Every time I hear about Martial Law, the first thing that comes to my mind is torture – which is unjust, brutal and definitely fatal. I was not born yet during these dark ages, but I know some people, good people for that matter who had dark experiences in Martial Law, and some of them still continue to suffer even after that phase was gone. They were fellow Iskolar ng Bayan in UP Los Baños to which their lives and struggles continue to inspire me for their hopes and aspirations are for the people, the peasant class in particular.
The first time I heard his name was when I was in high school and my late father proudly showed me an article in a known national circulation dedicated to him. Manuel Candelaria Bautista was a student council representative, a revolutionary writer and a people’s martyr. According to the accounts of his colleagues, they described Tito Manny as a soft-spoken intellectual and an active student-leader.
It was during their time that a historic campaign was launched in UPLB against the aerial spraying of the infamous Agent Orange by the United States in Mt Maquiling in preparation for the Vietnam War. Agent Orange, a known defoliant produced by Monsanto, also known as HO (Herbicide Orange) contains 2,3,7,8-tetraclorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), a dioxin compound that is fatal for both humans and animals and causes mutations.
Tito Manny was actively involved in this campaign as he wrote an article on Philippine Collegian in exposing the poisoning of Mt Maquiling and of the farmers whose livelihoods were disrupted and lives were at risk with this toxic chemical.
When Martial law was declared, Tito Manny went underground, got arrested, tortured. He managed to escape. Reunited with the underground movement, he took refuge in the peasant communities of Southern Tagalog. He died in an encounter in 1976. There was an account that he was caught alive and brought somewhere to Kalayaan, Laguna where his body was used by the army for practice shooting. Until now, his remains were still not recovered by his family.
If Tito Manny was alive to this day, for sure he will be one of the advocates against aerial spraying in banana plantations for this endangers the lives of our people.
During my practicum in a peasant organization, I had the chance to know E.S., a man with white long hair who was detained for eleven years now.
Eduardo Serrano graduated cum laude in UPLB, and studied in the University of Copenhagen in Denmark for a master’s degree. Martial law brought E.S home, as he chose to come back to help fight the dictatorship. He was as a peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) in Mindoro Island when he was illegally arrested in 2003, at the height of Palparan’s crackdown against the Left.
Mindoro Island is known for its remarkable productivity and upland variety of rice. The locals said before the crackdown the entire island is sufficient with rice and could afford to supply rice in some parts of Batangas.
If there was no crackdown in Mindoro, the place could still have rice sufficiency to this day and might play an important role in augmenting the rice shortage in our country.
It was also during that practicum that I first met Aristedes Sarmiento or popularly known as Aris, a brother in UP Horticultural Society and leading figure in the re-establishment of the University Student Council in UPLB.
It was at Camp Vicente Lim that we visited Aris with his fellow detainees known as Tagaytay 5.They were illegally arrested for false allegations of conniving with the rebel army Magdalo in a plot for a bombing. The case was eventually dismissed and Tagaytay 5 was freed in 2008.
During a forum in UPLB right after their release, Aris accounted his experience on torture and interrogation. One of his torturers asked him “what the h*ll is a UP graduate doing in the countryside?” Aris proudly recalled his answer: “What the h*ll are you expecting, a UP graduate in agriculture taking a job in Makati?!”
I can clearly recall how Aris explained the necessity of agriculturists in the countryside, for the vast majority of peasants, the necessity of explaining and working with them in their struggle for land and life. Freedom was temporary for Aris, he was re-arrested last-year for another trumped-up charge. He is still detained to this day.
Are we free, 42 years after martial law?
Obviously we are not. We are not free from corruption. We are not free from massacres and militarization. We are not free from landlessness and the hacienda system. We are not free from exploitative conditions of usurer-landlords. We are not free from rice shortage and food cartels. We are not free from aerial spraying of deadly chemicals and pesticide based farming. We are not free from the impositions of capitalist globalization and their unfair “free-trade”.
Despite of these setbacks, the struggles of Tito Manny, E.S. and Aris will continue to inspire us. Martial Law is not yet over. We must continue to sow the seeds of freedom.