Truth as argument | Inquirer Opinion

Truth as argument

/ 12:36 AM September 02, 2016

Something extraordinary happened at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. Toward the end of the long first day of oral arguments on the contentious Marcos burial issue, the tribunal asked some of the petitioners, who were victims of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule, to recount their experience of torture, sexual abuse and other forms of state-sanctioned violence. It was a riveting moment; many of those watching inside the hall or following the live-stream of the proceedings must have felt time come to a stop.

The high court is famously not a trier of facts; that role is reserved for lower courts. But by allowing the petitioners who seek to stop Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, because in their view it will only serve to aggravate the injustice they suffered as victims of martial law, to detail their suffering in all its sordidness before court and country, the Supreme Court gave voice to the truth of recent Philippine history.

The members of the Court could not have been unaware of its responsibilities, during nationally televised oral arguments, as a forum for civic lessons; the justices’ many reminders, of the laws that pertain to the issue of burial, and especially of the many Supreme Court decisions calling Marcos a dictator (some 20 cases) and an authoritarian leader (about 18), were an appeal to law and reason. But the decision to ask the petitioners to speak directly of the injustice they suffered at the hands of the Marcos regime was a powerful idea: In the heat of oral arguments over whether the state should offer the dictator the privilege of burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, the experience of the martial law victims was itself a form of argument.

So, upon the invitation of Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, petitioners who called on the Court to disallow the burial of Marcos in the Libingan ng mga Bayani and who were themselves victims of martial law took turns speaking before the justices, recalling their harrowing experience at the hands of the police and the military.


A three-term party-list representative and a former chair of the Commission on Human Rights, Etta Rosales, was the first to speak. She spoke of being subjected to different kinds of torture, including electric shock and the so-called Russian roulette (a form of psychological torture, as Sereno’s follow-up question made clear). Rosales was also sexually molested, during a brutal two days; she was in detention for a month.

Gilda Narciso, a youth activist at the time, recounted what it was like to be raped by a group of men. She was handcuffed, stripped, blindfolded. She felt many hands touching her, probing her body. “And they put their penises, one at a time in my mouth, and fingered my vagina. That went on for the whole day.”

Trinidad Herrera gave a graphic account of torture by electrocution. Live wires were attached to her breasts and her fingers; the ordeal went on for some six hours, until she lost consciousness. “My body can still feel the pain, now that I’m old,” she told the Court.

Rosales’ sister, Maria Cristina Bawagan, was also arrested and tortured. “I was blindfolded, my mouth was gagged. My legs were paddled. They put something sharp on my breasts,” she said. The next day, she said, she was raped, the torturers fondling her breasts and inserting an object into her genitals.


Fe Buenaventura-Mangahas was isolated in a dark room for several days, and then made to watch or listen to other women undergoing torture. During interrogation, she started bleeding; “I did not know I was two months pregnant.”

Felix Dalisay, who spent three years in detention, recounted the various tortures he received at the hands of a notorious unit of the Philippine Constabulary; “there was punching, kicking, electrocution, bullets pressed between your fingers.” One result of the beating he received was damaged hearing in his left ear. “Up to now when we remember what they did to us, we weep, we feel pity for ourselves,” he said.


Would that both Court and country hear the victims’ argument, and the truth of history, loud and clear.

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TAGS: Etta Rosales, Ferdinand Marcos, Libingan ng mga Bayani, martial law, martial law victims, torture

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