Inside Marcos’ prisons

  • Reading time:10 mins read

First of Two Parts

I bet given that title, you’d be expecting a tale of horrors inside the dictator Marcos’ prisons. I rest my case: The Yellow Cult has been extremely successful in painting a one-sided picture of the Marcos era.

An objective assessment is much, much more complicated than the good versus evil narrative of the Yellow Cult that overthrew Marcos. That is unfortunate for us, as a nation has to have an accurate picture of its past. Marcos’ wife, Imelda, and his children, have long abandoned efforts to counter the Yellow Cult’s narratives.

These have even been given new impetus recently because of Bongbong Marcos’ bid for the vice presidency this past May and President Duterte’s order to allow the strongman’s burial at the official government cemetery, misnamed “Libingan ng mga Bayani.” The Ilocano trait of parsimoniousness must have gotten the better of them.

The Marcos family’s near silence to defend the strongman — “Let history judge my father,” was all Bongbong could say — is in contrast to the strongman’s aggressiveness in addressing accusations against martial law,  even several books to defend his regime in detail.

 Marcos, political detainees after a jog, with the two ladies as visitors:  Three of these were members of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee, its highest commanding body, who were released after at least two years.  In the photo is one who is now a ranking executive of PLDT-Smart, another a top Singapore-based executive of the French news agency, Agence France Presse; and another a top negotiator for the Communist Party in the peace talks with the government. Several of them now live comfortable, middle-class lives in North America and Europe.
Marcos, political detainees after a jog, with the two ladies as visitors:  Three of these were members of the Communist Party’s Executive Committee, its highest commanding body, who were released after at least two years.  In the photo is one who is now a ranking executive of PLDT-Smart, another a top Singapore-based executive of the French news agency, Agence France Presse; and another a top negotiator for the Communist Party in the peace talks with the government. Several of them now live comfortable, middle-class lives in North America and Europe.

For instance, in Marcos’ Five Years of the New Society (published in May 1978), obviously to debunk claims of military abuses,  the strongman stated that that 2,083 members of the AFP had been “dismissed and penalized for various abuses, including torture and ill-treatment of detainees and 322 had been sentenced to disciplinary punishment.” General Espino as well as Jose Crisol, Deputy Defense Secretary in charge of civilian relations had also reported that 2,500 to 2,900 military personnel were discharged as a result of complaints by detainees. In a speech marking the lifting of martial law in January 1981, Marcos claimed that more than 8,800 officers and men had been dismissed from the AFP during the period of martial law, because of human-rights accusations against them.

While obviously self-serving assertions,  no Yellow narrative has ever reported these claims by Marcos and his officials, and to this day, these figures have not been disputed.

Rabid anti-Marcos writers have also routinely claim that during the regime,  50,000 Filipinos were detained. This is a half-truth as while this many probably would have been detained in the first few months of martial law. However, reports, even by the Amnesty International that has been critical of martial law,  point out that many of those detained in these first months were released a few months after,  that by 1980, there only 1,913 political prisoners, and by 1981 – to prove that martial law was indeed lifted — only 243.

I believe that there was indeed a drastic reduction of political prisoners after martial rule was stabilized,  since in December 1974, I was among probably a thousand out of the 1500 detainees released from Marcos prison euphemistically called Ipil Rehabilitation Center, which was the biggest in the country, in the “spirit of Christmas”, Marcos had declared.   Many of those released returned to the underground, even becoming top communist leaders and NPA commanders.

Enrile and Ramos’ silence

Sadly, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, who was officially the administrator of Martial Law, and Fidel V. Ramos, who officially supervised the military and the Philippine Constabulary (PC) had shirked from their duty to give their assessment and explanation of military abuses during martial law.

Ramos even has a public forum through his wordy, half-paged columns in the Manila Bulletin. Yet he has never written, a word on the issue, not even in recent weeks when martial law abuses have become a hot topic

The officials who were responsible, and accountable, for Marcos’ prisons and alleged human rights abuses, were indisputably Enrile and Ramos. Marcos in November 1972, or two months after he imposed martial issued General Order No. 16 which created the “Command for the Administration of Detainees” (COMCAD) with Enrile appointing Ramos as its commander, who was the authority supervising all detention centers, including that of the armed forces. The implementing guidelines of the COMCAD had detailed procedures for investigating whether the detainees should be kept in prison, with its main goal to be that of minimizing the occurrence of arbitrary detention.”

Enrile and Ramos obviously have been political opportunists, afraid that their accounts would create the image that they were defenders of that strongman rule. After all, would Ramos have won their presidency in 1992, would Cory Aquino have endorsed him if he explained the real score of alleged martial law abuses?

I cannot fathom though why these octogenarians in their twilight years, and retired from politics, remain silent, refusing to provide us with their detailed account of the martial law years — after they supervised the military until the very end of Marcos’ rule. They should at least release to scholars and researchers documents regarding their administration of martial law, which I’m sure they have.

The crucial questions they have to answer: Was it state policy during Martial Law of using torture, extra-judicial killings, and detention of those who opposed the strongman? Or were these just then illegal actions by rogue even sadistic military men and police, the same kind of crimes committed before and after martial law? *

Did they attempt to stop these human rights abuses, and bring to court, even the military courts these criminal men in uniform? How many of the political detainees were Communist Party or New People Army members who were trying to topple government, and how many of those killed were in fire-fights with the military or paramilitary groups? How many were the Moro casualties as result of the MNLF and MILF’s secessionist war against the Republic, and were these listed as part of those allegedly killed or “disappeared” during martial law.
Yellow narratives of the Marcos years do not even raise these questions.

Cut-and-paste book

In a cut-and-paste book on the Marcos years totally based on narratives of biased sources and second-, and even third-hand accounts — funded I was told by either Manuel Lopez or his clan and rushed as a propaganda tool against Bongbong Marcos’ bid for the presidency — the author claimed that the dictator’s detention camps were “similar” to the USSR’s horrific prisons that made up the so-called The Gulag Archipelago, depicted vividly in Nobel laureate Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel of that title.

I nearly fell off my seat reading that. That’s total rubbish.

It was that reference to Gulag Archipelaego that triggered a surge of memories for me. I read Solzhenitsyn’s book in fact while I was in a Marcos prison. How can you not believe the narrative of a man of letters who spent eight years in several gulags?

I compared the Marcos prison where I was reading to Solzhenitzen’s description of the Soviet gulag: Marcos’ prisons, in comparison, would be a middle-class drug rehabilitation camp, or teen-agers summer camp .
The Gulag Archipelago in fact helped convince me in 1974 to resign from the Communist Party. If communism’s first ever experiment resulted in such horror such as the Soviet gulag  (and similar prisons in the second big experiment, Mao’s China), Marxism-Leninism must have —even if it is a powerful tool for social analysis — some deep flaw that goes against the humanist values civilization had struggled to develop for centuries. Marcos’ dictatorship was after all still part of the set of capitalist political systems.

I can speak of what Marcos prisons were because I was there, together with my late wife Raquel, in five detention centers, spending most of my 21st and 22nd year of life on this earth there.

These were the detention cells of the Philippine Constabulary’s 5th Constabulary Unit in Camp Crame, that of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo, that of the National Intelligence Coordinating Authority in its headquarters at V. Luna Road in Quezon City (where it still is) as well as Ipil Youth Rehabilitation Center and the maximum security Youth Rehabilitation Center both in Fort Bonifacio — these latter two being the biggest during martial law.

I just hate it when a book is written by a gullible, crackpot writer expecting to make money out the Yellow cult’s panic over Bongbong Marcos’s vice-presidential candidacy last May. I was told the author was promised that the book would be distributed to all high schools as a required textbook, if the Yellow candidate Mar Roxas had won. With 7 million high school students , the author would have been a multi-millionaire if that had happened.  Yellow Senator Riza Hontiveros has been stupidly trying to still implement that money-making plot, reportedly asking  the Lopezes and Osmenas   to pay for the books’ distribution, the store  price of which is an astounding P2,500.

The author didn’t even care about martial law when it was upon us, and had a reputation for being so credulous  in her reportage that the newspaper’s editor told me she  wanted her fired. Her gullibility is much worse now:  she quotes without question mostly anti-Marcos American writers, communist party members, and the narratives of the Yellow Cultists to portray Marcos’ prisons so different from I actually experienced.

As an actual detainee, I owe it to history to correct these distortions of what happened.

My account of the Marcos prisons will be Monday, and I am glad that I have to cut this essay in two parts for editorial space-concerns. I ask my fellow detainees in Ipil and YRC, to present their assessments of Marcos’ prison, especially those that are contrary to mine, in the comment section of this column, or through email, and I promise they will be published in the internet version of this paper.

Marcos’ crimes against the nation are beyond the small minds of ignorant Yellow writers, too lazy to even do real research. The worst was his refusal to bring his dollar holdings back to the Philippines and give it to the central bank, which could have used it to prevent our debt default in 1983.

It wasn’t any Marcos economic policy but solely that debt default that caused us a steep three-year economic depression that put us in such a quagmire for nearly two decades.