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MANILA, Philippines – To describe Hilda Narciso’s torture during Martial Law as disturbing is an understatement. Her torture was unimaginable, the kind you would not want to hear from someone who experienced it first-hand.
“Iyong pakiramdam na para kang binaboy, binastos, humiliated, degraded, dehumanized as a person. Mabuti pa ang basahan kaya mong linisin, ang tao parang hindi,” Hilda described what she went through under the hands of the military when she was held captive.
(That feeling like you were molested, disrespected, humiliated, degraded, dehumanized as a person. Rags are better off because they can be cleaned but a person, it seems not.)
Hilda was a teacher and a church worker during the dictatorship. She visited a German pastor in Davao City and spent the night in his home. That same evening a group of 30 military men raided the house and arrested the pastor, and the other people living in the house, Hilda included.
They were taken after the owners of the house were suspected of conspiracy to commit rebellion. Hilda was just at the wrong place and time.
She was taken to a separate car, different from that where pastor Volker Schmidt and two other companions, Anna Mae Morallos and Jethro Dionisio, were brought to. Alone, she was handcuffed, blindfolded and molested as the men interrogated her.
When they reached the “safe house”, where “only the military are safe”, she was brought to a room.
“I was brought to a room then I heard a voice of a person who told them to go out. I presumed he was the head of the raiding team. I was not able to defend myself. He had me for himself. I was raped,” she recalled.
That was just the first of a series of sexual abuse she painfully went through under the military.
“After that he brought me out and I was ganged up. A lot of males and hands were still [on me] different penises were forced down my mouth. It was so disgusting. Then while they molest you, you just want to feel you’re dead. They were fingering my vagina,” she continued.
Out of an outpour of mixed emotions – mostly anger, she hurled: “Don’t you have daughters? Girlfriends? Sisters, or mothers? Anyone you love. What if this was done to them, how would you feel?”
To her regret, they responded: “It’s all right, as long as we don’t see it.” (READ: #NeverAgain: Martial Law stories young people need to hear)
Hilda would recall how she, her friends, and 85 political prisoners were inhumanely treated: they slept on floors while mosquitoes buzzed around their humid cells; they were fed with rotten fish that had worms.
Their captors also deprived them of sunning hours and disallowed them brief freedom from darkness. But when they were allowed to go out, they would force some of their fellow detainees to run as they would be shot with a gun.
“It’s like you’re not human anymore. Imagine an animal held captive,” she said.
Help and heal
Even while in detention, Hilda fought to file a case against her abusers. She was the first one to pursue a rape case against the military at the time. But it was dropped for lack of evidence. (WATCH: Rappler’s Martial Law playlist)
“My lady lawyer did not do much. When I had to undergo a medical exam, she wasn’t around. I was left alone with the military. The doctor’s assessment was that it can’t be traced that I was raped but she can trace I had abortion prior to my arrest, [which did not happen]. I was harassed.”
Given the miserable situation, Hilda just drew inspiration from her experience to help others who were sexually abused like her.
She spoke in public about her horrific experience after she was released. “I asked for death during the time so what [am I] afraid of? Just to help people who came out in the open just to talk about it.”
Later on, she was invited by international groups such as Amnesty International to talk. Going abroad opened her eyes to expand the way she helps and heals.
She helped set up advocacy groups that felt the oppression of the government during the dictatorship such as Gabriela and Selda (Samahan ng mga Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto).
To better heal, she flew to Denmark to study therapy that eventually led her to founding the Women Crisis Center. She also improved her expertise on healing using Oriental medicine, which involves acupuncture and energy healing.
Healing of the land
Even decades after Martial Law, Hilda continues to talk about her nightmare. While she continues to heal, the “healing of the land” has yet to happen, she said.
“There’s a different level of healing for every individual. I am single person, but many of them are married and they have children. Many of them can’t talk too much and they keep it from their children and so they cannot understand,” she added.
When the issue on the proposed hero’s burial for the late president Ferdinand Marcos erupted, Hilda – among the petitioners in the Supreme Court opposing the dictator's burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani – said this would not bring "healing for humanity”.
She urged others to be critical and ask about what happened during Martial Law in judging history. “Why was the Commission on Human Rights [set up] after [Marcos was ousted]? Why was the Presidential Commission on Good Government established to run after the Marcoses’ ill-gotten wealth?”
“In this fight, we have to think not only of ourselves but also of others – other people who suffered under Martial Law.” – Rappler.com