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Two Lessons on Martial Law
Here are two perspectives, each one is shared here in its entirety.
Teachers and Education Workers: Persist in the struggle for national freedom and democracy!
ACT Statement on the 40th year of the imposition of martial law
September 20, 2012
It was in the 23rd of September 1972 and not the 21st when Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Marcos supposedly signed the declaration on the 21st, but it was the staged assassination attempt on then Defence Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile on the 22nd that was used as justification for the declaration. Thus on the night of the same day, opposition Senators Benigno Aguino, Jr. and Jose W. Diokno were arrested; offices of critical media outlets such as the Manila Times and television stations owned by the Lopezes were padlocked. The public would only have an inkling of actual martial law—the declaration of which has for a long time been rumored about—when on the morning of the 23rd, television and radio programs that used to accompany breakfast went silent. Indeed, Press Secretary Francisco Tatad appeared on television in the afternoon reading Proclamation 1081. Later in the evening, Marcos himself announced the imposition of martial rule to “save the republic and build a new society.”[i]
But merely correcting the date of the declaration of martial law does not and cannot erase the brutality of the repression that martial law engendered, let alone, the admirable and courageous resistance of the people against the dictatorship.
Martial law as repression on behalf of US imperialism and the ruling class
Martial rule was imposed by Marcos to ensure his continued stay in power and attempt to destroy the strong anti-imperialist and nationalist mass movement in the urban centers and decimate the anti-feudal, anti-imperialist armed movement in the countryside. To the Filipino people, it meant the wide-scale arrests and detention of those perceived to be opposing the Marcos dictatorship. Around 70,000 were imprisoned for political reasons without formal charges; and in rare instances wherein cases were brought to court, victims were usually charged with common crimes like murder or illegal possession of firearms. The torture of political prisoners were systematic, involving electrocution, water cure, Russian roulette, and, for women, sexual abuse including gang rape.[ii] “Salvaging” meant extra-judicial killing and around 1000 were believed to have disappeared. Among which include Jessica Sales, an instructor of Political Science and Sociology at the University of the Philippines in Manila and in Los Baños. Together with six others, Jessica disappeared in 31 July 1977.[iii] In Mindanao, some 100,000 Muslim Filipinos were killed during martial law.
Marcos and his cronies benefitted from the imposition of terror. Estimates of Marcos ill-gotten wealth range from $5 billion to $35 billion. Some even suggest that the true amount could go well over a hundred billion dollars. The value of Imelda Marcos’s jewellery confiscated after the 25 February 1986 ouster of Marcos from Malacanang is estimated at $20 million.
Marcos’s cronies such as Rodolfo Cuenca, Herminio Disini, Roberto Benedicto, and Eduardo Cojuangco amassed wealth through government contracts, ownership of confiscated media conglomerates (including ABS-CBN), or through shameless use of the coconut levy and other government funds.[iv]
But it was US imperialism which profited the most from the imposition of martial law:
The Nixon administration—speaking through the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila—hailed the proclamation of martial law and, in particular, expected the growth of foreign investment in the country. The very first act of Marcos after issuing martial law decrees was to reverse the Supreme Court decision on the Quasha case to the cheers of his foreign corporate patrons as martial law's chief beneficiaries. And as an US Congress report admitted, the martial law period was a time for extending imperialist privileges for foreign investment even further. [v]
With Marcos and his cronies brokering deals with American and other foreign contractors, the country’s foreign debt increased at a tremendous rate:
When Marcos assumed presidency in 1966, the foreign debt of the Philippines stood below $1 billion. When he fled Malacañang in February 1986 during the first People Power, the country had a foreign debt of $28 billion. Following our loan schedule, Filipino taxpayers will pay for the foreign debts of Marcos until 2025 - 59 years after he assumed office and 39 years after he was kicked out.
The single largest foreign debt (and most expensive white elephant) of the country was also contracted by Marcos-- the $2.3 billion Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). This lone project comprised 9 percent of the total foreign debt of the country when it was completed in 1984. Subsequent investigations showed that the BNPP was overpriced by $600 million, and that Marcos and his crony Herminio Desini, who facilitated the project, were bribed with $80 million by the project contractor US-based Westinghouse Corporation.[vi]
Martial law as resistance
Wherever there is repression, there is resistance. Marcos’s martial rule was met with resistance. Thousands of activists, including students, workers, women, teachers, lawyers and church people went underground. Many joined the armed resistance in the countryside led by the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines. Our Muslim compatriots established the Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao and asserted their right to secession from a country ruled by a tyrannical regime.
In the urban centers, underground networks organized workers, the urban poor, and the middle class and broke the information monopoly and media censorship of the Marcos regime through an underground press. By 1975, workers of La Tondeña successfully launched a strike in spite of the martial law strike prohibition. The indigenous peoples of Bontoc and Kalinga in the Cordillera successfully prevented the construction of the World Bank-funded Chico River Dams through massive protest actions which attracted international support. Militancy among students which was curtailed in the initial years of martial law grew in strength to demand the return of their student councils and their campus newspapers. Urban poor communities resisted demolition of their homes in the guise of “beautification” projects by Imelda. Workers in the Bataan Export Processing Zone held several general strikes to demand higher wages as well as to oppose the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant. Women organized to demand the end of martial law. Various forms of resistances escalated especially after the brazen assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr. on 21 August 1983.
Released by Marcos under U.S. pressure, Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Marcos's chief rival in the feudal oligarchy, flew back to the Philippines in 1983, in a bid, as he himself described it, to help contain the revolutionary upsurge. His assassination in the hands of the Marcos regime only fuelled the fires of protest from all quarters--including sections of the U.S. imperialist establishment. While U.S. President Reagan and the Pentagon opted to hang on to Marcos as long as possible, the U.S. State Department decided much earlier to cast their lot with a more marketable puppet in the person of a feudal hacienda owner, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, the widow of Marcos's rival.[vii]
Salute to our teacher martyrs and heroes
ACT salutes our teacher martyr and heroes who sacrificed their lives to overthrow the US-Marcos dictatorship and to achieve national freedom and democracy. Among them are:
Jessica Sales, instructor of sociology and political science in UP Manila and UP Los Banos. Disappeared in 1997, together with seven others.
Carlos del Rosario, instructor of political science at the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic University of the Philippines) and founding member of the Kabataan Makabayan and a staunch nationalist. Disappeared on 19 March 1971.
Santiago Arce, teacher and principal of the Little Flower High School in Peñarrubia, Abra and supported the farmers’ struggle for land in Abra. Killed while in the custody of the military, September 1974.
Countless other teachers, professors and education workers joined the anti-dictatorship struggle and helped in exposing bankruptcy, corruption, and repression which characterized the Marcos regime. The Alliance of Concerned Teachers was established in 1982 and became the center of militant struggles of education workers for their democratic rights and welfare and for acting in solidarity with other people’s organizations.
Continue the struggle for national freedom and democracy
Indeed, the people’s resistance ended the savagery of the Marcos dictatorship. But despite the success of the people’s resistance in ousting the Marcos dictatorship, the most fundamental characteristics of Philippine society remain. Widespread poverty, injustice, and oppression that pretty much summarize the state of the country during the Marcos years remain.
The various administrations that occupied Malacanang since 1986 have pursued the same economic and political policies as that of the Marcos regime: a development thrust subservient to foreign interests and to the local elite. Genuine land reform for the millions of farmers remains a dream especially with deceptive programs like the CARP and the CARPER. In addition to the lackluster approach to finding real and life-long solutions to unemployment, all administrations, since Marcos, has focused on various anti-worker policies like labor contractualization and the peddling of cheap labor to multinational companies, let alone, force Filipinos to work overseas. Demolition of urban poor communities to give way to big business projects is a regular occurrence. Education, health, and other social services are becoming less and less accessible as rates of users’ fees and the implementation of public private partnership schemes are being heightened.
Human rights violations remain a grim reality. Under the present Aquino dispensation, 100 extra-judicial killings, nine enforced disappearances, and 94 political prisoners have been recorded. The Oplan Saggitarius of the martial law period and the Oplan Bantay Laya of the Arroyo regime is the Oplan Bayanihan of Aquino, an anti-people program that shamelessly interposes “peace and development projects” with military operations. Activist and pro-people organizations such as the Alliance of Concerned Teachers are being labelled as enemies of the state. Harassment and surveillance of human rights advocates such as Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera or Mrs. Edith Burgos are not isolated.
But as in during martial law when the people, including teachers and other education personnel, have shown, repression breeds resistance. The people will not be cowed. Let us mark the 40th year of the imposition of martial law in the Philippines by once more declaring:
Never again to martial law!
Junk Oplan Bayanihan and all repressive programs and projects!
End impunity! Justice for all victims of human rights violations from the Marcos regime to the Aquino regime!
History books paint him as a dictator. Enemies and victims brand him as a human rights violator. Loyalists honor him as a hero. Either you hate or love the man but there are ordinary citizens who lived during the era of the so-called 20-year reign of terror who cannot help but relish memories of a brilliant leadership under then President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos.
Blood may have said to trail his footsteps but in retrospect, I ( as a Martial Law baby), could not deny that behind the man’s notoriety is a great legacy that bespeaks of a great vision for his country, a deep love for his nation’s soul and true compassion for the poor and majority of the Filipinos.
Marcos dreamt of a united archipelago and came up with a grand plan of development which the succeeding presidents continued and credited to themselves. Under his able leadership, he built infrastructures that linked major islands and cities of the metro. Under his administration, the North and South Luzon Expressways were built, the first in Southeast Asia. The famous San Juanico bridge was constructed connecting the provinces of Samar and Leyte. Spanning 2.16 kilometers of the San Juanico Strait, it is the longest bridge and one of the most beautifully designed in the whole country.
Another first in Southeast Asia was the Light Railway Transit (LRT) which was initiated under his term. Backed by the 14-month study funded by the World Bank, the initial phase of the train system within Metro Manila was built. The LRT 1 (now known as the Yellow Line) was finished in 1983.and covers the 15-kilometer Taft Avenue-Rizal Avenue route between Baclaran, Pasay City and the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City.
The Marcos government later appointed Electrowatt Engineering Services of Zurich, Switzerland to manage and supervise the light railway system. It was also responsible for the extension studies which eventually comprised 150 kilometers of lines along major cities in about 20 years’ time. This includes the EDSA route, the construction of which started on September 16, 1997 under the helm of former President Fidel Valdez Ramos. Dubbed as the Metro Rail Transit (MRT), the route was inaugurated in 1999 by President Joseph Estrada. The MRT covers the whole span of EDSA from North Avenue to Taft Avenue.
The LRT 2 (Purple Line), on the other hand, which transverses Pasig to Recto Avenue was inaugurated on April 5, 2003 by Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But not one of his successors acknowledged these were part of Marcos’ long term infrastructure blueprint.
During Marcos’ time, the Filipinos’ sense of patriotism was very strong. To inculcate a deep sense of nationalism, reciting Panatang Makabayan was required during flag ceremonies in schools. Stopping in respect for the flag whenever the national anthem was played seemed to come so naturally then.
He introduced the Philippine culture to the world by publishing books about the greatness and beauty of our nation, and encouraging the development of artists. He built the Nayong Pilipino park near the international airport and presented miniature settings of the different regions for local and foreign tourists to appreciate. He opened doors to the world and encouraged cultural exchange through the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Folk Arts Theater and the Philippine International Convention Center which still stand to this day. Even the idea of building these monumental structures in a reclamation area was way before his time. The Palm Islands of Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates is celebrated as the eighth wonder of the world but its concept is not so original. The Philippines already had the bay reclamation area 40 years ago where hotels, business hubs and the CCP Complex flourished. The latest to rise in this area is the Mall of Asia.
Long before former US Vice President Al Gore spearheaded the cause against global warming, Marcos already instilled the importance of caring for the environment through the Green Revolution. Part of the elementary school curriculum was backyard gardening. Students and their parents were also encouraged to plant vegetables in empty plots in the school and homes, making crops seeds readily available. Cities were clean because people were disciplined enough to manage their waste properly. Eye sores of litter and garbage piles along sidewalks were not a big headache of local governments.
Marcos was in tune with the basic needs of citizens. During the 70’s, street children and cariton homes were unheard of. The urban poor were cared for. Malacanang opened its doors on regular schedules to accommodate the needs of the least fortunate. Unlike today when local governments pull out informal settlers from the squatters areas in the city and move them to far-flung areas that deprive them of their daily livelihood or in subdivisions where there is so little or no water and electricity at all, Marcos then housed the displaced urban poor in pleasant and decent apartment buildings called BLISS right within the city proper. These buildings still exist to this date.
Education was so high in his priority list that literacy reached almost a hundred percent. Parents then were not burdened with buying new textbooks every school year because these could be passed on to other children.
Health was given prime importance. Public school children were kept from being malnourished with free nutribuns distributed everyday. Veggie meat made from soya was highly promoted. The government built highly specialized hospitals like the Philippine Heart Center, Philippine Lung Center and the National Kidney Institute.
Marcos knew that agriculture was the strength of his country and worked on it. Aggressive conversion of farm lots into residential and commercial areas was rare. During his first term alone, 3,739 hectares of lands in Central Luzon were distributed to the farmers under the Land Reform Program. The Masagana 99 project made the Philippines a frontliner in crop development. For the first time, we achieved self-sufficiency in rice since the American Period. The country even became a big exporter of rice in the world market. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Bańos, Laguna became the training center for agriculturists in Asia. It is just sad that 40 years after, Pres. Simeon Benigno Cojuanco Aquino III encouraged the local farmers to learn from the technology of Vietnam. He seemed to conveniently forget the fact that the Philippines was once the leader in rice development and Vietnam was just one of the Southeast Asian neighbors that benefited from it. In fact, the now famous Jasmine rice was once known as the local variety Milagrosa which was sown in the Philippines.
Marcos established the Kadiwa chains of stores all over the country to create a sure market for farmers’ produce. It also became a source of the families’ basic needs and groceries at affordable prices. Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo later came up with a poor replica with the Tindahan ni Gloria which merely sold poor quality rice, sardines and instant noodles.
He saw to it that consumers were not exploited. The government owned 40 percent of the stocks in Petron through the Philippine National Oil Company. Petron helped level the playing field in the oil market. He made sure that international players like Shell, Caltex and Mobil did not abuse the public by raising the prices of petroleum products. Lame excuses that the government was helpless with the dictates of the foreign market were not dished out since Petron acted as neutralizer. The Oil Price Stabilization Fund was also established as buffer to protect the riding and driving public from the burden of increasing oil prices.
Public utilities were under the care of the government to prevent capitalists from exploiting the public. It is just a pity that the leaders after Marcos got into the privatization fever and sold electricity and water distribution to private businessmen. Now the consumers are held hostage with price increases at the whim of the businessmen.
Life was so much better back then at least for the ordinary citizen. The common man felt what real progress was all about. The peso had so much value that minimum wage earners could actually raise their family decently. But ever since democracy was restored, claims of increased GDP only translated to the steady increase of the price of galunggong and other basic goods, food on the table of the working class dwindled, the increase of poverty in the countryside spilled over to urban squatter colonies and cariton homes in city streets.
It is just so ironic that with the downfall of the so-called dictatorship and the rebirth of democracy, the Philippines seemed to get worse with every change of administration. From being one of the top economies of Asia and leader in agriculture in the 70’s, we now top the list of the most corrupt and poorest countries. Too much freedom was given to the capitalists through privatization schemes which in turn, gave way to abuses of the consumers.
It is common knowledge that we should learn from history but because Marcos was labeled as a traitor and a bully, none of the succeeding presidents and politicians ever dared to publicly acknowledge his legacy out of shame or fear of losing popular votes. None of the present leaders seem to be humble enough to follow his good examples. Rather they choose to lead people further into ignorance and poverty. Now isn’t that a more cruel version of tyranny?
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