“HOW MANY MORE MUST DIE?” cried the sign in bold, blood red. Done in all caps with a meticulous, evidently professional touch, the letters filled up the entire breadth of the left concrete side walling of the Dimasalang Bridge in Sampaloc, Manila, going north.
To those conscious of the times, the message imparted a deep-set frustration at the apparent apathy of a people abetting by their indifference the heightening of state fascism.
A student gets his skull cracked by a pillbox bomb lobbed from the rooftop of the Feati University. A woman’s breast is smashed by an armalite slug that sends her slamming to the grass dead, while throngs of May Day rallyists scamper in all directions across the Intramuros sunken garden to escape the indiscriminate firing of M-16 rifles by state snipers from the Congress building. A labor leader is peppered with so many .45 bullets in a Caloocan City strike riot that one slug got embedded in his thumb. If a bullet could hit his finger, all the more could it pierce his heart.
And yet, though killings took place elsewhere in the archipelago – in Mindanao, in the Cordilleras, in Central Luzon – they were not to be taken as anything else than pragmatic consequences of the political temper of the times. That was a period of social upheaval, of a breakdown in law and order, when youth activists would tear down, for instance, traffic barriers, or shatter with pillbox bombs glass windows of downtown commercial shops.
That was the period immediately leading to the declaration of Martial Law in September 1972.
Marcos, invoking his duties and powers under the Constitution in addressing “lawless violence” proclaimed Martial Law in order to, stated in his own words, “save the republic and reform society.”
Duterte is faced with nothing even remotely similar to the situation in September 1972.
On the issue of “rebellion or imminent threat thereof,” for instance, he has called a truce with the CPP/NPA/NDF triad – whose remnants, incidentally, have been so trivialized as to fit, according to Bobi Tiglao, “into a European compact car,” – with which he is presently engaged in “peace talks.” And on the matter of invasion, the perceived Chinese attack arising from the conflict between the United States and China over the South China Sea is more of a figment of the imagination than anything else.
I had just gone to Shanghai, talked to some business leaders there who all told me that the South China Sea crisis does not impact business at all. Big business in the city (that is, “city” by perception of outsiders, because locals call Shanghai a “municipality”) is uniformly into five-year development plans for maintaining the metropolis as the largest economic center of China. That is a clear indication that China, insofar as the South China Sea conflict is concerned, is not about ready to launch an invasion or some such of anybody.
Lawless violence, rebellion and invasion or imminent threat thereof are constitutionally-mandated grounds for declaring martial law.
If you check the number of claimants approved by the Commission on Human Rights over the award from the Marcos estate to victims of Martial Law violations of human rights, you will find a number of 1,500 or thereabouts. That is only half of the running total of victims in the current Duterte killing spree, which by the latest figure is 3,800. But those 1,500 comprise violations of human rights throughout the entire period of the Marcos dictatorship, which counts more than a decade, whereas Duterte’s 3,800 got killed all in a matter of just two, months more or less.
That’s why I’ve said in one of my past columns, and I say it again now, Duterte’s regime is worse than Martial Law.
But here we are, a nation seemingly unperturbed, going about our day-to-day activities as if everything’s alright.
Save for a few keen observers, nobody raises alarm whatsoever at the peso, for instance, having dropped to over 48 to a dollar, or the Philippine Stock Exchange registering a horrible omen of capital plight. As a general rule, a country’s economy perks up when there is maximum assurance of its law and order. But with Duterte, in his drugs crackdown, even exhorting the people to take the law into their own hands, investors both inside and outside the country are wary about putting their money into the Philippine economy. Data from the PSE shows that on the benchmark index, net foreign investments have fallen drastically. This is a scenario reminiscent of the financial crisis the country faced after the alleged assassination (“alleged”, because it could be a masterfully-scripted suicide) of Ninoy Aquino in 1983. As there appears to be no letup in Duterte’s killings as a policy of governance, a policy carried out without any heed whatsoever to overwhelming international opposition – even brought all the way to the hallowed halls of the United Nations there to be promoted in supreme candor as one that merited no world interference – Philippine economic meltdown as a consequence can take place earlier than we think.
To the people, therefore, must the question be addressed – as the Kabataang Makabayan (KM) addressed it to the masses in desperation for means to avert Martial Law in 1972 – now: HOW MANY MORE MUST DIE?
Three thousand eight hundred killed so far – in just a span of two months – that number is more than twice the recorded victims of Martial Law atrocities, and still the count continues. Blood is spilling all over. And it is no longer just from alleged illegal drug users and drug pushers but also from other sectors of the impoverished masses.
As of this writing, SENTRO (Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa), together with NAGKAKAISA (SOLIDARITY), a coalition of 47 labor federations and workers unions, has issued a statement lamenting the killing onSeptember 23 of 64-year old Edilberto Miralles, former president of the union at R&E Taxi transport service, who was gunned down by riding-in-tandem gunmen right in front of the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) in Quezon City. SENTRO lists Miralles as the seventh victim of extrajudicial killing on the workers front for September alone. Before him Emerenciana Mercado de la Cruz, Violeta Mercado de Leon, Eligio Barbado and Gaudencio Bagalay were shot dead at the start of the month by gunmen dropped by a helicopter inside Fort Magsaysay in Laur, Nueva Ecija, where they were members of the Alyansa ng mga Mamamayang Nagkakaisa, an organization of farm workers tilling a large portion of the military reserve.
On September 7, farm workers leader, Ariel Diaz, chairperson of the Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Isabela, was shot to death by three gunmen in his Villa Pereda farm in Delfin Albano town, Isabela. And on September 17, Orlando Abangan, a labor organizer of Partido Manggagawa in Cebu and a vocal critic of the Duterte drugs war, was gunned down in exactly the same manner as the thousands of supposed junkies and drug pushers had been done in.
History teaches us that great social upheavals can result from otherwise minor incidents. The 1817 October Revolution in Russia, which finally toppled the Romanov Dynasty and gave birth to socialist Russia, began with a simple demand of the people for bread. Much earlier, the French Revolution was a full-blown escalation of what was actually a localized riot of the prisoners of the Bastille.
But, as in the good old Chinese adage, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.” How many more must die? Duterte has shed much too much blood the consequences of which he may soon have to face.