The art of Brenda Subido Dacpano


THE story of Brenda Subido Dacpano has to be told.

Beginning her art as a child through the mentorship of her father, Francisco, who annually gave summer workshops for his children, Subido’s journey started early.

Francisco, a teacher by profession but an artist by calling, made sure all his children were equipped with the skillsets of painting, drawing and stenography with rigid summer workshops.

From the painting and steno workshops at their family home in Binalonan, Pangasinan to her stunted college course in the 1980s, Subido chose a path of activism and expression that defined her career to this day.

A political detainee at 18 and jailed at Camp Bado Dangwa for nine months in 1982, her detention cell became a workshop of expression that tided her over during the days of uncertainty during the post-Martial Law days when freedom was taken by state forces. Dacpano was a third-year Architecture student at then Baguio Colleges Foundation, now University of the Cordilleras, and the secretary of the school’s Department of Engineering and Architecture, meriting her illegal arrest and detention.

“We were subjected to mental torture in our cell,” she recounted as she relays her days at detention.

Martial Law Art

She was arrested at her boarding home and prevented from contacting a lawyer for a week as she was held captive with no clear charges or evidence.

Presidential Commitment Orders came for almost a dozen detainees who were with Dacpano in the four cells used by soldiers as holding centers.

Another two extra areas were utilized by men in uniform for sexual activities with prostitutes who were brought in the detention cells, tormenting detainees with thoughts of eventual exploitation throughout their illegal incarceration.

The group of men and women combated the demons of detention with proactive art and crafts to make their stories heard and keep themselves safe from further abuse.

The group managed to fight for their rights while inside their cells staging hunger strikes and a noise barrage to demand clean food and their release.

International support came from organizations, with local vendors and individuals sending the group provisions and demanding the government to set them free, with the media extensively covering their plight.

“We asked our friends to buy us a padlock for our cell, which we installed so soldiers could not come in,” thinking the added locks can shield them from sexual abuse and, at least, merit them death by bullets if things become worse.

The guards never touched them, but the constant fear of molestation and the sounds they heard from the vacant cells used for pleasure was enough torture to endure for nine months.

As they attended the hearings for their trumped-up charges of subversion, the group made a mural in the camp, cards, pendants, crafts, terra cotta pieces and T-shirts that drew strong local and international support from the public.

On the eve of human rights day in December of the same year, all the detainees were released directly to President Ferdinand Marcos, who formally released the group of activists at the Mansion House in ceremonies of “pardon” in an attempt at propaganda.

“He [Marcos] was already sick from Lupus at that time and we were instructed to shake his hand lightly and say 'thank you' for the pardon.”


Set free in 1982, Dacpano did not go back to school but decided to go full-time into activism, handling student concerns and issues after her release.

“It takes a lifetime of processing. I cried the whole day when Marcos was buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Akala ko okay na ako, pero hindi pa pala.”

Poetry, essays and theater added to the expressions of Dacpano after her release with her story being told and retold in various mediums for the public to appreciate as a testament of her courage and resolve to reinvent herself.

Dacpano said social realism became her favorite pieces to depict along with her love for pen-ink projects, dabbling in watercolor and acrylic.

During the early months of the pandemic, Subido painted every day, in watercolor or pen and ink, creating mindful drawings to pass the time and keep herself busy during the lockdown.

Dacpano has also embarked on a project as her homage to the impending phase-out of jeepneys with art cards of the iconic Philippine jeeps.

Her mentor, Fredrick Epistola, encouraged her to join creative art shows under Art Show Philippines and from June, her art has been seen in over a dozen online exhibits.

Art Show Philippines staged “Ink”Credibles [June], Kaka iba [July], Palamuti [August] Emotional Space [July], Rediscover [Aug], Still Life [September], Cuadrado [September] Cut and Paste [October], Aceo [October], Re imagined [October] and Referenced and Give Art in November.

Dacpano also participated in the local show “Art in Sunshine Park,” during the Ibag-iw festival in November and is slated to be part of another show at a local university in December.

The artist, journalist, poet and thespian plans to stage her first solo show next year. The artist is also part of the online news organization, Northern Dispatch.


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