MANILA - Twenty-eight years after the EDSA People Power Revolution that removed President Ferdinand Marcos from power, there are still some groups who want to deny that human rights abuses happened during martial rule.
President Aquino issued the warning on Tuesday amid calls by some sectors to remove ex-police director Lina Sarmiento as chairperson of the human rights claims board for victims of human rights abuses during the Marcos regime.
Aquino said there are two groups who want the human rights claims board to fail: one group wants to control the P10-billion compensation for victims of human rights violations while another group does not want the human rights abuses under martial law placed in history books.
"Mayroong ayaw na magpalagay sa kasaysayan, na minsan nagkaroon ng isang panahon na ang gobyernong itinatag para pangalagaan ang kapakanan ng sambayanan ang nang-api sa taumbayan," he said in a press conference during the 28th anniversary celebration of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.
The President said the purpose of Republic Act 10368 or the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act is to put officially on record that the martial law government under Marcos committed human rights violations and that victims will be compensated.
It is not the first time that Aquino commented on revisionist attempts on the history of Martial Law.
In 2012, Aquino ordered the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to form a commission that would collect experiences and stories from individuals who were alive during the Martial Law era.
He said this would ensure that "only the truth will be printed in the books of our students—not the collected lies of propagandists and not the deceitful clippings of revisionists."
"Let us be honest. If Martial Law was supposed to be the solution that would bring down crime, why were we showered with news of disappearances, salvages, and summary executions? If Martial Law was the solution that would stunt the growth of communism, then why is it that, according to the book 'Dictatorship and Revolution: Roots of People’s Power,' the number of people in the NPA grew from 1,250 in 1972 to an estimated 40,000 in 1983? If Martial Law was the solution that would improve the economy, why is it that the value of the peso dropped from four pesos to one dollar, to twenty-five pesos to one dollar, during Marcos’ time in office? Is this the promise of the New Society? You be the judge," Aquino said in his speech.
An Amnesty International report in 1981 earlier said over 50,000 people were arrested during the first three years of martial law. The number does not include the "desaparecidos" or victims of enforced disappearances under Marcos.
The Akbayan party-list group, meanwhile, said the Marcos regime was responsible for 3,257 murders, 35,000 torture cases, and 70,000 incarcerations.
On the other hand, the Presidential Commission on Good Government said the Marcoses stole at least $10 billion from the nation's coffers. PCGG Chairman Andres Bautista said the PCGG has yet to recover P30 billion to P50 billion worth of Marcos assets 28 years after the agency was established.
Senator Bongbong Marcos, son of the late strongman, earlier said martial law implemented during his father's term benefited the country.
He said "objective indicators" such as the poverty rate, the Philippines’ international status, and the government’s financial situation while his father was in power show that the country was in better days then.
Revisionist history in social media
For her part, activist Leah Navarro said it is important to remind the people of the atrocities committed under the martial law regime and that the freedom being enjoyed by the Filipino people now was hard fought.
She said many people do not remember why the Filipino people went out onto the streets in February 1986 to remove Marcos from power.
"People actually don't remember why we had EDSA. They just see everyone went out onto the streets but prior to that we had 14 years of regulated media, not being able to travel, not being able to wear the kind of hair they wanted to wear. It was that intrusive," she said.
Navarro said many people are swayed by revisionist takes on martial law, which is being spread all over the Internet. None of these posts in social media mentioned the fact that so many people were arrested during martial law.
"For some reason, there are people who try to believe or believe in revisionist theories or positions, that 'Oh, it wasn't so bad during martial law. There was less traffic then.' Hello, we were only 40 million then, we are 95 million now," she said.
"You couldn't travel. You couldn't say how you felt. Everything was so controlled. Why would anyone want to have something like that back again? You cannot equate martial law with discipline. You can be a responsible person and discipline yourself without having to be browbeaten into that kind of submission," she added.
Retired professor Edru Abraham said he understands if some people think that martial law under Marcos was like a haven.
"It is understandable but it is not historically true," he said.
Abraham reminded Filipinos that so many of the country's greatest leaders were jailed by Marcos. He also pointed out that the country had zero economic growth at the end of martial law.
"If you are in the province, all of a sudden the military will pick you up without warrant of arrest. Pretty soon, you will be in jail and a political prisoner because you are suspected of having political beliefs different from the government. It is important for us to have a broad and historic perspective of things. I understand that. But I pity them for their lack of historical knowledge and insensitivity to truth. It is all in the books," he said.
Abraham said that after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the country failed to take into account the mistakes of the past and deal with it squarely.
He said one mistake is the failure to conduct an "official accounting of martial rule in terms of Nunca Más, never again, a statute of Nunca Más."
Abraham said the Philippines should take a lesson from South Africa, which established a truth and reconciliation commission after the fall of apartheid.
Navarro said that unlike previous revolts, the EDSA Revolution had no bloodshed and no "purging."
"We have to deal with it in a different way, I think. We have to admit that we didn't account or exact an accounting from those who owed us an accounting," she said.
She added: "We let the Marcoses leave but up to today, we are still trying to get back all that money they stole. Then for some strange reason, we allowed them to come back here and run for public office."
Abraham said it is not just the Marcos family that be made to account for their acts during martial law but the cronies, the Marcos party Kilusan ng Bagong Lipunan (KBL), and other players. He likened the KBL to the Nazi party of Adolf Hitler during World War II.
"All of these people should be made to account for this. Perhaps some research at the Ateneo and UP and recalling it in an editorial column from time to time. It has to be put in the light of history and preserved within the law of the land that this is what happened and this would have to be studied by the young people so that they would understand what happened in our history so they can mature, learn and grow from there," he said.
"There has to be a catharsis," he added.