Rally condemns plans to bury in a cemetery for national icons president who was toppled by popular revolt in 1996.
Manila, Philippines – On the night of March 24, 1983, around 30 government commandos, with “Rambo-style ammunition”, raided a house in the southern Philippine city of Davao, where Hilda Narcisco and three other church workers were staying.
It was the height of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship, and although the military and police were within his grip, the rest of the country was starting to slip from his control.
Without showing arrest warrants, Narcisco says the authorities “forcibly” took her and two of her colleagues to the headquarters of the now-defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC), a military unit with police powers.
The trio was accused of subversion and conspiracy to commit rebellion, using their church work as cover. The fourth person, a German pastor, was put under house arrest.
Narcisco recalls how she was placed alone in a separate van to the others – blindfolded and handcuffed. She says she was first interrogated and then “sexually molested” inside the van.
For the next six months she was raped and mentally and physically abused.
Now 71, Narcisco says the memories of her time in detention have not faded. She wants to continue to share her story, she explains, so that everyone can know about “the human rights abuses” committed during Marcos’ rule.
As one of the 70,000 people imprisoned and 34,000 tortured during his 21 year rule, from 1965 to 1986, Narcisco says she opposes the plan of the current president, Rodrigo Duterte, to bury Marcos at the national heroes’ cemetery.
On Tuesday, the Philippine Supreme Court is set to decide on a petition objecting to Duterte’s proposal.
Critics say that the law bars Marcos from being accorded that honour, because of the human rights abuses he committed as president.
But Duterte – who has praised Marcos and who has, as a result of his own war on drugs in which at least 3,000 people have so far been killed, been compared to him – and other Marcos supporters have argued that as a former president and a soldier, the ousted leader is entitled to a spot at the cemetery. They insist that it is time for the country to “forgive” Marcos and start the process of healing.
Rape and torture
According to court records, more than 3,200 people were killed during Marcos’ rule, including between 700 to 800 who are presumed dead after remaining missing for decades.
Death did not come to Hilda Narcisco’s doorstep that night, but she says what she endured was even worse.
On the same night that she was taken by the military operatives in Davao – Duterte’s home town – Narcisco says she was taken to a “safe house” where she was repeatedly sexually abused.
“First, I was raped by the head of the interrogating team. Then a group of men would rape me alternately and commit lewd acts. Some of them even placed their genitals in my mouth,” Narcisco says.
For two to three days after her arrest, her hands were tied and her eyes blindfolded, preventing her from seeing the perpetrators. All the while she was raped “again and again”, she says.
“The abuse was dehumanising. The humiliation and degradation were getting worse. I was threatened to be killed, and was forced to say that I committed the crimes they were charging me [with].”
They also tried to force her to eat worm-infested food, she says.
Narcisco went on a 44-day hunger strike.
She was denied any visitors and to avoid more scrutiny from human rights groups and international organisations, Narcisco says she was transferred from one detention facility to another. The authorities wanted to hide her from the German government, which was looking into her case.
After six months in jail, Narcisco was released on September 11, 1983.
She later founded the Women’s Crisis Center in Manila, an organisation that strives to end violence against women.
Several other victims of torture have also spoken out against Duterte’s decision to honour Marcos.
During a hearing at the Supreme Court in August, Loretta Rosales, the former head of the Philippine human rights commission, told the justices that she was sexually molested and endured electric shocks.
“It was just a continuing thing. I lay there for 24 hours of continuing torture. There was no eating or sleeping,” Rosales was quoted in news reports as saying.
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She later became a member of Congress and a colleague of one of her former torturers, a top-ranking member of the military who entered politics after retirement.
Atilano Fajardo, a Catholic priest, was still at school when Marcos declared martial law in 1972.
“I was in college when I started to join mass rallies, and we were also scared that the authorities would just pick us up,” he recalls, adding that he had witnessed many of his friends being abused by the police.
While Fajardo believes that Marcos does not deserve a hero’s burial, he does think it is important to forgive him. But, he adds, the Marcos family must atone for his sins by returning the billions of dollars it stole from the government.
According to estimates from the Philippine Supreme Court, the Marcoses stole between $5bn and $10bn from the country’s treasury during their two-decade rule.
Paul Sotelo, a Filipino-American whose grandfather Luis Balanay was killed by police during Marcos’ rule, also opposes the move to honour Marcos.
Balanay was attending a village festival when the police accused him of throwing a rock at them.
“My grandmother told me that nothing like that happened. The police just made it up to cover up for the shooting. It was done for nothing. And we never got justice from his death,” Sotelo says, adding that his family had to sell many of their properties to pursue the attackers.
“No one went to jail for my grandfather’s death. There was a culture of impunity during that time, and it was perpetrated by Marcos himself, so certainly he was responsible for the abuses,” he told Al Jazeera.
“For all that was committed during his time as a dictator, Marcos does not deserve a place of honour alongside other real Filipino heroes.”