By Maisie Joven and Luz Wendy Noble
Change can either bring life or death.
Sporting his signature pomada-hairdo-and-barong-Tagalog, former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. appeared before the media on Sept. 21, 1972 declaring Proclamation 1081, which put the country then under the Martial Law.
It may have have been just another executive order, except that it was not.
So often the concept of change can enrapture the fantasies of people.
In his promise of a New Society, former President Ferdinand Marcos led his people to believe that the country would be more disciplined and economically developed in his term as president of the Philippines.
Under Martial Law, however, a different kind of change was experienced by the Filipino people.
The number of human rights violations rose to the thousands, with human rights organization Amnesty International tallying more than 70,000 arrested individuals and 34,000 victims of torture during what has been known as one of the darkest periods of Philippine history.
Renowned senator Jose “Pepe” Diokno was but one of those whose rights were crushed by the iron rule of the former dictator.
A trial lawyer in the 1960s, Diokno was witness to what is dubbed “the Golden Age of statesmanship and politics” by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) because of the intellect and depth of argument one could observe in the government.
In 1961, former President Diosdado Macapagal appointed Diokno Secretary of Justice. However, the lawyer was dismissed from office after investigating the controversial Stonehill case, which allegedly involved some government officials.
As a senator, Diokno belonged to the same party as Marcos – the Nacionalista Party – but resigned from the party before Martial Law was declared.
“Directly, to confront sa tingin niya [Diokno] iyong napipintong diktadurya, he [Diokno] was already speaking of the Marcos dictatorship, he was already warning about it,” electoral reformist Ramon Casiple said of Diokno who joined the Sept. 21, 1972 rally, according to a PCIJ documentary.
The lawyer-senator was then arrested without charges, detained in Fort Bonifacio and transferred to Laur, Nueva Ecija, where he was placed in solitary confinement.
Although they did not get a glimpse of each other, he and Ninoy Aquino were brought to the province blindfolded on a helicopter, Atty. Jose “Chel” Diokno, son of Pepe Diokno, said.
“Inside the cell, wala silang gamit, wala silang kahit personal belongings. Ang dala-dala lang ng dad ko noon iyong kanyang rosary, iyong kanyang pipe at tsaka pipe tobacco,” Chel recounted.
“Kinuha rin sa kanya iyon and he was only allowed to use his rosary once a day,” he added.
The Diokno family, like all other families of political prisoners, felt distraught at the loss of a loved one by their side. After several days, they were able to visit their father in Laur, but only for merely 30 minutes, Chel said.
What they saw surprised them.
Chel recalled the two sets of barbed wires separating them from their father. Crying, they talked to him from a distance as he held up his pants so it would not fall.
Diokno lost 20 to 25 lbs during his confinement.
“Iyon siguro pinaka-low point namin sa family,” Chel said.
As if losing a loved one to the cruelty of Martial Law is not enough, five more of them suffering the same fate is what faced the Quimpo family back then.
Their story is a grisly one. Out of 10 children, six suffered at the hands of the military.
Ronald Jan, 19 when he was arrested, was labeled as a communist simply by being a “chinito” University of the Philippines (UP) student, said Susan Quimpo, the youngest of the family.
At that time, Ronald was a member of Kabataang Makabayan, a progressive youth group working for democracy and people empowerment.
He was tortured in three ways: head-dumping in urine, electrocution and injection of genitals, and burning of cheeks. He now belongs to the thousands of desaparecidos listed by Amnesty International.
“‘Itotorture kita hanggang makasalita ka, makapagbigay ka ng mga pangalan ng iba pang aktibista tapos huhulihin namin iyong mga kasama mo. Ikaw, ipapasok ka namin sa ibang unit ng military, totorture-in ka uli, baka sakaling may makuha pa sila sa iyo,’” Susan said, describing how the military treated activists during the Marcos era.
Another sibling, Lillian, was arrested and transferred to three different prisons, where she was molested and also questioned about other possible activists she knew, according to the family.
The youngest brother, Jun, spent a lot of his time immersing with poor communities while he was still studying in UP.
He was arrested only because he was a Quimpo, a name Susan said the military had singled out for being a “factory of activists.”
Jun joined the New People’s Army after his release from prison and was found dead in Nueva Ecija five years later, with multiple shots on his body.
The remaining three: Nathan, a valedictorian; Norman, a math professor in Ateneo; and Ryan, a student leader, were all incarcerated without trial.
“Noong nag-Martial Law, ‘pag student leader ka…‘pag writer ka ng school organ, ‘pag presidente ka ng isang club kahit UP Repertory pa iyan o kahit na Biology Club…iyong picture mo nandoon na sa isang bulletin board next to the guard house,” Susan explained. “‘Pag pumasok ka, dadamputin ka na.”
Much like other surviving victims of the Martial Law era, Susan laments the country’s present situation.
Together with other like-minded individuals, she created The Martial Law Chronicles Project to shed light on the stories of people victimized by the government.
“Bakit hirap na hirap ngayon kami – iyong mga former activists, mga Martial Law victims, mga families of Martial Law victims – na ipakilala o even to tell people about totoong nangyari iyong torture, totoong may human rights violations, totoong sinurcumvent iyong buong Constitution, totoong he declared Martial Law only to extend his term in office?” Susan asked.
“There are no mementos. There are no monuments. There are no museums with this information, or very few.”
A viral photo from Facebook that was posted during the height of the discussions regarding President Rodrigo Duterte’s order of the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani
With the looming issue on the burial of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. at the Libingan ng mga Bayani, it seems like Martial Law may or may not have its consequences, 24 years after.
In social media, a lot of debates have sparked regarding Martial Law.
Joining the discourse are millennials who express their opinions from what they have learned so far. These youngsters are taking part as well in the discussion of whether Marcos deserves a spot in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (LNMB).
While some of them oppose the dictator’s burial in the graveyard of soldiers and heroes, some of the youth are positive of both the repercussions of the Martial Law and the Marcos burial issue. Their reasons include the progress brought about by said era and Marcos’ being a soldier himself as enough of an eligible reason to be laid to rest in LNMB.
Citing Former President Noynoy Aquino’s approval of the Human Rights Repatriation Act in 2013, UP Manila History Professor Alvin Campomanes, like his fellow historians, believe that the “fact that the law was filed, recognizing the fact that there were people who were victims of the Martial Law regime, that alone contradicts the idea of him being a hero.”
As of May 2015, the number of victims of human rights violations during the Marcos regime went up to 75,730 from the initial 70,000 listed by Amnesty International in 1979. To this day, those still living are still asking for compensation from the Marcoses, with group Claimants 1081 leading the way.
However, Campomanes also acknowledged the subjectivity of the events in every Filipinos’ lives. For instance, he said that if a millennial’s uncle was an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) during that time, maybe what he could associate are memories of good remittances and investments.
“In short, we have different positionalities. Iba-iba ang pinanggagalingan natin,” Campomanes said.
Two Sides of the Coin
The Marcos regime saw the rise of infrastructure buildings. Among them were specialized health centers that were first of its kind in Asia. The San Juanico bridge, the longest in this country, which connects the islands of Samar and Leyte, is said to be the late president’s gift to his wife, who is a Romualdez, an established clan from Tacloban, Leyte.
The culture and the arts also became a priority during the Marcos era. Prodigies like Cecile Licad and Lea Salonga were especially supported by First Lady Imelda Marcos who also initiated the establishment of the Cultural Center of the Philippines which has served as a venue for artistic endeavors up to this day.
To Imelda, cultivating the arts was part of achieving her slogan – ‘the true, the good and the beautiful.’
With the glory that Marcos loyalists claim to have come from the best administration the Filipinos ever saw, the country also sank into one of the most tumultuous periods it had ever experienced.
In Proyekto Live: That Martial Law Thingy forum held on Sept. 10, 2016 at the Gateway Gallery, historians Michael Charleston ‘Xiao’ Chua and Alvin Campomanes discussed the good and evil effects brought about by Martial Law to the Philippines.
“Tatakbo si Marcos ng pangalawang term…at gagamit siya ng milyon-milyong dolyar o pondong publiko para siguruhing mananalo siya ng pangalawang term,” Campomanes said. This was in 1969.
In the same year, the Philippines also had a financial obligation already amounting to $286 million to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The $20 million worth of foreign investments in 1968 would be reduced to $8 million in just a year. All of these happened three years before Marcos even declared Martial Law.
The UP Manila professor has also been very vocal about his stand on the Marcos burial issue, strongly opposing the idea of transferring Marcos’s corpse in the haven of the country’s heroes.
However, he also acknowledged the subjectivity of people’s memories.
“Aside from being selective, napakalimited nito kumpara sa kasaysayan na mas malawak ang scope. Ang downside po ng memory is that it dies with the person,” Campomanes explained. With this in mind, he reiterated the role of history in making sense of events should be given importance.
On the other hand, for Chua, a history professor at the De La Salle University and public relations officer of the Philippine Historical Association (PHA), the problem seems to be that people regard historical events as either black or white – all good or all evil, which should not be the case.
“When you look at history, you draw from the strengths, look at the good ideas, you put them,” Chua said. “Then iyong mga pangit, don’t repeat them…Ang akala mo, ‘pag nag-aassess ka ng history, namumulitika ka na…we historians, we don’t do that.”
According to Campomanes, a semblance of prosperity was experienced during the first few years of Martial Law.
He said there was actually a sustained real Gross National Product (GNP) increase from 1972 to 1977. Remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were soaring high. Foreign investors benefited from the Martial Law as businesses were safeguarded. Rallies were prohibited, after all.
However, the bad repercussions of what Marcos called “constitutional authoritarianism” came alongside, which had made it harder for the common people. Campomanes claims that from 1970 to 1972 alone, which was even outside the Martial Law, inflationary rates were at 32 percent. 68,000 workers lost their jobs in 1983.
Marcos’s friends enjoyed the benefits. The administration passed laws which would kill their rival businesses. They were also always secured to get loans from the government.
“It was a historical wishful thinking that life was great during the time of Marcos,” Campomanes said.
Many years and six presidents after, new stories were framed pertaining to the Martial Law.
To some, the discourse of the era had been reduced to a tug of war of whether you are for the Marcoses or the Aquinos. Some would even convince their countrymen to just ‘move on’ from the atrocities it had caused, disregarding the accountabilities that have not yet dawned upon the victims.
For Chua and Campomanes, it is in this light that the study of history should go beyond memorizing dates and names and places. It is exactly in issues like this where a sense of history could guide its nation to progress or doom.
“We have to face our past no matter how painful it is… Kaya tayo minumulto ng isyu ng pagpapalibing kay Marcos at umabot na tayo sa punto na parang tayo pa ang nahihiya sa kanila,” Campomanes said.
Although there is no shortage of books and references on the Martial Law era, the country still lacks monuments and memorials for the many who were killed and disappeared.
A high school student will less likely see a picture of the dauntless Edgar Jopson talking to Marcos in Malacañang, asking him not to run again for office. Lorena Barros will not ring a bell as much as a fellow great Filipina warrior like Gabriela Silang does.
The epilogue of the story, which is whether the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani will materialize or not, will tell so much on where this country has gone so far, decades after singing “Bayan Ko” with clenched fists raised to show the world that freedom was worth fighting for.
Much like history repeating itself, a change again can bring forth life or death, closures or even more unanswered questions.