"And it could be longer and darker."
A long dark night descended on our country when President Ferdinand Marcos announced on air at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 23, 1972 that he had proclaimed martial law across our land. Twenty-two hours earlier, on Sept. 21 (later he claims this to be the real date when martial law was proclaimed but that is not credible), he had given his military collaborators the command to start arresting his political opponents and close down media establishments. Invoking powers within the framework of his own edict, he then proceeded to exercise all executive and legislative powers.
In the exercise of legislative powers, Marcos promulgated presidential decrees that were as good as republic acts. He even used a presidential proclamation to have a new constitution as the law of the land, setting aside the 1935 Constitution without benefit of a plebiscite as was required.
Although it was still allowed to exercise some judicial powers and some measure of independence, the judiciary became, much like the other institutions, a puppet of the dictatorship. It failed its first test in the cases of Aquino vs. Enrile when it refused to order the release of Ninoy Aquino and other political detainees who had been illegally arrested under the orders of Marcos and when it did not allow any more judicial obstacle to the operation of the illegitimate 1973 Constitution.
Marcos baptized his new regime as the “New Society” and “constitutional authoritarianism.” Eventually, it morphed into a conjugal dictatorship when his overly ambitious wife became the other half of the dictatorial rule with her also enjoying the privileges and wielding the powers of a dictator.
Through guns and intimidation, Marcos succeeded to dislodge the old oligarchy and allowed his cronies to assume control of corporations and business firms, creating monopolies with a favored few controlling the reins unfettered by laws other than those crafted by the dictator.
The Marcos dictatorial rule, described by many as a United States-Marcos dictatorship because the US government propped up that regime for many years, is known throughout the world not only for its horrific human rights atrocities but as a reign of greed and profligacy, with the conjugal dictatorship and their minions dipping their hands into the public coffers with utmost impunity.
More than 30 years since an outraged Filipino people unceremoniously ousted the Marcoses into exile through the EDSA People’s Revolution, the unrepentant Marcoses and their collaborators are back; they are, more than ever, powerful.
Marcos’ family, loyalists, and beneficiaries are challenging irrefutable facts and expounding half-truths and outright lies. What’s worse, lots of uninformed Filipinos cut and paste these lies on their Facebook statuses or blogs, perpetuating a train of lies.
Compounding these efforts to rewrite Marcos history is the blatant attempts by the present administration to sanitize the Marcos name and deceive the people into believing that the Marcos rule was the halcyon days of the republic.
Early on in his administration, President Duterte paved the way for the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani with full military, giving closure to his family and supporters but reopening wounds inflicted by his 21-year rule marked by human rights atrocities. Worse, the Supreme Court gave its legal imprimatur to the abomination when it affirmed its 2016 decision allowing this burial. Needless to say, the act was gross distortion, a malevolent revision and a wanton derogation of the memory of the thousands of human rights victims who suffered under the brutal dictatorial rule.
Worst, perhaps, few have been made to account for the sins of the Marcos rule. Not only are those perceived guilty are not in prison but are “honorable” elected officials of the land.
Imelda Marcos, convicted of graft and corruption after 27 years of trial, remains free to roam around after being granted post-conviction bail partly because the Sandiganbayan considered her old age and state of health.
The Marcoses are back in power. They are now in total control of Ilocos Norte with the next generation taking over. Imee Marcos is senator. Bongbong Marcos has not given up on his vice-presidential protest.
There are of course attempts to push back against the revisionism. The University of the Philippines is now offering a course of martial law as part of its curriculum, to which Senator Imee insists should include the side of the Marcoses.
Personally, I bring as many of the classes I teach to the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani to celebrate the heroic lives of those Filipinos who fought against dictatorship. Those visits are always sobering because of the stories of torture, assassinations, and massacres from the Marcos era.
Among those heroes, it’s always the faces of the young and the brave—among others, Liliosa Hilao, Edgar Jopson, Billy Begg, Emman Lacaba, Lorena Barros, Rizalina Ilagan, Jessica Sales, Cristina Catalla, Leticia Ladlad, Manuel Dorotan, and Ditto Sarmiento that haunt me most.
In the meantime, more people have died in three years of Duterte’s war against illegal drugs than the 14 years of the Marcos regime. Human rights defenders like my friend Ben Ramos and others in Negros Island have been assassinated.
And today, it’s the young like Sarah Elago, the representative of Kabataan, and other activists like Raoul Manuel, Alex Danday, and Ayna Punzalan who are being targeted by those threatened by the youth rising up for social and political change. Sarah herself has been subjected to constant misogynistic attacks, including by lawyers who try to intimidate her with untoward side comments and other repulsive behavior.
Most recently, Alexa Pacalda, a human rights worker in Southern Luzon, was abducted, starved and not allowed to sleep for days with the goal of coercing her and her family to sign a surrender document. She and her father have repudiated that document even as she is still illegally detained.
Once again, in many parts of the Philippines, political prisoners are being held: People like Vic Ladlad whose only fault is to believe that peace with justice is possible in our land; young activists like Myles Albasin, a young woman from my hometown Cagayan de Oro and a graduate of Xavier University High School and University of the Philippines Cebu, whose only fault is her empathy for the poor and her fidelity to the Atenean ideal of being a person for others and to UP’s demand for honor and excellence from its students and graduates. I know Myles personally and have seen her courage, compassion, common sense, and commitment. My hope is she will be allowed to begin her law studies soon. I am certain she will become a great lawyer for our country and people.
Philosopher George Santayana in his 1905 series, The Life of Reason: The Phases of Human Progress famously said: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." If we continue to condone these attempts to consign this dark history to oblivion, as Santayana warned, we are mindlessly treading the same path as we did 45 years ago when Marcos’ abusive, iron-fisted rule cast a long, dark shadow over the republic and the people.
At a blink of an eye, the long, dark night will be back. And this time, it could be longer and darker.