21 September 2010

Amnesia anyone? Former detainee reflects on Martial Law in the Philipines

Ferdinand Edralin Marcos

Cebu-based Juan L. Mercado is one of the most incisive commentators on events in the Philippines. He was one of many journalists arrested in the early days of Martial Law, proclaimed on 21 September 1972, an event that hardly seems to touch us anymore, when some of the architects of that awful episode in Philippine history are still being elected to high positions. Juan L. Mercado writes a syndicated column and writes from the perspective of a lived Catholic faith. I took this from The Visayan Daily Star, published in Bacolod City where  live

I have highlighted parts of this column but I would really want to highlight all of it. I came to the Philippines in October 1971 and remember vividly the killings and the constant lies of the years of Martial Law, the corruption of the Congress, the Courts, the military and the police and of the Constitution itself. I remember too the persecution of members of the Church who spoke out against the grave injustices perpetrated by the cohorts of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.

From the website of the Negros Nine Foundation. This links you also to an article on the Kristianong Katilingban, Christian Communities, in the Diocese of Bacolod during the Martial Law years.

Amnesia anyone?

by Juan L. Mercado (photo)

(Next week, we mark the 38th anniversary of the imposition of martial law. This column offers a look back – and asks questions about the implications of how we remember. – JLM)

"Could all the journalists please follow me," Col. Generoso Alejo told detainees crammed into Camp Crame’s gymnasium. "You have a visitor." It was almost midnight, at the tail end of martial law’s first week. Outside, an eerie silence blanketed streets, emptied by the dusk-to-dawn curfew."

In the lower bunk, Evening News Luis Beltran groaned and rose. From the upper bunk, I shimmied groggily down. We followed Daily Mirror’s Armando Doronila, Philippine News Service’s Manuel Almario and Taliba’s, Benny Esquivel.

Ben David, Celso Carunungan and Luis Mauricio (now all deceased) preceded us into the barred reception room.

Arresting teams earlier nailed 22 of us with photocopies of Proclamation 1081 warrants. They bore the photocopied signature of martial law enforcer Juan Ponce Enrile

Our "midnight visitor" turned out to be our jailor: then PC Commander General Fidel V. Ramos. "Nothing personal, gentlemen," he said after the amenities. "I was just ordered to neutralize you. Please cooperate. And we’ll try to make things easy for you."

That was 38 years back. Have we cooperated – by forgetting? Eight out of 10 students today barely recall Benigno Aquino’s kangaroo trial before Military Commission No. 2, or why he was gunned down at the Manila airport tarmac.

Under the "New Society," the Philippines became a gulag of safe houses" where citizens were tortured, maimed and salvaged, "Amnesty International noted. The Metropolitan Intelligence Security group ruled as Marcos’ tortured chamber. The notorious Col. Rolando Abadilla and Lt. Panfilo Lacson (PMA) 71 were MISG "stars."

Today, do we care?

Forget martial law and let’s move on, Joseph Estrada whimpered. Protests erupted when he agreed to bury the dictator’s mummy in Libingan ng mga Bayani.

"We have very little collective memory of past," Ateneo University president (Fr) Bienvenido Nebres (SJ)told the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship conference. "We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we can not see well into the future."

Detention did offer a window on how people react under pressure. Some crumble. Others withdraw into cocoons. For a few, prison burnishes the steel in them.

In our prison, women political detainees would sometimes be allowed an hour to chat with us. Among these were Haydee Yorac, Manila Times’ Roz Galang, painter Veronica Yuyitung (wife of Chinese Commercial News editor, Rizal, who was shanghaied by Marcos agents to a Taipei military jail). We’d swap stories –and smuggled foreign news clips.

Yorac’s backbone recalled Juvenal’s axiom: "The sole and only nobility is integrity." That feistiness showed in her subsequent jobs, from peace negotiator to Commission on Election chair.

Is amnesia simplex today’s response to Sen. Jose Diokno’s eloquent letter, written from his Fort Bonifacio prison cell in December 1972:

"I’ve been deprived of freedom, stripped of my dignity. A non person, I’m reduced to having to ask permission for such a simple pleasure, as to step outside my prison to feel the wind on my face and the warmth of the sun on my back."

But ‘we can, even now, scrutinize our past; try to pinpoint what went wrong; determine what led to his madness," he added." And how, when it ends, we can make sure it need never happen again."

Thus, Cebu media has marked, over the last 16 years without fail, Press Freedom Week. It is seven days of professional discussions, exhibits (A press musuem is being launched) to songs. But Imelda and soul mates, however, insist on rewriting history.

Martial law was ‘one of the best things that happened in Philippine history," Madame Marcos asserted in an earlier interview. "It was a peaceful provision to ensure peace for our country. Tayo ang nagligtas ng demokrasya." ["We saved democracy".]

Now, this woman, whose name became a byword for profligacy, is a congresswoman. And she heads the Lower House committee on Millennium Development Goals – objectives to tamp down penury and it’s high death toll.

Her son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. spent his time, as a congressman, grabbing back from erstwhile cronies loot Marcos Sr. stashed. He is a senator.

Textbooks in public schools scrub the national memory blank.

Read by over 8 million students, these books paper over militarization of society denigrate dissidents, ignore human rights abuses, and massive kleptocracy, Joel Sarmenta and MelvinYabot of the University of Asia and the Pacific note. They recycle the claim that jack-booted rule was the only way to save democracy."

"It should not surprise us the young people today are apathetic about the struggle for democracy," historian Ambeth Ocampo noted. "Martial law textbooks continue to miseducate."

Thus, "the trauma of Marcos terror became embedded in the Philippine institutional fabric," Prof. Alfred Mc Coy writes in "Closer Than Brothers." ‘The Philippines seems caught in a long nightmare between remembering and forgetting."

In his novel "1984", George Orwell depicted a country where truth, freedom and justice were shoved down a "memory hole." Amnesia institutionalizes injustice. History‘s falsification invites repeated abuse – and prevents healing. "Why should I apologize for godly acts?" a puzzled Imelda asks.

How we remember assets as a shared past. But "all of us…must open our hearths to human memory," Noble Laureate Elie Weisel insisted at Auschwitz memorial rites, "I do not want my past to become the future of our children."*

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