The year 2017 isn’t exactly auld lang syne, or good old times, and 2018 is not only likely to be a repeat of it. It could even be worse.
As 2016 ended a year ago, the new year of 2017 was welcomed with optimism by most Filipinos, in the probable belief that thinking so will make it so. The feng shui and other creatures spawned by the Philippine culture of confusion, who claim to have the power to foretell the future, weren’t helping any. Neither were the survey firms, which as usual regaled the citizenry with their cheery polls on the average man-on-the-street’s fact-defying optimism.
Never mind the 2017 Duterte State of the Nation Address, which was replete with profanities, self-serving claims of current and future progress on various fronts, among them the regime’s brutal and failing war on drugs, and justifications for the use of unaccountable State violence. Take his so-called assurance that he won’t place the entire country under martial law with a reasonable amount of skepticism. All SONAs are after all political and since Commonwealth days have served the ends of every Philippine regime without exception.
IF those who fear martial law are “living in the past,” it is because much of that past, with or without martial law, is still very much in the present. Human rights defenders are still under threat, and farmer leaders, indigenous people, protesters and political activists harassed and even killed, even as a brutal “war on drugs” that presumes guilt rather than innocence continues to claim dozens of lives every week at the hands of a police force emboldened by President Rodrigo Duterte’s frequent assurances of impunity, or exemption from punishment.
IF A MILITARY takeover or a declaration of martial law as in Thailand seems unthinkable today in the Philippines, it seemed equally implausible in 1972. But that didn’t prevent it from happening then; and there’s no guarantee that it won’t happen again.
I didn’t quite now how to do this paper. The martial law period is a personal matter to me. It is not only because I was imprisoned for seven months, from October 1972 to May 1973. It is also because of the many people I knew, some of them among the brightest and best sons and daughters of the Filipino people — students and poets, artists and doctors, teachers and lawyers, journalists and farmers, workers and small businessmen, nuns and priests, and plain citizens of their generation — who lost their lives, were separated from their loved ones, or suffered torture and other indignities during that brutal period.