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Experience Marcos dictatorship in Thailand

/ 12:10 AM February 01, 2016

IF FILIPINO voters who are motivated with a longing to bring back the Marcos years will have their way in the May elections, all Filipino Facebook users will be in jail.

This was my conclusion after a four-day stay in Thailand last week to witness the court trials of two political prisoners, and to meet with journalists and lawyers who are fighting to keep the embers of freedom alive despite the authoritarian rule of a military junta.

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I was in Thailand as the representative of the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), a nongovernment organization founded by my colleague Harry Roque. Centerlaw represents victims of human rights violations, especially persecuted advocates of freedom of expression. It is working to strengthen the network of free expression advocates in Southeast Asia.

For four days, I listened to stories of arbitrary arrest and detention, intimidation, and some instances of torture committed by the very government that is supposed to protect the Thai citizenry against such crimes. It is all too reminiscent of the martial rule of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

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The Thai military junta, euphemistically known as the National Council for Peace and

Order, mounted a coup d’état and ousted the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The junta imposed martial law when it seized power in May 2014, and while the regime officially lifted it in April 2015, Thailand remains under martial rule because the junta continues to wield executive, legislative and judicial powers. It is all too similar to Marcos who imposed martial law in 1972, officially lifted it in 1981, but continued to act as dictator by exercising executive and legislative powers until he was toppled by people power in February 1986.

The Thai junta bans all criticism of its actions. It can jail violators for as long as 84 days without any charges filed in court. It prosecutes and jails citizens who, using the social media, post, share, or even just click the Facebook “like” button on statements interpreted as critical of the junta.

The vibrant online culture of Filipino bloggers and Facebook users who post, share, or “like” articles, statements and comments critical of the government—and hilarious memes depicting corrupt or incompetent politicians—will disappear overnight under such a Marcos-like regime.

The Thai junta invites individuals who undermine “public unity and harmony” to report to military camps, and jails those who do not honor its invitations. Those who heed the invitations are made to sign a “mutual understanding” not to engage in any political activity. It also bans the public gathering of five or more people for political purposes. Worst, even after the supposed lifting of martial law, military courts exercise jurisdiction over civilians who commit alleged violations of junta orders.

When the junta leader made a statement that educators must teach duties instead of rights to their students, and several courageous professors responded by stating that the universities are not military camps, the professors were criminally charged with violating the ban on public gathering. When 14 students conducted a simple protest of taking a train trip to a public park whose construction is the subject of a corruption controversy, the junta subjected them to criminal prosecution.

When a factory worker posted on the Internet an allegedly disparaging comment about the king’s dog, he was charged in a military court with sedition and insulting the monarch, even though the applicable law known as lèse majesté only punishes insults against the king, queen, heir-apparent, and regent. Even the US ambassador was subjected to police investigation after he delivered a speech to foreign journalists praising the king but criticizing the “lengthy and unprecedented prison sentences” imposed by Thai military courts on lèse majesté cases.

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While in Thailand, I attended the civilian court trial of an actor-singer popularly known as “Tom Dundee,” and the military court trial of a construction worker, Siripop. Both defendants are under criminal prosecution for what amount to, at worst, expressions of opinion. Both have been effectively denied bail, and are indefinitely languishing in jail. An interesting tidbit I observed in both trials is that all Thai criminal defendants go to court in bare feet because of past incidents when angry defendants threw their shoes or slippers at the judge. The military court also prohibits the audience from taking notes.

There are a few complaints of torture and one instance of enforced disappearance against the Thai junta—nothing compared to the more than 75,000 persons who have filed official claims as victims of human rights violations, or as next of kin of persons who suffered, died, or disappeared during the Marcos reign of terror.

As the Philippines commemorates this month the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa revolution that ousted Marcos, his son is angling to be elected vice president, a mere heartbeat away from the presidency. Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has accomplished nothing that makes him stand out from the other senators. His strength in the surveys can only be attributed to the tragically mistaken notion of young voters that the years of his father’s dictatorship were the better years of this country.

Filipinos who did not experience the Marcos dictatorship must pay attention to the ongoing travesty in Thailand because it provides a contemporary glimpse of the long nightmare in our history—a very dark period that must never be allowed to happen again.

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TAGS: dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, marcos, martial law, opinion
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