Killing hope

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The killing of young people, minors and children that have been blamed on the police of the Duterte regime is not without precedent.

The same atrocities were committed by the then PC-INP (Philippine Constabulary Integrated National Police) and the military of which it was then a part during the Marcos terror regime, which even before the declaration of martial law in 1972 was already abducting and murdering youth activists. Both are crimes against the future that is the youth’s promise. There is a difference between the intent of one and that of the other, but their consequences are the same.

Most of the current extrajudicial killings (EJKs) of young people between the ages of 24 and four years were either deliberate because the victims were themselves allegedly drug users, pushers or runners, or were incidental to the recklessly endangering police shootings of their elders who were supposedly drug users or involved in the illegal drug trade. During the reign of the Marcos kleptocracy the killing of young people, while occurring as part of an equally murderous campaign, had for its purposes Marcos’ remaining in power for life, and preventing change and the democratization of Philippine society.

In 1972 Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., who had been twice elected to the Presidency, both times by a landslide, placed the entire country under martial law supposedly to “save the Republic and reform society.”

Assuming dictatorial powers, Marcos suspended the Constitution and therefore citizen protection under the Bill of Rights; abolished Congress; shut down media organizations; arrested and detained members of the opposition, journalists, poets, doctors, lawyers, social workers, artists and other regime critics; and transformed the police and military services into his private army.

By the time he was overthrown in 1986, a hundred thousand people had been arrested and detained, most of them without charges. Thousands more had been abducted, tortured, forcibly disappeared, and/or murdered. A war in the South between regime forces and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which correctly perceived martial law as a declaration of war against the Muslim community, was raging.

The country’s foreign debt, which was less than a billion dollars ($360 million) during Marcos’ predecessor Diosdado Macapagal’s watch as Philippine President, had swelled to $26.2 billion. Poverty remained the lot of the majority, to which affliction violence, fear and injustice had become the even more pronounced terrors that defined short, brutal and uncertain lives. The Republic had not been saved but ruined; and society had not been reformed, but its flaws and problems multiplied and made worse by official thievery and corruption.

However much the historical revisionists and the media hacks — who today claim that Marcos’ declaration of martial law was provoked by its own victims — may object, the crimes of the Marcos terror regime were legion, and driven by its unbridled appetite for riches and power. But if the nature of these crimes were to be summed up and adequately described, taken together they constituted a sustained assault against Jose Rizal’s fair hope of the Motherland, the future they represent, and the making of a just society.

Marcos indeed declared martial law for two reasons, but it was neither to save the Republic nor to reform society. It was first of all to stay in power beyond 1973, and to halt the widespread demand for meaningful change and authentic democracy.

Elected to the two four-year terms to which the 1936 Constitution limited Presidents, Marcos’ second term was ending in 1973. By declaring martial law he extended his rule to 21 years, from 1965 when he was first elected to the Presidency, to 1986 when his decades-long rule was rightly overthrown by the EDSA 1 civilian-military mutiny. In the course of his brutal reign, like the other dictators that were wreaking havoc in much of Latin America, Asia and Africa, he became one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful individuals. Martial law was the means with which he scuttled the Constitution’s term limits, prevented mass opposition to his remaining in power for life, and enriched himself and his family beyond measure.

But military rule was also an instrument to halt the demand for the democratization of political power, for land reform, and for the realization of authentic independence that had spread throughout the isles of illusory democracy and vast inequality known as the Philippines. What martial law temporarily stopped was a vast movement for democratization that involved millions of mostly young people all over this archipelago of 7,000 islands.

It was therefore mostly the young the regime targeted — the students, young professionals, workers and farmers who had understood the need, and in both armed and unarmed ways fought for an alternative future of justice, prosperity, national freedom and political, social and economic democracy.

In the process the regime arrested and detained, tortured and murdered student, labor and peasant leaders as well as the members of the thousands of organizations including cultural and artists’ groups that had sprung up all over the country in response to the widely perceived need for reform and revolution. In doing so the regime decimated thousands of members of an entire generation of young men and women whose dedication, patriotism, knowledge, skills and vision could have vastly contributed to the making of a society of equals, of prosperity, and of justice and freedom for all.

It was the 100th birth anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., the spawn of a corrupt political system responsible for that ruinous assault on the future, that the Duterte regime chose to commemorate by declaring September 11 a holiday in the Ilocos region. It is this same man’s crimes against the Filipino people that Mr. Duterte claims to have little or even no knowledge of, and which he was in effect honoring.

Assuming his good faith and best intentions despite mounting evidence to the contrary, it would seem that Mr. Duterte’s frequent threats to declare martial law derives from his mistaken understanding of the Marcos terror regime as a time of peace and prosperity. On that assumption is based his belief that by putting the entire country under military rule he can himself address the country’s many problems including the abuse of, and the trade in, illegal drugs.

But the true lessons from the Marcos period are the exact opposite. Replicating that sorry episode will certainly result in the worsening and intensification of the assault on the youth and the future. In the event of a repeat of martial law, added to the killing of the young in the course of the so-called drug war would be an even more brutal war against the dissenters, reformists and activists working for the making of the alternative society of peace, justice and prosperity that has eluded the Filipino people for over a century despite the Revolution of 1896.

The aftermath will be even more catastrophic than what the country has been suffering from since — the poverty, the injustice, the corruption, mass misery, violence and despair that are the true legacies of the Marcos rule of terror. By killing hope they will be crimes against the future, the consequences of which could very well be irreversible for this country and its people.

First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from Arkibong Bayan.

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