Ferdinand Marcos adamantly denied the existence of detention camps. “We have no political prisoners,” he often repeated to the foreign press. Yet, while my high school peers spent their weekends attending family picnics, I spent mine packing cooked rice in foil and powdered milk into empty tins, and helping Dad deliver these rations to siblings in three cramped “rehabilitation centers.” On Monday mornings, my classmates would ask what I did for the weekend. “I stayed home” was my usual reply.
It was nearly dusk and the students now hauled their lanterns of various shapes and sizes into the street facing Palma Hall. Masked by nervous giggles, they spied their neighbors’ lanterns. In hushed tones, comments of awe and ridicule were exchanged. A few sang Christmas jingles, many to the tune of popular TV soap commercials. I decided to momentarily join the crowd to satisfy my curiosity.
“Susan, we’re here!” a member of the theater group called above the growing throng. I watched and smiled; in jest, my friends swore as they took turns trying to suspend the lantern from bamboo poles. “It’s far too heavy, I warned you this would never work. Watch the lamp; it’ll set the cellophane on fire!” The lantern wasn’t perfect, but it was done.
I wove my way into the group and took my turn at badgering the lantern bearers. It wasn’t long before a few friends called me aside. To my horror, they said in all sincerity, “We heard about your brother, our condolences.”
“No, no one said he was dead!” I snapped, more upset than angry. I turned away and again retreated.
Martial law forced the open opposition movement underground. When military repression ensued, the call for armed rebellion was justified. Almost overnight, the label “student activist” was no longer apt. The newspapers were quick to christen the members of the underground movement with new names: subversives, communist insurgents, terrorists, guerrillas, rebels. Yet my personal lexicon remained unchanged; in my mind, they were simply family.
Though I was baffled by my siblings’ continued loyalty to the “revolution,” their courage had won my respect. What I could not accept was that this movement, the revolution, had the power to draw its members away from their lives and their families, yet could not care for its own.
Where were the kasama, their comrade-in-arms, when my brothers Jan, Nathan and Norman were arrested and maltreated by their military captors? Where were the kasama when Jan’s head was repeatedly immersed in a commode filled with urine, when water was injected into his testicles, when his feet were doused, then jabbed with live wire? Our family did not hear from the kasama when Nathan was stripped naked and clubbed until he was nearly unconscious. No assistance was offered when my sister Lillian was missing for weeks and Dad made the rounds of prisons in search of her. Does one cease to be a comrade upon his or her capture? This revolution had stripped my family of any semblance of normalcy. It had promised victory, yet it brought only separation, torture and now possibly Jun’s death.
“Lulu, I’ll be home in an hour.” It was my nth call to Lulu; she still had not heard from my sisters who had ventured to Nueva Ecija. I refused to worry about their safety; to do so would only add to the day’s futility.
It was nearly 10 o’clock when I arrived home. I was exhausted, though I had spent most of the day idly walking around the UP campus. As usual, Lulu had dinner waiting for me. She said my sisters were not back, nor had they called with news.
“Did anyone bother to call?” I asked in total resignation.
“Ay, Ate, someone did call. I can’t recall his name, but he said your group won first prize at the Lantern Parade.”
WHY DO those who are old enough to remember martial law make great effort today to mark its 40th anniversary? Because many of us are worried that the next generation seems blasé about a return to dictatorship and some even sound like they would relish it.
I have in the past looked at the pedagogical challenges to remembering that era. The kids’ minds today are wired differently. They are more attuned to specific issues (think environment), not grand causes (think liberalism). We tell them about the systemic roots of a problem but they are more moved by the human drama. And yes, they want the rawness of that drama because they suspect anything edited to have been scripted or manipulated. Finally, they are impatient for real solutions in the here and now. Preach to them “protracted struggle,” and they say, “You mean it will take more than one sem?”
But even for us oldies, there is actually a fundamental problem. We downplay the role of ideology in the proclamation of martial law, and portray it as nothing more than a power grab by Ferdinand Marcos and his cohorts—Marcos for love of power, the cohorts for love of money—and aided by the United States.
The result is that, until the present, we disregard the place of the Left in the martial law story. Remember that martial law was Marcos’ response to the communist threat, that he blamed the communists for the Plaza Miranda bombing (and he was telling the truth, ex-communists now tell us!), that his human rights victims were mostly leftists, and that until the death of Ninoy Aquino, the campus and religious Left (and of course the armed underground component) were the only ones who dared oppose Marcos. Finally, the whole Bagong Lipunan ideology and the Marcos trilogy of books on his “revolution from the center” were needed to counter the Left’s comprehensive vision.
In the foreword to the book “Subversive Lives” (on the saga of the Quimpo family of activists), Filipino-American historian Vicente Rafael asks why “there are no monuments to communism in the Philippines” and why, for instance, even the Bantayog ng mga Bayani dedicated to martial law victims honors them as “nationalist martyrs” rather than as communist cadres.
He replies: “[It means] that there is something about [communism] that defies commemoration and mourning [that the role of the Left] remains unassimilated into the dominant narrative [and] seems peripheral to nationalist consciousness.” He explains: “Monuments act as tombs that bury and so keep in place the ghosts of the past. They allow those in the present to commemorate the dead and thereby overcome their absence. [Communism] haunts the nation in ways that cannot be fully accounted for, much less entombed by the historical narrative of nationalism.”
Just consider the weeklong homage to the martyred youth leader, Lean Alejandro, who was assassinated 25 years ago as a prelude to a coup attempt against Cory Aquino. How many of the published tributes openly acknowledge that he was leftist? Why is it that, long after RA 1700 (Anti-Subversion Law) had been repealed, we continue to sanitize his leftist roots and highlight instead the altruism and spirit of self-sacrifice that indeed the Left embodied then?
My answer is that, once upon a time, it made good strategy to downplay ideology and find common cause with all groups. Indeed if Ninoy’s death was the beginning of the end for Marcos, it was because it mainstreamed the anti-Marcos opposition, from the underground Left to the parliament of the streets. Until then, the opposition to martial law came from the periphery, but with Ninoy’s murder, it arrived literally at Ayala Avenue’s confetti-strewn marches.
But if it made sense to hush the Marxist jargon then, why does it persist to the present? There are several possibilities. One, maybe we should confront the obvious. Cold War propaganda is so effective that, long after the USSR has crumbled and Communist China has become capitalist, Filipinos still look askance at communism. Do leftist party-list groups openly declare themselves communist, I wonder?
Two, maybe that isn’t just the fault of the running dogs of US imperialism. After all, the communists had their own killing fields and their revolution had begun to devour its own proverbial children. They have also degenerated into brigands who extort revolutionary taxes from legitimate businesses. For instance, they sabotage cell sites and cause the delayed transmission of our text messages. That certainly can’t endear them to the Filipino public. And contrast that to the Marcos children today: bright, sophisticated and articulate. Even without the Marcos mystique, they can give any politician a run for his money.
It is time to discard the notion that the communist threat was merely a convenient excuse for martial law. Perhaps the threat was bloated but it was there, and it was just a matter of time. Martial law thrived for the first few years because Marcos offered a vision of a New Society that Filipinos craved then and still seek today, and our hope is that we can find it without the pain and agony that the martial law nightmare wrought upon countless innocent lives.
Research requires a critical attitude. Whether the source is a 16th-century manuscript, a physical book, or Google, the researcher must cross-check with other sources and validate the information at hand. I remind my students that there is a lot to be found on the Internet besides porn, and that not all things that come to the top of a Google search are to be trusted without verification. Why do some people find it difficult to research when the first step is to simply punch in a keyword and potential answers to a question flood in within seconds?
Entries from the diaries of Ferdinand Marcos are to be found online in philippinediaryproject.wordpress.com, and if you have time you can browse through other first-hand accounts of Philippine history from the hands of: Antonio de las Alas, Apolinario Mabini, Edgardo J. Angara, Francis Burton Harrison, Salvador H. Laurel, Teodoro M. Locsin, and many more. There are also the sleek websites of the Malacañang Museum and the Official Gazette, managed by young people in the Presidential Communications Office that bring history closer to a wired generation.
It is fascinating to see martial law unfold through Marcos’ eyes. After Ninoy Aquino exposed “Oplan Sagittarius” on the floor of the Senate in 1972, people went to Malacañang to confirm the rumors and Marcos denied any plan for martial law. But in his diary entry written in the wee hours of Sept, 22, 1972, he described the previous day, Sept. 21, as follows:
“Delayed by the hurried visit of Joe Aspiras and Nating Barbers who came from the Northern bloc of congressmen and senators who want to know if there is going to be martial law in 48 hours as predicted by Ninoy Aquino. Of course Imelda and I denied it. But Johnny Ponce Enrile, Gen. Paz, Gen. Nanadiego, Kit Tatad and I with Piciong Tagmani doing the typing finished all the papers (the proclamation and the orders) today at 8:00 pm.
“[US] Amb. Byroade came to see me at 11:15 pm and was apparently interested to know whether there would be martial law. He seemed to favor it when I explained it is intended to primarily reform our society and eliminate the communist threat. But he suggested that a proclamation before the American elections may be used by MacGovern, the Democratic presidential candidate, as proof of the failure of the foreign policy of the present president.”
At 9:55 p.m. on Sept. 22, 1972, Marcos wrote: “Sec. Juan Ponce Enrile was ambushed near Wack-Wack at about 8:00 pm tonight. It was a good thing he was riding in his security car as a protective measure. This makes the martial law proclamation a necessity.” In the heady days of Edsa 1986, Enrile was quoted as saying that this “ambush” was actually staged to give Marcos a compelling reason to declare martial law. That night, as the nation slept, martial law crept over the land.
The next day, Sept. 23, Marcos wrote in his diary:
“Things moved according to plan although out of the total 200 target personalities in the plan only 52 have been arrested, including the three senators, Aquino, Diokno and Mitra and Chino Roces and Teddy Locsin. At 7:15 pm I finally appeared on a nationwide TV and Radio broadcast to announce the proclamation of martial law, the general orders and instruction. I was supposed to broadcast at 12:00 p.m. but technical difficulties prevented it. We had closed all TV stations. We have to clear KBS which broadcast it live. VOP and PBS broadcast it by radio nationwide.”
By Sept. 25, almost everything was in place. Among many things, Marcos records his instructions to the military and a consultation with two justices of the Supreme Court on the legality of martial law:
“Met Justices Fred Ruiz Castro and Salvador Esguerra on a consulta. I told them frankly that I needed their help and counsel because we must keep all the actuations within constitutional limits. Justice Castro asked permission to ask a blunt question, ‘Is this a coup d’etat?’ and I told him that it is not but it is the exercise of an extraordinary power by the president for a situation anticipated by the constitution. Justice Esguerra said immediately that he feels that it is a legitimate exercise of martial law. And apparently reading my mind, he said, in the Merriman case, Justice Tanney had issued a writ of habeas corpus for a man who was detained on orders of President Lincoln. And President Lincoln just disregarded the judicial order. And Justice Tanney said, ‘What can we do, we are confronted by a superior authority?’ I then concluded that there must be no conflict between the two separate departments of Justice and Executive for it would be embarrassing to both. I believe that they are both of this persuasion.
“The public reaction throughout the Philippines is a welcome to martial law because of the smooth, peaceful reestablishment of peace and order and the hope of a reformed society. In fact most everyone now says this should have been done earlier. I attach the report of Boni Isip about the same result of a survey conducted by Liberal Party Leader Gerry Roxas. It is indeed gratifying that everyone now finds or discovers I am some kind of a hero! There is nothing as successful as success!”
Now that all the primary sources on the period are creeping out of the woodwork can we hope for a lucid and objective history of the Marcos years?
Last week I was going through my files to look for materials from the martial law era to lend to my college at the University of the Philippines Diliman for an exhibit. I came across an issue of The Manila Chronicle dated Sept. 22, 1972, and was startled, thinking that the newspaper was shut down on Sept. 21.
Then I remembered that although Proclamation 1081 was indeed dated Sept. 21, it was not until Sept. 23 that Ferdinand Marcos announced on radio and TV that martial law had been declared.
That last issue of the Chronicle gives us glimpses into life on the eve of the imposition of martial law. Costing all of 25 centavos, the newspaper was already printing in color. On top of the front page were two photographs captioned “Demonstrators led by the Movement of Concerned Liberties pack Plaza Miranda in a rally against the threat of martial law.” Red flags provided a dramatic backdrop to the demonstrators. The men had long hair and the women were in miniskirts, and I wondered what happened to them after martial law authorities enforced a ban on both fashions.
The front page’s main story had the headline “Senate junks Aquino probe,” referring to the Senate turning down a proposal to inquire into alleged links between Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Smaller headlines read: “Tolentino proposes national ‘summit,’” referring to Senate Majority Leader Arturo Tolentino proposing a meeting between the administration and opposition to resolve the growing political conflict, and “Marcos, military aides in huddle,” about Marcos meeting with Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Romeo Espino.
Ominously, the second article read in part: “The possible imposition of martial law was not discounted.” The other front-page articles were “Hernandez, unionist, dies,” “7 generals confirmed,” “Cancer kills one Filipino per hour” and “House OKs warning on tobacco” (the warnings said to be stricter than those required in the United States).
Inside that issue of the Chronicle, on the editorial page, were columns by Ernesto Granada and Alejandro Roces belittling Marcos’ allegations of Ninoy Aquino’s communist links. Granada criticized the press for giving so much space to Marcos’ “irresponsible revelations” when there were more important news stories, including the oil companies’ petitions for a 2-centavo increase in oil products. (If I remember right, gasoline was around 30 centavos a liter at that time.)
Also in the inside pages was an article on Marcos signing a new anti-car theft act with stiffer penalties. It was next to another photograph of the Plaza Miranda rally, this time focusing on “young Maryknoll coeds” heading to Plaza Miranda, all in uniform. Next to that photograph was an article on the education department being instructed by the military to report student activists, and proposals to include subjects in “civics and democracy” in the elementary curriculum. That proposal was opposed by Waldo Perfecto of the Catholic Education Association of the Philippines, who said that the education department might become “party to a witch-hunt” and that the subjects “are almost tantamount to brainwashing.”
The back page of the main section had a photograph of Ninoy Aquino addressing long-haired students from Ateneo de Manila and UP to “resist and fight the campaign of fear” of Marcos, which he said was paving the way for the imposition of martial law. Next to his photograph was an article describing a proposal from an ongoing Constitutional Convention to extend Marcos’ presidential term to June 1976.
In the business and finance section were articles like “No cause for alarm, bank depositors told.” One article was on a power struggle in the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines and one on the declining textile industry.
Also in the business section was an article titled “American firms with properties covered by parity ruling,” about a list from the Securities and Exchange Commission naming 312 corporations with more than 40-percent US participation (equity). The amount of US equity involved totaled P961 million. The SEC released the report because of a Supreme Court decision that ruled an end to parity rights given to Americans by July 3, 1974. After that date, corporations engaged in the exploitation of natural resources, owning public lands or operating public utilities in the Philippines would have to have at least 60-percent Filipino equity.
In a 1984 article in the Philippine Law Journal, “The Legal Framework of Alien Interests in Land and Other Natural Resources in the Philippines,” Prof. Perfecto Fernandez provided a history of these parity rights. Americans had complete access to our natural resources when they occupied the Philippines in 1898. When we moved to commonwealth status in 1935, we passed a constitution that provided “parity rights,” meaning the Americans could exploit our natural resources and we could exploit theirs (sure, sure). In 1946, as we moved toward independence, we again extended parity rights, with nationalist historians like Renato Constantino pointing out that we were practically blackmailed here, the parity rights being tied to war rehabilitation assistance.
Fernandez wrote that after martial law was declared, a new constitution was put in place still upholding the expiration of parity rights on July 3, 1974, but recognizing individual land titles of Americans who had acquired their properties before that date. Moreover, the Marcos constitution allowed the government to grant foreigners access to our natural resources through service contracts and international treaties or agreements entered into by the Chief Executive.
The Chronicle article on parity rights reminds us of a broader context to martial law, beyond Marcos the individual. Marcos knew he would need Washington’s support if he declared martial law, and issues like parity rights and US bases were important. America knew Marcos would protect its interests and therefore allowed him to impose martial law and backed his dictatorship almost to the very end. During a state visit to the Philippines in 1981, then Vice President George Bush praised Marcos for his “adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic processes.”
* * *
Last edited by Sam Miguel; 09-21-2012 at 09:31 AM.
Reason: Eh kasi.
MANILA, Philippines - Vice President Jejomar Binay said that Filipinos should not forget the lessons of martial law as the country marks the 40th anniversary of its declaration today.
Binay yesterday said the people must cherish the freedom that they are now enjoying, restored after the historic EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986.
“Countless Filipinos offered their lives fighting for the freedom that we enjoy today. While we relish these freedoms, we should never forget what it was like during martial law,” Binay, who served as human rights lawyer at the time, said.
“For those who went through the dark night of martial law, regaining freedom is manna from heaven,” he added.
Binay said the young generation should be reminded of the dark days that the people went through while the country was under martial law.
“That is something the current generation and the next ones ought to be reminded of again and again. They owe what blessings they enjoy now to the blood, sweat and tears of the past,” he said.
The Vice President said it’s about time for people who experienced the pains of martial law to tell their stories to the young generation.
“As I told the participants of the roundtable conference on the proposed Memory Museum, it’s about time we tell our story to the younger generation, not out of vanity or a need for recognition, but out of a shared responsibility to keep the memory of our fight for democracy alive, and to remind them of the price we will pay if we lose our vigilance,” he said. Martial law was declared on Sept. 21, 1972 by former President Ferdinand Marcos through Proclamation 1081. Marcos loyalists claimed the declaration stabilized the country and upheld the rule of law.
However, critics said it sparked various incidents of human rights violations and other abusive practices committed by the military.
Fight vs impunity continues
Meanwhile, the militant labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) yesterday called on the people to continue the fight against martial rule, saying it has persisted 40 years after its declaration.
The KMU said martial rule remains as far as the workers’ and people’s rights to form unions and launch strikes are concerned. “As far as the right of farmers to struggle to own the lands that they have been tilling for decades, if not centuries, martial law persists in the country,” the labor group said. According to KMU, the declaration of martial law marked the escalation of grave crimes against the Filipino people, including workers.
“Martial law resulted in the wanton violation of the workers’ and people’s civil and political rights, severe exploitation and oppression of the country’s workers, farmers and toiling masses, plunder of the country’s resources by big foreign and local capitalists, plunder of the people’s money by the dictator and his cronies, and increase in usurious debts entered into by the dictator with international financial institutions,” the KMU said in a statement.
KMU chair Elmer Labog said the 1986 People Power Revolution failed to bring about genuine social change, and merely brought back the economic, social and political order that existed before martial law.
The group said the US and the exploiting class that supported martial law remain in power and are ready to unleash wholesale fascist repression against the workers and people. “Martial law has persisted in various forms. The Marcos ruling clique was merely replaced by different factions of the ruling classes that it displaced,” the KMU said.
“We have every reason and right to continue to fight for our immediate interests and for a Philippines that is truly free and democratic under a government of the people,” it said.
Cause-oriented groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) will hold protest actions today to mark the anniversary of the declaration of martial law.
Earlier, the group laid a wreath and lit candles at the Chino Roces monument as they called for justice for all victims of state repression.
“We have not forgotten and we continue to struggle for justice which has eluded the martial law victims and many other victims of human rights violations, past and present. Even the indemnification of the Marcos victims is to be passed under the Aquino regime. The culture of impunity within the military that martial law gave rise to has not been stamped out,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.
“We pay tribute to the heroic struggle of the Filipino people in resisting the US-backed fascist dictatorship of Marcos. But 40 years since the declaration of martial law, the people’s aspirations for genuine freedom and democracy remain unfulfilled, thus we struggle on,” he added.
Martial Law veterans will join young activists in a march from España Boulevard to Mendiola. Human-rights victims of the post-Marcos regimes are also expected to join. Bayan was founded in 1985 at the height of the struggle to topple the US-Marcos regime.
Its first chair was Sen. Lorenzo Tañada and its secretary-general was Lean Alejandro, whose 25th death anniversary was observed yesterday.
“We offer our Sept. 21 march to the memory of all martyrs who fought for genuine freedom and democracy. We dedicate our march to Lean, to the recently departed people’s lawyer Romeo Capulong and to the many fighters for national and social liberation. We continue to be inspired by their courage,” Reyes said.
Bayan also lamented the continuing incarceration of more than 350 political prisoners under the Aquino regime. Many of them were arrested during the time of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, even as quite a number were jailed during the time of Aquino.
ML years to be included in curriculum
On the 40th anniversary today of the declaration of martial law, educators are being asked to allot more time in teaching students the events that transpired during those dark years.
Edsa People Power Commission (EPPC) head Emily Abrera said sufficient knowledge about the martial law years would enable the youth to appreciate the rights and liberties they are enjoying now.
“I think those (events) that particularly impact on how we actively participate in this democracy should be (given more time). The end result we want to achieve is every citizen, young and old, can do something to help build this nation,” Abrera told The STAR in a recent interview.
Abrera said martial law is not usually discussed thoroughly in the classrooms due to the numerous lessons that the students take up.
“I think there is an attempt to present it (martial law) with some amount of balance, but I don’t think it is being given enough time, perhaps because of the number of things being taken up,” she said.
Abrera said not all the items in the curriculum are tackled due to lack of time.
“(Martial law) is recent history. There are many students, especially in the public schools and the school year is not long enough to cover the entire curriculum,” she said. National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) chair Maria Serena Diokno said there have been concerns about martial law not being taught properly.
“There have been complaints that martial law is not taught in textbooks and is misrepresented,” Diokno said during the Edsa ’86 Memory Museum roundtable conference in Manila last week.
“The K to 12 will revise this and there is a component that would include the martial law period,” she added.
Earlier, members of the Akbayan party-list filed Resolution 2608 asking state agencies to form a task force that would draft guidelines for teaching martial law at all levels in schools.
Abrera said students should be allowed to examine the information and events surrounding martial law so they would be able to make their own analyses and conclusions.
“That’s why they are rewriting it (curriculum) so that the young would have a sense already of their country, how we are governed, what is the essence of democratic rule and come to a national sense,” she said.
Abrera believes the young generation still understands the spirit of Edsa 1 but needs to appreciate it deeper.
“I think they are moved by it. But the question is how deeply this impacts on them. Let’s not forget they were born into an era where nothing was removed from them. Their rights are intact,” she said.
Abrera said the need to educate the youth is one of the reasons why the government plans to construct an Edsa ’86 memory museum. – Rhodina Villanueva, Mayen Jaymalin, Alexis Romero
Forty years is a long time to hold on to memories. Among Filipinos, a generation has reached adulthood with no personal memories of living with basic rights curtailed. And yet the story of martial law bears constant retelling, as a reminder of what happens when the lust for power is allowed to go unchecked.
The story of martial law also needs to be retold, 40 years after the official date of its declaration, because the abuses of the dictatorship have not been eradicated. To this day, the Philippines remains in a list of nearly 90 countries where cases of enforced disappearances have been recorded in recent years and remain unsolved.
Human rights abuses, although no longer systematic as in the martial law regime, continue to be attributed to state forces by victims or their relatives. Retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan, dubbed “The Butcher” by rights advocates and wanted for the torture and disappearances of two University of the Philippines coeds, is believed to be enjoying the protection of certain military elements.
The restoration of democracy did not put an end to the use of torture as a tool of law enforcement and counterinsurgency. Filipinos sick of lawlessness have also shown readiness to look away when the military and police employ extrajudicial methods against terrorism and rampant criminality.
Forty years after martial law was imposed, too few people have paid for the atrocities and large-scale corruption during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. His heirs are enjoying their wealth and are again wielding political power. His biggest cronies remain among the country’s richest and most influential individuals. The architects of martial law breezed back into politics and continue to influence policy-making.
Corruption - whether large-scale or penny ante - did not go away with the collapse of the Marcos regime. The problem was serious enough for Filipinos to send to Malacañang in 2010 the candidate whose battle cry was “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”
The lust for power - the desire to hang on to it for life - persists in certain individuals. Only eternal vigilance can stop them. And vigilance starts with remembering. Even after 40 years.
Many Filipinos watching the riveting exchange of words on the Senate floor last Wednesday between Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile must have thought that the chamber’s oldest member had gotten the better of the youngest. He certainly did, in both parliamentary and public-opinion terms, but in fact it was not only Trillanes who suffered a hubristic meltdown; Enrile, too, displayed an arrogance that was all the more stunning for its lack of subtlety.
All of us have reason to be outraged by their conduct.
Trillanes did not do himself any favors when he walked out of the Senate. While he must have thought he was doing the right thing by not participating in the reading aloud of a document he at that time considered classified (the so-called Brady notes, which he now questions, and which at that moment in their confrontation Enrile was about to read into the record), he forgot that the Senate, if nothing else, is a debating forum, an arena where words are the weapons of choice. So when he left the floor, Enrile lunged at him for running away, using the sharp blade of sarcasm: “He can’t take the heat. He’s a coward.”
And while the subject of his privilege speech, which provoked Enrile’s ferocious counterattack, was important, the series of events immediately before Trillanes read his speech and immediately after he walked out of the Senate suggests that he was reaching for something more than the undivided integrity of Camarines Sur. He now says he was in fact hoping to help unseat Enrile as Senate president.
The utter fecklessness of his attempt reminds us not only that, as it is often said, hope is not a strategy; it also reminds us of the inept adventurism he displayed during the Oakwood caper of 2003. Does one seize state power by taking over a serviced-apartments hotel? Trillanes does not seem to understand where the real sources of power lie, whether in society or in the Senate.
His backdoor diplomacy is marked by the same confusion; he thinks that because China is large the Philippines’ only viable negotiating stance is appeasement, and because Chinese officials are talking to him they are necessarily sincere.
Enrile, the master political survivor of our time, whose political influence and legal acumen have helped shape Philippine society for the last half-century—he was already a person of authority in the 1960s—suffers from a kind of confusion too. He thinks that, when he is sufficiently engaged, he can do no wrong.
During the impeachment trial of Renato Corona and especially during its immediate aftermath, Enrile’s disposition impressed many as the ideal combination of institutional dignity and personal humility. He spoke tellingly of his advice to Corona after Corona’s own attempted walkout, that it just so happened each of them had roles to play in the impeachment process—possibly one of the most important civic lessons we can draw out of the entire experience. He also spoke of doing the necessary homework to prepare for the trial, and of his readiness to step down from the Senate presidency if someone else could muster a majority.
But no political career could be as lengthy or as consequential as Enrile’s if it were based on humility or meek role-playing alone. The post-impeachment aura he now enjoys can obscure the fact that Enrile is a man of extraordinary ambition, with a sense of self to match.
The exchange with Trillanes is a timely reminder. Judging from the admiring press Enrile has received after “dusting off” the junior senator, in the words of one newspaper article, it is also a much-needed one.
Enrile responded to Trillanes’ repeated attempts to stop him from reading the Brady notes into the record with a flash of imperious anger. “Do not teach me about parliamentary proceedings. I’m not answerable to anybody about what I say in this hall.”
In fact, Trillanes was not teaching him an unfamiliar rule; he was, however inadequately, merely reminding Enrile of a procedural safeguard. If senators debating with Enrile cannot refer to parliamentary procedures, then who can?
And in fact Enrile is answerable for what he says in the Senate hall—to his colleagues (who could, if they had not been too intimidated or entertained by his counterattack, censure him for unparliamentary behavior) and above all to the public he is supposed to serve. If he is truly not answerable for what he says, he needs a title bigger than senator.
The new Cybercrime Prevention Act, signed into law by President Aquino on Sept. 12, takes the dangerously outmoded provisions on libel in the Revised Penal Code—and dumps them online. Without any legislative debate, without any public hearing, indeed with hardly anyone looking, these libel provisions have been unthinkingly extended to all online content. While the extension itself is only a small part of the new law, it now threatens every citizen who has access to a computer device with unconscionable restrictions on our hard-earned right to free speech.
We believe the new provision is deeply, radically, unconstitutional.
Coupled with the continuing inaction of the Aquino administration and its coalition allies in Congress on the long-sought, much-promised Freedom of Information Act, the new law makes us question the depth of the administration’s commitment to free speech, a free press and the free exchange of information.
It is possible that the Aquino administration and its partners in Congress were merely asleep at the switch, and did not realize the true implications of the extension. The sequence of events, as first pieced together by blogger and South China Morning Post correspondent Raissa Robles, certainly suggests that the introduction of the inserted passage, by Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, was hurried and did not benefit from in-depth discussion. The law’s major sponsor, Sen. Edgardo Angara, merely acquiesced to Sotto’s proposal to extend the reach of the existing libel provisions to cyberspace.
Whatever the case, the burden of responsibility—and it is a heavy one, with historical consequences—remains with the legislators who voted for the new law, and with the President who enacted it.
The language of the extension seems innocuous enough. We find it under Chapter II, “Punishable Acts,” together with other “Content-related Offenses,” namely cybersex, child pornography and unsolicited commercial communications or spam.
Under Section 4, subsection C, paragraph 4, we read: “Libel.—The unlawful or prohibited acts of libel as defined in Article 355 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, committed through a computer system or any other similar means which may be devised in the future.”
And that’s it. There’s nothing else, no distinctions made, no qualifications offered. When we said “unthinking,” we meant our legislators did not think the matter through.
The Revised Penal Code was enacted into law some 80 years ago. While the provisions on libel have since been amended, to include the broadcast media, the assumptions behind them remain very much bound both to the print format and to the Code’s restrictive theories.
But the reality of online interaction, the networking that is made possible in cyberspace, is very different. There is certainly a need for greater responsibility in online conduct, to tame cyber-bullying, for instance, or to keep flaming wars from raging out of control. Dumping the Code’s provisions online and then hoping it will all work out, however, is not the way to meet this need.
Consider the following:
When a newspaper reader e-mails a possibly libelous article to a friend, is that reader now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.
When an online viewer tweets a link of a possibly libelous video to a friend, is that first viewer now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.
When a friend “likes” or shares or comments on a possibly libelous post on Facebook, is that friend now liable for libel, too? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer is yes.
When the subject of a possibly libelous article written by a city-based reporter reads it in online form in a remote area, can the subject file a case against the reporter in that place? The unthinking extension suggests that the answer, again, is yes.
We note that, in the penalties section, no sanctions are imposed on cyber-libel. Did our legislators think that was enough of a safeguard? But the journalism profession’s sorry experience with libel law in the Philippines has never been about conviction; it has always been about prosecution.
In other words, and even though libel suits are difficult to win because the presence of malice, a requirement of the law, is hard to prove, libel cases are filed against journalists anyway—because these cases are a form of harassment. They tie up a reporter’s time, they run up an editor’s legal fees, they discombobulate a newsroom.
And now, courtesy of our legislators, the same form of harassment is available to torment those who produce online content. That means, literally, tens of millions of Filipinos, made vulnerable in one fell swoop.
Last year, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the Philippine libel law, which penalizes those convicted with imprisonment, violates human rights protocols. All of a sudden, it now runs afoul of Internet protocols, too.
Forty years after Proclamation 1081 plunged the country into the abyss of military rule, a new legacy of the dictatorship has come into focus: the startling reality that a new generation of “martial law babies” was born many years after the fall of Ferdinand Marcos.
The original martial law babies were children who grew up in the 1970s, unaware of the true nature of the dictatorship but accustomed over time to certain arrangements—the new normal—of the so-called New Society.
The members of the new generation were likely born in the last two decades, well after democracy was restored in 1986 or after Marcos died in 1989. But they share the same characteristics as the members of the old: a general lack of awareness of the true nature of the Marcos years, and an acceptance of martial law legacies as part of the norm.
It may be useful, then, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of martial law—the proclamation was dated Sept. 21, 1972, but it took effect, swiftly, staggeringly, on Sept. 23—by pointing out the continuing effects of Marcos misrule to the new generation.
The most pernicious of these legacies is the politicization of the Philippine military. Through martial law, the armed services were transformed from a complement of the government to a co-governor; graduates of the Philippine Military Academy began to see national leadership positions as a natural stop on their career path; the overarching principle of national security started to dictate all sorts of government policy. To an extent perhaps unimaginable by today’s generation, the military was in charge.
That was precisely what was at stake during the coup attempts of the 1980s, after the Marcoses fled the country; a newly restored democracy was struggling for its very existence against elements of the military who felt entitled to run government itself.
While the Armed Forces has since “returned to barracks,” as the phrase goes, the effects of Marcos-era politicization continue to linger: the bloated ranks of generals, the dizzying use of the revolving door to turn ex-generals into civilian officials or elected politicians, the still-wide lifestyle divide between officers and the rank and file, the repeated invocation of national security to cover a multitude of sins and, not least, the continuing prominence of military-police-security issues in the national agenda.
There are many other martial law legacies that the new martial law babies may take for granted. The notion, for example, of an exceptionally powerful presidency. While this understanding has a long history, beginning with the special powers enjoyed by Spanish governors-general and including the experiments in executive expansion conducted by Manuel Quezon, it was Marcos who centralized all available power in the presidency. To an extent perhaps unimaginable by today’s generation, the Marcos presidency was the be-all and end-all of Philippine politics.
But even today, even under a Constitution that has curtailed the powers of the presidency, raised the office of the Ombudsman to a new level of power and independence, and empowered local governments, Malacañang continues to dominate the policy agenda.
Still another legacy is the economy. While GDP growth has been continuous for about a dozen years, and the Philippines’ debt-paying capacity has increased dramatically, the country is still playing catch up with its potential—a promise that 20 years of Marcos rule had blithely thrown away. Incurring billions of dollars in foreign debt, indulging cronies as they divided the spoils of business among themselves, spending lavish amounts of money on unnecessary projects: To an extent perhaps unimaginable by today’s generation, the government then was breathtakingly irresponsible.
But we must confess: It isn’t just the new generation of martial law babies who have come to accept these and other martial law legacies as the new normal. Even those who survived the trauma of those tragic years can sometimes forget that things didn’t have to be this way—that the proper role for the military in a democracy is subsidiary, that real power may be exercised away from Malacañang.
It may be the role of the members of the new generation to help turn things around. They can take heart from the example of many of their counterparts, who grew up to fight the dictator.
^^^ It is an indictment on the part of the generation that lived through Martial Law, my self included, that the succeeding generations of "EDSA Babies" no longer have a full grasp of the atrocity that was Martial Law in our country. Yes, there was semblance of order, but this was brought about by fear, not by an abiding of acceptable social norms for the common good and respected by all citizens. And of course there were our version of the "desaparacidos", all those who were taken by government agents and never seen again. As much as I personally feel that almost all of those taken had indeed been Communists (I have no sympathy for the Reds at all) there was surely a number taken who really were just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus is a hallmark of any dictatorship. Strong-arm tactics more so.