Justice remains elusive for Martial Law victims –Lagman

Published September 20, 2020, 8:13 PM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

Justice remains elusive for the families whose loved ones disappeared, abused, and tortured during the martial law rule the started 48 years ago. 

This was stressed by Albay 1st District Rep. Edcel Lagman who took Sunday (Sept. 20) to social media his family’s “harrowing and painful experience” during martial law, a day before the nation marks the 48th year of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ martial rule.


“We are only one of the tens of thousands of families who are still endlessly waiting for justice. For many Filipinos, Martial Law was not only a bad dream, it is a continuing nightmare,” he said in a Facebook post. 

“We should not forget the tragedy of martial law. We should not forgive the perpetrators and beneficiaries of Martial Law. National amnesia must be purged as an abhorrent malaise. Never again!”

He said while his heart tells him “not to be masochist” by sharing the tragic experience they had during martial law, his mind asserts that silence “kills the truth, the freedom of expression, the right to dissent, and democracy” that prodded him to speak out and spread the truth.  

Lagman’s younger brothers, Hermon and Filemon or Ka Popoy were among the “courageous dissenters and resistance leaders” against Marcos’ martial rule. 

The 78-year old Lagman recalled that he learned about the declaration of martial law before it was publicly announced from his younger brother, Atty. Hermon, who was subsequently forcibly disappeared on May 11, 1977. 

He said Hermon told him that Popoy, who was already with the underground movement, was safe. 

“Ka Popoy was a UP student when he dropped out to join the forces against the dictator Marcos. He survived the darkest years of Martial Law when he escaped from incarceration, and continued his crusade for the Filipino workingman. He was assassinated by unknown hired killers at the steps of the UP Bahay ng Alumni on February 6, 2001, or 19 years ago,” the opposition lawmaker said. 

He said on Sept. 22, 1972, the day following his signing of Proclamation No. 1081 putting the entire country under martial law, Marcos issued General Order No. 5 prohibiting “… rallies, demonstrations, picketing or strikes in certain vital industries, and other forms of group actions …”

According to him, the Order warned that “… any person violating this Order shall forthwith be arrested and taken into custody and held for the duration of the national emergency or until he or she is otherwise ordered released by me (Marcos) or by my designated representative.”

He said Marcos’  “inordinately suppressive edict” was defied by militant trade unionists.

These protest actions were staged by workers at the Gelmart Industrial Philippines, Inc; the Navotas Fish Landing and Market Authority; La Tondeña Distillery, Inc.; Atlantic Gulf and Pacific Co.; and Solid Mills, among others, he  said.

“All these unions had my brother Hermon as their counsel. We were collaborating counsel in the case of the batilyos or fish haulers in Navotas. As their counsel, Mon, as we fondly called him, was no ordinary lawyer. He rendered legal service pro bono. He even paid for the transcript of his client-workers’ testimonies in labor tribunals,” Lagman said. 

Three months after the martial law declaration or on Dec. 12, 1972, Hermon was taken into custody by elements of the Philippine Constabulary, he said.

He said after undergoing tactical interrogation at Camp Aguinaldo, his brother was transferred to Fort Bonifacio where he was detained for two months and was  released without charges.

“Mon’s detention was typical of many deprivations of liberty during Martial Law – indefinite detention without formal charges. His jailers, however, dismally failed to subdue his militancy. In the words of my sister, Nilda Lagman-Sevilla, “Mon’s courage to resist repression intensified after detention, and his passion to serve the masses was inflamed by incarceration.”.” Lagman said.

“Mon’s incessant advocacy for workers’ empowerment was suddenly halted on May 11, 1977. That day, he and Victor Reyes, a labor organizer, were to attend a lawyers’ meeting in Pasay City. They did not make it to the meeting. They were abducted and forcibly disappeared between Bago Bantay, Quezon City and Pasay City.”

Lagman said their family learned about Hermon’s disappearance three days later. 

According to him, an  informant told them that he was seized together with Reyes by military elements. 

The veteran lawmaker said he and his parents immediately searched for his brother daily in various military camps and police stations, but the latter was nowhere to be found. 

“As expected, no one in the military and police establishments admitted his abduction and detention,” he said.

He recalled the ordeal of his mother, a very courageous and resilient woman, who would cringe and experienced heightened anxiety  in every denial of her son’s captivity. 

“When we returned home, weary and exhausted from our failed search, she could not sleep. She could not tame or restrain her boundless imagination that would take her to torture chambers, to cruel, inhuman and degrading inquisitions, where Hermon was a hapless but defiant victim,” Lagman said. 

“Months turned into years of agonizing search, unanswered questions, endless waiting, and arduous striving for justice.”