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From The Archives: Cardinal Stories from the Martial Law

Article by: Frances Qarl M. Tolosa, Abigail Samantha R. Basas, Princess Jazlyn B. Pereda, and Crismhil S. Anselmo

Graphics by: Andreah Faye G. Lapinid

American philosopher George Santayana once said: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Over 51 years since the signing of Proclamation No. 1081, which marked the beginning of the late former President and dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, Sr.’s martial law, justice is yet to be served for many of the atrocities of the era. In the face of historical distortion, it is crucial to uphold the truth in its untainted form — in memory of the victims of the bloodied past and the horrors that transpired alongside it.

Combatting the erasure and denial of one of the darkest chapters of Philippine history, The New Builder (TNB) looks back on how then-Mapúa Institute of Technology (MIT) and the community behind it fared during Marcos Sr.’s regime.

Blood of Our Own: The Murder of Archimedes Trajano

Archimedes Trajano was a student activist at MIT during Martial Law. In an open forum at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) on August 31, 1977, he dared question the appointment of the late dictator’s daughter, Imee Marcos, as the director of the National Youth Council. He boldly asked why the president's daughter was assigned to hold office, which did not bode well with Imee. Trajano was then forcibly taken out of the venue by her bodyguards —the last time he was seen alive.

On September 2, a couple of days after his abduction, Trajano was found lifeless on the streets of Manila; his corpse was mauled and disfigured from apparent torture and abuse. Several stories came with his demise. Trajano’s parents were initially told he was killed in a fight with his dormmates. Other reports claimed it was from college fraternity hazing. No official coverage surfaced after his immediate death due to media censorship.

It was only nine years after Trajano’s death that his mother, Agapita, would be able to file a case in a court in Honolulu, Hawaii, against Imee Marcos and Armed Forces Chief of Staff, General Fabian Ver, who was a known Marcos affiliate. During the trial, Imee Marcos admitted to learning about the torture and murder of Archimedes Trajano by her military bodyguards. She would later deny this in her media appearances decades later.

The Hawaii court ruled in the Trajano family’s favor, and Imee Marcos was ordered to “pay $4.16 million and attorneys’ fees pursuant to Philippine law.” However, after a long battle of appeals in the Philippine justice system, the Supreme Court barred the payment when it ruled in favor of Imee Marcos when her summons to the Hawaii court were invalid. As such, the Trajanos were left with no compensation and justice for the brutal death of Archimedes.

Beneath the Ground: The Flight of Balawis

One of the most haunting blows of the Martial Law regime was how it tried to erase freedom of expression. The enactment of Proclamation No. 1081 heavily enforced media censorship. In fact, among the first orders since its promulgation was the closure of major newspapers, magazines, television stations, and radio stations on September 23, 1972.

This censorship was watered down from the major media outlets to campus publications, making room for the emergence of underground publications or the “alternative press.” Journalists — both professionals and students alike — took the initiative to refute State-sponsored propaganda and inform the people of the truth through the might of the pen. Publications such as The Philippine Collegian from the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD), Ang Malaya from the Philippine School of Commerce (PCC) (now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines), Pandayan from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), and Ang Hasik from PLM, took part in these initiatives. The student publication of MIT also went underground as Balawis during this era.

On April 27, 2017, Balawis, alongside PLM’s Ang Hasik, ADMU’s Pandayan, and PCC’s Ang Malaya, received awards from the 11th Hildegarde Awards held in St. Scholastica’s College – Manila for their contributions as publications during the Marcos regime.

Post-martial law, former Secretary of Justice Leila De Lima introduced the Campus Press Freedom Act of 2020 to the Senate, which stated that student publications serve as tangible proof of students' exercise of their constitutional rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, as safeguarded by the 1987 Constitution.

The Ink's Resilience: Mrs. Mercy Corrales

For the last 35 years, MU Board of Trustees member Mrs. Maria Mercedes "Mercy" Corrales has been working her way to the top of the corporate ladder and is known as one of the remarkable women of the Mapúan community. Mrs. Corrales graduated from MIT with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management. She was the Editor-in-Chief of the Avant Garde, the weekly newspaper of MIT, from 1969 to 1970. She then served as the Vice President of the Central Student Council from 1971 to 1972.

Mrs. Corrales had already graduated from MIT when Martial Law broke out. An interview with TNB and an autobiographical chapter of her experiences during the period — which she launched together in a book with other activists of the time — narrated the horrors she had to go through. With a newborn in hand, threats of violence in the streets, and evading arrest from the military, she recalled the time that she was forced to go into hiding and move from one safe house to another, sometimes on a weekly basis, for more than a year. During this time, she and her husband have lost all contact with their families.

Still, threats of arrest and persecution did not dim her patriotism. Currently, Mrs. Corrales is combatting historical distortion and urges the youth to remember the incidents during martial law and learn from them. She has since made a name for herself in the corporate world as one of the most accomplished businesswomen internationally — all this she owes to the principles and playbook she has crafted from her years of activism.

Even after years of residing overseas, she and her family decided to return to the Philippines because the country is still their home and it is where they want to make a difference. Lastly, Ms. Corrales imparted a message to keep fighting for the truth: “Keep up the fight and make sure that the Philippines becomes truly free, just, and equitably prosperous,” She also expressed contentment as she saw the commitment of the Filipino youth to do better and make sure that the Philippines goes to the right path.

Defying Bloodstained Odds: Dr. Reynaldo Vea

Former Mapúa President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Dr. Reynaldo B. Vea has seen, experienced, and fought through gloomy times during college. Braving against the media blackout was the Philippine Collegian, UPD’s official student publication, which served as the voice of dissent in a muted country. Amongst the student activists who made up the First Quarter Storm (FQS) in 1970 (which would later become the week-long Diliman Commune) was Dr. Vea, who later began to serve as an editor for the Collegian in 1971, just a year before Martial Law was declared, only from then on was the long and treacherous battle against Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship.

With the media silencing under his reign, the Marcos Sr. regime has brought the Collegian underground. “The challenge, maybe not the hardship, is how to respond to what was happening at that time,” Dr. Vea shares, “… That’s a difficulty itself, [because] you have to muster some courage to be able to do that.” He then adds.

Since the declaration of Martial Law, Dr. Vea had been in hiding due to threats of arrest. It took the military three months before he was eventually caught in a raided apartment in San Juan, Manila, in January 1973. He was immediately brought to Camp Aguinaldo for questioning with threats of torture but remained physically unharmed. A month or two later, he was transferred to the Youth Rehabilitation Center, which is a high-security facility located in Fort Bonifacio, where he remained imprisoned until his release in September 1974, without charges.

When asked if his patriotism has dimmed with the threat of arrest or persecution, Dr. Vea answers that it simply took a different form. His story, alongside many others, is a physical manifestation of the harsh realities the Philippines had to face under the reign of the Marcos patriarch. Albeit the threat of historical revisions, Dr. Vea imparts: “We will all be lost unless we know what happened in the past.

Dr. Vea became one of the thousands given compensation from a human-rights class suit against the Marcos regime. He had donated much of these to initiatives that aimed to cement the atrocities of the Martial Law period; among them was a section in the library of the Philippine Science High School, dedicated to materials pertaining to human rights, the martial law, Philippine history, and literature.

Amidst the increased peril of forgetting the past with another Marcos incumbency, it is necessary to share stories like these to keep the truth afloat. The horrifying and grim atrocities indicate that Marcos has gifted the Philippines a history of bloodshed, injustice, and villainy. In commemorating the infamous law and light of a hopeful tomorrow, let the people remember – never again, never forget.


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