Today the country marks 47 years since martial law was declared, with martial law in place in Mindanao for the entire year. Public protest has been muted against what has been called a “smiling martial law” whose principal mission is counterterrorism.
In President Duterte’s home city of Davao, the local council has passed a resolution calling for the lifting of martial law in the city. So far, no other local government unit has followed suit.
On multimedia, there are active efforts to rewrite the martial law years, with a selective presentation of what Imelda Marcos would describe as the true, the good and the beautiful about the dictatorship.
Whatever positive aspects are highlighted by the revisionists will be trumped by the atrocities of military rule: the mass arrest without warrant of dissidents, political enemies and critics of Ferdinand Marcos; the imprisonment for months and even years without formal charges; the shutdown of Congress and its replacement with a rubberstamp; the end of a free press and freedom of expression.
Detainees were beaten, stripped naked and raped or electrocuted, subjected to the water cure and deprived of sleep by the martial law enforcers. Some people were taken by state forces and never seen again.
And then there was the plunder. Based on the government salaries of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos over 20 years, how could they have legitimately amassed the hundreds of millions of dollars deposited in banks that the Swiss government has returned to the Filipino people? Where did they get the money for Imelda to buy her mind-boggling collection of jewelry and artworks by the masters? The price of one painting alone by Vincent van Gogh or Claude Monet will never be earned in 20 years by a Philippine president even with salary standardization at 2020 rates.
It’s a national tragedy that nearly half a century after martial law was declared, no one involved in such colossal plunder has been sent behind bars. Ferdinand Marcos is buried in the heroes’ cemetery, his widow has served as congresswoman and their eldest daughter is in the Senate, following in her brother’s footsteps.
As George Santayana warned, the danger when memories fade is a repeat of past mistakes. Efforts are underway to counter the revisionism. The University of the Philippines will be offering a subject on martial law. UP is also setting up a Freedom Memorial Museum in Diliman on the same subject, to be opened on Sept. 21, 2022, the 50th anniversary of the declaration. The nation cannot afford to forget the lessons of the dark days of the dictatorship.
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