Friday, September 21, 2012

Remembering Martial Law (PD 1081)

I will never forget that Saturday morning of Sept 23, 1972.  I was a 17-year old 2nd year college seminarian of St. Alphonsus' Seminary studying at the University of San Carlos in Cebu City. I was a non-commissioned officer (NCO) of  the ROTC Scout Ranger Company and on that day I was on my way to Camp Lapulapu for our weekend training in counter-insurgency operations. I wore the black ranger uniform. When I arrived at the camp I noticed that there was a red alert and army trucks filled with troops were leaving the camp. The guard told me to go home - there won't be any formation. President Marcos had declared martial law. PD 1081 was signed two days earlier. I immediately rushed back to the seminary and hid the reading material and documents considered subversive by the dictatorial regime.

More than a year later I was back in Camp Lapulapu as a political prisoner (or detainee- as we were referred to). I was actually arrested on the first anniversary of Martial Law, tortured for a week in Camp Sergio Osmena and after a month in the Lahug Detention Center I was transferred to Camp Lapulapu Detention and Rehabilitation Center. This was to be my home for the next six months. How did I end up here? Well, after the declaration of martial law I became secretly involved with a group struggling against the dictatorial regime. I formed a cell within the seminary and made use of the mimeographing machine to produce anti-Martial law leaflets and newsletters. I was involved in writing, producing and distributing these materials. I knew what we were doing was dangerous and I got caught on the first anniversary of Martial Law.

My experience of torture and detention during martial law was a defining moment in my life. It was a rite of passage--  an ordeal. When I went out of prison I was no longer a young boy or adolescent but a man. I became fearless and more committed to the struggle for freedom, justice and human rights. After going through a crisis of faith I became a true believer. And I decided to continue to respond to the call to the priesthood. It also broadened and deepened my understanding of what it means to be a priest - not just leading the Christian community in worship but in denouncing evil in society, proclaiming the Gospel of liberation and working for justice, peace and freedom

This also means living a simple life-style and being close to the people - especially the poor. This was exactly how I lived after my ordination several years later.

 The tattoo on my left shoulder with the image of a clenched fist with the numbers 1081 is a constant reminder of martial law and how it shaped my life.