They remember the Marcos tyranny for their children


Ramon and Ester Isberto celebrate daughter Mai’s second birthday at the Bicutan detention center. Photo courtesy of the Isberto Family

As we mark another anniversary of Martial Law, one point is worth noting: So many stories from that period have yet to be told.

Not just stories of heroes and martyrs, such as Edgar Jopson, Ferdie Arceo, Eman Lacaba and Lorena Barros, but also of families of activists and citizens who bore the brunt of regime’s abuses, and helped wage the fight to defeat it.

Fortunately, that shortage has been eased somewhat with the recent release of such books as the moving “Subversive Lives” about the Quimpo family and “Tibak Rising: Activism in the Days of Martial Law,” a lively collection of activist recollections of the period edited by UP Prof. Ferdie Llanes.

Now comes another family memoir of the martial law era.

Ramon and Ester Isberto have modest goals for putting out “Our 3rd Life,” an account of their struggles as a young couple during the Marcos regime.

The Isbertos are publishing the book themselves.

“We are doing this on our own for the children and apos,” Iting Isberto told me.

“Cottage industry ito, Boying,” Mon added. “Hindi naman blockbuster ito.”

It should be.

Independent filmmakers looking for new material can find a treasure of a story in “Our 3rd Life,” which is set to come out later this year. It has all the elements of an engaging film: family, love and romance, politics and revolution, comedy and suspense.

Take the book’s opening scene.

Iting Isberto is alone in a prison cell. She and Mon have just been arrested by the Marcos military. Their captors have separated them, and she doesn’t know where he is.

Is he safe? Is he still alive?

“It was very cold that early morning in December 1977, but I was wide awake,” she writes. “It was still dark and I guessed it was about 4 a.m.  I listened for a few minutes and slowly, faintly, amid the silence, I could hear a tune being whistled from a distance. I smiled.  It was another day and I knew Papa Mon was ‘safe’ in his cell, at the other side of the prison building where we were being held.  After the whistling stopped, I started to sing several songs. Today, I began with “I Wanna Be Free.”

The memoir is told through letters to their children and grandchildren, including Kukok, Maia and Zac.

“Kukok, this is the story of how your Papa Mon and I met, fell in love and became political detainees under the government of President Ferdinand Marcos,” Iting writes.  “And how we regained our freedom.”
Mon and Iting came from middle class families, went to exclusive Catholic schools, and enjoyed protected, comfortable lives. They met and fell in love when they were in high school. They were both swept up by the activist ferment in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Like many young Filipinos, their lives changed dramatically when Ferdinand Marcos set up his dictatorship by imposing martial law in 1972.

It was an uncertain time. Still, given their backgrounds, Iting and Mon could have simply stuck to the middle class path that was there for them to take.

They didn’t.

Like many young Filipinos of their generation, they joined the underground fight against the regime.

“I joined because this was the only group of people I could see that had the determination to fight for the social and political changes that our country so badly needed,” Iting writes.

That decision cost her freedom. Iting was arrested shortly after joining the UG. But her first prison stint gave her a deeper sense of what the fight she joined was about.

“It was there in the Lahug detention camp where I understood better what it meant to love your country and to stand by your commitment in the face of great danger,” she writes. “I met young intelligent men and women from other parts of the Visayas such as Leyte, Samar, Negros Occidental and some from Luzon who had been very active in the underground movement. I marveled at their courage and composure in spite of the hardships they went through at the hands of their military captors. How they could still smile and joke with each other and be normal human beings!”
The hardships included “horror stories,” she writes.

“One lady was told to strip naked and lie down on blocks of ice while being interrogated. Some young men were made into punching bags by their interrogators and electrocuted. I could go on and on.”

After her release, she rejoined the movement, sharing a life in the underground with Mon. Iting remembers that time as “life at the razor’s edge.”

This is the era before cell phones and social media, when they were almost constantly on the run. In November 1977, the Marcos security forces finally caught up with them in a military raid.

Their arrest, Iting writes, took Mon “to one of his lowest moments in life.”

“Children, this is why one of the worst punishments that can be inflicted on a person is to put him in prolonged isolation,” she writes.

But “there is an upside to this dark episode,” she continues. “Papa Mon now says that whenever he has problems at work or in other matters, he reminds himself of his days in isolation. He quickly realizes that his current woes are trivial. In the terrifying loneliness of isolation, he learned to value the really important things in life. The only source of joy he had in his cell was the small window.  Standing on the toilet, he could look outside the window and see the birds flying in the blue sky outside. A priceless Instagram moment.”

With the help of fellow detainees who secretly passed on written notes, Mon and Iting eventually came up with a way to communicate with one another — through music.

Everyday at around 4 a.m., Mon would whistle a song, and Iting would respond by singing.

“I would answer back singing a song that I knew, such as: ‘A House Is Not A Home,’ or ‘A Chair is Still a Chair,’ ‘I Wanna be Free,’ ‘Bayan Ko,’ ‘Babaeng Walang Kibo,’ ‘If,’ among others. This exchange of melodies would go back and forth for about 30 minutes. We could hear each other clearly because it was very quiet so early in the morning. So, everyone else in the prison building knew that there were two lovebirds imprisoned on the second floor.”

The memoir goes on to tell the story of their life in prison. Eventually, Mon and Iting joined other detainees in the infamous Bicutan detention center where they were later married. They were eventually released, and began new lives after detention.

Mon is now head of public affairs at Smart and PLDT, while Iting does consulting work related to the fight against tuberculosis.

“Your Papa Mon and I have never regretted joining the movement and being arrested and detained,” they write. “We are proud of what we have done, but we don’t talk about it.  We felt, however, that it was important to tell you our story. This is very much a part of our 3rd life together.”

“We were very lucky. There were a few moments when – like many of our friends and comrades – we could have lost our lives as well.  But, somehow, we survived.”

Why the title? Iting writes that a past-life reader told her that she and Mon had two other lives together, as pediatricians in India and as vineyard owners in Spain.

But the  perhaps “3rd life” also refers to the life stages many Filipinos of their generation had to go through: from protected, comfortable middle class lives, to life underground fighting tyranny, to starting over after the end of dictatorship as they take on new and old challenges.

Some of the young Filipinos of that generation had to rebuild their lives after traumatic experiences with the violent dogmatism of the UG movement, a reality portrayed in “Subversive Lives.”

It’s a complicated history.

But as “Our 3rd Life” and “Subversive Lives” show, these are mainly tales of courage and commitment, of young Filipinos seeing so much abuse and suffering under Marcos and deciding that they must be part of the fight end tyranny and injustice in their country.

Despite the Isbertos’ modest goals, putting out “Our 3rd Life” will hopefully inspire others to tell their stories from that period.

For as I’ve written in the past, these are stories that must not be abandoned, certainly not to the military and the Marcos forces who will no doubt seek to downplay and cover up the “horror stories” of that period.

Nor should they be abandoned to hard-line elements within the UG movement who would try to sanitize and distort them to fit a rigid agenda.

And we are being reminded how important it is to remember these stories. Many of the reasons Filipinos like Mon and Iting joined the fight against dictatorship are still with us.

As I write this, one of the guardians of martial law, Juan Ponce Enrile, whom hundreds of thousands of Filipinos rescued when he finally decided to disengage from Marcos, is facing plunder and bribery charges in one of the most jawdropping corruption cases in Philippine history.

“Papa Mon and I chose this path because we wanted to help our country and our people to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty and injustice that has been our curse for hundreds of years,” Iting writes. “We still do.  And we still try in our own ways.

“Many of these problems remain.  In your own lives, you will have to make your own choices about how you can be of service to your fellow Filipinos. Whatever you do, you and your generation should not forget the bitter but invaluable lessons that our people learned under martial law.  The most important perhaps is: Never again!””


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  • $14141131

    Media always blame Marcos for the country’s malady. He had been out, dead and powerless after that remarkable coup d’etat. But what happened after him? Did Cory improve the government service? Did Cory eradicate corruption? Did Ramos eradicated rebellion? Did Erap dispose of the gambling and drug syndicates? Did Arroyo reduce the dependence of the nation from OFW remittances? Did Nhoy really reduce corruption in a way that it can be felt by the masses? I guess you know the real answer and hope this will be your inspiration to write significant pieces.

    • clairejessica

      It’s not the President….it’s the people. Every Filipino can do something in his/her own little way. Filipinos…report drug users, don’t throw garbage anywhere, don’t spit on the sidewalk, quit smoking in public, follow traffic rules, don’t buy pirated media….and a lot more. When your own little ways are combined, it becomes big because in the end…it’s the people, not the President, the entire executive, legislative and judiciary, not the Armed Forces, not the PNP…it’s the people.

      • $14141131

        The government is the public manager that is why we are paying taxes, electing officials and leaders. While it is true that the success of a nation needs the people’s active share, politicians especially the leaders must keep the management fair, objective, systematic and comprehensive. The people need to be lead by setting examples. Trust of the people is what the politicians like the President should keep by answering their needs and not prefer partisan party games and friends or focus on the color coded achievements.

    • ApoNiLolo

      Look at the path we traveled from the ’70s until now and ask yourself – have we move an inch? Don’t blame every malady you perceived on the government. Only people with “welfare-state” mentality do that.

      A nation’s progress is not only about its government, it’s not only about its leader, it’s not only about the governed. It’s about the whole people, its oneness on its aspiration and tenacity to over come obstacle that makes a nation great and progressive.

      I bet, even if we achieve first-world status, you’ll still find something else to complain!

  • Julian de Sota

    Mon and Iting, we are proud of what you have done!!!
    ..We will never forget. never again!!!

    • discus_ eAi0Vbp5Pf

      we should keep the torch of vigilance and memory always burning bright or the young ones will fall prey to their revisionism

  • avmphil

    This sad saga is being whipped up again and again. This gentleman (as a bereaved person) has a right, to write and publish his side of the story. Atrocities were also played on the streets by Mr. Marcos’ detractors to add fuel to the already burning Manila. Why this credence to open up old wounds and keep this hatred simmering after almost a quarter century?

    • andrew lim

      Because history teaches us lessons, and we are condemned to repeat it if we do not learn from it.

      Forgive and forget only works for low level conflicts (e.g. away magkapatid) , not major ones like martial law and its atrocities.

      Why do we keep re-electing corrupt politicians like the Estradas? Because we did not learn the lessons of history.

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        Very well said!

    • ApoNiLolo

      Forgive and forget? That’s the religious influence on you, dictating.
      Forgive? Perhaps, but never forget because evil thrives on ignorance.

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero


    • Twister12

      Only people who benefited from Marcos era will question why this is being brought up again & again. People learn from history. If it will bring hatred so be it because the perpetrators are still there enjoying their lives at the fullest without any accountability. People can maybe forgive but totally will not forget.

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        “Only people who benefited from Marcos era will question why this is being brought up again & again.”


      • discus_ eAi0Vbp5Pf

        and also those who think they will (future) benefit after 2016 if and when their Jr. gets to go back to Malacanang
        the cronies are salivating to get back

    • JosengSisiw1

      it’s because the culprits are still free….the victims were never given justice. will your mind & heart rest if you are a victim yourself? i don’t think so…

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero


    • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

      Why? Here’s just a few reasons: The Marcoses are still unrepentant. They still wouldn’t admit that they plundered the nation. That they killed thousands of people. Worse, they have the nerve to claim that they never stole a single centavo where in fact they pilfered the treasury! How can you ever forgive those kind of people?

      • discus_ eAi0Vbp5Pf

        Marcoses have presidential ambitions for 2016.
        heaven help us all if they succeed in manipulating the minds of the young.
        they are revising history in cyberspace – youtube, etc.
        they have plans and are acting early.

    • willie malabanan

      It is always important to study your past. There are a lot of reasons in doing so. For one, it makes you comprehend things in a wider perspective so as not to make a shallow comment that you just made. And a plenty of other reasons that I would not enumerate. I rather that you use that mass of blob in between your ears to see for yourself. I just hope that mass of blob is sufficient enough for the task and is not found lacking.

      By the way, the abuses that the Marcos tyranny committed are well-documented. Why don’t you check it out.

  • opinyonlangpo

    Understandable. Marcos used a strong hand in dealing with these communists, leftists and activists. But now the man is dead, the victims are alive and beneficiaries to billions. Today’s leftists and communists are also victims of the present and past administrations and sometime in the future they will also claim billions. There is a pattern to be followed. Unless they also want to be portrayed not just victims but also heroes in the future.

    • Twister12

      Hold on there.

      1. It’s Marcos hunger for power why the Communists & leftists sprout like mushrooms.
      2. Not all the victims are alive. Some maybe beneficiaries of “billions?”, but they would be lucky if they can get hold of it before they die.
      3. Just because he is dead we will just forget that dark spot in our history that changes our lives including yours.

      Remembering the past horror will remind us to avoid it happening again. We have to acknowledge the importance of it like some people do in Western countries of acknowledging the horrors of WWII or the genocide of the Jews. Just because Hitler was already dead people will just forget his deeds.

      • opinyonlangpo

        Are you even aware that they still exist today? Do you even know how many they murdered this year? They are still very active every now and then. When Marcos died, their reason for existence should have died with it if one has to follow that sprouting logic. The past horror you mentioned is coming up and go and its presence is very much felt today, but none the less very much alive. When they get killed, they are victims and when they kill what is that called? The Philippine government should budget billions for their compensation in the future. Its all dark spot in history up to present for them. They are still prosecuted for being a menace to society.

      • Twister12

        You totally misunderstood me. I’m not defending these Communists if I have my way they should be executed.
        Do you really believe that all that was persecuted by Marcos were all leftist’s? Just because they voiced out their dissatisfaction with him makes them a Communist? I’ll cite you an example. 1. A neighbor of mine in one festivities in our place carried a placard of “Laban” & right there in front of thousands of people picked up by the PC & tortured him & by approaching only some influential persons he was able to be extracted from the PC camp but nevertheless he was left to a pulp that his face could not even be recognized. 2. A college coed in broad daylight picked up by the PC & the next day was found dead most probably raped.
        These are just 2 examples I can tell you because I was there. Now you want to tell me that they are Communists or leftists & that they deserve this? What is it that some people will just justify something even that it is so totally freaking wrong?

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        “Do you really believe that all that was persecuted by Marcos were all leftist’s? Just because they voiced out their dissatisfaction with him makes them a Communist?” -Twister12


      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        The people that Marcos tortured and killed are NOT just “communists, leftists and activists”. Most are just ordinary people. You are so naive.
        “The Philippine government should budget billions for their compensation in the future.”

        The Marcos properties and stolen wealth should be used to compensate the victims.

      • opinyonlangpo

        Yeah right. The irony of it. Enrile is still the most powerful politician today. Ramos became president. The Marcoses are still in power. Tatad is still same irritating personality. They will soon die of old age without spending time in prison. The perpetrators of martial law are alive and kicking. But there is no denying, the so called victims are only after the money. Where is the crime and punishment there? Those people should be prosecuted. Are there criminal cases filed against them? Never mind, its just all about money…Who is naive again?

      • Punyëtero»Ka

        Let me wade in the discussion. You claim in a previous exchange with me that you are not Filipino, just someone doing business here. I personally experienced life here during those benighted times, did you? I hope you will have the decency to say what your country is, as you only cherry-pick the facts here.

      • opinyonlangpo

        Thanks for the attention. Northern Europe, Scandinavia. Sorry I can’t be more specific, too much hostile entities here. I was also here in late seventies for college, martial law years. My friends and associates were my classmates then.

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        “But there is no denying, the so called victims are only after the money.” – opinyonlangpo

        Not surprising to hear from someone living in a far away place like Northern Europe, Scandinavia. First, you are not so convinced that they are really victims of the Marcos dictatorship because you labeled them as “so called victims”. Next, you are so sure in saying that they are “only after the money”. You know what, they lost their parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends during those times and no amount of money can bring those dead people back. All they’re asking for is justice and compensation from the Marcoses. I wonder if you can still say the things you said if you were the one who actually lost a loved one during those times.

      • opinyonlangpo

        For once, I assume you discuss with sense and stick to issues and not personal level as most highly intellectual Filipinos do. I presume you know that the martial law criminals are not hiding in any way and yes, I presume all the Filipinos elected the martial law enforcer Ramos as president, and martial law architect Enrile as recently senate president and now senate minority leader, and Tatad sits comfortably in his office, and the Marcoses intact in senate, congress, and in the north and their lackey boy Erap is Manila mayor. The so called victims are running after the money, or maybe I am wrong and they are filing hundreds of charges to the martial law perpetrators or maybe bringing them to jail. Only hypocrites will try to reason out that they are after justice, the criminals are still out there, go get them( except dead Marcos and Ver) – but no, they want to go after the money instead. And just for your info, I always go and watch at the Liwasang Bonifacio during the rallies in the martial law days as schools in that area are disrupted, and my friends participate in it too. I listened to the speech of Macapagal, Laurel, Tanada and the rests. I experienced the sprayed water and tear gas too. I was here when your beloved Ninoy was assasinated and buried, I was also back here in the first people power as my outgoing flight was cancelled due to that and my hotel was near that area. I was here in the major events, were you there too? Now go after the perpetrators and not after the money. Don’t mind me, I am not the ones sneering, its them.

      • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

        “Just because he is dead we will just forget that dark spot in our history that changes our lives including yours.”

        “Remembering the past horror will remind us to avoid it happening again.”

        Well said.

    • JosengSisiw1

      there’s nothing wrong to be an activist. there’s nothing wrong to ask for a change. there’s nothing wrong to demand the govt. to do the right thing for the masses. we are the taxpayers so it is our right. what is wrong is when an activist gets killed because of all the above, & marcos with his henchmen killed a lot of activists.

    • AguinaldoIsNotAHero

      “But now the man is dead, the victims are alive and beneficiaries to billions.”

      “beneficiaries to billions”? Where are those? Were they given to them by the Marcoses?

    • willie malabanan

      It is obvious by your comment that you are so naive. Study your history and check out your facts before you make a comment on it.

  • Mayu04

    so that people may remember what happened …
    thanks sir and mam sa story ninyo

  • JosengSisiw1

    for those marcos pushers for 2016, here is another story that may add light in your blinded loyalty to the marcoses…

  • avmphil

    I read with dismay at the pros and cons over this topic and the direct attribute to the Marcos era. Well the victims are there, unlike the 2nd WW. The so-called perpetrators are still hanging around and it’s visible. So why not justice prevail and get “them” to face the music, rather than placate and generalize 1.3rd of the populace as conspirators? Did not the Japanese create such atrocities, and today we go all out to embrace them with all the niceties? The Japanese traded Hawaii to their motherland that enraged the Americans to go all out for the Japanese. But today they make up the 2nd largest inhabitants after the Pacific Natives. They should have been packed up and sent “home” immediately after the war. Did anyone call for that? Like the Jews going after the Nazis even today, we should take that line. The best honorable way to clear this “sad saga” is for the system’s “apparatus” in charge with the recovery of the so-called billion-dollar loot. To get a clear mandate from the power brokers sitting in Manila and a time frame to finish this “bugging” that had divided many between the North and the South, once and for all.

  • pikloy

    There are no chance that we will forget and forgive the family name ” MARCOS ” As those years have left so many scars among the physical and economic victims of this country. Perhaps if all world history books will eventually be destroyed, maybe I say maybe a chance to forget the tyranny of the MARCOS REGIME

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