Shortly after World War II, many survivors of the attempted annihilation of Jews by Nazi Germany and its allies recalled the final plea of their fellow prisoners while being herded to impending death: “Remember! Do not let the world forget!”
It was in honoring that anguished plea that Holocaust survivors set up exhibits and scholarly archives accessible to the public. Not long after, historical sites in certain parts of Europe—in Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany—were restored and preserved so that visitors could glimpse the sites of the tragedy for themselves.
Museums were built in many cities—initially in Jerusalem and in Paris—offering a vast collection of archival resources that now serve as permanent reminders of Nazi atrocities. Films and educational curricula are continuously being made to document and teach the Holocaust to future generations.
“We have done nothing like these after the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986. In fact, we let the dictator’s family members and allies slowly regain political primacy in the Philippines,” lamented Fr. Robert Reyes, who celebrated a Mass prior to the special screening of the film “11,103” at Cine Pop in Quezon City last March 26.
Reyes continued: “The younger generations are oblivious of what really happened during martial law. How can we blame them when schools and teachers lack the necessary materials and training to properly teach what really happened during those years? These days, there are even influencers spreading on social media that martial law did not even happen! Soon, those who were tortured or raped, or whose kin were murdered or just disappeared without a trace during those brutal 14 years, will no longer be with us. How will their stories be told when they are gone?”
For the activist priest, “11,103” is a good start. The documentary produced by Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala and Storytellers Inc., and written and directed by Mike Alcazaren and Jeannette Ifurung, was first shown last year, as the country marked the 50th year of Ferdinand Marcos Sr.’s imposition of martial law in September 1972. The Marcos dictatorship was toppled on Feb. 25, 1986.
The title of the film refers to the individual claims that were recognized by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board (HRVCB) after an assessment, explained Carmelo Victor Crisanto, executive director of the Human Rights Violation Victims Memorial Commission
The HRVCB was formed by the government in 2013 to “‘receive, evaluate, process, and investigate’ reparation claims made by victims of human rights abuses during martial law. It ceased its work in 2018,” said Crisanto.
The HRVVMC is an attached agency of the Commission on Human Rights mandated to establish, restore, preserve and conserve a memorial museum, library, archive and compendium in honor of the victims of rights violations as had been determined by the board.
This film is significant because it is, in today’s lingo, a “resibo” (receipt). The producers talked to the survivors, with a number of them sharing for the first time their harrowing experiences under martial law. The survivors are among those compensated through a fund made up of money seized by the Philippine government from the Marcoses’ Swiss bank accounts, worth P10 billion, said Elena Cortez, who organized the film showing.
It is rare for countries to recover money from deposed leaders’ Swiss bank accounts. But in a landmark judgment in 1997, the Swiss Federal Supreme Court ruled that “there was little doubt about the criminal provenance of the secret Marcos accounts and securities hidden in Swiss banks,” and ordered that these be returned to the Philippine government.
The 86-minute documentary begins with the HRVVMC’s plan to build the Freedom Memorial Museum where the painful memories, not just of the 11,103 but also of over 75,000 victims, will be preserved and presented.
“People need to know what happened, especially to families and places most of us never heard of until this documentary,” said Crisanto. “Lamentably, not even 1% of those who were given reparations came from Muslim Mindanao, when we now know that thousands of them actually suffered during martial law.”
While many Filipinos have watched other films or read reports on martial law, nothing quite prepares the audience for the docu’s account of Mariam and Madaki Kanda, survivors of the Palimbang Massacre that occurred in 1974 in the coastal barangays of Malisbong in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat.
After Navy ships bombarded the coastal barangays the whole night and until the early morning, those who fled were forced to return. Mariam, then just 14 years old, was with other girls and women who were herded into and held in one of the Navy ships that shelled Palimbang.
She was not violated, but she witnessed how other young girls were gang-raped and then thrown into the sea. Per the records of the Moro Women’s Center, 3,000 women and children aged 9 to 60 were detained separately from 1,500 male Muslims aged 11 to 70 who were forced inside a mosque where they were systematically killed.
“Every day in the mosque, the soldiers would get up to 10 persons. Later, we would hear shots and those who were taken outside never came back,” recalls Madaki, who could speak Ilocano. He said it was probably what saved his life when he was being marched by soldiers along with others to their death.
Also featured in “11,103” are stories of unspeakable brutalities, such as the 1984 account of Purificacion Viernes of Barangay Carmen in Jimenez, Misamis Occidental.
“My husband, a mere copra farmer, and our two youngest children were killed while they were asleep when our nipa hut was strafed by paramilitary troops in the dead of night. My bullet-riddled leg somehow saved my then 13-year-old daughter, Cecilia, during the assault. One even checked us with his flashlight to see if we were all dead,” says Viernes, who now walks with crutches. She and Cecilia returned for the first time in 40 years to the hollowed-out ruins of their home during the filming of “11,103.”
There’s also Hilda Narciso, a Church worker in 1983 who was then visiting a pastor’s home in Davao City and was forcibly taken by the military. Her account: “I was handcuffed and my head covered. A lot of hands were all over my body. They also put their penises one at a time in my mouth, fingered my vagina, and all that for several hours every day. I kept asking them, ‘Do you have daughters, mothers, or wives? What if you did this to them, how would you feel?’”
Narciso considers herself lucky to come out alive from her ordeal. She founded the Women’s Crisis Center in Manila, to help other survivors of rape and violent dehumanization to find their way forward, as she is doing.
The physician Aurora Parong, who put up a clinic in Nueva Vizcaya, was taken by the military in 1982 after being accused of tending to members of the New People’s Army. She was detained for one and a half years. Her lawyer-brother was not as fortunate. He was abducted by the military in plain view from a restaurant near the family home in Nueva Vizcaya, and his mangled body was later found dumped on the highway.
Being a Society of the Divine Word priest did not protect Edicio dela Torre from the beatings he received when he was imprisoned twice on charges of conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion. His own healing has come through art: It was he who rendered the animated pen-and-ink wash portraits and sketches of reenactments interspersed throughout the film.
Indeed, “11,103” makes viewers confront what happened, and makes them realize that it happened not so long ago. The film is divided into chapters named after the victims, juxtaposed with film clips of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on the campaign trail until his eventual oath-taking as the 17th president of the Philippines in May 2022.
For the HRVVMC tasked with the heavy burden of building a martial law museum under the administration of the dictator’s son and namesake, this means crossing the proverbial bridge when the commission gets there. “If I’m not supported by Mr. Marcos and Congress in the end, and I’m only able to build an unfinished memorial, then let that be the memorial,” Crisanto said.
It is some consolation, according to Crisanto, that all the 75,749 claim cases have been digitized, with copies sent to two universities in the Philippines and one in the United States for safekeeping.
The 11,103 eligible claimants make up just 14% of the total number of applicants.
“Most were rejected because many of the victims were unlettered peasants from the hinterlands who could not present documentary evidence of decades-old atrocities or corroborative witness accounts,” Crisanto said, adding:
“There were no witnesses other than those who committed the crime: the military, police, or government-sanctioned armed vigilantes. There is a much greater number of individuals who didn’t bother or attempt to claim, for personal reasons.”
The 11,103 were able to receive claims ranging from P176,779 to P1,767,790, depending on the points a particular case earned. The amount of monetary compensation works on a point system depending on the violation, as provided by the law: maximum of 10 points if a victim of enforced disappearance and killing; 6 to 9 points if a victim of torture; 3 to 5 points if a victim of arbitrary detention; and 1 to 2 points if a victim of other forms of violations.
The film had its Philippine premiere in time for the 50th commemoration of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21, 2022. While being screened at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City, it was also shown in New York City when President Marcos was speaking at the United Nations General Assembly.
Subsequent screenings were held in the cities of Manila, Bacolod, Cebu, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete. “We need more to see this film so we continue to coordinate with schools and other groups,” the organizers said. (For screening requests of “11,103,” log on to [email protected]\, facebook.com/ActiveVistaPH or twitter.com/ActiveVistaPH.)
In an interview in 2022, Magsanoc-Alikpala—whose mother, the late journalist Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, was known as “the keeper of the Edsa flame”—said: “The price of democracy is eternal vigilance. Let’s not dishonor those who suffered and fought the dictatorship and paved the way for our hard-earned freedom in 1986. We have to fight for their truths. What kind of a nation will we be if we are founded on lies?”