Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the declaration of martial law is a serious task not only by the  martial law victims  and their relatives but also by the entire Filipino people. Remembering it strengthens our sense of history and its lessons will guide us in our collective resolve to solve the problems besetting  Philippine society.

Martial law was a product of a same  neo-colonial and semi-feudal Philippine system that operates until today. It bestowed upon Marcos dictatorial powers that was deemed necessary to safeguard a then rotten and bankrupt system. The dictatorship further opened the economy to foreign  capital and  eventually paved the way for neoliberalism in the country.  Everybody knew that the declaration and the prolonged life of martial law had the open support of the US.

The brutality of martial law did not pale in comparison with the American atrocities during the Philippine-American war and the Japanese occupation.  At least 70,000 persons were incarcerated. More than 3,000 were made victims of beatings, massacres and enforced disappearance. Amidst this state terrorism, martial law left a Filipino people rich in memory of resistance and defiance.

As we all know, human rights violations did not end with the ouster of Marcos. The Marcos regime as a dictatorship trampled upon the people’s rights and suppressed the people’s movement openly, true to its form and essence as a fascist regime.

While Cory Aquino was trying to be the exact opposite of Marcos; While Ramos was  recognized as   one of the EDSA “heroes”;   While Erap was the most popularly voted/elected President; While Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was desperately trying very hard to be a legitimate President; and   while Pnoy has been enjoying high popularity ratings – all succeeding regimes to Marcos/Martial Law continued to violate the human rights of the Filipino people.  All of them made unequivocal pronouncements on their adherence to democracy and promotion of human rights. Yet, in reality, each regime’s record varied only in the intensity and scale of human rights violations.

Worse, no military perpetrator of human rights violations during the martial law regime were subsequently prosecuted during the succeeding past regimes.  In fact, some of them were able to crawl into the Senate and House of Representatives and arrogate upon themselves the honor and prestige of statesmen of the nation. Some were given key positions in the executive branch.

Pnoy is proving to be no different. Currently, Pnoy’s highly touted “good governance” is obviously faltering with regards to the defense and promotion of human rights – and most importantly in breaking and ending impunity in this country.

While it is commendable that this government is resolutely running after the corrupt and election cheats and the big fishes, reality asserts that Pinoy’s administration is cold and indifferent to punishing human rights violators.

His first act of omission is the glaring absence of a human rights agenda and/or national human rights plan since his assumption into office.

Second, it is not enough for the government to be signatory to international human rights conventions.  Nor sufficient to enact human rights laws.   It is only in the implementation of laws and signed international covenants that rights are made real; otherwise everything is empty rhetoric or lip service.

Third, not a single offending military and police personnel have been convicted of their crimes against the people. Even the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) has lambasted the chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Human Rights Office (AFPHRO) for “saying that the 84 cases of abuse filed against military personnel since 2010 did not have a leg to stand on”.  The New York-based Human Rights Watch said that such claim was “misleading and obviously an outright lie”.

A top embarrassing highlight is the continuing elusiveness of ex-General Jovito Palparan despite the fact that a bounty for his capture was raised to P2M and the whole PNP and the NBI were tasked to arrest him. Inspite of its unlimited resources, Pnoy’s government seemed to be helpless in capturing Palparan.  As things stand now, there is a strong suspicion that President Aquino is too accommodating to the police and military establishments to the extent of conspiring with them to protect the uniformed perpetrators of human rights violations from prosecution.    Recently, the European Union has found the government’s action wanting and lacking against human rights violators.

During a recent dialogue in Davao City, the President slipped and was overheard saying “is there such a thing?” when delegates from the people’s movement raised the problem of political detainees. This proved to be a revealing episode. It smacks of apathy and disregard of human and democratic rights. If it is a glimpse to the President’s mindset, then it is quite enough to explain the President’s ambivalence and lukewarm treatment of his government’s responsibility and duty to render justice to all victims of human rights violations during his term and those of past regimes.

Remembering martial law unmistakably teaches us that human rights violations is embedded in the operation of the whole Philippine system. For as long as the rule of the minority is imposed upon the majority of the Filipino people, the system itself will continue to breed human rights violations.

Remembering martial law means arming ourselves with the lessons of Philippine history especially the martial law period and understanding the operation of the Philippine social system. Then, and only then, can we effectively situate and locate our struggle for the defense and promotion of human rights without falling into the reformist trap.

We owe it to the human rights victims of martial law. We owe it to the countless daily and continuing victims of rights abuse among the Filipino people.  We owe it to the new generation of the Filipino people yet to be born —  to remember in order to rekindle the fires of struggle against the vestiges, remnants and shadows of martial law in our day.

  • Kilusan para sa Pambansang  Demokrasya (KPD)
  • Youth for Nationalism and Democracy (YND)
  • Action and Solidarity for the Empowerment of Teachers (ASSERT)
  • Manggagawa para sa Kalayaan ng Bayan (MAKABAYAN)
  • Teatrong Bayan
  • Progresibong Katipunan ng mga Mangingisda (PANGISDA)
  • Pagkakaisa ng mga Kababaihan para sa Kalayaan (KAISA KA)
  • Progresibong Katipunan ng mga Makabayang Magbubukid (PKMM)
  • League of Urban Poor for Actions (LUPA)                                                                                                    September 21, 2012

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