There we were, several dozens of us, wearing white T-shirts just handed to us, the back emblazoned with the words in bold font: “MARTIAL LAW SURVIVOR.” There could have been more of us, but not all survivors invited to the 27th anniversary of the Edsa People Power uprising could make it.
This was not going to be just any anniversary. President Noynoy Aquino was going to sign the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act at the morning celebration. It had not been publicly announced and was not even stated in the program. It was going to be a surprise.
I could have gone there as a media person, but I chose to sit with fellow martial law survivors. We wore the “survivor” T-shirts over the shirts we came in, but just before the signing many of us turned the T-shirts around so that the printed part at the back would be in front. For the President to see, and for the cameras, too.
Like the rest of the seated guests, we were given laminated tags that said “VIP.” Someone remarked, “Very Important Prisoner,” as many of the survivors present were during the dark years of martial rule. The remark brought forth a tsunami of memories.
Because of the blocked roads to the People Power monument, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair Etta Rosales had invited me to ride to the celebration with her. I drove to her home so early in the morning. Over a hurried breakfast of pandesal and coffee, I reminded her that I had been to her home many years ago, to interview her when she was a high-profile teacher-activist who fought the Marcos regime and who would later be imprisoned and tortured.
In the van with several other survivors, Etta rehearsed her speech while I timed her. She was to speak before the President’s signing of the law.
Here is Etta’s valedictory, a farewell to a dark night. She spoke for the tens of thousands who survived martial rule and for those who fell in the night.
“To our dearly beloved Filipinos from Mindanao to Mindoro to Makati to Miami to Missouri to Maine to Madrid, Melbourne and to the Middle East, and to you, Mr. President, and all fellow officials of government, I greet you a bright and sunny good morning.
“I come here before you to present my credentials. Twice illegally arrested, severely tortured, I now stand before you to make it known: I SURVIVED MARTIAL LAW.
“As a survivor and now as chair of the Commission on Human Rights, I join thousands upon thousands of survivors of martial rule to witness and celebrate with you the historic signing into law of the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013.
“Four decades ago, by the stroke of a pen, our country was plunged into a long night. In the course of that dark period, basic freedoms and rights were trampled upon as martial law loomed to become the devious premeditated plan to bring the country to its knees before the footstool of a conjugal dictatorship.
“This hallowed ground celebrates the heroism of millions who birthed a new dawn after the long night of dictatorship. Yet lost in the multitude are the names of women and men whose acts of oblation lit up the darkness like torches fueled by blood, song and tears. Their sacrifices were necessary so that millions of Filipinos would see their way through years of darkness, so that they may walk all the way from the forests of Mindanao and the towers of Makati to gather here at Edsa during those fateful days of 1986.
“But what is the significance of the law we sign today?
“Firstly, after 15 years from the time it was crafted in 1998 when I was principal author (Rep. Edcel Lagman dates it to 1995 as first author of the compensation bill), the bill passed into law obliges the State to give compensation to all those who suffered gross violations of their human rights, including the kin of martyrs who were summarily killed.
“This is the first legal act of the Philippine government that pronounces Ferdinand Marcos guilty of massive human rights violations committed against the Filipino people.
“Secondly, the implementation of the law brings forth the opportunity to correct the lies of history during the dark period of martial rule. Much of these lies are manifest in the way we run government even today, where eroded institutions continue to remain so for the benefit of a few against the democratic interests of many.
“Soldiers and policemen must correct past behavior and see their role as protectors of people’s human rights, of territorial integrity and of public safety, rather than as protectors of conjugal dictators and unscrupulous politicians.
“Textbooks from primary to secondary to tertiary levels must now be studied and corrected during the period of martial rule with the cooperation of the Department of Education and the [Commission on Higher Education], with the CHR and other institutions of learning.
“Thirdly, the economic plunder committed by the late dictator Marcos was laid bare when the government of Switzerland delivered to the Philippine government the hidden wealth of Marcos on condition that this is proven to be ill-gotten through due process and that a fair share of the ill-gotten wealth should be given the victims of dictatorial rule.
“Fourthly, for the first time through this law, the lingering question of the legality of Marcos’ orders resulting in gross and systemic human rights violations is once and for all settled.
“Lastly, this measure was made possible through strong efforts by those from the international community, who have been our steadfast partners from the past to the present. This law concretizes the role of international law in promoting state accountability for the promotion and protection of all human rights.”
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