September 21, 2015

Why can we not forget martial law, 43 years after it was imposed by then President Ferdinand Marcos on September 21, 1972? On that day, the entire Filipino people woke up with all radio and TV stations closed down. No newspapers on the news stands. No march protests on the streets. In the evening, Marcos appeared on TV declaring the entire nation under Martial Law. Days, weeks, months and years later, tens of thousands were arrested, tortured and incarcerated – either en masse or in solitary confinement. Women detainees were raped. Thousands were murdered and thousands went missing.

Marcos and the AFP appropriated for themselves extra-legal and arbitrary powers, as the Senate and House of Representatives were dissolved.

Among the first victims were Igorot student activists who were studying in Manila and Baguio City. And village hamletting this early included Hapao, Ifugao. In the succeeding years, many more villagers in the Cordillera interior were subjected to various forms of brutality. The Presidential Guard Batallion (PGB) accompanied the forced implementation of the World Bank-funded 4 hydropower mega-dams along the Chico River and the logging project of Marco’s crony Herminio Disini covering more than 200,000 hectares of pine forest. These destructive projects and accompanying militarization were met with stiff resistance from affected villages. The martial law regime responded with the arrest in Tanglag, Kalinga of two hundred men, women and children and detained them in Camp Olivas, Pampanga. Among them was Ama Daniel Ngayaan, a peacepact holder and retired teacher. In Besao, Mountain Province, Peter Pas-iwen was murdered by soldiers because of his opposition over the logging project and the military detachment in their village. Elsewhere in Beew, Tubo, Abra, the massacre of the family of a pregnant woman forced several communities to evacuate to Sagada and Besao. Villagers of two communities never returned up to the present. Fathers and grandfathers were beaten and tortured in front of terrified children and their village mates.

Martial Law was the darkest years of Philippines history after World War II, and it remains to be so, until this day.

A brief reprieve was experienced shortly after Marcos was ousted in 1986. What followed after the touted EDSA revolution was the beginning of a “creeping martial law.” State atrocities re-emerged in the entire nation. In the Cordillera, the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA), a break-away group from the New People’s Army, spread terrorism and wrought havoc against the Cordillera mass movement. The CPLA murdered mass leaders- activists and suspected NPA members, destroyed people’s socio- economic projects like a cooperative and a water – powered rice pounder. Ama Daniel Ngayaan was abducted on October 5, 1987 and killed with his remains not located up to this day. This was followed by the murder of Romy Gardo in December 1987. Ama Ngayaan was Chairperson of the Cordillera Bodong Association (CBA) and Vice Chairperson of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). Romy Gardo was Abra Provincial Coordinator of the CPA. Both crimes were publicly and arrogantly claimed by the CPLA as their own doing. Robert Estimada and Ferdie Bragas, staff of the Development Agency of Tribes in the Cordillera (DATC) were murdered also by the CPLA in Bontoc, Mountain Province in July 1988. Yet President Corazon Aquino did nothing to have the perpetrators prosecuted and instead coddled the CPLA and gave them political, military and financial support and free reign to lord over the political affairs in the Cordillera while serving as counter-insurgency force. This complicity by Corazon Aquino on the terrorism inflicted among the Cordillera people will never be forgotten. During the reign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, CPLA members were integrated with the AFP. Instead of totally disbanding the CPLA, Benigno Aquino further strengthened the group by granting them economic power through allocating millions from his Development Acceleration Program fund for socio-economic projects.

Another staff of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Chris Batan, was murdered by elements of the Citizens Auxiliary Force Geographic Unit (CAFGU) in Betwagan, Sadanga in 1993 under the presidency of Fidel Ramos. The primary target of the killing was Fr. Eduardo Solang, an Anglican minister and leader of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. The team was en route to Betwagan to document martial victims when they were ambushed.

Militarization of the region and the attendant facism intensified as mineral, energy and other natural resources were being exploited for private profit. Military detachments have become permanent structures in the communities, supported by military combat operations. Social services such as medical and dental missions, construction of schools and other infrastructures are being militarized, as these civilian functions are channeled through the AFP as part of counter insurgency .

Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearance of activists resurged during the reign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Among the extrajudicial killings were Romy Sanchez, Pepe Manegdeg, Albert Terredano, Alice Omengan-Claver and Rafael Bangit. All were affiliated with various militant organizations such as the CPA, Bayan and the partylist Bayan Muna. CPA leader James Balao went missing on September 17, 2008 and has not been found to this day.

Extra-judicial killings under Benigno Aquino claimed the life of human rights activist William Bugatti in Ifugao in March 2014 and 3 members of the Ligiw family in Abra in February of the same year. In the AFP combat operation in Lacub, Abra in September 2014, Noel Viste was killed as he and 24 other civilians were forcibly used as human shields by the AFP. In the same incident, Engr. Delle Salvador, a project evaluator of the Cordillera Disaster Response and Development Services was also killed. Also in the same AFP combat operation, wounded and captured NPA combatants were willfully killed, their bodies desecrated in violation of international humanitarian law. Earlier, in 2011, two elderly men died in the course of military operation in Liwon, Ifugao, one died of gunshot wounds and the other suffered from heart attack.

In the spirit of acknowledging the victims of martial law, the Makabayan party list bloc initiated a bill and approved by Congress that allocated 10 billion pesos from the recovered ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses for indemnification of the victims. But with the stringent process and requirements under a questionable Board led by a police general, thousands of martial law victims were not able to file claims. Only around 800 claims were filed in the Cordillera region. Around 70,000 were filed nation-wide.

Plunder and corruption was made legal under the pork barrel system fully harnessed for patronage politics by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Such plunder and corruption of government funds worsened under Benigno Aquino with the development acceleration program (DAP) projected as transparency and finance management ingenuity. Without Congressional oversight, Aquino has control of and orchestrates his development acceleration fund which he uses as incentives to supporters of his crooked “tuwid na daan.”

With all the horror of martial law resurging despite the downfall of its architect, why can we not forget September 21, 1972?

Because justice for the victims has not been attained. Yet, families of perpetrators arrogantly dominate in the political affairs of the country. Plunder and corruption, impunity and state facism remain a reality.

We can not forget martial law because hundreds of survivors of martial law persevered in the struggle to end dictatorial rule.

Today, we commemorate the martyrdom of those who were murdered and those forcibly went missing. We commemorate the heroism of those detained, tortured, raped, brutalized, dehumanized. We commemorate the courage of those who defied martial law and their shining example in the arduous struggle for self-determination for the Cordillera peoples and the liberation of the Filipino masses.

With feist and fervor, fight state facism!
Never again to martial law! #