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Shortness of human memory greatest threat to freedom

"Some of the cases decided by the Supreme Court guided me in understanding the nature of martial law."

The greatest threat to freedom is the shortness of human memory.

Thus said former Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee in the case of Olaguer vs Military Commission (G.R. No. L-54558 May 22, 1987) as he gave recognition to “the unforgettable and noble sacrifices of the countless brave and patriotic men and women who fell as martyrs and victims during the long dark years of the deposed regime.”

Chief Justice Teehankee stressed that “draconian decrees were issued whereby many were locked up indefinitely.”



“While the people for the most part suffered in silence and waited, others never gave up the struggle for truth, freedom, justice and democracy, a common commitment which is what makes a people a nation instead of a gathering of self-seeking individuals.”

I was 15 years old and was about to finish high school when I accompanied my relatives to participate in the momentous four days of February 1986 now called the “People Power Revolution.”

Although I was at EDSA at that time, I admit that I did not have a full grasp of the reason why millions of Filipinos on the main highway in Metro Manila, and also in cities all over the country.

Some of the cases decided by the Supreme Court guided me in understanding the nature of martial law.

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In Dizon vs Eduardo (G.R. No. L-59118 March 3, 1988), the Court noted that “the martial law imposed in September 1972 by Marcos destroyed in one fell swoop the Philippines’ 75 years of stable democratic traditions and established reputation as the showcase of democracy in Asia.”

Confetti rains at the People Power monument in the Philippine capital Manila on February 25, 2022, as the country celebrates the 36th anniversary of the People Power revolution that toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

In Lansang vs Garcia (G.R. No. L-33964 December 11, 1971), the Court pointed out that “the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus affects xxx the right of every single member of our citizenry to freely discuss and dissent from, as well as criticize and denounce, the views, the policies and the practices of the government and the party in power that he deems unwise, improper or inimical to the commonwealth, regardless of whether his own opinion is objectively correct or not.”

In Aberca vs. Ver (G.R. No. L-69866 April 15, 1988), the Court said that “the duty to prevent or suppress lawless violence, insurrection, rebellion and subversion xxx cannot be construed as a blanket license or a roving commission untramelled by any constitutional restraint, to disregard or transgress upon the rights and liberties of the individual citizen enshrined in and protected by the Constitution.”

The Court further stressed in Brocka vs Enrile (G.R. No. 69863-65, December 10, 1990) that “this should not be a license to run roughshod over a citizen’s basic constitutional lights, such as due process, or manipulate the law to suit dictatorial tendencies. xxx Constitutional rights must be upheld at all costs, for this gesture is the true sign of democracy. These may not be set aside to satisfy perceived illusory visions of national grandeur.”

At least 9,000 victims of human rights violations were monitored by the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) from 1969 to 1986.

The Guinness World Records gave the late dictator a title for the “Greatest Robbery of a Government” citing US$860.8 million worth of assets, such as Swiss bank deposits, shares of stocks and real estate, sale of surrendered properties and assets and paintings and pieces of jewelry from the Marcoses and cronies.

In Marcos vs Manglapus, (G.R. No. 88211 September 15, 1989), the Court said that “nor are the woes of the Republic purely political. The accumulated foreign debt and the plunder of the nation attributed to Mr. Marcos and his cronies left the economy devastated xxx We cannot ignore the continually increasing burden imposed on the economy by the excessive foreign borrowing during the Marcos regime, which stifles and stagnates development and is one of the root causes of widespread poverty and all its attendant ills.”

A protester holds a placard during a demonstration to dramatize calls against alleged continuing human rights abuses on February 25, 2022, on the occasion of the 36th anniversary of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolt that toppled the Marcos dictatorship. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

In his concurring opinion in said case, former Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan said that “the ouster of the Marcoses from the Philippines came about as an unexpected, but certainly welcomed, result of the unprecedented peoples power revolution.”

Chief Justice Fernan stressed that “millions of our people braved military tanks and firepower, kept vigil, prayed, and in countless manner and ways contributed time, effort and money to put an end to an evidently untenable claim to power of a dictator.”

He added that “the removal of the Marcoses from the Philippines was a moral victory for the Filipino people; and the installation of the present administration, a realization of and obedience to the people’s Will.”

(Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786)

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