SPEAKING during the commemoration of the 26th anniversary of the uprising at Quezon City’s Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in 1986 that led to the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos, Benigno Aquino III urged Filipinos to do something about the judiciary, which he described as “one of the wrongs committed in the past” that has to be corrected.

In the same speech Mr. Aquino also claimed that the martial law period — the 14 years from September 1972 to February 1986 during which the country was in the grip of the Marcos dictatorship — happened because Filipinos chose to be silent. Working for reforms, Mr. Aquino also said, is the duty of every Filipino, not just of Ninoy and Cory Aquino.

Mr. Aquino was right, but only partly, as far as the judiciary is concerned. But he was totally wrong about why martial law happened, and woefully mistaken in his assumption that the people were silent, or were even asleep, whether before it happened or while it was happening.

The transformation of the judiciary into a partisan instrument of the wealthy and powerful — if that is what he meant by that awkward phrase about its being one of the wrongs of the past — did not begin during the martial law period. Although it may be said to be part of its tainted legacy, neither was it completed during that time.

The process did not start with then Chief Justice Enrique Fernando’s shielding Imelda Marcos from the sun with a parasol during the first months of the martial law regime. It began with Marcos’ packing the Supreme Court with his appointees even before the declaration of martial law, which was his way of insuring that it would rule in his favor once he put the country under one-man rule.

That is exactly what the Court did once he had declared martial law. It ruled that it had no jurisdiction over whether Presidential Declaration 1081 putting the entire country under martial law was Constitutional or not. One of Marcos’ appointees even claimed that PD 1081 was the State’s way of defending itself from the threats Marcos alleged it was facing, thus making it evident that the student and labor leaders, the academics, journalists and opposition personalities Marcos had caused to be arrested could expect neither relief nor redress from the abuses of martial law — the arbitrary arrests, the torture, and the summary executions — through a Court that had abandoned its once exalted role of protecting human rights.

The roots of the present Court’s transformation into a tool of vested interests do go back to the Marcos period. But those who succeeded Marcos– and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo comes rapidly to mind — did help as well by doing almost the exact same thing that he did, which was to pack the Court with appointees calculated to assure them of decisions favorable to their interests.

But while the judiciary is indeed one of the things wrong in this country that has to be corrected, it isn’t the only thing. It’s not because of the judiciary’s failings alone that poverty and its companion, hunger, exist, and what’s more are growing despite the Aquino administration’s Conditional Cash Transfer program. Neither is it the judiciary alone that can be blamed for the continuing human rights violations and the vast inequality in incomes that afflict this country. And it is certainly not the people’s alleged silence in the face of these and other inequities that made martial law possible, and reform impossible.

Part of the reasons why martial law happened were sitting behind Mr. Aquino when he was delivering his speech admonishing Filipinos for their alleged silence and failure to act while he exalted his late parents (“Working for reforms is the duty of every Filipino, not just of Ninoy and Cory Aquino.”).

Juan Ponce Enrile may have reinvented himself as a democrat by putting his fate in the hands of the EDSA multitude in 1986, but he was among the architects of martial law, and had been, for years prior to September 21, 1972, one of Marcos’ faithful and leading subalterns.

Enrile’s own subaltern, Gregorio Honasan, was in the very military whose bayonets kept Marcos in power for more than 14 years (Marcos was elected President in 1965 and again in 1969), and had been accused of torture in Mindanao where he had spent most of his days in the active service. He was also a major player in the coup attempts of 1987 and 1989 against the Corazon Aquino administration.

The Enrile-Honasan duo were representative of the partnership between the bureaucrat capitalists and their military clients that together planned martial law and made it possible DESPITE the people’s defiance, as was evident in the demonstrations, protests, strikes, and even armed forms of resistance before, during and AFTER the martial law period.

Mr. Aquino is completely wrong in his assumption that there was dead silence among the people before martial law was declared. The situation was the exact opposite of his revisionist view of history: the ferment for reform and democratization prior to 1972, which had been seething since the mid-1960s, was among the reasons Marcos declared martial law, out of fear that it would eventually explode into a political and social upheaval that would finally complete the Philippine Revolution by democratizing both wealth and power.

Mr. Aquino should also look around him today, and perhaps listen to the clamor in the streets and the countryside, including his own Hacienda Luisita. The people are far from silent, and are expressing their will for reform and even revolution everywhere.

But Mr. Aquino should also take note that involvement in the movement for change in the political, social and economics structures of this country has always invited repression from the coercive instruments, the police and the military, of the very government that now claims to be for reform. Only a week ago, for example, several journalists looking into the demolition of houses and environmental degradation in a mining community were detained by the paramilitaries Mr. Aquino has refused to dismantle. Some UP students doing research on depressed communities have similarly been harassed by the so-called security forces of his government.

If he is indeed sincere about leaving behind him a legacy of change beyond improved credit ratings and a program of providing cash assistance to the poor no administration can sustain for long, Mr. Aquino would do well to look into doing what, among others, Marcos’ successors have been failing to do since 1986: reforming the police and the military by first of all dismantling the anti-insurgency focus of every administration since 1946 that’s at the root of the human rights violations that have been committed and are still being committed against those Filipinos who are, in various ways, fighting for the kind of change this country has needed not only since EDSA 1986, but ever since its colonizers set foot on it.


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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