Recalling 47 days as a martial law detainee 50 years ago


Sonny Coloma

Shortly after midnight on Saturday, Sept. 23, 1972, I was arrested at home by officers of the Philippine Constabulary’s Metropolitan Command (Metrocom) and brought to the Camp Crame gymnasium. The arresting officer sat on the front seat. My mother sat beside me on the rear seat. The Metrocom patrol car was brand new; the plastic cover on the upholstery had just been removed.

I inquired about the basis for the arrest. The officer passed on a piece of white bond paper, regular size, which turned out to be the Arrest, Search and Seizure Order signed by Juan Ponce Enrile, the Secretary of National Defense. I was arrested for allegedly violating Republic Act 1700, the Anti-Subversion Act.

Ironically, the arrest order was signed by my mother’s boss at work. She was an employee of the internal audit unit in the office of Secretary Enrile. I was arrested and detained by my father’s fellow constabulary officers. At that time the PC was one of the major services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Upon arrival at the Camp Crame detention, I underwent “processing” including fingerprinting followed by three mug shots: front view, right side profile and left side profile. I was told to hold a cardboard on which my name was written.

Then I was allowed to mingle with the other newly-arrested detainees, among whom were Senators Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Ramon Mitra and Francisco ‘Soc’ Rodrigo; then Manila Times publisher Chino Roces, columnist Max Soliven, and constitutional convention delegates Napoleon Rama, associate editor of the Philippines Free Press; Jose Mari Velez, a lawyer-TV news anchor; NatalioBacalzo, a Cebu-based radio broadcaster; Jose Concepcion, Jr., Ernesto Rondon of Nueva Ecija; Jose Nolledo of Mindoro, a law professor and author; Alejandro ‘Ding’ Lichauco; and former UP student leader Voltaire Garcia who was later released on account of his frail health condition.

We engaged in animated conversations, trying to put on a brave face to a situation fraught with great uncertainty. By early morning, Ninoy Aquino and the other high profile detainees were transferred first to the PC stockade, then later to Fort Bonifacio. Most of the Con-Con delegates remained in the gymnasium.

By noon, more than a hundred double-deck steel-framed cots had been set up in the gymnasium. We were allowed to receive visitors who brought our clothes, food and provisions. At 3 p.m., a TV set was brought in to allow us to listen to then Press Secretary Francisco ‘Kit’ Tatad read Proclamation No. 1081 issued by President Marcos placing the entire country under martial law. Hours later, Marcos himself appeared on government television to announce that he had imposed martial law nationwide.

According to a GMA news online infographic published in 2016, the military crackdown on the mass media at the onset of martial law implementation resulted in the termination of the following media outlets: Seven major English dailies; three Filipino dailies; four Chinese dailies; one Filipino-English daily; one Spanish daily; 66 community newspapers; 11 English weekly magazines; seven television sites; 292 radio stations. Exempted media outlets were: the Philippine Daily Express, TV Channel 9, and Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS) radio stations.

My father, then a PC colonel, who was attending a course for finance officers at the US Army Finance School in Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Indiana, learned about my incarceration when he came across a copy of the Daily Express at a news stand in Chicago on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 24, which was already Monday morning, Manila time.

I remember that in those days, rumors were rife and widespread, especially about who had been arrested or detained, and on how martial law was being enforced throughout the country. This was the downside of not having established media outlets that would disseminate accurate and reliable news.

Before I was incarcerated, whenever I read or heard news about prison sentences bring imposed on convicted criminals, I would criticize why they were given “only up to six years.” I realized that when one is detained or imprisoned, every day seems like an eternity; the clock seems to be ticking away slower than usual.

My mother visited me every day, crossing over to Camp Crame from Camp Aguinaldo. On Nov. 9, 1972, I was informed that I was going to see the Chief of Constabulary, General Fidel V. Ramos, accompanied by my mother. Our conversation was cordial and brief. He told me that he had ordered my release from detention “so that your father could concentrate on his studies.”

That ended 47 days of my sobering experience as a 19-year old political detainee. From leading student protest actions in the UP campus and on the streets of Metro Manila, I was confined within a detention area with other persons deprived of liberty. I was required to report weekly to the Office of Civil Relations (OCR) to sign a logbook and reaffirm my pledge to be a law-abiding citizen in the New Society.