ROMAN woke up tied to a wooden chair in a dark room with only a solitary bulb swaying ominously overhead, hanging by a think wire, that made an annoying squeaking racket. He has been doused with a pail of water. His rib cage sored.
“Who is your leader, your Party officer?” asked a man with a baritone voice.
He tried to open his mouth but before words could come out, like whiplash, a lead pipe hit him right smack his temple. Roman instantly lost consciousness.
When he became conscious, a woman was sitting beside him. She began removing his pants and underwear. The woman cupped and stroked Roman’s privates while she teasingly licked his earlobes. Despite the ringing pain in his head, Roman began to have an erection.
Suddenly, a man emerged from behind the woman. With a red-hot tie-wire in hand, the man shoved it into Roman’s engorged member. His toes cringed at the burning sensation that seemed to radiate to his gut.
Not satisfied, the heavy-set man wiggled the tie-wire while still plunged into Roman’s private part. At the same time, the woman kept on nibbling his earlobes and kissing him down to his nape.
Although they were just as fast as his eyes could blink, the flashbacks are still eerily vivid.
Roman, born in the summer of 1958, is the youngest of six siblings.
They lived a modest but comfortable life in Mako, Davao del Norte. He idolized his father, a Filipino US Navy ensign. He first tried to apply at the Philippine Military Academy but standing at 5’2”, he was not accepted. Not to be discouraged easily, Roman enrolled at the University of Mindanao and took up Bachelor of Science in Criminology.
“Yes, studying to be a law enforcer is very different from the distinguished naval career my father had. But studying to be a police officer was my second-best choice,” he said.
Roman also had the knack for the visual arts. He soon became known throughout the campus for his sketches and charcoal portraits. His awkward hard-pressed strokes slowly flourished into graceful yet definite strokes. He tried even harder when one of his professors told him his talent would be a defining edge if he seriously considered a career in law enforcement.
During semestral breaks, Roman would go home to his hometown. There he would regale his manongs and manangswith stories of his life at the university, from the girl he nearly courted but got busted trying to amusing anecdotes of his favorite absent-minded professor in Spanish class.
On Sept. 21, 1972, Roman watched intently on their boarding house’s wood-encased Radiowealth television as the then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos announced Proclamation 1081, placing the entire country under Martial Law.
At 17, he could not understand why many students at the university started protesting in the streets. Roman liked how the President of the “Bagong Lipunan” took the mounting civil unrest under firm control with one decisive move. He liked the discipline Martial Law commanded.
Roman was reviewing for an exam at night when his roommate, Carlo, told him they had forgotten to buy a coil of mosquito killer early in the afternoon. Not wanting to be disturbed, Roman hissed at Carlo to go out and buy it himself.
Engrossed with his notes, Roman lost track of the time. But when his bedside clock chimed 12 times, he suddenly realized Carlo had still not turned in—looking at the empty bunk bed below him.
Weeks past when Roman received news of a decomposing body—badly mutilated—was found in a dumpster under the Bankerohan Bridge. It was his friend Carlo. Carlo’s gruesome and senseless death nagged at Roman’s conscience.
“I could not understand why my friend was killed so brutally when there was a Martial Law in effect to protect the people from hoodlums and gangsters,” Roman recalled.
One day, he found a note in between the pages in one of his textbooks.
“If you want to make sense out of the brutal killing of Carlo, join us at the university gym, under the bleachers this afternoon at 3 pm. Come alone,” the note reads.
“Perhaps this is the secret organization Carlo was into. Then again, maybe this is just some prank,” Roman recalled adding that he went to attend the meeting anyway.
There, he met five students and after a momentary awkward silence, they introduced themselves, one after another (surnames were never said), course major and age, in that particular order.
Roman learned from the group that Carlo, like them, was a member of the Kabataang Makabayan. It was to be, he said, his first “collective” in the underground movement.
He learned a lot from these encounters. He learned that what he thought was a brilliant law to discipline the country’s political dissenters was in reality stifling his very existence as a person.
Slowly but surely, Roman started to form a different view of the world, people and institutions.
Roman had been reborn. He was reborn with an aggressive dissident wit.
Serve the People
His first “deployment” was in the rolling hills and dimly lit rainforests of Afga in the southeastern tip of Agusan del Norte.
Roman was tasked to guide the political consciousness of combatants of the New People’s Army’ Cesar Cayon Command, a generic company of Guerilla Front 4A.
Twice every month, he would discuss the fine points and importance of the “people’s protracted war,” and the strategy of “surrounding the cities on the countryside.” Roman had proven to his comrades his apt diligence in practicing the revolution’s “3-8-7” iron discipline and his stern yet warm rapport with his comrades.
In the boondocks, Roman developed a new skill. He found that he also had the knack for pistols. He drew fast and shoot straight. And because of his athletic body, was agile to execute rolls and summersaults.
Soon enough, he was not only tasked to be the company’s “political officer,” Roman was given “special missions.” Whenever the people in the community complained about an abusive CHDF (Civilian Home Defense Force member), Roman was sent to deliver the “people’s justice.”
In three years, he became a member of the NPA’s elite partisan unit, the Sparrow Unit. Just like in Filipino B-movies, Roman recalled, they would engage “corrupt” policemen in a shootout even in the middle of a busy junction in the city in broad daylight.
Roman, now a battle-tested ideologue, was deployed in a relatively “liberated” Agdao district of Davao City––infamously known then as “Nicaragdao”—a take on the equally embattled South American nation, Nicaragua.
Enemy of the State
One particularly humid afternoon of August 1986, a local Sanga sa Partido called for a meeting.
Roman was at the other side of Agdao—there were no cell phones then, messages were sent by trusted “liaison” officers—when the memo came.
He had just finished a “mission” that day and had forgotten his lunch.
The venue was a hut strategically poised on a man-made hill. From the hut, one could see who was approaching.
When Roman took the last hairpin-turn to the venue, a ten-year-old kid rushed to him—with eyes wide pumped with adrenaline—hushed that earlier that noon a group of “government” looking men raided the hut and taken three of his comrades in handcuffs.
“There are still three persons inside the hut,” the child whispered.
Years of training took over, Roman quickly deduced he could take the three armed men hiding by the side of the hut—he had encountered direr situations than this.
He cocked his 1911-Colt .45 then inched slowly towards the hut. As he was nearing the hut, he peeped through the hut’s stilts where he spied two silhouettes of men obviously with rifles.
“But wait,” Roman thought, “the kid said there were three.” But just as he was about to crawl away from the hut—“Click.”
Before Roman could react, he felt a sharp pang on his side—the man clad in camouflage had slammed the butt of this M16 on his rib cage.
“Who is your recruiter?” the man with the baritone voice asked again.
Somehow, Roman was now hanging upside down. A muted thud then he felt an excruciating pain on his pelvis; the strike hit his lumbar muscles.
Urine started to gush down to his mouth.
Another man, now slightly leaner than the other, swung a baseball bat to his armpit, sending exquisite pain to Roman’s solar plexus.
By now, Roman was already disoriented as to what time of the day it was, what day it was of the week and what week it was of the month. He woke up alone in a two-by-three-meter cell. The only illumination he got was the gleam from the seams of the steel door. He had soiled his pants so many times that the crotch had already caked.
Another week of what seemed like years to Roman, his captors transferred him to a regular cell. The bunker bed had foam covered neatly with an immaculately white bed sheets that bore “AFP Property,” the pillow was not bad either. Some of his bruises and contusions have already healed albeit those that are usually exposed were still sore.
Scarred for Life
“Just kill me, please!”
It was just at the stroke of midnight, Roman lying rigid on his bed kept screaming, his hands clenched into fists. Beads of sweat slid from his temples down to his nape. He tried moving his toes—just as his therapist taught him, a couple of sessions ago—whenever the flashbacks gripped him into a virtual atrophy.
Failing, he tried to will his mind to force his neck muscles to bobble his head from side to side. As Roman did this, each shift wrought intermittent flashes in his mind, which consisted of four-second scenes of his ordeal, some years ago.
Roman could smell the stench of urine in one of the flashbacks, putrid human waste in another. He sensed an electric rod grazing dangerously near his penis in yet one of the flashbacks.
Then the ultimate squall of sensation came. Gradually, Roman was gasping for air—it was as if a plastic bag was shrouded tightly over his head. At first, he felt ridiculous.
“This could not be possibly happening to me for real,” he thought.
However, as seconds seemed to tick agonizingly slower than usual, Roman found himself in the threshold of asphyxiation. The dizziness he felt microseconds ago turned to panic. His body still shudders every time the flashbacks visit him in his sleep.
Roman would still wince every time he urinates. He is deaf in his left ear. Roman survived a hypertensive stroke in the later part of 2009.
Now 54 years old, he regularly attends psycho-therapy sessions with three other torture survivors during Martial Law in one of the local clinics in the city. Roman currently lives in one of Cagayan de Oro City’s 80 barangays, tending a small vegetable patch on his yard.
“I think I’ll never get over what I went through when I was captured during Martial Law. I hope that by telling my story, the new generation of students and young activists will never let a martial rule proclaimed again,” Roman said.