The brutality of the torture and murder of Oriental Mindoro human rights activists Eden Marcellana and peasant leader Eddie Gumanoy, the disappearance of filmmaker and Cultural Center of the Philippines awardee Virgilio Catoy, and the abduction of the group they were with last Monday are reminiscent of the worst excesses of the martial-law period.

That they happened, that previous to the Marcellana-Gumanoy murders other murders, abductions and disappearances were happening, and that elsewhere especially in Mindanao the military raids residences with impunity and “invites” people for questioning, suggest that in some parts of the country at least, martial law need not be declared; it is here. It is as if it were the 1970s all over again, and as if the country had not removed a dictator at all. For this President Arroyo, either in default or as part of an undeclared policy, must bear the primary responsibility.

The worst part of martial law was not the world-class theft of public resources and treasure that it concealed. It wasn’t even the steady decline of the economy as corruption and cronyism ran rampant, nor the resulting slide of the majority of Filipinos into the lowest depths of poverty.

The worst part of martial rule were the killings, the torture, the massacres of entire communities, the abductions and forced disappearances of thousands of men, women and even children by an unrestrained military, of which at that time the police was a part.

The inevitable result was military empowerment, in terms of its realization that its monopoly over the legal use of arms endowed it with an advantage no argument, no logic and no law could challenge. Because there were no efforts to exact accountability

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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