Monday , April 23, 2018

Vugt: My Martial Law Memoires

ON SEPTEMBER 21 we celebrated the anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by Marcos. My memories go back to my native country, the Netherlands, where I experienced the Second World War and our country was occupied by German soldiers of the Hitler regime.

Concentration camps were set up where innocent people were executed systematically. Then I volunteered to go to the Philippines as a Carmelite missionary. I got an assignment as social action director in Iligan City. There I taught the workers their rights as workers and to go on strike if there is a violation of their CBA contract The workers of the Iligan Electric Company organized a strike and Marcos had forbidden to hold strikes. I was pinpointed as the organizer of the strike and I was put in prison and brought under escort to Manila to Camp Crame, from where I was deported to Holland. When I came back my name was in the list of undesirable aliens. Because of pressure from some bishops and major superiors, I was able to enter the Philippines again.

I joined the Association of Major Religious Superiors and under their supervision we set up different task forces. I joined the Task Force Data Gathering and I went all over Mindanao to ask the people about their experiences of martial law. We published their experiences in mimeographed papers and distributed these to the people.

Of course, their experiences were very negative. The good news you could read in the newspapers and the bad news in our papers. Our office in the Apostolic Center in Pedro Gil, Manila was several times raided and finally closed by the military. I remember, every week I would load a whole pile of new issues of the publication at the back of my motorcycle and deliver these to the different outlets in Metro Manila.

While I was on vacation in Holland and Canada, to where my relatives had emigrated, the Carmelites in the Philippines had a first tragic experience of the disastrous effects of martial law. One of our Carmelite priests in the parish of San Francisco, Agusan del Sur, Fr. Engelbert van Vilsteren, was murdered in January of 1973. The murder was committed by members of a fanatical sect who had resisted the holding of a plebiscite for the approval of the Marcos constitution. The teachers who were in charge of conducting the plebiscite were harassed by the sect and some of them were injured.

When they called for help from the town center, Fr. Engelbert volunteered to drive the ambulance. Before they could reach the place where the injured were, they were attacked by the sect. Fr. Engelbert, being the driver of the ambulance, surrendered but he was immediately stabbed to death, clearly a victim of mistaken identity. The incident was never reported in the national media which was under the full control of the Marcos regime.

This prompted the religious superiors in Manila to conduct a nationwide survey to find out the effects of military rule on the people. I myself helped conduct the survey. It was found out that there was a general feeling among the people of widespread fear of the military and the police, a high sense of insecurity and uncertainty, and a complete ignorance of what was happening on the national level.


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