The head of Caritas Philippines, the Catholic Church’s social action arm, on Thursday, September 22, said there is no moving on from the issue of martial law without justice and accountability.
“They say we should move on as it has been 50 years since the imposition of martial law, but there can be no moving on when there is no justice and accountability,” said Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, national director of Caritas Philippines.
The prelate was reacting to calls from two senators to “move on” from martial law atrocities during the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Bishop Bagaforo said that forgetting human rights abuses and massive corruption during that time is not an option.
The bishop criticized “efforts” to change martial law history “by the desire to erase the tragedies of the past.” He said records show a pattern of “widespread social injustice” to favor the Marcos family and their cronies.
Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Robin Padilla on Wednesday called on Filipinos to “move on” from the martial law issue as the nation remembers the 50th anniversary of its declaration.
Caritas Philippines has earlier joined calls “to never again let the powers that be control the narratives of the Filipino people.”
Bishop Bagaforo urged Filipinos to defend the truth, fight misinformation, and disinformation by supporting legitimate sources of information.
He urged the people to continue to demand “accountability and transparency from government officials, especially those who hold greater positions of power.”
Cardinal Jose Advincula, archbishop of Manila, on Wednesday, September 21, reminded Filipinos not to forget the lessons of martial law.
“May we not forget the lessons of martial law. We already saw the light. Let us not go back to the darkness,” said the cardinal in a message.
Amnesty International estimates thousands of people were killed and tens of thousands tortured and imprisoned after Ferdinand Marcos Sr. imposed martial law on September 21, 1972, unleashing security forces on rivals, critics and dissidents.
“It has been 50 years since martial law was declared in our country. It cannot be denied that it signaled a stormy chapter in our history as a nation,” said Cardinal Advincula.
“In the middle of darkness, we saw light. In the face of the bad things that happened, we learned lessons,” he added.
“We learned to value human life, to promote the dignity of each one, and to respect human rights,” said the prelate.
“We learned that genuine development is based on justice and peace. We learned to fight for the truth,” said Cardinal Advincula.
“We learned the value of democracy and the power of the people,” he said.
“But we will never learn these valuable lessons if we insist to refuse to acknowledge or forget the darkness of history,” said the cardinal.
Activists vow to remember
Activists also vowed on Wednesday to “never forget” the human rights abuses under Marcos, whose son, Marcos Jr. is now the country’s president.
“The Marcoses need to at least acknowledge their role in those dark days,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher for Human Rights Watch, as activists and victims of rights abuses marked the 50th anniversary of the start of martial law with protests.
“Without truth-telling, without the space for Filipinos to understand and accept what happened during martial law, we can never find closure, we can never move forward.”
Half a century after the martial law began, 11,103 people have been officially recognized as victims of torture, killings, enforced disappearances and other abuses.
They have been compensated with some of the wealth, estimated to be in the billions of dollars, stolen by Marcos and his wife Imelda.
But human rights groups say there has never been a true reckoning of the abuses — or those responsible held to account.
Marcos was toppled from power by a bloodless “people power” revolt in 1986 and the family was chased into exile.
After the patriarch’s death in 1989, they returned to the Philippines and began a remarkable political comeback that culminated with Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s victory in the May 9 presidential election.
‘One of the darkest periods’
His landslide win was helped by a massive online misinformation campaign that portrayed the Marcos clan in a positive light and whitewashed abuses and corruption during the dictatorship.
Martial law victims and activists have described the Marcos regime as “one of the darkest periods” in the country’s history.
They accuse Marcos Jr. and his supporters of distorting the facts about martial law and falsely portraying it as a “golden age” for the Philippines.
“There are young Filipinos who are interested in learning what really happened in spite of many others who were really blinded,” said former political prisoner Bonnie Ilagan, who spent two years in jail where he was repeatedly tortured.
“The fight continues. We must never forget.”
Ilagan and others accused Marcos’s allies in Congress of slashing budgets and weakening the government agencies responsible for preserving the nation’s past.
Marcos Jr, who has repeatedly praised his father’s rule, last week defended martial law as “necessary” to protect the country against communist and Muslim insurgencies.
“We do recognize the problems that happened, the abuses that occurred like in any war,” Marcos Jr said.
But he said critics were “wrong” to call his father a “dictator”.
“There’s no reason to revise history,” he said, while suggesting school textbooks need to be rewritten “only if they’re wrong”.
Cristina Palabay of the Karapatan human rights alliance accused Marcos Jr and his administration of peddling “one lie after another”.
“There needs to be institutionalized acknowledgement and great reckoning on the crimes committed by Marcos and his ilk,” she said. – with a report from CBCP News and Agence from Presse