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[FIRST PERSON] Paghinumdum: Remembering Martial Law atrocities in Davao Oriental

Ferdinand Zuasola

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[FIRST PERSON] Paghinumdum: Remembering Martial Law atrocities in Davao Oriental

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Beneath the four dump trucks was a sea of blood, dripping non-stop onto the concrete floors of the munisipyo's basketball court'

Even though politics was the inspiration behind my name (owing to my father’s total and undying admiration for the late dictator, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., plus the fact that Marcos and I shared the same birthday), I had no idea then about the brutality of the Marcos dictatorship. I was born three years after the madman declared martial law in 1972.

One day, in 1983, I was playing jolen (marbles) with two other kids my age when I heard an aunt shouting, “Hala, gipatay si Ninoy (Oh dear, Ninoy has been killed)!” The aunt had learned of Ninoy’s murder through a breaking news report while they were watching a popular noontime show.

Who was that murdered man? I asked myself as we continued playing marbles. The succeeding days, Ninoy’s brutal killing at the airport would become a regular fixture both in television and on the radio. TV was more powerful, as it showed footage of the huge crowd of humanity attending Ninoy’s funeral in Manila.

My family lived in the southernmost part of the country, Mati, the sleepy capital town of Davao Oriental. The heated political atmosphere in Manila following Ninoy’s murder had soon seeped into our province, and I think it was in 1985 when I first witnessed first-hand the brutality of the Marcos regime.

I think I was in Grade 5 when a classmate prodded me to go out of the classroom and rush to the nearby municipal government building; she said that there were lots of dead bodies being displayed on its grounds. As we walked from our school to the munisipyo, I really had no idea what disturbing scenes were in store, but even before we had reached the venue, I already saw so many people hurriedly rushing from its perimeters, great horror written all over their faces.

From afar, I saw people crowding four dump trucks, which were overflowing with naked, dead bodies of people, young and old. As I got nearer, what struck me most was the body of what looked like a five-year-old girl, her stomach opened wide, riddled with bullets. Beside her was the body of an old woman, her head riddled with bullets, too.

Seeing hundreds of dead bodies displayed in a public place overwhelmed me so much that my ten-year-old legs literally collapsed, and I cried in total horror. Beneath the four dump trucks was a sea of blood, dripping non-stop onto the concrete floors of the munisipyo’s basketball court.

After regaining composure, I asked an old man in the crowd: who are these dead people? Who killed them? Why were they being killed and why were all of them naked? The old man just stared at me and did not bother to answer my query.


Voices from the Regions: People Power beyond Manila

Voices from the Regions: People Power beyond Manila

Despite being terrified, I decided to stay with the crowd. A group of heavily armed, uniformed men whom people called the PC (Philippine Constabulary) came in. One of them spoke using a megaphone. His exact words in the vernacular were: “Katawhan sa Mati, kini inyong nakita mga dautang tawo kini sila. Mga rebelde ni sila. Ayaw gyud mo og sundog ani nila (People of Mati, what you are seeing now are dead bodies of bad people. They are rebels. Don’t you ever follow in their footsteps).”

This horrifying scene took place in 1985, a year before the Marcos dictatorship was toppled from power. – Rappler.com

Ferdinand Zuasola is Davao Oriental-based journalist and a recipient of the Rappler’s Aries Rufo Fellowship, in partnership with the Journalism for Nation Building Foundation.

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