Remembering Martial Law
21 Sep 2018
I must have been five years old then. I was always told by my elders to sleep after lunch – when it would have been much more fun to play or watch TV. I remember very well the words my aunts would unleash if they wanted me to obey. “Sige ka, kapag hindi ka sumunod, ipadadampot kita sa Metrocom.” That was 1975, three years after Marcos declared Martial Law. It is only now I realize, may Martial Law rin pala sa bahay. My elders were probably uttering a refrain they have heard elsewhere. Sige ka, ipadadampot kita sa Metrocom. The story of Martial Law is the story of how the power of the state was turned against the very people it swore to serve and protect. Living in fear and blind obedience the power of the state failed to provide the sense of well-being or safety.
Then President Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972 on the pre-text that there was a need to save the Philippines from the threat of the Communists. What followed that declaration of Martial Law was 14 years of dictatorship. The systematization of torture and killing led to many other abuses, foremost among them abuse of human rights. Sa loob ng labing-apat na taon ng Martial Law ni Marcos – at matapos na magbuwis ng buhay ang maraming Pilipino, natuto nating pahalagahan at ipaglaban ang ating mga karapatan.
Kaya ngayon, huwag tayong padadala sa mga nanlilinlang sa atin. Totoong pabigat sa lipunan ang suliranin ng droga. Totoong may mga pwersang kontra sa pamahalaan at totoo rin na may mga pwersang gagamit ng dahas makamit lamang ang kanilang mga adhikain. Ngunit hindi ang pagsasantabi sa ating mga karapatang pantao ang tangi at pinakamabisang tugon. Hindi lamang sa pamamagitan ng dahas maitutuwid ang bayan. Tandaan ninyong minsan na nating isinuko kay Marcos ang ating mga karapatan dahil nangako siyang papagpapanibaguhin niya ang lipunan. Hindi Bagong Lipunan ang ating nakamtan kundi ang pagkamatay ng demokrasya sa ating bayan.
Today we see a culture of death taking over our society. Over 23,000 have been killed in Mr. Duterte’s two years in office according to police records (Talabong, R., Rappler, 15 Jun 2018) excluding the 4,000 who have been killed in the course of police operations. On the pre-text of eliminating the menace of drugs in the country, these killings, mostly involving the poor, are justified. In the process, we have allowed the police to enter our homes without warrants of arrest. We have grown numb and callous at the daily occurrence of death. We have allowed the police to snuff out the life of our young people – Kian delos Santos, Carl Arnaiz, Reynaldo de Guzman and more recently Joshua Laxamana. At napakadaling sabihin na sangkot sila sa droga o kaya ay nanlaban sila. Ganoon na lang ba? Harap-harapan na binabale-wala ang ating mga karapatang pantao, at wala tayong magawa. On several occasions, the Chief Executive has gone on record to say that the campaign against illegal drugs will be relentless and bloody and tells the police to kill delinquents assuring police who do so of his protection. Why do we tolerate this disregard for the law – this disregard for due process and the value of human life?
How many times have you heard the spokesperson say ‘Do not to take the President’s words seriously’. ‘That is not what he meant’ or ‘It was a joke’ we are told. Nobody is laughing Mr. Spokesperson. It is not the President’s words that worry me but what he aims to do with his words. Beneath the President’s utterances is contempt for the rule of law and every principle and value that holds us together as a people. That he calls God stupid, or human rights activists stupid or his critics stupid – it does not matter in the end on whom he trains the fire power of his office. What is clear is that there is no principle more important than himself. This kind of self-referencing is the heart of Marcos’ Martial Law. We need to remain vigilant because this kind of self-referencing is what we are also seeing today.
St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians opens by saying – I am a prisoner for the Lord. Fellow Filipinos, if we are to endure any kind of imprisonment let it be our imprisonment in Christ. Be no slave of one man’s vision. Be subservient only to what the Lord of love and justice urges you to do. There is so much emphasis on having a strongman to rule us. We can be misled and it is attractive, when one person promises to address our sufferings and solve our problems for us. But this is a lie. Authoritarian rule will rob us of our capacity to think and to decide and to participate in the governance of our country. Authoritarian rule will dull our creativity and our capacity to will good as a people. We do not need strong man rule as much as we need strong institutions. What we need are systems and processes that will allow us to participate in nation-building and not be mere spectators or consumers of progress.
When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I had an English teacher by the name of Vicky Magbag. She taught us English by bringing in smuggled copies of the mosquito press – Malaya and We Forum. It was the articles in these newspapers that became the subject of our English classes. I enjoyed those classes because we were reading something forbidden. When you are 12 or 13, reading anything forbidden was always fun. In that English class, I learned that not everything in the newspapers is true. I learned that we have the right to demand truthfulness from our leaders. I learned most of all the value of courage to speak up and that to fight for one’s rights was a duty of every citizen. I remember that class so vividly because I remember being awed by the stories Vicky told us of men and women marching in the streets, facing water cannons and police, enduring imprisonment for what they valued and believed in. If we must live in freedom, or enjoy the benefits of a democracy, we must be willing to pay the price for it by our vigilance and if need be, the sacrifice of our own comforts.
There is a hunger among us today that is unspoken. In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus eating among tax collectors, sinners and outcasts. Jesus’ action reveals a vision of inclusivity. Jesus’ action challenges the prevailing order that thrived on exclusion and elitism. Because God’s love is for all – without distinction – Jesus wishes that all persons experience the well-being God has promised. Our social, economic and political institutions remain the exclusive domain of a few. For all the things we do not agree on with the President, the threat to our democracy looms larger than him. Mr. Duterte’s self-referencing and contempt for the rule of law remain threats to democracy that we must stand up against. But make no mistake that what gives power to his utterances is the reality of a people whose experience has been one of being excluded.
Let me end with the words of Senator Pepe Diokno: And so law in the land died. I grieve for it but I do not despair over it. I know with certainty that from its dust will rise a new and better law : more just, more human and more humane. When that will happen, I do not know. That it will happen, I know.
We will, as a nation have to learn and re-learn how to build a strong and resilient democracy. WE need to stand up against those whose actions weaken our democratic institutions by their disregard for the rule of law or due process; by their self-referent acts and attempts to quell all manner of legitimate opposition. Beyond that, our true calling as a nation is to build social, political and economic institutions that are inclusive. We must insist that this responsibility is ours and not the exclusive domain of one person or an elite entity. We need a leader who can reveal to us our own strength and capacity to create good. We pray for leaders whose power is made authentic not when they feed on the disappointments of people, but reveal to us a vision of our better selves. Let us pray today that we can be that people - that just and noble nation whom God calls out of darkness and among whom he lives.