By Raïssa Robles
Colonel Eduardo Matillano, then a young soldier, was one of the few officers who was made to face a military court for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. In the end, he and his fellow accused were acquitted from charges of torturing Trinidad Herrera. Their trial was just for show.
Below is Col. Matillano’s side of the story, which I wrote in the book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again:
“WE WERE USED”
Interviewed in 2015, the lanky, ash-haired Colonel Eduardo Matillano showed off pictures of his daughter, smiling, and fresh out of law school. Years before his daughter was born, Matillano was accused of torturing other fathers’ daughters to make them confess that they were Communists and to force them to rat on fellow Communists.
Matillano said he regretted those days. “ We were used by the government. That’s why we rebelled against President Marcos. We were going to launch a coup d’état against him (in 1986),” he told me.
He declined to talk specifics about his activities as an interrogator — laughingly dismissing the subject — but did bring up one case: “That case where I was tried — what’s her name — she was the President of Zone One Tondo Organization. It was a subversive organization operating in Metro Manila.”
Was she subversive?, I asked him.
“Subversive, yes,” he replied. “We arrested her, then interrogated her. In the process, they claimed there was torture.”
Was there torture?, I asked him.
Matillano laughed out loud at my blunt question, then fell silent. Then he said, “I was tried for it. But I was acquitted.”
“They claimed that I — we electrocuted her. We would force her to talk about the Organization. And then nag-report siya sa (she reported to ) human rights. I was charged with human rights violations. Documented naman ito, e Makukuha mo yan sa archives ng military.” (That’s documented, anyway. You can get that from the military archives.)
I asked him why he was singled out for court martial when there were so many interrogators committing torture.
Matillano replied: “Because the girl complained, I know, to the Americans and to Amnesty International. The US government ordered the Philippine government to — you know….”
I asked Colonel Matillano if the torture during Martial Law had been ordered by Marcos. He said, “It just happened.”
When I asked him to elaborate, he said, “We were given so much power during Martial Law. For example, I was assigned with the Metrocom Intelligence and Security Group, the most powerful during Martial Law under General Prospero Olivas.”
“The head is Colonel Rolando Abadilla. Kami ang nagiimplement ng mga (We were the ones implementing the) arrest, search and seizure order (ASSO), na (that was) signed by Secretary Enrile.”
“Remember — Arrest, Search, Seizure Order.
“Under normal circumstances mahirap kunin yan (that’s hard to get). You have to go to court, file a request, present evidence. But under Martial Law, bibigyan kami ng listahan (We would be given a list): These are the people to be arrested.”
Matillano disclosed how some of his colleagues even inserted names to be arrested. “We can even include the people who are not there, e,” he added chuckling.
When I asked him whether he did that, he said he couldn’t recall: “But there were some people doing that, ako (me), I don’t remember doing it.”
Then, Matillano stared into the distance for some time, then turned to me, saying “Minsan pag nagkaroon ng power. There was a time may power ang military. E, kami naman, implementor lang kami. We just follow. Nakita namin ginagawa naman ng iba, so gagawin din namin.” (Sometimes, when one obtains power…There was a time the military had the power. But we, were were merely implementors (sic). We just followed. We saw that others were doing it, so we also did it.)
He confirmed that what was happening on the ground was the exact opposite of what the dictator Marcos was claiming then, that the rights of those being arrested were being protected.
Matillano told me: “Ang tingin ko…parang our system of torture — nawala ang due process. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to (an) attorney. E, walang right yan. Nawala lahat yan.” (In my opinion…our system of torture — did away with due process. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to (an) attorney. There were no more rights. Those rights were all gone.)
I asked him what their general orders were at that time and whether his superior, Colonel Abadilla, had reminded them of Marcos’ supposed directive to protect the human rights of detainees. Matillano said they merely followed the “arrest, search and seizure order. When we are given that (ASSO), you either arrest a person in the list in the order, search their house and seize all evidence of crime.”
“Where does the torture come in?,” I asked him.
Matillano replied, “When I want to get information muna (first): ‘Saan yung mga kasama nyo? Sinong mga kasama niyo?
Papaano n’yo bang ginagawa itong mga activities nyo?’ “(Where are your companions? Who are your companions? How do you conduct your activities?)
“That’s our method of forcing him to talk. Mas madali yon, e. (Because it’s easier.) It’s very tiring, a — (you know) to keep punching a person.”
Matillano said that, anyway, later he considered that he had already been “punished — in a way”; when he was arrested and jailed for participating in a coup attempt against President Corazon Aquino.