Activists on martial law: ‘Never forget’




The Manila Times


PHILIPPINE activists vowed Wednesday TO “never forget” the human rights abuses under former dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos as they marked 50 years since his imposition of martial law. Amnesty International estimates thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands tortured and imprisoned after Marcos imposed martial law on Sept. 21, 1972, unleashing security forces on rivals, critics and dissidents. Marcos’ son is now the president of the Philippines, and campaigners have urged him to recognize the violence. “The Marcoses need to at least acknowledge their role in those dark days,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, as activists and victims marked the 50th anniversary of the start of martial law. “Without truth-telling, without the space for Filipinos to understand and accept what happened during martial law, we can never find closure, we can never move forward.” Half a century after the martial law began, 11,103 people have been officially recognized as victims of torture, killings, enforced disappearances and other abuses. They have been compensated with some of the wealth, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, stolen by Marcos and his wife Imelda. But human rights groups say there has never been a true reckoning of the abuses — or those responsible held to account. Marcos was toppled from power by a bloodless “people power” revolt in 1986 and the family was chased into exile. After the patriarch’s death in 1989, they returned to the Philippines and began a remarkable political comeback that culminated with Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s victory in the May 9 presidential election. ‘One of the darkest periods’ Marcos Jr.’s landslide win was helped by a massive online misinformation campaign that portrayed the Marcos clan in a positive light and whitewashed abuses and corruption during the dictatorship. Martial law victims and activists have described the Marcos regime as “one of the darkest periods” in the country’s history. They accuse Marcos Jr. and his supporters of distorting the facts about martial law and falsely portraying it as a “golden age” for the Philippines. “There are young Filipinos who are interested in learning what really happened in spite of many others who were really blinded,” said former political prisoner Bonnie Ilagan, who spent two years in jail where he was repeatedly tortured. “The fight continues. We must never forget.” Ilagan and others accused Marcos Jr.s’ allies in Congress of slashing budgets and weakening the government agencies responsible for preserving the nation’s past. Marcos Jr., who has repeatedly praised his father’s rule, last week defended martial law as “necessary” to protect the country against communist and Muslim insurgencies. “We do recognize the problems that happened, the abuses that occurred like in any war,” Marcos Jr. said. But he said critics were “wrong” to call his father a “dictator.” “There’s no reason to revise history,” he said, while suggesting school textbooks need to be rewritten “only if they’re wrong.” Cristina Palabay of the Karapatan human rights alliance accused Marcos Jr. and his administration of peddling “one lie after another.” “There needs to be institutionalized acknowledgement and great reckoning on the crimes committed by Marcos and his ilk,” she said. ‘Let’s not go back to the dark’ In his message during the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, Manila Archbishop Jose Cardinal Advincula said Filipinos learned a lot of good things from this dark period of their country’s history. “In the middle of the darkness, we saw a light. In the face of bad things, we learned lessons. We have learned to value human life, uphold the dignity of each other, and respect human rights. We have learned that true progress depends on justice and peace,” Advincula said in Filipino. “We have learned to fight for the truth. We have learned the value of democracy and the power of the people. We have learned to believe and rely on God who saves and frees the oppressed,” he added. The bishop said lessons from history could prevent people from making the same old mistakes. “We have seen the light. Let’s not go back to the dark,” he said. In a separate statement, Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani Jr. said Filipinos must remain vigilant and guard the democracy they are now enjoying. “Let us work for justice and development in our country. End the tyranny of corruption and greed,” Bacani said. Balanga Bishop Ruperto Santos said that “valuing human life” is the true essence of remembering the declaration of martial law. “The commemoration of martial law is to defend life and uphold justice; to show that we cherish what we learned from martial law is to promote and protect our rights and freedom,” Santos said. A lesson in history Alliance of Concerned Teachers Chairman Vladimer Quetua held a walk-through exhibit for his senior high school students in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law. “Ngayong araw, ipinapaalala natin sa mga umabot sa panahon ng martial law, at ipinaaalam sa mga hindi pa buhay sa panahong iyon, ang pagmonopolyo ng pamilyang Marcos sa kapangyarihan, ang kroniyismo at pandarambong sa kaba ng bayan, at pagsikil sa mga karapatan ng mamamayan upang makapaghari sila sa napakahabang panahon (Today, we would like to remind those who experienced martial law and inform those who were not yet alive then of how the Marcos family monopolized power, its cronyism, its looting of public funds, and its suppression of human rights for them to reign for a long time),” he said. Queta said a patriotic and empowered citizenry should check those in power and hold them accountable. Quetua added that teachers like himself will continue to show the youth truths of the martial law era as part of their duty in serving the nation and its people. Meanwhile, members of the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy urged the public to fight all forms of historical distortions. “In the climate of fake news and disinformation many decades later, these truths about the martial law period are constantly under attack by revisionists whose aim is to cleanse the name of the Marcoses and peddle myths about a ‘golden age’ that never existed,” the group said in a statement. ‘Martial law saved Filipinos from communism’ Controversial lawyer and Marcos ally Lorenzo “Larry” Gadon said that martial law saved the country from the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) led by Jose Maria “Joma” Sison. “Had it not been for the declaration by former President Ferdinand E. Marcos Sr. of martial law in that fateful Sept. 21, 1972, the Filipino people would have already been swallowed by the devilish plots orchestrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria ‘Joma’ Sison and Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr.,” Gadon, the lone Kilusang Bagong Lipunan’s Senate bet in the May 9 polls, told The Manila Times. “Because it’s the right thing at the time and those who think it was bad are those who’re fighting the government for their selfish end while peace-loving people have welcomed it with open arms because they knew it’s [the] proper [thing] to do against those who sowed terror in the 1970s,” Gadon said.