Never again yield to despotism
THERE ARE reminders aplenty of the horrors of martial law declared 44 years ago by Ferdinand Marcos. There is a trove of personal testimonials about abductions, torture, killings, and disappearances by victims remotely antigovernment or antimartial law.
Beyond the stories and faces, memorializing martial law can only be complete with an understanding of the decisive conditions that caused it. Martial law was but a symptom of dysfunction in society. Allegedly impelled by political and social turbulence, a strong executive effectively removed power from the two other pillars of government. It was, history tells us, necessitated by the burgeoning threat to government authority from activists, communists, the opposition, and all sides of the political spectrum.
Martial law clearly aggravated the social and economic circumstances of all those not in the Marcos cabal. It was primarily meant to keep in place a tenuous status quo—Marcos as president, his family as royalty, his friends in high places, and the international community at bay. But it then took a life of its own aided greatly by the heavy hands of then Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, Gen. Fabian Ver, and other members of the “Rolex 12.”
For the Public Interest Law Center (PILC), founded by Romeo T. Capulong after his martial law exile, one realization is this: that the ills of society have not really gone away.
Between 1986 and today, the PILC has taken to court cases of political prisoners, corruption, abuse of power, violations of the Constitution, writ of amparo for desaparecidos, even impeachment of the president for illegal disbursements. The “disease” that martial law sought to “cure” persists. That is perhaps why the revolution that it hoped to quell is still alive today.
The evil is not just martial law, or Marcos himself, but unchecked powers and the free rein to abuse. Looking at experiences elsewhere, one-man military rule can never be a long-term solution to a country in crisis. How Marcos exploited his powers is legendary; he and Imelda have become standards of despotism and excess. Never forget. How through the years we should always remember and guard against it is a struggle, but we must never yield. Never again.
—RACHEL F. PASTORES, managing counsel, Public Interest Law Center, firstname.lastname@example.org
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