iyang presidency kay gigamit man niya ug gi-revise ang history. Natural anak siya. Manalipod gyud sa amahan. Kining regime karon sa tanang regime sa kasaysayan mao ni pinakagrabe kaning fake news, bah. Kon i-describe nimo ang regime, this is a regime of lies, deceit and fake news. Grabe kaayo ang mga trolls," Paredes said.

(I don’t approve of the young Marcos’ presidency because he is using it to revise history. It’s only natural for a son to defend his father. This regime, out of all the other regimes in our history, rely on fake news. If you describe this regime, this is a regime of lies, deceit and fake news. The trolls are too much.)