With the theme “Tomasinong Nag-aaral, Nagninilay, at Kumikilos Para sa Karapatang Pantao sa Gitna ng Pandemya,” the Simbahayan Community Development Office held the Francisco de Vitoria: Linggo ng Karapatang Pantao webinar on September 21, 2020 via livestream, as the country marked the 48th year since Martial Law was declared under the rule of dictator former President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
The webinar featured two speakers who spoke at length about the Martial Law experience and what the current generation must learn about the events of that period in Philippine history. Reactions from the youth were also shared during the said webinar.
Opposing narratives, debunking claims
Throwing the question “Bakit hanggang ngayon hati tayo sa pag-unawa sa panahon ni Marcos?”, Bantayog ng Mga Bayani foundation, Inc. Executive Director Ma. Cristina “Mae” V. Rodriguez acknowledged opposing narratives: “May mga grupo na ipinaglalaban ang administrasyong Marcos ay naging mabuti, ang bayan ay gumanda, ang lipunan ay tumino, at ang gobyerno ay luminis,” Rodriguez acknowledged. “Sa kabilang banda naman, may mga grupong nakikipagtunggali sa ganyang ideya. Gusto nilang ipaglaban ang administrasyong Marcos ay naging masama, ang bayan ay naghikahos, ang lipunan ay nasira, ang gobyerno ay naging corrupt at humirap ang ating buhay,” she said.
Rodriguez also acknowledged conflicting narratives on the person of the late dictator, as seen in biographical content that portray him positively and negatively. Prior to his presidency, Marcos was embroiled in quite a few controversies, including the killing of a political opponent and the issue on wartime honors that Marcos allegedly received.
Rodriguez debunked Marcos’ claims of leading armed groups against Japanese forces, receiving highest honors from USA, and being the Philippine’s most decorated war hero. According to Rodriguez, Marcos’ role in 1942 was of a non-combatant soldier, contrary to his claim. Citing data from renowned World War II historian Ricardo Jose, Rodriguez disclosed that “walang nangyaring laban sa mga araw na sinabi ni Marcos at ang pwersa niya ay pang-intelligence at hindi infantry. Ang claim niya, bumuo siya ng pwersang panlaban na tinawag niyang Maharlika at kung saansaan sia nakipaglaban. Depende sa kwento nia, may 300 siyang pwersa, minsan may roon siyang 8300,” Rodriguez said.
“Ang sabi ng US Army, ‘Absurd, distorted, exaggerated, and contradictory’ ang kwentong iyan,” she added. However, these alleged wartime laurels fed the “war hero narrative that Marcos used to further his political aspirations, which culminated in his obtaining the presidential seat in 1965.
The first to bust his narrative was Marcos’ then-press secretary Primitivo Mijares, who authored the most notable book that spoke the horrors of Marcos’ era: The Conjugal Dictatorship. “Sinabi doon ni Mijares na ginawa niyang negosyo ang pagkuha ng affidavit of claims sa mga kapwa nia sundalo at mga beterano.” As history will later on show, Mijares eventually disappeared, while his son was killed.
Rodriguez also cited the work of Bonifacio Gillego, who published articles on Marcos’ fake medals were published in WE Forum, whose publisher and editor was Jose Burgos. 15 staff members, including Burgos, were charged with subversion and rebellion.
According to Rodriguez, these exposés eventually had a domino effect. Various declassified military record appeared, and this enabled historians such as Alfred McCoy to collate the records and write about articles for the New York Times.
Regaining our footing after the regime
Rodriguez narrated how the Martial Law period and the remainder of the Marcos presidency were fraught with human rights abuses, with statistics counting at least 3,200 deaths, 30,000 tortures, 1,600 disappearances, and billions in dollars worth of ill-gotten wealth.
After Marcos’s 20-year rule and restoration of democracy, measures that aimed to protect human rights against abuses were taken. “Nagkaroon tayo ng matibay na Bill of Rights, tinanggal ang re-election ng pangulo dahil sa experience ni Marcos noong 1969, ang kanyang pangalawang pagka-pangulo, ginamit niya yoon para pagtibayin ang pagupo sa poder,” she said. Rodriguez also noted measures such as prohibition of private armies, publication of statements of assets, liabilities, and net worth among government officials, and tightening controls on the declaration of martial rule. Modern-day laws protecting human rights and giving reparation to those who were subjected to human rights violations were also cited. Rodriguez disclosed that at least 11,000 claimants have been granted reparations from violations experienced during the Marcos regime.
A survivor’s tale
Environmentalist Crisanto Palabay narrated his experience during Martial Law. Barely a month after Martial Law was imposed, he was taken as political prisoner in San Fernando, from where he was later on brought to a facility of the Philippine Constabulary and subjected to torture by electrocution.
Reflecting on his experience and the current situation of the country, Palabay said the education of the events during Martial Law must be strengthened and institutionalized. “Dapat ay ipopularize ito sa lahat,” he said. “Maraming mga guro na hindi nila tinatalakay ang mga issue na ito,” he added.
“Hindi mo mapapatay ang kaisipan lalo na kung tama at nararapat kahit patay na ang mga tao na nagsimula, o yung mga nagpapatuloy na ngayon ay mawawala na,” Palabay said.
From the young
The webinar also featured reactions from the youth, with Nathan Raphael D.L. Agustin of the Faculty of Civil Law sharing his reaction on the ongoing attempts at historical revisionism that try to depict the era as “the best era for Filipinos.” “All this revisionism has built this huge rift in our understanding of what really happened during Martial Law,” Agustin opined. The human rights abuses, the Law student said, ran counter to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which consider human rights as universal, indivisible, inalienable, and inherent. “Even in Catholic teaching, human rights are part of our dignity. [Sadly,] even with the gifts of freedom and democracy, there was a time in our history when we were plunged into the abyss and tyranny,” Agustin lamented.
Meanwhile, Thomasian alumna Veronica Michelle L. Moreno shared her reflections and stated that the abuses during the Martial Law era are a reminder of the need to empathize with our fellowmen Recalling the Thomasian Graduate Attributes (ThoGAs) and the SEAL of Thomasian Education which calls on Thomasians to be servant leaders. She also called on her fellow alumni to not be fooled easily by the lies spread on social media, which many people are relying on now due to restrictions on movement in light of COVID-19.
Revisit the webinar: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=334911487563116&extid=4EqqNCv8STPnjh2l