Martial law then and now

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FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC

It was the first time since World War II when the people of the Philippines suffered harsh jackboot oppression and wanton plunder. President Ferdinand Marcos, at the end of his term in 1972, declared nationwide martial law and abolished congress. The sovereign rights of the people were swept away and Marcos declared himself an absolute ruler with legislative powers to rule by decree. Tyranny had arrived.

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Thousands of opposition leaders, party members, journalists and outspoken critics of the corruption of Marcos’ previous years in office were rounded up and executed or jailed. Others fled abroad. Many young idealists and freedom-loving youth fled to the mountains. There they formed a resistance movement called the New People’s Army based on communist ideology. It continues as a force to this day. Many innocent young people were summarily executed.

I remember in Sta. Rita Parish, Olongapo City, a 16-year-old drug suspect who escaped from a local jail was found by police hiding in a hillside shack. They urged him to surrender. He came out and in front of the neighbors, was ordered to kneel down and the police shot him in the head. It was a horrific execution of an innocent boy. Like the murders of youth today in the war on drugs, no evidence was needed. Just a bullet to the head or a dagger plunged into the heart by the police, serial killers, and psychopaths high on drugs and crazed with power and impunity. That’s how it was then. That’s how it is now.

The brutal Marcos regime, responsible for an estimated 20,000 murders, backed up by the Army and Police Constabulary led by General Fidel Ramos plundered the nation. Marcos and his family are allegedly responsible for billions of dollars and tons of gold plundered from the national treasury and private businesses and stashed abroad. Only a fraction has been recovered to this day.

The private businesses of the opposition and critics were confiscated and the owners killed or driven into exile. Their properties were taken over by Marcos cronies from whom he received a percentage. Death squads spread over the nation, bodies were found on roadsides, tortured and killed. Militias went wild and vented a reign of terror on church people, priests and pastors. Church workers were killed and the slogan of the campaign to persecute the church was “Be a patriot and kill a priest.” It was a time of state terror and treason.

Priests were framed up with the murder of a mayor in Negros. The famous Negros Nine — three priests and six church workers – were put on trial for a crime they did not commit.

Marcos also had a war on drugs. He cracked down on pushers and distributors and jailed thousands of young drug users and dependents. He executed in public an accused Chinese drug dealer. No evidence or proof was needed to establish his guilt. That caused a worldwide sensation. The oppression and jailing, torture and killing of critics without trial was a brutal legacy that brought much suffering to the Filipino people. It is being imitated today.

Sex tourism was allowed to proliferate under the regime and foreign pedophiles were everywhere, a source of foreign revenue that Marcos was desperate for to prop up a faltering economy. There was the case of Rosario Baluyot, a young girl sexually abused by a suspected US serviceman. She died a horrific painful death in the inadequate and discrepant Olongapo General Hospital. A broken part of a sex toy was found in her body causing severe infection from which there was no cure.

A pansy tourist was found, arrested, charged and found guilty, a cover for the US Naval Base at Subic Bay. His conviction protected the US Navy from accusations of the rampant sex abuse of poor Filipino women and children in the only industry in the city — “sex for sale.”

When a child sex ring, composed of US Navy men abusing children as young as nine years old was uncovered by Preda social workers, the regime tried to close down the child care center and deport the founder. This was the legacy too of martial law, a spreading sex industry turning Filipino women and children into prostitutes for foreign customers. There was a total dependency on the US, which supplied the martial law police and army the weapons used to suppress the Filipino people. It was soon after the People Power Revolution drove Marcos from power that the Preda campaign to remove the bases and convert the infrastructure into an economic zone became a coalition of the willing and was a resounding success.

This legacy of Marcos remains today despite every effort by his rich family members to clean up his image with a burial in the cemetery for heroes, the declaration by President Duterte of a holiday to celebrate the birthday of Marcos and the failed effort of his son Bongbong Marcos to get elected as vice president.

Today, those who idolize Marcos are repeating history and his March of Madness and imitating the worst killing spree and atrocities of the Martial Law regime. We have martial law today in Mindanao, maybe soon, the entire country. The voice of reason crying out for justice and an end to the killing must grow louder and more persistent until peace and justice come to be.

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