On Sept. 21, 1972, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos placed the country under martial law. The declaration suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, dissolved Congress, and closed media institutions.
Father Ed Gerlock
, chaplain of the Federation of Free Farmers, was one of several Catholic priests immediately arrested and thrown into prison after the declaration.
He was traveling in the southern region of Mindanao, giving religious recollections, when he was arrested on the same day martial law was declared.
He said he was trying to "put together" the lives of farmers as a "spiritual issue" only to be sent to prison. He was tried 13 months later, declared innocent, and placed on probation for three years.
"It was a circus," he said of his trial. Ed has since left the priesthood but continues to work with the "marginalized sector" of society, especially the urban poor and the elderly.
There were those that resisted the dictatorship of Marcos
, who responded with violence and persecution. The so-called progressive segment of the Church was targeted.
Demonstrations were met with truncheons and teargas, political prisoners were tortured, while hundreds went missing.
These atrocities were committed against the backdrop of a deteriorating socio-economic and political situation that reached crises proportions.
Liliosa Hilao, a student activist, did not survive martial law to tell her story.
Authorities said she committed suicide in detention, but her body bore signs of torture. Her lips were burnt with cigarette butts, her arms had needle marks, and her private parts removed.
Today, Hilao is remembered as the first prisoner to die in detention during martial law. She was one among thousands of victims during the darkest period of Philippine history.
Bereft of any moral basis and having caused human rights abuses, Marcos' martial law was prophetically condemned by progressive groups and individuals of the Catholic Church.
Pope St. John Paul ll, who visited the Philippines in 1981, called on Marcos to respect human dignity and human rights.
The late Cardinal Jaime Sin of Manila was vocal in his opposition against the abuses and is painfully remembered with several Catholic priests and laity who offered their lives on the altar of freedom.
On a Wall of Remembrance in Manila, the names of 27 martyred church people are etched side with 300 other "modern-day heroes."
Their martyrdom was a prophetic response to a dictatorship that victimized the afflicted of God’s flock.
The dark years the dictatorship culminated in a peaceful revolution in 1986 that was triggered by the people’s resistance to the atrocities.
Church people played a crucial role in ending the dictatorship.
Cardinal Sin of Manila and Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of Cebu were at the center of the demonstrations participated in by men and women of the church who recited prayers and sang hymns of supplication.
Almost half a century has passed since the fall of the dictatorship, but "Never Again" remains a slogan.
The continuing and even worsening human rights abuses in a country that should have learned from the lessons of its dark history continue to cause untold sufferings to God’s people.
Marie Hilao, sister of Liliosa, sighed in disappointment. "President Rodrigo Duterte has surpassed the number of killings and other atrocities of Marcos," she said.
As we mark the 48th anniversary of the declaration of martial law this month, the prophetic response of the Church, the people of God, will hopefully make us closer to the attainment of our dream for truth, justice, reparation, memory, and non-recurrence. Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is a former secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the victims of enforced disappearances, she received the Emilio F. Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of ucanews.com.