What Marcos prisons were really like



Second of Two Parts

What they were like was completely different from what a crackpot writer, who has never seen even a picture of a single detention center, recently depicted in a rabidly anti-Marcos book, which is simply a huge money-making project if it is adopted as a textbook in our schools, as the Yellow Cultists are lobbying for now.

I can speak of only five Marcos detention centers where I was incarcerated, together with my late wife Raquel, from 1973 to 1974: the Philippine Constabulary’s (PC) 5th Constabulary Unit in Camp Crame; that of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP) in Camp Aguinaldo; that of the National Intelligence Coordinating Authority in its headquarters at V. Luna Road in Quezon City (where it still is); as well as the Ipil Youth Rehabilitation Center and the maximum security Youth Rehabilitation Center, both in Fort Bonifacio—these latter two being the biggest during the Martial Law period.

For me and most other political prisoners of that time, the horror part of our saga, from which much of the tales of “torture” emanated, was our “processing period”—the weeks after our arrest when Marcos’ intelligence services raced against time to extract from us information that could lead to the capture of our other comrades, especially the big fish.

I was arrested in July 1973, together with nearly all of the Communist Party’s Manila-Rizal Regional Committee, which I headed. Several of the committee’s members would, three decades later, constitute the core of the revolution’s leadership, among them the party’s chairman, now Benito Tiamzon, his wife Wilma, and secretary-general Adelberto Silva.

We were jailed for several weeks at the 5th Constabulary Security Unit’s headquarters in Camp Crame, all 20 of us in a cell roughly half the size of a regular classroom. A bucket at a corner was our urinal, so small that you had to kneel to piss in it and which got to be so stinky in the morning. The cell was so cramped that we got into each other’s nerves: I once lunged at Tiamzon for making fun of me meditating in the lotus pose, which I credited for my keeping my sanity.

Such cells shocked our middle-class comrades, especially writers romanticizing themselves as glorious heroes of a Revolution, as they, of course, had seen nothing like those circumstances in their cloistered lives.

I, and my lower-class comrades, knew better. The PC cell was actually much better than the horrific bug-infested and crowded Marikina City Jail, where I spent three nights in 1970 when I was arrested, together with several other Atenean activists, for joining a labor strike at the Goya Chocolate factory in Marikina.

Detention cells the same
Detention cells during Martial Law and after Martial Law are the same, with many of those now even much worse, as shown by TV news footages of crowded prisons in Quezon City and elsewhere.

Our society’ class system, of course, was followed at the 5th CSU jail, and every other prison. After several punches at my solar-plexus and liver by soldiers who, I learned later, routinely slug a bottle of gin to fight off fear in operations against communists, I wasn’t touched again, other than through a truth-serum session later at the headquarters of the army’s intelligence services. However, my bodyguard and other staff who were from the poorer classes were beaten up badly, sometimes just for fun by these soldiers to relieve their tension.

Again middle-class political prisoners are shocked by such beatings, which however, routinely occur today in detention cells in police precincts.

After a month, when the military felt they couldn’t get any useful information from us, we were taken to join about 2,000 other detainees to the Ipil Rehabilitation Center at Fort Bonifacio, which was the regime’s biggest detention center. As I entered Ipil, with its huge grounds, and seeing our other comrades, I think I heard choirs of angels singing hallelujah.

Ipil was nothing like the terrible detention centers ignorant anti-Marcos writers describe. I think this is the reason why the Yellow Cult, even with their absolute power in 1986, had not preserved—in the manner they have done with Ninoy’s cells in Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Pangasinan—any detention centers during Martial Law as these would conflict with their horror tales. I haven’t found even a single photo of these centers.

Ipil was converted from a training school for non-commissioned officers, and consisted of five buildings, two of which where our barracks, another for the women detainees (which was separated by a gate from our barracks, closed in the evening). The fifth building, which had an elevated stage (for graduation ceremonies mainly), was our dining hall.

It reminded me of the Ateneo High School complex, with the desks, of course, replaced with two-level bunk beds. What would be a more familiar analogy would be that Ipil looked like public elementary schools in the provinces, but with higher ceilings. And like these schools, Ipil had vast grounds, which we tilled into huge vegetable plots encircled by a jogging path. There was a regulation-size basketball court, the scene of not a few fisticuffs between detainees’ and the guards’ teams.

The bunk beds were in high-ceilinged halls of the three buildings. It wasn’t really so bad, after one has gotten used to sleeping deaf to the orchestra of snores from several people around.

Not a few comrades decided to bring in their children into Ipil — as my wife and I did with my daughter Andrea, who stayed at the women’s quarters for months. A comrade of ours we called Dolphy, from a poor area of Tondo, set up in one corner of the hall his very own territory, surrounded by two bunk-beds covered by banigs, where he, his wife, and child lived.

Revolutionary government
We were left mostly on our own, and we set up our own covert “revolutionary government” of sorts, which I led being the highest ranking communist there, until I resigned form the party. We had communal vegetable production, a store, a cultural group, a medical group (which, unfortunately administered bad acupuncture) even our own security unit, which on one occasion beat up a detainee whom we suspected was a mole.

We set up a library, which I volunteered to run with the sickly writer Ricky Lee, as this had the privilege of living with private space in the quonset hut were the library was housed.

Ipil’s warden was a grandfatherly Master Sergeant we called “Master.” He often practically begged us not to do anything that would mar his service record, since he was to retire soon. His two main assistants were young army privates from some distant provinces who were so self-conscious like awkward teenagers and apologetic when they held the morning assembly to check if no one had escaped.

The food was bad, of course, especially if you came from the middle or upper classes that accounted for probably 70 percent of the detainees. But I later learned it was the same chow distributed to all soldiers in Fort Bonifacio. Our relatives brought the best food they could every time they visited, and we shared these with our poorer comrades.

I was transferred to the Youth Rehabilitation Center (YRC), also in Fort Bonifacio, where I stayed for a few months, for leading (with a priest) a hunger strike at Ipil for reasons in hindsight so trivial I forget now what it was.

YRC was supposed to be a higher-security prison, where well-known communist leaders like Nilo Tayag and NPA commanders were detained, together with rich people Marcos thought were financing the movement to oust him, such as the Araneta brothers, Antonio and Enrique. YRC was in an old castle-like building and had fewer detainees, perhaps about 100.

After a week in a solitary cell like you see in the movies—the worst episode in my detention—I was “released” to join the other detainees. While YRC was dreary, and didn’t have the vast open spaces of Ipil, detainees had more privacy, with most of them living in two-person cells, which in my entire stay there I never saw locked. YRC was run in practically the same way Ipil was by the AFP, which Fidel Ramos supervised.

It is understandable for those detained during Martial Law, who are now in their 60s, to try to give meaning and drama in their lives through narratives that they heroically fought dictatorship, and suffered terribly under it in detention.

Communist cadres
What isn’t mentioned at all in such narratives is that many, if not most, of them were cadres of the Communist Party, which would have tried to overthrow any government.

In my case, I not only headed the Party’s organization in metropolitan Manila, but was also organizing the first armed group intended to operate in the metropolis, the prototype of which would later be the dreaded Alex Boncayao Brigade. Why shouldn’t the state arrest and detain me?

How many of the political prisoners during Martial Law, who spent years in detention centers, were cadres of the Party, or instead were – as a common Filipino joke always says of innocent young victims of circumstances, which was popular in detention camps – merely sent out by their mothers on an errand to buy vinegar from the store, when they were arrested?

We dramatically portrayed ourselves as freedom fighters, a concept which our non-communist supporters – especially gullible clerics looking for some meaning in their otherwise empty lives – fell for, hook, line, and sinker. Yes, we were fighting a dictatorship, but we were also fighting to install a dictatorship of the proletariat, represented, of course, by the Communist Party. We were waging, as Party Chairman Jose Maria Sison repeatedly wrote, a people’s war. For Marcos’ military at that time, they were waging a war against Communists and Moro secessionists.

There were, of course, torture, rape, and summary executions by Marcos’ military. But what war has there ever been in the world in which there were no atrocities by the sadists, the cruel rogue elements from both protagonists? Even the Communist Party, in the 1980s committed such atrocities, even against their own comrades, in their paranoia that the revolution had been massively infiltrated by spies and moles.

The crucial questions are whether there was a Marcos policy to undertake such horrific human rights abuses and if these occurred in such scale as the Suharto regime’s genocide of at least 500,000 Chinese-Indonesians in 1965 or the institutionalized torture by the Chilean state under Pinochet in the 1970s.

That Filipinos voted Fidel Ramos as President and Juan Ponce Enrile as senator for several terms—the two men who supervised the military and the police during Martial Law—implicitly provides us with a resounding answer to those questions.



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  1. Thank God (I know Communists hate the term) for social media. I mean, why are we even entertaining the words of a Communist? It is a failed system. Ask yourself, “How many people are trying to immigrate to Cuba?” None! Cubans are trying to escape the failures of Communism, even at the cost of their lives in the process.

    I have three degrees; hence, I have spent a great deal of time on the campuses of colleges and universities. It comes as no revelation to me that radical leftest professors abound in such environments. In fact, one of my degrees is in Communications/Journalism and I can personally testify that the print media is also a hotbed for radical leftist ideology (i.e. Communists).

    Even if I had even one iota of consideration for the words spoken by an avowed Communist, what does it really matter whether a prison or detention camp had a basketball court or a swimming pool? Our focus should be on the facts surrounding the horrors of Martial Law. I have spoken with a plethora of those who suffered under the “Iron Fist” totalitarianism of the Marcos dictatorship. Beatings, rape, confiscation of personal property, government control over TV & Radio stations, extrajudicial killings, torture, threats, etc. were commonplace during that time.

    The easy answer for those who never experienced such horrors, “Play the Yellow Card.” Doing so is a delusional deflection that may soothe, or blind, your consciousness to the evils under Martial Law, but it does not erase the truth. What next? Will you tell us that the Holocaust never happened? Will you play the race card to make the death camps of Nazi Germany seem like luxury resorts where 6 million plus awaited their systematic extermination.

    Yellow Card, E.U. Card, U.N. Card, Western Card, etc. are expected responses to create an ad hominem defense that attempts to appeal to one’s prejudices, emotions, or special interests rather than to one’s intellect or reason. There are too many persons still alive today that can show you the physical and emotional scars incurred during the Marcos’ regime of terror. Marcos simply played the Commie Card in order to jail or eliminate any and all who would oppose him. Obviously, we should and must oppose Communist ideology, but the misuse of Martial Law must never be used a methodology to silence the opposition of freedom loving citizens within a democracy.

    The irony in all of this? We have have opposed Communist ideology for over three decades. Many men and women have given their lives to stand in the gap and protect us from the failed ideology of Communism. Now the current leadership is urinating on the graves of those brave men and women by opening up positions for Communists within the government and reaching out to Russia and China.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

  2. Mr. Tiglao is correct that the truth and the root of Martial Law are the makings of Benigno (Ang Bayani) Aquino, JOMA and Misuari. These Communist and Yellow Syndicate started their propaganda against FEM before the reelection of FEM in 1969 or several years before the declaration of Martial Law. After the Yellow Syndicate assumed power in 1986, they changed all the textbooks and teach the young generations about Martial Law and hatred against Marcos. Until now after another Aquino’s presidency, the Yellows and the Communist doesn’t stop on their attack to FEM and Martial Law. I think majority of Filipinos of this generation were already aware of who were the real traitors of our generations and no other than the so called “Bayani” (Ninoy Aquino & Partners). FEM is the true defender of democracy and not the other way around as portrayed by the Yellow Syndicate & the CPP.

  3. Thanks Mr. Bobbi Tiglao on this narrative! We do hope that Ramos will eventually tell Filipinos what really had transpired during his lead as PC head of the Martial Law years, wherein Enrile has somehow been forthright about it lately. Kudos! And can’t wait for more!

  4. I love the way mr tiglao emphasized the distinction between these two contradicting views of what had happened during martial law. I say that yes sometimes your status in life deter how you perceive things. Im sure if i were encarcerated during those times knowing the fact that i violated the law would tame me. I have no power my family has no money so simply accept my fate as a consequence to my actions. On the other hand, people who have everything to brag especially those who enjoy power and ranked in the social and political heirarchy would be resistive and critical. Damn. Only in the philippines. When are we going to correct this thinking? That those who have more in life would have more protections in law?

  5. Well explained. If there is a so called revisionist of RP martial law history it is the Aquino’s and their yellow followers.

  6. Dear sir,

    i appreciate of what you revealed that you are one of those comrades by the left wings before martial law was declared. I have a few friends try to convince me to join the underground movement like yours but i refused to do so. After EDSA revolution, lantaran ang pangangampanya ng mga left wing para maging communist country ang Pilipinas. During Corykong time, they use CCP to recruit and to attend seminars for the domino theory of communist country. One of my friend (member of left wing) explain to me their goals for the Philippines. I disagree and i told him, if the Philippines will become part of a domino theory like cambodia, and if it does ako naman ang mamamumundok para ipaglaban ang aking bansa para sa demokrasya at hindi para maging komunista. The filipino people were still blind for the truth, and Why Martial law was declared?? Because of Ninoy Aquino and Joma Sison..These people use the students , media, to revolt against Marcos government and to implement their ambition about DOMINO THEORY once they takeover the marcos government. But President Marcos was very clever. Before it happens he declared martial law..And all those communist elements were arrested without search warrant. If i am not mistaken it is ASSO, arrest without search warrant for subversive and rebellion case. Ang mga dilawan na hanggang ngayon ay palaging martial law ang kanilang issue against marcos, at alam nila ang dahilan kung bakit dineclare ni FEM ang martial law, pero hindi nila ito sinasabi sa mamayang Filipino, You are one of those victims and elements Sir, during that time..Mabuti na lamang at nag declare ng martial law, kung hindi, naging Cambodia, Vietnam Style tayo and we will part of a MAINLAND CHINA, Peking now BEIJING..For your information.

  7. You conveniently omitted that Marcos declared Martial law to perpetuate himself in power . That the NPA actually grew from 3000 to 25000 during martial law due to Marcos abuses

    • Let say marcos did not declare martial law and benigno aquino became president after marcos, do you think npa would diminished? Cory freed sison and so what happened? Did sison turn his back to communism? He still became enemy of the state. Npa became even more active. I conclude that It is wrong to say that martial law is the reason. The big reason is greed of power If sison was kept in his prison cell probably government wouldnt be spending much for peacetalks and npa insurgency could have been a problem in the past

    • Of course he wanted to stay in power…..but subsequent events proved that Joma Sison wanted power for himself too. Abuses were committed on both sides! CCP – NPA killed innocent civilians who refused to pay revolutionary taxes!

    • You are in denial of the communist threat if you are saying communism grew because of martial law, or that macoy just used martial law to perpetuate himself in power. My guess is, you were never immersed enough in the provinces to know how bad it really was. Further, communism even grew bigger after EDSA. I wonder how aware you are of the damage it is doing to the economy in the provinces.

    • It was already explained why Martial Law was declared and mr. Tiglao refuted the sources of these numbers. It’s you idiots who can’t tell the subjective narrative from the objective. Your perspective is as narrow as the streets of Manila.

  8. Kudos to you, Mr. Tiglao! I wish you can write more about topics like this. I also keep telling my nephews and nieces now that the West, the Yellow cult, the Left and every type of partisans between them in the academe and media tried and is still trying to perpetuate a one-sided and distorted take of history. I told them that the Martial Law years wasn’t just about the Marcos dictatorship but also about the Maoist insurgency and the Moro secessionism. That it was also about the power struggle between Elite camps that just happen to be on the opposite sides of the same coin. That our domestic problems then were also affected by US imperialism and Soviet expansionism.

    Yes, the Marcos regime had blood in its hands. But so as the Maoist insurgency and Moro secessionist movements. They were actually feeding on each others’ energy that it resulted into the entire Filipino nation becoming victims of circumstances. That in the end ALL SIDES contributed to the free fall of the Philippine economy and the pauperization of the masses, and not just the previous inhabitants of Malacanang.


    without his timely intervention– we should have been overran by communists.

    the landed before martial law are still angry at marcos bcz of his land distribution to the poor which came from eh large tracts of land of the rich– fairview etc.

  10. May we hear from the fiercely anti-Marcos columnists of Manila Standard, like Atty Rene Saguisag. “Historical revisionism!” they rant and cry all the time like some abominable crime is being committed, but that is all; they could not be bothered to refute points being raised, branding everyone who disagrees with them as gullible idiots without a brain to distinguish chaff from the grain.

  11. Leodegardo Pruna on

    Just too bad that so many of the Filipinos are being hoodwinked by the yellows composed by the so-called mother of democracy, when we had democracy already in practice by the Americans and his son P-Noy where both were aiming to get the Nobel Peace Prize but failed. Those who are in the senate are trying to reverse history to earn from what they are insisting to be used as textbook in schools because it will be earning for them much money. There being in the senate is not for the people’s welfare but for their own selfish motives. We have to pray for these people for enlightenment. And, we hope for FVR and those in the know to reveal the truth. God bless the Philippines.

  12. Thank you Mr. Tiglao for this very enlightening narratives.Indeed, there is still Enrile and Ramos who can tell the story..the true story.. Enrile is slowly surfacing but we have yet to hear from Mr. Ramos.

  13. Bobbi Tiglao Thank you for the objective and practical narrative. I was also at the CSU 5th in Camp Crame, NISA, Crame Gym and YRC, but I hated the ‘bartolina’ with just droplets of water for washing, forgot now if there was a toilet bowl, however, I was proud to learn that Macario Sakay experienced the YRC cell(s). Torture and rape is part of any political struggle to humiliate the spirit, in return it makes one to know oneself. Life is what we make of it. Risa Hontiveros wrote a propaganda, perhaps thinking Mar Roxas will win the election, LOL, collecting pa sa advance printing kamo? I like your piece and better for the young generation.

    • Rigoberto D. Tiglao on

      kaya pala YRC was an old detention center for political prisoners? should have been kept as a museum. pm me at facebook bobi tiglao

  14. The other big question is, what if Martial Law was not declared and the communists were successful in overtaking and ruling the country? The country could had been subjected to social engineering like what happened to Cambodia when the communist Khmer Rouge took over….

    • The communists would likely to commit human rights abusive more harsher than Marcos and there would be a thousand if not millions of Filipinos who will be refugees like that happened in Vietnam.

  15. Indeed, that jekyl and hyde husband and wife team and their conceited fawners with their pretentious blog self styling it as cyber Plaza Miranda when it can not even tolerate contrary view to their Malloch Line that they deem infalliable as Bible truth can not accept historicAl truths and will surely brand Bobi as paid historical revisionist or paid Marcos troll. For surely, torture or summary execution are elements in the combatants’ arsenal in their pursuit of their respective agenda but that does not mean that their use is a laid down policy that their agents need to employ. War will always produce casualties (eg. Edjop, Eman) or prisoners of war (eg. Nilo, Nelia, Carol) and collateral damage but it seems that the POW tales romanticized and sauteed with messianic flavor are the ones being made as the only narrative of the martial law years glamorized and compiled as they are into urban legend proportions by “the little lady”.

    Btw Bobi, Laur is in nueva ecija.

  16. I was an active member of KM (Kabataang Makabayan) during my high school days, Sining Bayan during my college days, worked with several companies in my professional life but I have yet to meet someone who was a victim of martial law. I’ll be a senior citizen next year. Thank you very much Ambassador for this article.

  17. Wasn`t Martial Law declared because of Joma Sison and Ninoy Aquino, The co-founders of CPP/NPA-NDF? It was ignited when Ninoy Aquino and Joma Sison masterminded the Plaza Miranda bombing. And why is Ninoy Aquino portraited as a hero by the Yellowtards for 3 decades of false and fake propaganda that defamed Ferdinand Marcos until now? May we ill-informed Filipinos know the real truth behind and reasons why FM has to declare Martial Law. We hope Amb. Tiglao will wright another column and bare the truth of Ninoy Aquinos` true color.

  18. This must be an enlightening narrative of actual experiences which might dispel some of the impressions from ‘activists’ which, in effect, distort some facts of the Martial Law regime. I hope many of these young activists who want to appear caring for the Philippines but who, in fact, believe in what they read, especially those abroad, who don’t know any better. More objective and unbiased recollections of the Martial Law regime such as this, should be published.

  19. Thanxs sir Amb. Tiglao for objectively furthering our understanding our history being distorted by the powerful Yellows. Actually, PGMA was also their victim.

  20. Shame to these yellow cultists particularly those from the academe who are all out in their uncanny effort to distort facts about the Martial Law years. Historians and most writers would almost always conduct their research studies in finding the truth of what really transpired for the benefit of the reading public. But it remains a quandary that President Ramos and Senator Enrile who were the actual Martial Law enforcers have never corrected these allegations In order to once and for all put a closure on this issue. They owe this to the new Filipino generation lest these deliberate distortions would forever become mental baggages!