Never again to martial law
Forgiveness comes with genuine remorse and rectification, unlikely under the new Marcos regime
A protester wears a 'Never Forget' headband during a demonstration on the 50th anniversary of the imposition of martial law, at the University of the Philippines in Manila, on Sept. 21. (Photo: AFP)
A party to eight out of nine core international human rights treaties, the Philippines, then a new nation, contributed to the founding of the United Nations in 1945.
The Philippines can proudly claim its contribution to the inclusion of progressive language, such as “independence and self-determination” in the UN Charter, then frowned on by some permanent members of the Security Council.
In drafting the UN Charter, the Philippines, in no small measure, expressed solidarity with neighboring countries such as Indonesia in its struggle for independence from the Netherlands.
Sadly, however, in the last five decades, the Philippines has witnessed gross and systematic violations of human rights and glaring impunity that never escaped global scrutiny.
A clear example was the assassination of former senator, Benigno Aquino Sr. After the 1986 People Power Revolution, his widow, the late Corazon Aquino, was catapulted to the highest position in the land.
In 2016, his son, the late Benigno Aquino lll, likewise became head of state. Yet, the truth has never been officially known. The assassination perpetrators and their mastermind have not been brought to justice. What, then, would be the fate of ordinary victims of human rights violations?
"His supporters, who boastfully consider his regime a glorious period of peace and prosperity,
are committing an irreparable historical blunder"
On Sept 21, the anniversary of the declaration of martial law by the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, I was leaving the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, where I participated in meetings of the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances.
As I left Geneva, I received an electronic copy of the book by Democrito Barcenas, Martial Law in Cebu, Stories of Life and Struggle During the Marcos Dictatorship, published that day.
The launch was one of numerous activities conducted across the country to remember this darkest period in Philippine history with yet another resolution to guarantee non-recurrence. I wrote one of the articles entitled “Of Dark Nights and Bitter Days,” which attempts to chronicle my martial law nightmares since I was nine years old.
During a short flight to Amsterdam, I read a couple of articles. These poignantly reminded me of the sacrifices of the many unsung heroes who offered their lives at the altar of freedom.
A tincture of bitterness enveloped me when I thought about the heroes and martyrs whose profound love of the country many Filipinos sadly wasted.
By voting for the son of a dictator who vehemently refuses to acknowledge the well-documented gross and systematic human rights violations committed for more than two decades by the authoritarian Marcos Sr. regime, his supporters, who boastfully consider his regime a glorious period of peace and prosperity, are committing an irreparable historical blunder.
Reaching Zwolle, I gave a lecture on enforced disappearances to some 40 international students of the Windesheim Honors College at the invitation of a Filipina professor, Agnes Camacho.
While physically distant from the Philippines, I thought that the event was my contribution to a series of nationwide protest actions against the wanton transgression of human rights during martial law.
Most of the students from many parts of Europe heard about enforced disappearances for the first time. So engaged in the lecture, not only did they intently listen but they asked important questions that facilitated an enriching discussion. During the entire lecture, I could feel the audience’s solidarity.
"There is no moving on without justice.
It has been proven, time and again, that the Marcoses are culpable"
Ron de Vera, a former colleague at the Asian Federation of Enforced Disappearances, joined the lecture virtually.
Ron spent his childhood with a lady whom he thought was his mother and who took care of him when his mother, Adora Faye de Vera, was detained and raped by security forces during the Marcos regime.
She was one of the political detainees released after the 1986 People Power Revolution. But it did not take long when during the supposedly democratic administration of the late president Corazon Aquino, Ron’s father failed to make it to their date on Father’s Day.
His father involuntarily disappeared and never returned. And now during another Marcos administration, his 66-year-old sick mother is once again detained in Iloilo City.
Contradicting those who hypocritically call for unity and reconciliation, Ron had this to say:
“There is no moving on under another Marcos presidency. There is no moving on without justice. It has been proven, time and again, that the Marcoses are culpable. It has been proven time both in the court of law, and in the court of moral opinion. As such, it is the Marcoses who must subscribe to what we define as justice.
"Justice means acknowledging their wrongs. Justice means returning what material wealth they had taken. Justice means a guarantee to never again commit the same atrocities. And these expectations are the bare minimum, because nothing can reverse the rape and torture they instigated.
"Nothing can bring back the lives we lost. Nothing can return the time we could have spent with our beloved. Now, 50 years after the declaration of martial law, we are nowhere near any semblance of justice. And every time we are compelled to defend our truth is another scratch on a wound that has hardly healed.
"So no, there is no moving on under another Marcos presidency. We remember how these wounds were inflicted. And even if we have to nurse these wounds for another 50 years, we shall never forget.”
In an online class held a few days later, a graduate student at the Asian Center of the University of the Philippines shared how outraged she was when she saw posts on Twitter saying: “Happy Martial Law Day.” Indeed, the 50th anniversary of martial law was such that greeting each other with “happy anniversary” is definitely improper, or worse still, an embarrassment.
During my flight back to Manila, as I anticipate the continuing impunity, inflation, appalling poverty, and continuing human rights violations, I end on a positive note that amid the callous insistence of lies and oblivion for the sake of “unity and reconciliation,” the survivors of martial law will continue to serve as the living testament to the horrors of the past and a beacon to the new generation of young people so that they may not be trapped by the lies, disinformation and hypocrisy of the need to move on, forget and forgive.
A predominantly Catholic country, the Philippines may forgive. However, according to Christian tenets, forgiveness can come only when sinners truly repent.
But we have to say no to forgetting and yes to remembering a past that should never be forgotten.
No genuine reconciliation is ever possible without truth and justice. No real unity and authentic peace can be attained without the collective process of truth-telling, ensuring accountability, reparation and redress.
It is only when such a process is made can mistakes be rectified and lessons be learned towards non-recurrence. Never again!
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News