Philippine activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses

Cecil Morella, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 21 2022 01:54 PM | Updated as of Sep 21 2022 05:46 PM

Members of Karapatan prepare banners at their headquarters in Quezon City on Tuesday, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law on Sept. 21, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Members of Karapatan prepare banners at their headquarters in Quezon City on Tuesday, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law on Sept. 21, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATED) — Philippine activists vowed Wednesday to "never forget" the human rights abuses under former dictator Ferdinand Marcos as they marked 50 years since his imposition of martial law.

Amnesty International estimates thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands tortured and imprisoned after Marcos imposed martial law on September 21, 1972, unleashing security forces on rivals, critics and dissidents.

Marcos' son is now the president of the Philippines, and campaigners have urged him to recognize the violence.

"The Marcoses need to at least acknowledge their role in those dark days," said Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, as activists and victims marked the 50th anniversary of the start of martial law.

"Without truth-telling, without the space for Filipinos to understand and accept what happened during martial law, we can never find closure, we can never move forward." 

Half a century after martial law began, 11,103 people have been officially recognized as victims of torture, killings, enforced disappearances and other abuses.

They have been compensated with some of the wealth, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, stolen by Marcos and his wife Imelda. 

But human rights groups say there has never been a true reckoning of the abuses -- or those responsible held to account. 

Marcos was toppled from power by a bloodless "people power" revolt in 1986 and the family was chased into exile. 

After the patriarch's death in 1989, they returned to the Philippines and began a remarkable political comeback that culminated with Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s victory in the May 9 presidential election.

 'ONE OF THE DARKEST PERIODS' 

His landslide win was helped by a massive online misinformation campaign that portrayed the Marcos clan in a positive light and whitewashed abuses and corruption during the dictatorship.

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Martial law victims and activists have described the Marcos regime as "one of the darkest periods" in the country's history.

They accuse Marcos Jr and his supporters of distorting the facts about martial law and falsely portraying it as a "golden age" for the Philippines. 

"There are young Filipinos who are interested in learning what really happened in spite of many others who were really blinded," said former political prisoner Bonnie Ilagan, who spent two years in jail where he was repeatedly tortured. 

"The fight continues. We must never forget."

Ilagan and others accused Marcos's allies in Congress of slashing budgets and weakening the government agencies responsible for preserving the nation's past.

Marcos Jr., who has repeatedly praised his father's rule, last week defended martial law as "necessary" to protect the country against communist and Muslim insurgencies. 

"We do recognize the problems that happened, the abuses that occurred like in any war," Marcos Jr said.

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But he said critics were "wrong" to call his father a "dictator".

"There's no reason to revise history," he said, while suggesting school textbooks need to be rewritten "only if they're wrong".

Cristina Palabay of the Karapatan human rights alliance accused Marcos Jr and his administration of peddling "one lie after another".

"There needs to be institutionalized acknowledgment and great reckoning on the crimes committed by Marcos and his ilk," she said.

 MARTIAL LAW COMMEMORATION IN DAVAO, CEBU

Progressive groups gathered on Wednesday afternoon at the Freedom Park along Roxas Avenue, Davao City to commemorate the 50th year of the Martial Law declaration.

The groups remembered the martial law victims by displaying their portraits during the activity.

They recalled that during the Martial Law imposition, the country's economy plunged, with unemployment and inflation rates also soaring.

Activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses 1
Activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses 2
Activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses 3
Activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses 4

Photos courtesy of Red Masacupan

Photos courtesy of Red Masacupan

Photos courtesy of Red Masacupan

Photos courtesy of Red Masacupan

The groups also demanded higher wages, restoration of budget cuts, and upholding of human rights now.

They urge the public to resist another Martial Law to avoid human rights violations and abuse of power.

Philippine activists vow to 'never forget' martial law abuses

Aimed at countering disinformation and historical distortion, students from the University of Cebu mounted a multimedia exhibit to commemorate the declaration of Martial law.

Called the 1081 exhibit, named after the proclamation of the military rule, it featured paintings that depicted different atrocities committed during the period and presented comics narrating various events then.

There were installations that represented the people who fought and died before the People Power.

A performance was also staged about the different violations of human rights, especially during the first quarter storm. 

"We must not forget what happened during that time," said UP Cebu’s Chancellor Leo Malagar. 

In the afternoon, a book containing the narration of experiences and testimonies from 21 people who experienced firsthand the atrocities is will be launched.

It is titled "Stories of Life and Struggles During the Marcos Dictatorship", edited by Democrito Barcenas.

— with Annie Perez and Hernel Tocmo

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