IT is wrong to deny the existence of the innocent casualties of martial law.
But it is equally wrong to treat as innocent victims those who by choice took up arms and embraced the communist ideology. They are rebels with a cause, and are in fact freedom fighters. To label them innocent victims is to insult the virtue and the power of their politics.
These were young students who saw hope in the leftist ideology, urban workers who were politicized by the exploitative working conditions that their capitalist masters inflicted on them, and rural peasants who were in search of liberation from bondage by their oppressive landlords. Their politics is one driven by a revolutionary struggle, and one that they deliberately chose.
However, theirs are only some of the many political narratives that populated the Marcos years.
There is also the narrative of the state, as an institution that has a right to protect itself from any threat, and in fact has the monopoly of the legitimate use of political violence, only restrained by its commitment to civilized rules of engagement. The burden was for the state to justify its use of violence in accordance with the law. Declaring martial law suspends some rights, but it does not give the state the freedom to kill without justification. Even in war there are rules.
Indeed, many people died during martial law.
But it is totally wrong to label all of these as genocide, or as unwarranted executions. It is irresponsible to ignore our duty to inquire into these deaths and arrange them into a kind of taxonomy that will do justice not only to the human participants who suffered, but more importantly to history itself.
It is important to know how many died in the political war, and how many innocent civilians ended as collateral casualties. How many died in the custody of state agents, and in what ways did they die? Were they tortured? Any arrest of a dissident involved in armed rebellion could not be considered as an automatic human rights violation.
There is a need to diligently account for every death, pain and suffering during martial law, if only to give us an accurate picture of how much of it was done in the context of legitimate political warfare between the state and the CPP-NPA-NDF, and how much of it was done in excess of such and were blatant forms of unwarranted political violence.
It is too simplistic to give a blanket label to all these deaths as unwarranted atrocities. The death of an unarmed civilian mistaken to be a communist sympathizer is different from the death of a communist guerrilla who died while engaging military forces. The death of a captured sympathizer who resisted arrest and was involved in a gunfight with his captors should be distinguished from someone who was tortured and executed by paramilitary or government forces while in custody.
The pain and suffering of students who chose to take up arms should not be dismissed as insignificant. But these should not be seen in the same way we see the pain and suffering of their families who were even harassed by agents of the state as a consequence of their choices.
The narratives of pain and suffering during the period of martial law are so complex that it is total historical irresponsibility to lump all of these as exhibits for the evil which was conveniently simplified as a Marcos monopoly.
The greatest sin that we can ever inflict on future generations is to allow a history blinded by hate to continue to be painted according to the lens of one group of people whose experiences of pain and suffering remain legitimate, but are in fact not the only narratives that need to be told. It is even fundamentally wrong to allow them to hijack history as if it is their franchise, more so if such is done to enable the political power of particular elites.
Professor Ambeth Ocampo, a noted historian, has virtually thrown a challenge to all of us, when he revealed the state of mind of Ninoy Aquino who, according to declassified US documents, insinuated some level of support for Marcos’ decision to declare martial law. Even more interesting, Ocampo also revealed how Ninoy even had the musings of a dictator himself, when he intimated that if he were President, he would execute all corrupt officials.
It is narratives like these that force us to treat historical revisionism not as a revolting endeavor, but in fact as the preferred mode for researching and writing history. It is in being ready to objectively inquire into Ninoy and Marcos, and martial law, that we will be fair to our history.
A history that is blinded by hate will prevent us from having a total grasp of the complex events in our past. Consequently, it will constrain the healing of our nation’s wounds and allow the self-interest of political elites to profit from it.