CDO activists remember martial law

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 21 Sep) – The “days of darkness” came to Cagayan de Oro on a weekend, as everyone got busy to go to the beaches, settle to do house chores or loaf around the house.

Martial law victims in Cagayan de Oro City. File photo courtesy of CONG B. CORRALES

Lawyer Oscar Musni recalled he and other members of the local chapter of the defunct Kabataang Makabayan were huddled in a meeting in their headquarters in Barangay Nazareth here.

The late President Ferdinand Marcos signed Presidential Proclamation 1081 proclaiming martial law in the entire country on September 21, 1972 but implemented it two days later.

“We were deciding if we would go out to the streets and stage a rally or go on hiding,” Musni recalled.

He said they decided to march to Cogon public market to the curious stare of the residents who were fully aware of the situation.

Local radio stations in the city, meanwhile, were blaring non-stop recorded messages of Marcos declaring martial law and banning rallies and public assembly.

Musni said they persisted to stage the rally at the busy market in Cogon. By noon, they decided to end the protest action and most of the activists went home.

He said he and two other activists were at their headquarters in Barangay Nazareth when teams from the Philippine Constabulary (PC) came.

“We tried to hide under the sleeping mats but the PC soldiers found us,” he recalled.

Musni said they were brought to Camp Alagar in Barangay Lapasan, then the headquarters of the PC.

“We were the first detainees. There were only three of us in the large reception area,” he said.

Later, more detainees came. The late Gary Bacolod, manager of the local ABS-CBN radio station, and members of the Federation of Free Farmers, an agricultural association, also arrived, Musni recalled.

Then more student activists arrived after the PC men reportedly rounded them up in their homes in the days that followed.

Life in the city went to a standstill as radio stations went off the air and schools stopped their classes on orders from the martial law administrators, Musni said.

He noted that residents avoided the streets as the PC men went on rampage venting their ire on the long hair of young men and miniskirts of women – the prevailing fashion in those days.

A meeting of five persons was enough to get arrested after the martial law administrators declared gatherings to be illegal.

When some of the radio stations came back on air, they blared pro-martial law and broadcast “Bagong Lipunan” messages extolling how great martial law was.

Arthur Guerzon, a Xavier University graduate who now resides in the United States, recalled his parents would not allow him to go out of their house unless accompanied by an elder relative.

Guerzon said the situation got worse when schools reopened in January 1973 and classes resumed.

“My parents assigned an elder relative to accompany me to school. Hatid-sundo ako for several months,” he said.

Guerzon said he and his classmates at the XU College of Agriculture were also mindful to be already home by 9 p.m. because there was a curfew implemented at midnight to 4 a.m.

He said when they came back to school they suddenly found they have new classmates – burly young men with heavy muscles.

“We suspected they were soldiers planted to spy on us. We got scared and did not utter any word about martial law,” Guerzon said.

He said a state of suspicion hung on the otherwise carefree atmosphere in the campuses because of the presence of the burly “strangers.”

“Our suspicion mounted when we noticed these men would be with us for only a semester and disappear in the next,” Guerzon said.

Lawyer Arnold Barba, who also resides in the US, said PC soldiers tortured him and two other student activists when they were arrested in nearby Bukidnon province.

“I nearly died when they tortured us,” Barba said.

He is so traumatized that he declined to talk about his ordeal some 48 years ago,

Musni said being in the receiving end of torture was a harrowing experience.

He said after a few hours of receiving bodily blows from his PC captors, he received their “flat iron” treatment.

Musni said his torturers showed him a “hot flat iron” before he was blindfolded and stripped his T-shirt.

“What I did not see was they exchanged the flat iron for a block of ice. The effect was the same. When the ice struck my chest, I screamed,” Musni said.

He passed out and only after he woke up that he learned his torturers played with him.

The Human Rights Claims Board said more than 11,103 human rights victims under martial law received compensation when it ended its operations on May 12, 2018.

The money for compensation came from the Swiss accounts of the late President Marcos that was transferred to the Philippine government. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)