The kleptocrat Ferdinand Marcos was in power for seven years when he declared martial law in 1972, marking the beginning of a terrible decade of military rule that not only ruined the Philippine economy, but also subjected its people to horrific abuses. According to many historians, the Marcos regime saw:
- 3,257 known extrajudicial killings
- 35,000 documented tortures
- 77 “disappeared”
- 70,000 incarcerations
Some of the people who suffered and died under the Marcos regime were young people, many still students who never made it to their 30s. On the anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolution, let us look back at just some of these young martyrs whose lives were tragically cut short under the Marcos regime.
On August 31, 1977, 21-year-old Archimedes Trajano — a student at Mapua Institute of Technology — attended an open forum held at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, where Imee Marcos — then also 21 (despite her claims “ang liit-liit ko pa noon” — was the speaker. There, Trajano questioned the selection of Imee Marcos as the director of the Kabataang Barangay (National Youth Council).
“Must the Kabataang Barangay be headed by the president’s daughter?” he had asked. “She would not have gotten the position if she weren’t the daughter of the president.”
This irritated Imee Marcos, who had him thrown out of the open forum. He was later taken away, blindfolded, then beaten by her bodyguards. His body was found a few days later on September 2, 1977, showing signs of beating and torture.
“He was covered in a white sheet, lying on a table,” said his mother Agapita Trajano. “And when I opened the sheet… I saw him black and blue.”
— Padre Damaso (@akosiDamaso) May 12, 2016
Because media outlets were completely controlled by the government, his death was not reported in the newspapers, save for Bulletin Today, which wrote him off as a victim of fraternity hazings.
On March 20, 1986 — 9 years after Archimedes’ death and after the Marcoses were ousted — his mother filed a lawsuit against Imee Marcos and Fabian Ver (who was Chief of the AFP) in Hawaii. In court, Imee admitted that she knew about Trajano’s fate but claimed that it was “none of [her] business”. The Hawaiian court ruled in Trajano’s favor, awarding damages of $4.16 million and attorneys’ fees. However, the Trajano family was not able to receive the payment from Marcos because the Philippine Supreme Court barred the decision.
Luis Manuel “Boyet” Mijares
Primitivo Mijares was Marcos’ aide and chief propagandist, but in 1975, after a quarrel with Imelda’s brother Benjamin, he defected from the administration and testified against the Marcos regime’s systematic and widespread torture practices in front of US lawmakers. This attracted international criticism and caused tensions between the United States and the Philippines. In 1976, Mijares published The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, exposing the regime’s brutalities. He disappeared shortly after the publication of his book.
Later, his 16-year-old son Boyet was called and informed that his father was still alive. Believing this, he left home to reunite with his father, and was never seen alive again. His body was found in the mountains of Antipolo showing signs of brutal torture — his fingernails had all been removed and his body was mutilated with thirty-three ice pick wounds. His head was bashed and his feet and genitals were mangled.
Police investigations — led by Panfilo Lacson — found that Boyet was a victim of hazing, even though he was still in high school. The accused fraternity members were sentenced to death. Two escaped from prison, while the third died of a heart attack while in detention.
Maria Lorena Barros
Maria Lorena Barros was a University of the Philippines graduate and a UP Writers Club officer. An accomplished poet, her works were published in magazines and the Philippine Collegian, UP’s official student publication. As political tensions rose, she joined the Samahan ng Demokratikong Kabataan (SDK) and became a prominent figure of the First Quarter Storm and the Diliman Commune. In April 1970, she became the founding chair of the Makibaka women’s organization, which would later evolve to become Gabriela.
She later joined the New People’s Army, and in 1973, she — then pregnant — was captured by the military and was tortured. This ordeal caused her to have a miscarriage. Two years later, on November 1, 1975, she was able to escape, and resumed revolutionary activities in the mountains of Quezon province.
However, in 1976, her hut was discovered. She tried to fight back but her gun jammed after she fired three times. Though badly wounded, she ran away to a deep ravine, but the military was able to follow her. Some accounts say that a soldier fired her on the nape, while other accounts say that she died en route to the camp on a military stretcher. She was 28.
Her corpse was subjected to lewd comments from the soldiers, and a movie crew took pictures beside her body. To claim her body, her family had to raise a large sum, so her friends from Makibaka helped raise the funds.
Today, she is seen as a symbol of the women’s movement, and has inspired poems, songs, and plays.
Liliosa Hilao was a student of Communication Arts in the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. A consistent honors student, she was the student president of the communication arts department and an editor of her university’s paper Hasik, and was active in many other student organizations.
Because of her poor health, she never took part in student protests. However, she made her stance on martial law clear through her writing for the student paper. On April 4, 1973, members of the Philippine Constabulary broke into the Hilao home, claiming to be from the Philippine Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU). No warrant or search order was presented. When they arrived, Liliosa was not home. When she arrived in the evening, she was repeatedly beaten by Lt. Arturo Castillo, who was the team leader of the party. Her family could not intervene. The next morning, she was handcuffed and taken away to Camp Crame.
Three days after Liliosa’s arrest, her sister Alice received a phone call informing that Liliosa was in critical condition. Liliosa was found in the emergency room of Camp Crame Station Hospital, her face disfigured, and her body bruised. There were several needle punctures on her left arm, as well as “an opening at her throat.” No medical staff was attending to her, and the medical equipment used on her didn’t seem to be functioning. After seeing Liliosa for a few minutes, Alice was taken away to the CANU office. Later, she was informed that Liliosa had died.
The necropsy report by the CANU crime lab listed cardio-respiratory arrest as the cause of her death. According to authorities, she had drunk muriatic acid to kill herself. The Philippine Constabulary gave Liliosa’s family P2,200 for her burial. To this day, the family has refused to spend the money.
Liliosa is now remembered as the first woman and first detainee murdered during Martial Law. Before her death, Liliosa was running for cum laude honors. She was awarded cum laude honors posthumously, and a seat was left vacant in her honor during the graduation ceremonies.
Resteta Fernandez was the daughter of a carpenter who had to give up college to help support her family. For a time, she worked at a department store as a saleslady, and also did some clerical work at the headquarters of the Philippine Constabulary in Camp Crame. Then, she found work as a social worker with the Protestant Pastoral Institute, a job that took her the slums of Cavite and Tondo.
Resteta’s brother Jose introduced her to activism when she was just a sophomore at Ramon Magsaysay High School. After the declaration of martial law, she went to Isabela to become a youth organizer.
In 1980, Resteta was arrested for rebellion and subversion, and she spent two years in jail. After her release, she resumed her political work in the Cordillera region. On August 24, 1985, she was killed in a raid in Bakun, Benguet, together with Catholic priest Nilo Valerio and guerrilla Soledad Salvador. Witnesses say that the three were decapitated, their heads paraded around several barrios before being thrown into a single grave. Their families were never able to recover their remains.
Noel Cerrudo Tierra
Noel Tierra was a typical teenager who came from a well-off family. But while studying at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, his eyes were opened to social injustices, and he knew that he had to do something about it. He joined the Nationalist Corps and Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, and soon, he was joining and organizing protests, traveling to far-flung communities to engage the community.
Soon, he dropped out of college to become a full-time activist. Shortly after the declaration of martial law, Noel was arrested in Quezon and detained at Camp Vicente Lim in Laguna. Later in January 1974, he was arrested again and was heavily tortured. For two weeks, he was paraded around several barrios with his hands tied to a pole, lugging a sack of rice. However, Noel refused to give any information to his captors, and soon, he was shot dead at the constabulary camp in Bagong Silang II, Guinayangan. His body was thrown in a basketball court in the town center, where his parents recovered his body. He was 21 years old.
William Vincent “Bill” Begg
Born to an American father and Filipino mother in the Bicol region, William “Bill” Begg gave up his American citizenship when he turned 21, saying that the Philippines as his country. An excellent student, he graduated the salutatorian of his high school class. Intending to become a priest, he entered the seminary in Ateneo. In his junior year, he began working with depressed communities in the nearby Barangka, Marikina. Working with the poor caused his political views to become increasingly militant, and he was forced by school authorities to leave the university and seminary.
He was arrested twice: first in 1971 for putting up posters in Marikina, and then again in 1972. He was released in April 1973, and he went back to school, taking up history at the University of the Philippines. However, he did not stay long. In September 1974, he went underground in the countryside.
As a rebel guerrilla, he was teaching himself medicine through a medical encyclopedia he had asked his parents to send over. He was learning acupuncture and starting a clinic for a poor community. In March 1975, Bill had gone with a team of guerrillas to meet a doctor in Isabela when they were ambushed by a military battalion. Four of his comrades were killed, while he was hit in the leg. He told the others to leave him behind, and he was captured alive.
When his body was recovered, it bore marks of severe torture. Many of his fingers were broken, and his rib cage was shattered. He had 17 stab wounds and 11 bullet wounds. To commemorate his sacrifice, his family engraved these words on his epitaph: “He laid down his life for his friends.”
Emmanuel Lacaba was an award-winning poet, fictionist, essayist, and playwright. He was also a brilliant magazine illustrator, stage actor, and production hand. He became more politically aware during the First Quarter Storm of 1970, when he began participating in rallies. Soon, he was arrested and detained due to his participation in a labor strike, which caused him to lose his job as a teacher at the University of the Philippines.
In 1974, he joined the New People’s Army (NPA) in South Cotabato. In March 1976, an informer led soldiers to the hut where he and his comrades were staying. With no warning, the soldiers opened fire. Two guerrillas were killed immediately, but Eman and a pregnant teenager survived, though both were wounded.
They were then executed. The young lady was first shot dead. Then, Lacaba was killed by the informer, who put a .45-caliber pistol into his mouth and fired. He was also shot in the chest. He was tied at the ankles and dragged like a pig to a common grave. His mother claimed her body later. He was 27.