By Joshua Villalobos
The Humanist Alliance Philippines, International – Bacolod Chapter co-organized an online event with the USLS Political Science Society featuring victims of torture during Martial Law last February 22, three days before the anniversary of the historic, bloodless EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986.
Martial Law torture survivors Mr. Ted Lopez, Ms. Vilma Riopay, and Atty. Neri Colmenares were the event’s main speakers.
Edwin “Ted” Lopez, now the Executive Director of Negros Occidental-based non-government organization Alter Trade Foundation Inc., vividly recalled the torture he experienced under the Philippine Constabulary just because he called himself “Ted” and not Edwin. For over 30 days, he was beaten and electrocuted by the military, who only stopped when they found out that a writ of habeas corpus filed by his friends and family had already made it to court.
Lopez also mentioned the “challenges” that former President Ferdinand Marcos used to justify the imposition of Martial Law: he mentioned the “fake ambush” of former Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, the uprising of the people due to poverty, lack of jobs, high tuition fees, and the communist insurgency as particular alibis.
Vilma Riopay remembered that she was only 21 when armed men from the government requested all of them in her household to go out and identify themselves. When she told them her name, the members of the military said “ikaw man lang gali” (“It was just you after all.”)
When she was seized by the military, they brought her not to their headquarters but to a “military safehouse” where she was interrogated topless. “Mayo lang gid ara to akon menstruation, kay kun wala, gin-rape gid ko nila tani,” she said. (“I was lucky that I had my menstruation days when they captured me because if not, I could have been raped.”) Riopay recalled that after three days, she was transferred to Cebu, where she was put in solitary confinement. She said she got “disoriented” during that time.
After persistent lobbying and dialogue by her parents and the religious sector, the military released Riopay, who was already shaken, couldn’t speak, and couldn’t even wear her slippers properly. The psychiatrist who looked after her said that if she was brought to the hospital later, she would not have been able to recover from the mental and emotional impacts of the torture.
Atty. Neri Colmenares, a multi-awarded human rights lawyer from Negros Occidental, said he was 18 when he was seized and detained by the military.
“The physical torture has a threshold, but the mental torture is limitless,” said the former representative. During his detainment, he was asked by a drunk military man to do a Russian roulette for a few nights.
Russian roulette was one of the torture methods used by members of the military during martial law. In it, the revolver is loaded with one bullet, spun, and the trigger is pulled while the holder points the barrel at himself. For 18-year-old Neri, he was particularly asked to insert the revolver in his mouth and to pull the trigger to know if he was lucky that night.
When Colminares’ beating got too much, one of the military men asked the local warden if Colminares could be brought to the hospital since his death would be held against them. When the warden agreed, the military put Neri’s almost lifeless body on the back of a truck and went to his parents to ask for money to pay the hospital.
“We need to listen and remember the stories of victims of Martial Law,” HAPI Bacolod Lead Convenor Luigi Espeja said. He also added that HAPI stands with the victims of human rights violations from past to present, consistent with one of the organization’s pillars which is human rights.
“The shadow and doubts casted by Martial Law continue to challenge us up to this date. The only weapon we have is through research, listening to the stories of people who experienced it, and learning from the mistakes of that era,” Espeja concluded.