OPINION: Why we should worry about martial law

Raissa Robles

Posted at Feb 19 2017 01:04 AM

The youth are hungry for truth. And they are not the unquestioning zombies that some people like to depict them. In fact, they asked me some very tough questions.

Yesterday, I was highly privileged to talk to at least 700 high school and college students, the top administration officials, faculty and employees of the University of the East Manila and Caloocan.

I was the only speaker and my topic was – Martial Law? Never Again.

Students of University of the East Caloocan and Manila at the Convocation where I deliver the keynote speech “Martial Law? Never Again. Thanks to @Nelson Agoyaoy for this photo.
My thanks to UE Professor Nelson Agoyaoy for the photos which he posted on Facebook.

Here is what I shared with the UE Community:

Good morning.

First of all, I would like to thank
President Ester Garcia,
Executive Vice President Carmelita Mateo,
Dr. Linda Santiago, Chancellor of the University of the East Manila
Dr. Zosimo Battad, Chancellor of University of the East Caloocan,
Director Rogelio Espiritu, the Convocation’s organizing committee chair
His co-chair, Principal Marilou Alonzo,
the professors, teachers, employees and students of University of the East
for making this happen.

It is a privilege for me to talk to all of you today to commemorate Edsa People Power – an event that happened 31 years ago before most of you were not yet born.

In preparing to talk to you, I tried to put myself in your shoes and see Edsa from your perspective. I guess for most of you, Edsa is similar to the way my parents used to talk to me about the Liberation of Manila from the Japanese invaders.

And yet, Edsa – or the liberation of the Filipino people from a dictatorship – was different from the Japanese Occupation.

You somehow expect a foreign invader to be cruel to those they conquer.

But you never ever expect your own President to be cruel to his own people. That was what Ferdinand Marcos, his family and his generals did. By the end of 14 years of Martial Law, there were 3,257 killed – you know, just like the deaths under investigation today. There were 35,000 tortured and 70,000 jailed.

Many of those jailed, tortured and killed were your age.

Just to give you an idea of how horrible Marcos’ Martial Law was. In a forum in Manila just like this, a student who was the same age as you questioned Imee Marcos why she was appointed to head Kabataang Barangay by her own father. His name was Archimedes Trajano and he was 21. Imee then was also 21. There was an underlying insinuation in Trajano’s question. Imee’s father had issued Presidential Decree 805 punishing nepotism or the appointment of relatives. Trajano ended up dead with torture marks all over his body.

Trajano’s mother never filed a case in court. She was too afraid. Instead, she migrated to Hawaii. Years later, the Marcoses fled there and she found a way to sue Imee Marcos for damages for the death of her son.

You know the argument that Imee Marcos used? She had taken up law and was once a student of my father who was a University of the Philippines law professor. You know what argument she used before the Hawaii court? She and her lawyers did not deny that Trajano was tortured. Instead, they argued that as agents of the state, the soldiers who killed Trajano were immune from suit in a foreign state.

Another student who was in high school was also tortured and his body dropped from a helicopter. His crime? He happened to be the son of Marcos’ former propaganda minister Primitivo MIjares who had fled to the United States and turned whistle blower.

Now the Marcos children and their supporters are trying with all their might to convince you that these are merely perceptions. They like to say – “winners rewrite history and those who won in Edsa are the ones writing the history” which puts the Marcoses in a very bad light.

Not true. Primitivo Mijares wrote all about the Marcoses’ shenanigans during Martial Law and he paid with his life.

In addition, what happened was the exact opposite. The winners failed to write the true history of Martial Law and Edsa. You can count on your fingers the memoirs that have been written by the major players who made Edsa happen. For instance, the late President Corazon Aquino once told me she was writing an autobiography but she never published whatever it is she wrote. Last July, I asked former President Fidel V. Ramos to please write his own memoir but apparently he had already donated his library to a university. He was not about to write and tell all. Fortunately, his former aide General Jose Almonte wrote his memoirs and spilled a lot about Ramos.

Interestingly, even Imelda or Imee or Bongbong Marcos, who have lots of stories to tell, have not written anything about their lives in Malacañang Palace and after. You should ask them why.

However, Marcos’ military aide, Colonel Arturo Aruiza did, and he provided a rare glimpse of the family’s life especially in exile.

This brings me to why I wrote this book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.

I was never a student activist. I never joined rallies. I was never detained or tortured. So why did I write this?

Because I saw and was alarmed that the real story about Martial Law was fading and slowly being revised by the Marcoses. Sometime in late 1981, I joined Business Day newspaper. I wrote what I then thought was really boring stuff – special reports about taxes, the educational system, labor and unemployment. But it put bread on my table.

Then suddenly Ninoy Aquino died. Weeks before he died, Imelda Marcos had warned him not to come home because he might end up dead. And so when he ended up dead, millions of Filipinos were shocked and wondered why the Marcoses with a vast military at their service could not prevent a lone gunman from sneaking in and shooting Ninoy in a tightly guarded area of the airport.

Unless – and it was this horror that filled my mind then and the mind of many Filipinos – unless Ninoy was salvaged – or killed by the military. This brought home to me the impunity of Martial Law.

At that time, I knew that salvaging and torture were going on but I did not really understand the gravity of the situation. Seeing for myself Ninoy’s bloodied body made me realize that there was so much I did not know about the regime.

I wasted no time trying to find out more. And that’s how I accidentally got into political reporting. I was lucky to have started out as a reporter in Business Day, where I was trained to get not only both sides but as many sides as I could.

It is this training, honed by nearly three decades as a reporter, that I have brought to use in my book. Here, you will not only read about those who were tortured and killed. You will also read about Marcos, Imelda and their generals from their their own points of view.

I also tried to use documents from that era. So the accounts of torture I have used in this book were not just from those victims who have recently filed claims before the Human Rights Claims Board. It’s a lie that Bongbong Marcos has thrown against the human rights victims. That they are telling their stories of torture because they are only after the money.

No. On the contrary, most of the accounts I used here are those the torture victims themselves told Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and the World Council of Churches at that time.

I was curious and I hope your Chancellor, Linda Santiago, forgives me for what I’m about to tell you. One of the primary source documents I used was Amnesty International’s Mission Report of 1975. After I had agreed to be a speaker I went back to the Amnesty Report to verify the arrest of your Chancellor, Linda Santiago.

Here is what Amnesty International documented about the arrest of Dr. Roger Posadas and his wife Linda Santiago Posadas. I quote:

“Dr Roger POSADAS: a recent example of arrest and detention
Arrested 12 January 1976, and was taken with his wife and three-year old son to a “safe house” for “tactical interrogation”. Amnesty International was informed that Dr Posadas was subjected to fist blows, kicks and struck with a pistol during interrogation for a period of one week. He was then kept incommunicado in the “safe house” for more than two months before transfer to a detention center.

His wife Linda Santiago Posadas was stripped and was reported to have been held for six hours with her three-year old son in an especially cold air-conditioned room. Mrs Posadas, aged 28, was granted “temporary release” on 20 June 1976 after more than five months’ detention without trial.”

Amnesty wrote that Dr. Posadas, a well-known physicist specializing in general relativity theory, was regarded by the authorities as a subversive. The report did not say whether Linda Santiago was one too.

The argument of the Marcoses and their supporters today is that they all had it coming because they were subversives and were trying to overthrow the government.

What I found out was that – yes, many of those tortured were rebels.

But did they have it coming?

No, because Marcos himself went out of his way to make the Philippines co-sponsor a landmark resolution before the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1975. The Resolution was called the “Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Being subjected to Torture and other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” [NOTE: You can read the Resolution yourself by clicking here.]

By sponsoring this anti-torture resolution on the UN General Assembly floor, Marcos agreed not to use torture even in “exceptional circumstances” such as internal political instability. In effect, he promised to the world that that he would not torture communist rebels who were trying to overthrow him or Muslim rebels who were trying to secede.

So the argument now being used – that communist rebels had it coming to them because they were trying to topple Marcos – doesn’t hold water in Marcos’ case.

Not only that. On October 16, 1979, Marcos issued Proclamation 1914, wherein he promised to comply with the UN Resolution against torture. According to Amnesty International the Philippines was one of a handful of governments which had promised to do so. [NOTE: You can read Marcos’ Proclamation 1914 by clicking here.]

But of course he was lying.

You have also read Marcos supporters saying that Marcos had to impose Martial Law because of the communist threat. The US has now declassified a substantial amount of confidential records from that era. One of the cables sent by US Ambassador Henry Byroade to Washington shortly before Martial Law was declared stated that Marcos agreed with Byroade’s assessment that the communist rebels were not a threat. [NOTE: You can read Byroade’s declassified cable yourself by clicking here. See Paragraph No. 10.]

Sure, Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Maria Sison could muster over a hundred thousand students to protest in the streets of Manila. Sure, there were bombings and the police detained at least one suspected bomber who turned out to be a soldier. Sure, there were 9,000 men belonging to the Communist Party and its armed group the New People’s Army.

But such a number was hardly enough to overthrow Marcos. When he declared Martial Law, his real motives became apparent when he announced that he had imposed Martial Law in order to “save the Republic and build a New Society.”

Well, saving the Republic is one of the justifiable conditions for Martial Law. But building a New Society was not in the 1935 Constitution as a reason for Martial Law.

Martial Law was meant to be an extreme measure to meet an emergency. And when that emergency is passed, Martial Law was supposed to be lifted. But Marcos only lifted his Martial Law in 1981 – or nine years later.

To prepare for this talk, I asked Mr. Edilberto Sulat, Jr. the university relations officer, to ask students for questions they might like to ask.

Let me tell you, the 13 questions sent to me are very tough questions and for that I commend you. Three of the questions went this way. I will try to answer them one by one.

First question: What was the first assignment of the soldiers when Martial Law was declared?

Their first assignment was to arrest 30,000 men and women who were top political opponents of Marcos, prominent media men and university professors critical of him or who were leftists; shut down Congress, TV stations, newspapers and magazines.

General Ramon Montaño told me in an interview that on the night they did arrests he regretted sending Colonel Rolando Abadilla to Channel 2 because he mauled everyone inside the TV station. Colonel Abadilla was often cited as the military officer who tortured a lot of detainees.

The second question I was asked was – Is it true that during Martial Law, everyone was disciplined?

The answer is – no. For instance, discipline rapidly broke down in the military. With no Congress to check its actions, many military officers used their power to accumulate wealth and conduct illegal activities.

Senator Panfilo Lacson told me that for some generals the discipline only lasted a few months. Some of them spotted ways to make money out of arresting political and non-political prisoners. Lacson said he heard of one million to two million pesos changing hands because it was so easy to arrest anyone. Officers were given Arrest Search and Seizure Orders (ASSO) pre-signed by Marcos or his loyal aide General Fabian Ver whom he named the spy chief.

Another question – Why did Martial Law lead to such horrible outcomes if its goal was to discipline the people?

As I said, many ordinary people became disciplined but the discipline deteriorated in the military simply because they could do almost anything.

As General Almonte also wrote in his memoirs, it took a little over a year to see the true nature of martial law. Almonte wrote: “Once Marcos consolidated his power, he did not use this to build a nation.”

Marcos used Martial Law to set up a new oligarchy consisting of his friends, relatives, the generals and his political allies. He legalized his dictatorship with a new Constitution so that he could stay in power forever.

Sure, he and his wife built a number of hospitals, many bridges and roads that continue to be used to this day. But the leakage due to corruption was horrific.

And the damage done to institutions such as the military took years to repair. He used the soldiers like his private army. He deprofessionalized the military. Part of the reason junior officers rebelled was that there were a lot of overstaying generals so they could not be promoted.

Another question – Did Martial Law bring out a sense of nationalism among Filipinos? Sad to say, many Filipinos – especially the educated ones – could not wait to get out of the country, to flee the country.

Jobs were hard to come by. Pay was low. And there was this sense of fear that one could get picked up, arrested, or simply disappear anytime.

Jokes about the New Society were forbidden. DZMM anchor Ariel Ureta was picked up after he made fun of Marcos’ New Society by saying, sa ikauunlad ng bayan, bisikleta ang kailangan. He should have said – disiplina – but the dictatorship had no sense of humor.

A newspaper cartoonist told me that he was barred from drawing Imelda Marcos with a double chin.

But why worry about Martial Law, which took place decades ago and hasn’t been repeated since?

Well, because someone could try to impose it again.

In fact, someone keeps talking about declaring or not declaring Martial Law nowadays.

Marcos did that too before declaring Martial Law. He kept threatening to declare it long before he actually imposed it.

You must have noticed, on Facebook especially, supporters of Bongbong Marcos and President Rodrigo Duterte actually praising Martial Law and saying it would be good for the country.

Then they point to the many roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects that Marcos was able to build during Martial Law.

They neglect to point out that those roads and bridges were tainted with a stupendous amount of corruption. And behind them was a terrific human cost. Those were Marcos’ showcases to brag to the world how good Martial Law was.

Behind those showcases were a neglected and poverty-stricken people. When Marcos assumed the presidency in 1965, 43.3% of Filipino families lived below the poverty line. By 1980, a year before he lifted Martial Law but it was only a paper lifting, the poverty rate had jumped to 64.1% or six out of every ten Filipino families.

It is the number of poor people, not the number of bridges or kilometers of roads, that is the true gauge of success for any Philippine President. At the end of a presidential term you do not ask how many bridges or roads he built. You ask, how many poor people he was able to lift out of poverty.

Because people are much more important than objects. Please remember that. You and I are more important than any building or railroad or highway.

Which brings me to the question of human rights. Marcos espoused an ideology that said human rights were not appropriate nor important for Third World nations. The same ideology pushed for an authoritarian leadership to steer Third World nations into become First World.

You hear similar sentiments being expressed today. For instance, I’ve seen Duterte supporters say that the poor can’t eat human rights.

Sure, they can’t eat human rights. But they can die for lack of it. Because only human rights guarantee that the state will observe your civil liberties. What are some of these?

The right to complain to government. The right not to be raided in dead of night without a search warrant. The right not to have your possessions seized by the police. The right not to be arrested without an arrest warrant. The right to criticize political leaders. The right to keep silent when questioned by the police or military. The right to be informed on matters of public concern. The right to form unions to push for better pay and working conditions. The right not to have one’s property seized without being paid for it.

You must have heard Duterte supporters say – why does the Commission on Human Rights only criticize policemen. Why do they not criticize drug addicts, traffickers and other criminals?

Because the CHR was precisely set up to be a watchdog of state agents like the police and the soldiers, so that they do not abuse their right to carry firearms and arrest people on behalf of the state.

Increasingly these days, I’ve been asked – can Martial Law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus happen?

Before I answer, let me briefly explain what these two terms mean. The suspension of the writ of habeas corpus simply means that if you get arrested, the police or military can hold you indefinitely – sometimes days, even years, just like what happened to Chancellor Santiago before. Because nothing will compel them to produce your body before a court of law where the judge can ask whether you are being legally or illegally detained.

The term Martial Law has changed meaning ever since Marcos abused it. In the 1935 Constitution, the President could declare Martial Law and suspend the writ – meaning send out the armed forces and arrest people – whenever there was invasion, insurrection, or rebellion or imminent danger of any of these three conditions.

Marcos exploited the term “imminent danger” to declare military rule. Today, the 1987 Constitution no longer carries the phrase “imminent danger”. And bars any President from ever doing what Marcos did – such as close down Congress and bar the Supreme Court from ruling on the legality of the declaration of martial law.

Despite these, can Martial Law and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus still happen?

Of course it can, but only if you let it happen. Only if you don’t protest with all your might.

Tyrants rule when the people are meek and silent.

Marcos’ Martial Law showed that it doesn’t work as a model for development. Because, as the saying goes, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What you have to watch out for is not just the declaration of Martial Law but also the changing of the 1987 Constitution. When you change from one constitution to another you will need a transition period – a period where the one in charge will have absolute powers.

The question to ask is, during the transition period from presidential to parliamentary-federal, can President Duterte be trusted to use his absolute powers only for the good of the nation? Or will he use it for example to put the Marcoses back in power? I will end my speech on that note.

Thank you.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.