An interview with torture victim Romeo Luneta published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
PHILIPPINES: Torture victims speaks out–“I still suffer from trauma after two decades” Interview 2
Torture in the Philippines & the unfulfilled promise of the 1987 Constitution
OVERVIEW: In the second part of the interview, Romeo Luneta speaks about his experience during Martial Law. Years after the incident, he could still describe vividly and in detail his experience of torture. He has not obtained any form of psychological and trauma counselling treatment, only medicine to help relieve pain and alleviate hearing loss.
Self introduction: I’d like you to know that I am Romeo Luneta, Romeo E. Luneta, 69 years old, Filipino, widower, a victim of Martial Law. I was a victim of torture during the Martial Law Regime of Ferdinand Marcos.
I was detained under the pretext ‘cup of coffee’ by the military. I was offered, they say ‘a cup of coffee’ (when they arrested me for questioning) as they speak to me. And then as soon, I was made to board on a military jeep to their camp. I was told to first (disclose) my (personal) history. I did not. They force me to confess using force intimidation and all sorts of actions to make me comply with what they wanted.
First when I did not comply to their requirements to (disclose) my personal history they use dos por dos (a length of wood measuring 2×2), they beat my back, head and arm. It was dos por dos (that they used in assaulting me). For every question, whether (my reply was) right or not they hit me.
So I decided not to talk anymore because they were asking about the history of my brothers and sisters. I was the first amongst our siblings who was apprehended by the military at that time. We are nine siblings (in our family). I was the first person to be arrested. I was not able to elude the arrest so they got me. I was made to undress. They apply electricity on my penis, my testicles and when they would not accept any answer except for whatever thing I say they always hit me with the dos por dos. And a military instrument thing that later I came to know called kaburata.
Q: What is kaburata?
Victim: It looks like an eggplant. It is quite long. If it is used to inflict damage (pain) on a person’s body, it will not leave any torture marks (wound). The injured part would only swell and inflame. I was place under this interrogation from time to time. I could not tell the time because I was inside the (detention) cell. It was a cemented cell with iron bars. I would not know the time. I am just awakened by their siren. I did not know what particular time of the day (it was). Their siren awoke me and the light inside my cell was coloured red. (The lights) turns off, then on, then off, then on; and here comes my interrogator. I was asked questions sometimes. I was asked to drink liquid. They told me “it’s ok” and it was only a coffee.
Perhaps I was so hungry and thirsty. I just kept on drinking. Whatever the true nature of that liquid, I could not tell but I know it tastes bitter. So, I could not tell how long they had interrogated me. What I only know is that, every time they awaken me, they kept on asking about my siblings.
At first, they were asking whether I am my brother, Jose Luneta. They are forcing me to admit that I am my brother, Jose Luneta. What I thought, for me not to suffer any longer, why don’t I just admit it. So, I said yes. For some time they really believed that I was my brother, Jose. But by the day, obviously I was lying. They came to know that I was lying that I am not my brother. But for those people who knew me, I’m told that I really looked like my brother.
But later, again, they refused to believe that I was not Jose, they tortured me again. They forced me to admit that I know where Pepe (nickname of his brother Jose) is now. But I knew nothing about it. In fact, our siblings were separated from each other. We do not know where each one lives and had gone to.
Q: When you were adducted, could you still remember how old you were, what organisation you were part of and what organisation are you actively involved in at that time?
Victim: Kabataang Makabayan (KM). (It is a) youth organization. Actually, there were three of us who were told to organize the youth in the ST (Southern Tagalog) region. We complied with it because we were obedient youths. We were able to organise (the youth) in some provinces. There were many of us who were involved in organizing. Perhaps, KM was very popular at the time, there were so many of us.
It was because of the youth’s discontent (of Martial Rule), the organisation was so popular, they were looking for us like ‘like bees to honey’ (pulot sa pukyutan).
Q: When you were abducted, were you inside a house or in school?
Victim: I was with my girlfriend in their house. I was taken while I was at the house of my girlfriend because I (was ignorantly) went with the soldiers for ‘cup of coffee’. I rode on a military jeep.
Q: How many were they?
Victim: Three. But I did not know that there were others, wearing plain clothes, riding on another vehicle, following us. I came to know about it much later. I could say that because that is what I was told, too. But for those who were inside the military jeep, there were four of us. I could not know whether they took me (to the camp) right away or whatever. But once I boarded the jeep, they blindfolded me telling me that it was to prevent the dust from going into my eyes.
But soon after blindfolding me, they started asking me questions and I also started ridiculing them. You know, youth usually ridicules when they respond. But I do feel that there was something, and I started to feel concern. Of course! It was the military who arrested me. They started assaulting me. The one asking question was behind my back. So, every time he dislikes my reply to his question, he hit me. I started lying. All of what I have said was trying draw their attention to something else, that ‘I do not know anything’.
Q: What was that they were using to hit you? And which part of your body were you beaten?
Victim: (It was) Kaburata. Usually, they hit me in the nape of my neck, sometimes in my shoulders.
Q: Until you reach to the camp?
Victim: I do not know whether it was a camp or not. What I know, even after reaching to the place, they did not remove my blindfold. They dragged me inside the cemented detention cell. I heard the thud of my shoes. At that time, wearing boots was fashionable. I was wearing boots at that time, so I could hear the sound. I came to know that it was a cemented detention cell only after they threw me in and I heard the thud of my shoes. And every time they open the structure, you could hear a sound that you could hear probably made of steel. They pushed me in so I fell to the ground.
Afterwards, I was made to sit. When they started questioning me, I was still blindfolded. Then they slapped my face, they stopped hitting my head and face.
Q: How long were you held in military custody?
Victim: I could not tell whether it was daytime or nigh time. All I know is that I was there. I do not know whether my interrogator was a homosexual because he always kept on playing with my sex organ.
Q: While you are being questioned?
A: He was playing and sometimes hitting my sex organ. Perhaps that person had sexual aberration. They hit me, they ask me questions, but there is nothing that I can tell them. Even if I knew something, I will never tell them. Usually, even me, I had to tell a ‘story telling a lie’. I was held in military custody for six months.
Q: Did you know when were you surfaced?
Victim: I was surfaced because Amnesty International came to know that I was there. There was someone who made a report (of my detention), perhaps it was TFD (Task Force Detainees of the Philippines). It was TFD who told me that I was close to dying when they saw me. I was hardly given any food at that time. And even if I was given food, they only give me coffee and sometimes my interrogators spat in it. And when I taste it, it was already salty. I was presuming that perhaps sometimes, they peed on it.
Shortly after, they electrocuted me. They electrocuted my sex organ and my testicles.
Q: Do you mean in six months, the electrocution on you did not stop?
Victim: Sometimes, for a period of time none. I would know when they were about to electrocute me because I could hear the siren before they do it.
Q: Do you also mean that you were on blindfold for six months? Were your hands tied also?
Victim: I was blindfolded and my handcuffs were attached to my bed made of iron. And should they want to electrocute me, they could just pour water on me so it would be easy for them to apply electric current on my body.
Q: How about food, were you able to eat three times a day?
Victim: Very irregular. Even if I was fed three times a day; however, what they give me is a coffee like substance. They also fed me with, what they told me, pandesal (small piece of bread) very rarely. Perhaps, my interrogators fed me only when they could remember that they needed to feed me.
When I saw myself after I was release, I was so thin and my stomach looks like it doesn’t have anything in it. And since I have no food to eat, I just eat whatever they give me. I was so hungry. I did not bother anymore whether the food that they gave me had drugs on it. I just ate and ate. I had to eat. I also drank that liquid substance that told me coffee even though it tasted very salty.
Q: What do you think was the motive why you were invited for ‘cup of coffee’?
Victim: At first, I know that it was a military arrest, but about what they would do to me, I had no idea at all. I do not know what will happen to me. It was my first time to have been arrested and have problems like that.
Q: At that time, did you think of not going with the military?
Victim: What can I do? If I refuse to come, they will make trouble at the house of my girlfriend. I notice that her mother was already frightened. She was frightened that her daughter, my girlfriend, would also be taken. I told her she need not to worry because she has nothing to do with my problem
Q: Do you mean, when you were held by the military, you were not visited?
Victim: No. I had no visitors. Nobody knows except the military that I was held in detention at their camp.
Q: Was it only after six months that you were able to see you family again?
Victim: I did not see my family first. It was a friend, who was asked by my family, who came to see me first.
Q: What did the military say about your case? Did you have a case at all?
Victim: Nothing. When I was surfaced after I disappeared (in the military custody) for six months, they told me: “It is your fault because you are a member of Kabataang Makabayan (ikaw kasi eh miyembro ka ng KM kaya)”. I’m told that it was the reason of my arrest and that I was also involved in recruiting youth who would be member of KM.
Q: So, meaning there was no clear case at all?
Victim: I was told by Amnesty International that there was no charge on me. There was nothing.
Q: I would like to ask you about the Anti-Torture Law, now (unlike during Martial Law) that we already have a law against torture, what do you think of this?
Victim: All of what has been written as prohibited under the Anti-Torture Law has been done to me. I am not sure whether that ‘truth telling substance’ (sodium pentothal — truth serum), have been given to me as well. They fed me so many things that I could not tell whether it would be detrimental to myself. What I know is that I kept on talking every time I drank that bitter liquid substance that they gave me.
Q: What was reason why you were not release immediately since there were no charges on you?
Victim: They told me, they were waiting for my siblings to be arrested; and that they would also question them. But what I thought that after four years (of detention after I was surfaced), my siblings have already been arrested so perhaps they loosen on me. Perhaps, they had known also that my involvement (with the KM) was not that deep as they thought as I do.
(After I was released) nobody would like to talk to me. Everybody was so afraid. In our place, all of my friends have also been arrested. Some of them have disappeared.
Q: For four years after you were release, what was the effect of torture and the electrocution on you?
Victim: It took me a long time before I fully recovered. My children told me that sometimes they hear me shouting after I awake from sleep. Up to know, I continue to experience this. When I wake up, I was heavily sweating. I (feel) that the way I speak seems I am frightened. It took me a long time to be integrated because in our time there were no welfare components (in terms of assistance) for ex-political prisoners.
So, I drifted along by going to one organization to another organization looking for something to keep me by hoping that they could help me to stay alive. I feel that my fear usually emerges during night time, and I feel the weakening of my lungs, could be one of the effects of torture–maybe because (during my detention) my back was exposed to cement floor since there was no cover on it when I lie down to sleep. I feel that my lungs are weakened. I still feel pain on my head, particularly the part where they it was beaten. I feel that my being grumpy is also the effect of torture. I was not like this before and I should not be like this.
The feeling of being angry at persons, every time I hear a person raising his voice in speaking to me, I felt this type of person is my enemy. But I am not sure whether this is one of the effect of torture.
Q: So, how many months or years before you were able to recover?
A: I could not completely get over from it. On many occasions, I still feel terror and fear. I fear when I see military uniform and vehicles. Although I could overcome it, recently I thought to myself that I could control it, but the tendency of me (of feeling terror and fear) is too high.
Q: Are you still frightened when you see a military uniform and jeep?
A: Anything associated with the military (I feel frightened).
Q: Have you undergone post trauma therapy?
Victim: That is what is unfortunate. Nothing. The MAG (Medical Action Group), they only give me medicines when I get sick. My eardrum was ruptured and I had hearing loss due to interrogation. I was only given medicine to alleviate my hearing loss.
Q: When you were released, did you go with them (family members)? Were you not able to go home immediately?
Victim: I do not know. Although I was told that my father had also been detained for two weeks and the rest of the adult members of our family, but I did not know that. I came to know about this only after my family visited me after my release from jail.
Q: What do you think of the Anti Torture Law? Do you think this would be effective?
A: Ok (sign of approval to the law). This all depends on who would implement this law and also with the vigilance of the victims; however, even if there is already a law on torture, some of those in the military could still get away with it by torturing a person to death. We have a documented case wherein the victim disappeared and could no longer be located. He was abducted in open view of the public and they also know where he was taken, but they do not know whether he is still alive or dead.
Q: Had there been a law on torture during Martial Law, would you use the law to prosecute the perpetrators?
Victim: Yes. In fact, I also filed charges (against the perpetrators) but I do not know where it was filed. I know victims/detainees must not be tortured. We were victims (of torture) before, but we remain victims now because we were delisted (from the list of beneficiaries of claimants for compensation who are victims of Martial Law). But it is still OK. I still have my children to pursue my case. I will be very cautious not to be arrested, again. But I will still continue the work that I do for our fellow countrymen, for the Filipino masses, because I know that what I do is what is right.
Q: Do you have any message to other victims of torture?
Victim: They should remain strong because they know the risk of what they are into. This (torture) can never be acceptable in the International Law. If they will not hear us inside our country, we should unite with others who are working for the interest of the political prisoners.
Q: Do you have a message to the government, particularly on the implementation of the Anti-Torture Law?
Victim: (They should) make good the implementation of this Anti-Torture Law and all the other instruments against Human Rights Violation. This is the benchmark of being a civilized society.
The views shared in this interview do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.