The Heroes Who Fought Martial Law: Liliosa Hilao

At age 23, Liliosa Hilao was a bright young girl who had her entire future in front of her. Despite her asthma and allergies, she was talented, smart, and outgoing. She had many friends. She was set to graduate cum laude with a degree in communication arts from the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She was also the first reported case of a political prisoner’s death under Martial Law.

As associate editor of her school paper, Hilao wrote essays about the death of democracy in the Philippines under Martial Law. She began to wear black as an outward sign of mourning. Liliosa Hilao had a strong sense of justice, and she was not afraid to express it any way she could.



In April 1973, drunken soldiers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit barged into her home searching for her brother. When she demanded a search warrant, she was beaten up and taken away. Her brother-in-law, a man in the army, visited her and saw the marks of torture and gang rape. He was unable to do anything to help. When her older sister Alice was called to the Camp Crame Station Hospital to see her, Liliosa was already dead.

For years, the Hilaos were kept under close surveillance. Several members of the family had to leave the home to avoid arrest. Authorities claimed that Liliosa had killed herself by drinking muriatic acid. The case was closed, they said.

Two weeks later, her university held their graduation ceremonies and conferred her degree posthumously, with honors. They kept her seat empty.


Photos by Blew David, Chana Garcia, Roxy Navarro


Bantayog ng mga Bayani. (2016). Martyrs & heroes.

Maramba, A. D. (1997). Six young Filipino martyrs. Anvil Publishing.

Montiel, C. (2007). Living and dying: In memory of 11 Ateneo de Manila martial law activists. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.


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