Never again to martial law?
by Michellene Joy Camcam and Philip Jamilla
“History repeats itself” is very much an overused — if not, often erroneous — saying.
However, for those who were lucky to survive the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos, it seemed like the current administration is replicating what happened 45 years ago.
It was this agitation that led activists from various sectors to take to the streets last Sept. 21 not only to commemorate the anniversary of Marcos’s proclamation of martial law in 1972, but also because they are seeing the same pattern in President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.
With his declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the streak of various human rights violations committed in the name of his anti-drug campaign and even a threat of nationwide martial law, activists are claiming that Duterte is closely following Marcos’s footsteps.
In the forum “What Now? Martial Law: Yesterday and Today” last Sept. 26, a historian, a Martial Law-era survivor and activist, and a Lumad volunteer teacher gave their insights on the events of both past and present to assess if the Philippines is indeed leading to another dictatorship.
Beyond Marcos and Aquino
Martial Law, for historian and lecturer Michael Charleston Chua, was a product of various factors both inside and outside the country — but he claims that a large portion of it was driven by Marcos’s own delusion of power.
“There is nothing as successful as success,” Chua read from one of the late dictator’s entries after successfully declaring martial law.
He also added that the Marcoses “were great in perpetuating themselves in the mind[s] of the people” by building numerous public infrastructures.
Thus, Chua said, Filipinos developed different perspectives based on what they experienced, with some favorably viewing the Marcos regime as an era of peace and order.
However, the lecturer urged Thomasians to also consider the other side of the story, particularly the stories of those who were killed fighting for the country’s democracy.
“[The] EDSA [People Power Revolution] was not [a] four-day peaceful revolution: It is only the highlight, the climax, of a 14-year struggle,” Chua said.
However, he also encouraged the youth to look beyond binaries, particularly those concerning the Martial Law era.
“Hindi lamang kwento ng mga Marcos at Aquino ang Martial Law at People Power; ito ay kwento ng sambayanang Pilipino.”
Martial Law then and now
Meanwhile, for Martial Law activist and Palanca Award-winning playwright Bonifacio Ilagan — whose struggle during the Marcos regime was portrayed by actor Alden Richards in the recent GMA documentary “Alaala” — very little has changed since then.
“Yung iilang naghahari noon, sila pa rin ang naghahari ngayon,” Ilagan said.
Ilagan recounted his life as as student in UP Diliman during the years leading up to martial law, as well as how he was driven underground and subsequently arrested in 1974 where he was subjected by the Philippine Constabulary to different forms of torture.
Freed in 1976, he continued to be involved in the activist movement after his sister, Rizalina, disappeared and was never found shortly after he was freed.
Ilagan’s sister is just one of the many cases of forced disappearances — or desaparecidos — during the Marcos regime.
The activist also supplemented Chua’s historical background, saying that similar events during Marcos’s regime are becoming prominent again under Duterte’s administration.
“Ang best practices ng martial law ang ginagawa pa rin ngayon. Extrajudicial killings, one of the best practices,” Ilagan lamented.
Nonetheless, he also called on the youth to act against Duterte’s “creeping tyranny” and the revising of Martial Law era history.
“Nasa [kabataan] ang hamon upang pigilan ang pagbabaliktad sa kasaysayan. Sana ‘wag niyong biguin ang ating bayan.”
John Romero, a volunteer teacher of the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services, also recounted his experiences of martial law in Mindanao and on how it has affected him and the Lumad communities.
Romero lamented that even before the declaration of martial law, increased military presence in Lumad communities are hindering the right of Lumad children to education.
The military has repeatedly claimed that Lumad schools are being run by the New People’s Army (NPA). However, Romero denied these allegations.
“Ang mga Lumad ay biktima rin ng pangkakamkam ng mga lupa […] even private companies are taking the opportunity na walang edukasyon ang ating mga katutubo,” Romero said, detailing how mining companies are using private armies to drive indigenous peoples away from their ancestral lands.
With Duterte’s open threats to bomb Lumad schools, Romero fears that the attacks on their communities will worsen.
“Kailangan na kailangan ng mga Lumad ngayon ang edukasyon kasi kung wala, vulnerable sila sa attacks ng militar,” Romero said.
However, the volunteer teacher was steadfast, saying that being a teacher is his form of “resistance.”
“Kapag may crisis, sooner or later, may resistance. At ito ang porma ko, ang pagtuturo sa kabataang Lumad.”