Philippines martial law: The fight to remember a decade of arrests and torture

Santiago Matela was 22 when he was dragged off the street by soldiers while playing basketball.

The year was 1977, five years since President Ferdinand E Marcos had declared martial law in the Philippines – on 21 September 1972.

Mr Marcos suspended parliament and arrested opposition leaders – Mr Matela was among the tens of thousands of people detained and tortured during a decade of martial law.

Fifty years on, he is no longer afraid to speak out. But he is afraid of not being believed at a time when the truth about one of the darkest periods in Filipino history is under attack.

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Mr Matela endured three months of torture, including being tied naked to a block of ice. His captors demanded he admit to being a communist. He says he didn’t even know what that word meant.

“They kept on forcing me to confess that I was leading a rally and throwing grenades. They asked me the same questions again and again and beat me. They used a yantok – a cane – and they hit my body many times,” he said.

“Even my genitals were assaulted by the military just to make you confess what you should not be confessing.”

Some 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and over 3,200 people were killed in the nine years after Mr Marcos imposed martial law, according to Amnesty International.

Meanwhile, the Marcos family lived famously opulent lifestyles. Mr Marcos’ wife, Imelda Marcos, amassed a huge collection of art and other luxuries, including hundreds of pairs of shoes.

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