A country in a democratic transition must come to terms with its past in order to move forward.
Addressing past atrocities and injustices is considered a crucial part of social healing and national reconciliation. Acknowledging the misdeeds especially human rights violations is one significant step towards guaranteeing the right of the victims for effective remedies.
However, remedial measures take various forms of reparation. One way is through compensation. This serves both as an acknowledgment of the human rights violations and the sanctioning of the state for allowing or for directly committing such violations.
Compensation provides not only material but also symbolic political and social benefits. First, it helps bring immediate economic relief to victims and their families and allow them to meet the basic survival needs. Secondly, the monetary compensation may serve as a deterrent for future abuses by imposing financial sanctions for committing such violations.
Although harms or injuries resulting from human rights violations are often irreparable but compensation can help restore the victims’ dignity by knowing that their rights are recognized and the violations committed against them are being atoned.
But lest we forget that reparations are not primarily about money, but to publicly acknowledge the wrongdoings and to guarantee its non-repetition. It is a necessary component of the healing process as it signifies a concrete step on the part of the state to make amends and take full responsibility for the historical tragedies like Martial Law.
Compensation must therefore serve to continuously promote and protect human rights. For money can’t buy justice but it can help the victim to endlessly pursue it.
The video is a compilation of the stories of six human rights victims or their families, all of them part of the 10,000 human rights victims who were recently awarded $1,000 each as part of a settlement against the estate of the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
More than the story of anguish and terror and tragedy, these are stories of ordinary men and women who lived extraordinary lives. Too, these are stories of wives who became widows, and children who became orphans. Most of all, these are stories that the victims could only wish they could forget, even as they hope we all will remember and learn.
Interviews conducted by Malou Mangahas; camerawork by Winona Cueva. Editing by PCIJ interns Florenz Sison and Darlene Basingan; score by Florenz Sison.
Speech delivered during the Opening Ceremony of Beinte Singko at UP Diliman
Remembering the Past is looking at the future
My organization, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances is taking part in this memory project for the week-long celebration of the International Human Rights Day for one good reason. We believe a society that has experienced a traumatic politcal situation must preserve and come to terms with its past in order to rekindle and rebuild a hope for the future. To borrow the words of Milan Kundera that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. This, what I believe, is the main objective of Beinte Singko: The Festival of Memories, Creation of New Stories. This is especially true to victims of enforced disappearance.
“Hindi na po bago sa atin ang usaping ito. Marami na pong taga-UP ang naging biktima ng sapilitang pagkawala. Sino po ang makakalimot kina Atty. Hermon Lagman, Jessica Sales, Rizalina Ilagan, Geraldo Faustino at marami pa na sapilitang iwinala sa ilalim ng Martial Law o nina Jonas Burgos, Sherlyn Cadapan at Karen Empeno na iwinala sa ilalim ng administrasyon ni Gng. Arroyo. Isa po itong karumaldumal na paglabag sa karapatang pantao.”
Enforced disappearance is one of the cruelest forms if not the cruelest violation of human rights that humanity has ever experienced. It is a multiple and continuous violation of the basic human rights not only of the direct victims but also of their families as well as the larger society.
It inflicts enduring and untold sufferings to the victims as they are removed from the protection of the law and denied access to legal safeguards. They are often tortured and in constant fear for their lives and haplessly put at the mercy of their captors. Sometimes, they are murdered without leaving any shred of evidence.
It also brings ill-effects to the victims’ families for not knowing the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. They are placed in limbo between hope and despair, praying and waiting, pleading and demanding for answer that may never come. They are not only deprived of the right to mourn but also to find closure.
Enforced disappearance has a particular devastating impact on women and children. For women who are usually left behind to tend the families, they often bear the brunt of the serious economic hardships. They are dispossessed of legal status to obtain pensions or other means of support because of the absence of death certificate. When women are victims of disappearance themselves, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence. The children of the disappeared are also victims. The disappearance of a child or the loss of a parent as a consequence of enforced disappearance, are serious violations of child’s rights.
It also causes fear and terror among the people belonging to the same community.
Enforced disappearance was first introduced by the Nazis during the Second World War under the “Nacht und Nebel” (Night and Fog) Decree where hundreds of thousands of people were made to disappear throughout Nazi Germany’s occupied territories. It spread around the world and has become one of the wicked features of military dictatorships and authoritarian regimes particularly in the Latin America.
Enforced disappearance continues to happen globally.
“Patuloy po itong nangyayari sanmang sulok ng mundo.”
Many governments still employed this atrocious practice as a tool of state repression and political witch hunt. It is a major human rights concern of 83 countries around world based on the 2010 report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the first thematic UN body created in 1982 to monitor the incidences of enforced disappearances worldwide. Many of these cases occur in 27 countries of Asia, a continent that has the highest number of cases submitted to the UNWGEID in recent years. Unfortunately, Asia lacks a strong regional mechanism for redress and no domestic laws penalizing disappearance as a separate and autonomous criminal offense. This condition perpetuates a climate of impunity that allows perpetrators to escape accountability.
The very existence of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD), a regional federation of organizations of the families of the disappeared and human rights advocates working directly on the issue of enforced disappearance in Asia, refutes the claim of many states that enforced disappearance is already a thing of the past and merely a Latin American experience.
A Regional Response in the Struggle against Impunity
In Asia, enforced disappearances remain widespread and unabated. The narrowing democratic spaces in many Asian countries have consequently resulted to the alarming increase of human rights violations in the region including enforced disappearance.
While many governments in Asia have started to democratize and recognize human rights as an important cornerstone of governance, there is still a wide disjoint between the state policies and day-to-day practices. It is the state’s overemphasis on security and stability continues that creates a huge roadblock in the development of human rights. The war on terror policy is one of the most convenient excuses for the brazen disregard human dignity and freedom.
What makes the situation all the more difficult is the absence of regional as well as national human rights mechanisms which are necessary recourses for redress. The struggle of the organizations of families and human rights organizations in their respective countries in the fight for accountability and the end to impunity has given birth to Asia-wide federation as a cogent response to the phenomenon of disappearances in the region.
Thus AFAD has continuously campaigned for the signatures and ratifications of the Convention and for its eventual universal application.
The domestic road towards the universal protection against Enforced Disappearance
In the Philippines, one glaring problem for its continuing commission is the complete lack of accountability. Not only that cases of enforced or involuntary disappearance are by their very nature difficult to investigate and prosecute, it persisted and has been carried out with total impunity. The perpetrators of this heinous offense have absolute impunity because there is no physical evidence extant to pin the blame on any person. This proves that the existing legal measures that provide safeguard for lives and liberties are inadequate and insufficient to combat impunity.
For almost two decades, the organization of families of the disappeared and other human rights groups have steadfastly lobbied Congress to enact a law defining and penalizing enforced or involuntary disappearance. It was filed and re-filed in Philippine Congress but lamentably was not acted on by previous Congresses.
The Philippine bill against enforced disappearance is one of the two existing bills in Asia. The other one is in Nepal. If enacted into law by the Philippien government, it will be the first anti-enforced disappearance law in region and can set a good example to other Asian governments.
However, it has just recently that it sees the light of day with approval of the Senate on its third and last reading the Senate Bill 2817 on July 26 and the adoption of the Joint Committees of Human Rights and Justice of the approved House Bill 5886 on August 17 as a substitute bill for plenary deliberations.
This is indeed a welcome development. But it also give us more reasons to continue our work as we continuously urge Asian governments to immediately sign and ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearance without reservation and to enact a domestic legislation without further delay.
There are at least 10 reasons why government should do so:
Both measures define the act enforced or involuntary disappearance. It limits commission of forced disappearance to deprivation of liberty for political reasons by agents of the State or by private persons or group of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State. It is the recognition that the state is duty bound and has the primary obligation to promote, protect and fulfill the rights of its people;
Both consider enforced disappearance as a continuing offense as long as the perpetrators continue to conceal the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person and such circumstances have not been determined with certainty. This means that an act of enforced disappearance committed in the past continue to occur until the fate and whereabouts of the victim is verified and that that the prosecution of persons responsible for the enforced disappearance shall not prescribe unless the victim surfaces alive, in which case the prescriptive period (in this case 25 years) shall start to run from the date of his or her reappearance;
Both are consistent with the principle of command responsibility. It holds the immediate hold any person involved in an enforced disappearance criminally responsible, as well as their superiors who knew or should have known what they were doing, and should have prevented, investigated and punished the subordinates for wrongdoing. The disputable presumption of knowledge by the superior of the acts of the subordinate and to eliminate the presumption of regularity in the performance of official duties in prosecution of cases involving enforced disappearance;
Both guarantee the non-derogability of rights against enforced disappearance. This means that the right of any person not to be subjected to enforced disappearance and no exceptional circumstances, not even a state of war, may be invoked as justification;
Both clearly differentiate between enforced disappearance committed as part of a massive or systematic practice and that of isolated and sporadic cases committed outside of the context of armed conflict. Thus it characterizes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity only when the actions involved are committed within the framework of a massive or systematic practice and otherwise considered as an international crime;
Both provide a number of protection and preventive measures such as to require official Up-to-date register of all persons detained or confined; to visit to or inspection of all places of detention by the National Human Rights Institution; to institute stringent safeguards for the protection of people deprived of their liberty; declare unlawful an order from a superior officer or a public authority causing the commission of enforced disappearance and therefore such order cannot be invoked as a justifying circumstance; prevent the accused from influencing the investigation and prosecution of the cases, the bill provides for his/her preventive suspension upon the filing of the information or complaint in the proper court; and the guarantee of non-refouler;
Both recognize the rights of victims as well as the duties of the state to investigate, to prevent and to hold the perpetrators accountable. Both provide specific rights to the victims such as the right of a person under detention; free access to information by families, lawyers or human rights organizations at most expedient means without restrictions or court order; and rights to receive indemnification, medical care and rehabilitation. It also bestows duties to the state such as to certify in writing on the results of Inquiry into the reported disappeared person’s whereabouts; duty of inquest/ investigating public officer or any judicial or quasi judicial employee; provide appropriate medical care and rehabilitation; and to render monetary compensation to the victims and ensure restitution of their honor and reputation. The Philippine government is likewise duty bound to comply with the obligations arising from treaty bodies in which Philippines is a state-party;
Both requires the state to train law enforcement personnel on the content of the law and the absolute prohibition to commit enforced disappearance;
Both exclude any investigation, trial, decision for any other legal or administrative process before the appropriate international court or agencies under applicable international human rights and humanitarian law from double jeopardy rule; and
Both have an Oversight Committee to ensure compliance with the provision of the law and/ or the treaty.
Establishing these legal measures and mechanisms both at the international and national level is just one big step towards ending impunity for human rights violations. This step may not bring back to life those who are made to disappear but these will certainly help prevent others from suffering the same fate, sparing their families from the perpetual agonies of the uncertainty and freeing the society from fear. Thus, the struggle against forgetting and the struggle against impunity must go on…
There is a saying that says “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” But I believe that those who learn from the lesson of history can create their own.
Yesterday was the commemoration of the 39th anniversary of Martial Law. For the younger generation, it maybe just one of the blurred pages in our history books, but for those who have witnessed these dark moments, it is certainly unforgettable.
Others might think that Martial law was not bad as it seemed but it is no doubt remains the symbol of oppression and repression in the country. It was the deathbed of our country’s freedom and democracy.
But after almost three decades, nothing seems to change.
Human rights violations are still rampant. Political beliefs and activities may appear to be tolerated but these are still the main reasons why activists are still put under surveillance, arrested, detained, forcibly disappeared or even killed. Although, there are now judicial remedies and human rights legislation that are supposed to provide better human rights protection but prosecution and conviction of human rights cases are still almost nil. Many if not all of the perpetrators of the past and recent violations remain scot-free while the victims and their families continue to suffer the consequences of their traumatic experiences.
We may now have the freedom of the press but many journalists have to spill their own blood for exposing the truth.
Many are still poor because the inequitable distribution of wealth is just getting wider. Development is meant to put people deeper in the mire of poverty. Our natural resources are no longer the country’s wealth but commodities for international capital and market.
Congress is now back in business but most of the time, it is still subservient to the interest of those who hold the nation’s coffer. In fact, the Marcoses who are still enjoying the fruits of their ill-gotten wealth are back in the corridor of power.
We may have another Aquino in Malacanang but he is keen of preserving his name than preserving democracy.
Martial Law may be synonymous to a nightmare. But it made the Filipinos dream for a just, humane and free society. It made them value themselves, their dignity, their freedom and their rights. It ignited within themselves the fire of revolution that paved the road to EDSA and the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship.
Martial law may still be a painful memory. But it serves as a reminder for all of us that the real power lies in us.
The only way to ensure that Martial Law will not happen again nor by any chance it will rear its ugly face once more is for us to know our rights, to stand and defend these rights through individual and collective actions.
This book was written by Patricio N. Abinales of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University in 2008. It was an attempt to trace the process by which the Communist Party of the Philippines revived its most dynamic “sector”, the Youth and Students (YS) during the early years of the Marcos dictatorship. Here, Abinales tried to analyzed the party strategy of “legal struggle” in creating an array of youth and students’ political participation which later became the backbone of the resurgence of radical politics in schools and campuses from 70s to 90s. Abisales also pointed out that this strategy was not without its problems and difficulties especially with reference to CPP’s tenet on the revolutionary leadership based on the dictatorship of the proletariat and peasantry where YS movement plays only secondary supportive roles.
A few people were prosperous. People like Herminio Disini, Danding Cojuangco, Imelda Marcos. Ferdinand Marcos, junior — Bongbong — got his own island, Calauit — as a hunting preserve. He demanded, and was handed, millions of pesos from a private company, Philcomsat. “What could we do,” a company officer said later, “he was the president’s son.” Imelda turned the Philippine National Bank into her private piggy bank and Philippine Airlines into her personal air service. She bought condos in New York, ordered posh department stores to close their doors so she could shop inside in peace, handed out hundred dollar tips to Americans. Where’d all this money come from?
Marcos ruled unchecked for almost 14 years, free to write his own laws as he went along (after he was overthrown, investigators discovered dozens of secret decrees he’d kept handy for all possible contingencies). With those awesome powers, what progress did he bring to the country? In 1974, the poverty rate was 24%. By 1980 it was 40%. When Marcos assumed the presidency, the country’s foreign debt was US$1 billion. By the time he fled, it was US$28 billion. Where’d all the money go? Investigators later estimated the Marcoses stole at least US$10 billion, most of it salted away abroad. Martial Law sustained a plunder economy run for the benefit of the Marcos family, its relatives and associates. Everyone else was just an afterthought.
MYTH 2. UNDER MARCOS THE COUNTRY WAS PEACEFUL
During Martial Law, not only did the Communist New People’s Army increase in strength, from a few hundred to more than 20,000 soldiers, but crime in Manila became so bad that at one point Marcos actually ordered the deployment of “secret marshals.” These were armed plainclothes military agents who pretended to be passengers in jeeps and buses, with orders to shoot and kill anybody they thought were criminals.
The worst threat to peace and order was none other than Marcos himself. Historian Alfred McCoy estimates the Martial Law regime killed more than 3,000 Filipinos and made hundreds disappear. Dinampot (picked up) entered the venacular to describe what happened to Marcos critics, who were usually labeled “subversives” or “dissidents.” Another word coined under the dictatorship, “salvage” — murder committed by the authorities — acquired international notoriety. If there was “peace” in the country it was the graveyard silence produced by fear and repression.
MYTH 3. MARCOS BUILT MANY ROADS, SCHOOLHOUSES, DAMS, ETC
True. He could build and build because it wasn’t his money that was being used, it was the taxpayers’. And of course, Marcos made sure he got a cut. The biggest, most famous construction project, the billion-dollar Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, was an overpriced, graft-ridden structure which paid Marcos millions of dollars in kickbacks. His crony Herminio Disini got such a large commission he could afford to flee to Austria, buy a castle and settle down. The country took years to pay off the BNPP. It still hasn’t been used. Imelda also had an “edifice complex.” She was in such a hurry to have the Film Palace in Roxas Boulevard finished, part of it collapsed, reportedly burying workers alive.
Imelda’s idea of infrastructure for the poor was a high whitewashed concrete wall around Manila’s squatter areas, the better to hide the poverty and misery, and so avoid depressing passing motorists and tourists.
MYTH 4. IN 1986 MARCOS COULD HAVE ORDERED HIS TROOPS TO RUN OVER THE CITIZENS ON EDSA BUT REFUSED TO DO SO, EVEN IF IT MEANT HE WOULD LOSE
Actually he was urging his generals to attack, but in front of the TV cameras made a big show of concern over civilian casualties. Reporter Sandra Burton, who was there, wrote: “Viewers had just witnessed another bit of play-acting, or moro-moro, between Marcos and (General Fabian) Ver, which seemed intended to impress upon his official US audience the president’s concern for preventing bloodshed, even as the Americans’ sensitive communications devices were intercepting his generals’ orders to fire on rebel headquarters.”
The truth was the dictator’s generals were reluctant to attack. According to Beth Day Romulo, one general later said his huge amphibious assault vehicles could have “rammed through the crowds.” However, “I didn’t want to be known as the Butcher of Ortigas Avenue.”
Marcos kept up the pretense. Burton wrote how: “…Hyperventiliating again, Ver grew more and more excited. ‘Just give me the order, sir and we will hit them.’ Marcos, looking reasonable, compared to his bellicose chief of staff, refused. Yet even as he spoke, his generals were ordering Colonel Balbas to stop making excuses and fire the mortars he had positioned early that morning on the golf course inside Camp Aguinaldo.” Marcos never let a few broken, maimed bodies stand in his way. He wasn’t about to stop.
MYTH 5. MARCOS MEANT WELL, BUT IMELDA AND THE CRONIES RUINED EVERYTHING
He refused to share power. He kept a closet full of secret decrees. His word was law. The judiciary, legislative and military were his puppets. If Ferdinand Marcos could claim credit for all the nice buildings constructed during his regime, he should also take responsibility for everything else.
The truth was, Marcos was evil from the get-go. As a young man, he assassinated his father’s political opponent — through a coward’s way, sniping from long range in the dark of night. He fabricated a record as an alleged guerrilla leader during World War II. He opened a secret Swiss bank account — under the pseudonym “William Saunders” — with Credit Suisse in 1968, years before he declared Martial Law.
Marcos was all of a piece. He intended to run the country purely for the benefit of his family and friends, and to set up a dynasty that would continue the plunder. He was prepared to do anything to hang on.
During the snap election campaign in 1985, he sneered that his opponent, Cory Aquino, was a mere housewife with no experience. Cory fired back with a statement that summed up the dictator: “I concede that I cannot match Mr. Marcos when it comes to experience. I admit that I have no experience in cheating, stealing, lying, or assassinating political opponents.”
I recall that during martial law (a world that must now seem as distant to the post-martial-law babies the way the Japanese Occupation seemed to us in the 1970s), Sept. 11 was something that was marked by much fanfare by government. Most everybody else of course cursed the day, but not so the martial-law custodians. The day became a precursor to Sept. 21, the date when Marcos imposed martial law, which the country was made to celebrate, not without humongous irony or sadism, as “Thanksgiving Day.”
The ways of the father are visited upon the children. They continue to want to foist their father on us as a hero. Not without humongous irony or sadism.
Nothing less than that will do, they say. They reject completely Jojo Binay’s offer of burying their father in Ilocos with full honors. Their father was a soldier, they say, and a true hero. There are his medals to speak for it. It’s Libingan ng mga Bayani or bust. They would rather P-Noy himself decreed which once and for all.
Well, Binay’s compromise solution was a sorry one, proving yet again that when you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one. It hasn’t pleased the public which continues to vilify Marcos’ memory, and it hasn’t pleased the Marcoses who continue to extol it. Why on earth would you want to have Marcos buried with honors in Ilocos? It is not a matter of geography, it is a matter of principle. As far as we know, Ilocos has not yet become a “substate” of the Republic, free to make its own rules, its own laws, its own interpretation of history. That may be so in Hawaii, where there are Filipinos and Ilocanos, but that may not be so in the Philippines.
In fact, it’s what the Marcoses claim as the source of their father’s heroism—his being a soldier—that constitutes his damnation. If Marcos committed his biggest crime against anyone, it was against the soldier. He did not raise the soldier to the pinnacle of glory, though he did raise him a level of power that enabled him to terrorize the citizenry, he plunged him to the depths of shame.