Anyone in his or her 50s or older would remember this day—Sept. 21. Exactly a month before it in 1971, on Aug. 21, two hand grenades exploded onstage at Plaza Miranda while the Liberal Party was holding the proclamation rally for its senatorial slate. Nine people were killed in that explosion, and many others, including Jovito Salonga, were seriously injured.
A year later, in 1972, Sept. 21 would be seared into our consciousness as the date that Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law, although the public found out about it only two days later.
The two events are linked, since Marcos used the Plaza Miranda bombing as an excuse to tighten the screws on civil liberties in the guise of ensuring peace and order in the face of a growing communist insurgency. But not content with that, he sought to perpetuate himself in power through draconian rule.
I understand there is a public commemoration and protest being planned today, both to, as the slogan proclaims, ensure that we “Never Forget” about the martial law years and the atrocities that took place while it was in force, and also to remind Filipinos about the alarming signs of a “creeping martial law” today.
Indeed, there is lawlessness afoot these days, although the murder and mayhem we are experiencing are being committed not by insurgents or criminals, but by police, military and their agents or stand-ins. Do not some 3,000 dead, killed during arrests or shoot-outs or while, as police allege, the fatalities were running away, shooting back, or trying to grab the guns of law enforcers, alarm us? Does not the fact that some of the dead include children and bystanders, dismissed outright as “collateral damage,” rile us and sadden us?
So while more than 40 years have passed, it is still not the time to forget or, as others urge us, to “move on.”
For how can we move on when, in the Senate the other day, colleagues of Sen. Leila de Lima voted overwhelmingly to oust her as chair of the committee on justice and human rights. The grounds cited by the Senate leadership, through the motion of Sen. Manny Pacquiao, were De Lima’s alleged use of a hearing on the extrajudicial killings to “destabilize the Duterte administration and destroy the image of the country before the international community.”
Let me just touch on the second “reason” first. De Lima had no need to resort to a Senate hearing to “destroy the image of the country before the international community.” Given the spate of negative media reports both here and abroad, even before alleged hitman Edgar Matobato testified, the Philippines’ image before the world was already crumbling, if not ruined completely. And this was not just the media’s doing. The brazen manner in which the shootings were being carried out ensured that anyone who cared to look and listen would come to the conclusion that the Philippines was on the road to anarchy and utter destruction.
Business leaders may say that investors and business folk don’t care about the EJKs and the growing violence, but can confidence remain in an environment of fear and impunity?
As for the first accusation, the Duterte administration is being destabilized indeed, but it is not because of actions being taken by De Lima or any other critic of the regime. It is being destabilized from within, led by the President himself and his deployment of his dirty motormouth, followed closely by his equally loquacious officials, including his befuddled spokespersons who are falling all over themselves trying to parse and explain their boss’ offensive and repulsive off-the-cuff and expletive-laden remarks.
If, as the President claimed, he did not care to rebut Matobato or have his officials investigate the alleged Davao Death Squad member’s allegations because they were insignificant and baseless, why go hammer-and-tongs after the newbie senator?
Was she not, after all, only carrying out her sworn duty as a legislator? Is not the Senate, with the House, considered a coequal branch of government empowered with the ability—the duty—to ensure that there are checks and balances against the abuses of the other branches, especially the executive?
Maybe it’s a blessing, indeed, that we are caught in the middle of this crisis at this time, when we are asked to remember the events that led to the declaration of martial law 44 years ago. This is an event triggered not just by the bloody events at Plaza Miranda but even more by one man’s restless ambition to rule beyond his given two terms and indeed well beyond this.
There is more than sufficient motive for raising today the specter of martial law redux. People of my generation may be losing our memories to dementia or disabled by aching joints and high blood pressure. Which is why we hope the generation of our children and grandchildren will, not just not forget, but better yet, remember. It is my hope they remember not only the history of the recent past but also their personal history, and the reason they can now enjoy their most precious freedoms, especially the freedom to pursue their passions through social media.
For without freedom—fought for and purchased with the lives and sacrifices of many before them—they would not be where they are now, even if they sometimes dismiss what previous generations and our country have gone through as a mere “thingy.”
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