As we commemorate the 36th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law, we honor our beloved heroes and martyrs including the desaparecidos whose sacrifices will always be etched in our hearts and minds as we savor the fruits of their sacrifices and labor. We are also painfully brought back to the cruel period of history when the Philippines, where AFAD is based, was under the dictatorial regime of then Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Going on with our memory recall, Marcos’ justification in declaring Martial Law rings loud and clear: “On September 21, 1972, I declared martial law throughout the Philippines. I did so in accord with our Constitution, as a last defense against two grave dangers to the state. One was a rebellion mounted by a strange conspiracy of leftist and rightist radicals. The other was a secessionist movement supported by foreign groups. The decision was easy to take for I did not become President to preside over the death of the Philippine Republic.”
Ruling the country with an iron fist, Marcos wanted to get the people’s attention away from the then real situation of impoverishment and political crisis. In the early 1970s, agricultural harvest was poor due to severe typhoons and floods while graft and corruption, huge government spending for the 1969 election and the constant devaluation of the peso devastated the country. In sum, the Philippines was then going through severe economic hardships resulting in the ever increasing gap between the few rich and the masses of our people who were poor and hungry.
Above all, that critical period in our history is largely characterized by our people’s bravery and resistance amidst Marcos’ most cruel repression. Militant groups and organizations sprang up and began agitating in the streets, calling for the total overhaul of the political system and an end to the Marcos dictatorial regime. Fearless as they were, people young and old, women and men, mostly from among the students, workers, peasants, professionals and other sectors usually ended in violence and battles with the police such as the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970 and many more.
Contrary to his expectations, Marcos’ fierce declaration of Martial Law did not quell the growing resistance, rather this fueled the people’s strong resolve to dismantle the dictatorship and end the regime. In effect, the more Marcos clung to power and went on with his rampage resulting in thousands of human rights violations including disappearances, the more the people’s resistance intensified until the dictator was finally deposed.
The rest is history. Marcos was finally gone but the succeeding administrations of Aquino, Ramos, Estrada and Gloria Macapagal–Arroyo (GMA) continued to carry some of the vestiges of Martial Law despite the “democratic space” under Aquino. Just like in most Asian countries, impunity has continued to be entrenched in Philippine society as the succeeding governments urged the families of victims and survivors “to let bygones be bygones” as though a qualitative societal and individual moving on with life is possible without resolving the past.
Meanwhile, new cases of enforced disappearance, abduction and detention, torture, internal displacement as well as our people’s deprivation of their rights to work, adequate food and clean water, humane housing, health, education, etc. continue to be among our most basic problems. Displaying their utter helplessness and dependency to foreign powers, the regimes gave the title “modern–day heroes” to our overseas workers as they, especially GMA, suck the former’s hard–earned dollars to float the country’s economy. GMA, the president with a questionable legitimacy, is known for making crocodile smiles and in denying the real human rights and economic situation of our country under her regime. Thus, the challenge remains great for human rights defenders, the civil society and the whole of Philippine society today.
As the nation commemorates the 36th anniversary of Martial Law today, AFAD firms up its strong unity with the struggle for justice and for the implementation and fulfillment of human rights in the Philippines, in our region and in our world. Along this vein, the Federation strongly calls on the Philippine government to immediately sign and ratify the UN Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and enact into law the 14–year old Anti–Involuntary Disappearance Bill. This bill’s continuing non–enactment into law is among the concrete expressions of the government’s lack of prioritization on human rights concerns. Today, AFAD once again firms up its commitment in performing its unique role side by side with the Filipino people in their continuing struggle for a prosperous, just and humane society.
Finally, as we commemorate the anniversary of Martial law in the Philippines, we are reminded of Milan Kundera’s statement, to wit: “The struggle of humanity against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
Statement signed and authenticated by:
MARY AILEEN D. BACALSO
Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances
AFAD, Rooms 310 & 311 Philippine Social Science Center Bldg.
Diliman, Quezon City, PHILIPPINES
Mobile: 00–63–917–792– 4058