Martial Law commemoration activities push through despite pandemic

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) – No pandemic has stopped those who want to remember the historical ramifications of Martial Law which was declared by then-President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972.

From free documentary film screenings, protests, and a forum with Martial Law survivors and renowned filmmakers, organizers took to the internet and video conferencing to remind Filipinos about what happened during a tumultuous time in Philippine history.

A forum entitled Reality Check: Martial Law, Never Again was held on the same day of the first wave of documentary showings of the Daang Dokyu documentary film festival last September 19.

Among the panelists were De La Salle University School of Law Dean Atty. Chel Diokno, Film Directors Joel Lamangan and Kiri Dalena, and Miguel Reyes of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. Joining them was veteran broadcast journalist Ed Lingao, who acted as moderator.

During the discussion, Diokno, Lamangan, and Dalena shared stories of their lives under Martial Law.

For Diokno – the son of famed human rights lawyer and statesman Sen. Jose “Ka Pepe” Diokno, the whole experience of seeing his father – who was one of Marcos’ staunchest critics - jailed for no reason was traumatic.

Diokno recounted how he and his family were only given half an hour to see his father in detention in Nueva Ecija for the first time.

“It was really traumatic for us because when we were allowed to see him, we could not even touch him. There were two layers of barbed wire between us and he had lost a lot of weight because ang nangyari pala sa kanila is inilagay sila sa incomunicado detention (what happened to them was that they were placed under incomunicado detention),” Diokno said.

Ka Pepe founded the Free Legal Assistance Group or FLAG in 1974 alongside two other Philippine legal titans – Lorenzo Tanada and Joker Arroyo. His son Chel, is now FLAG’s chair. The organization focuses on human rights cases, but also handled cases from various sectors of society.

Both Lamangan and Dalena, meanwhile, were exposed to Martial Law at an early age.

Lamangan was arrested twice – in 1973 and 1977 – for allegedly being part of subversive organizations.

“Batang-bata pa ho ako nung ako’y hulihin at ikarsera nila ng dalawang taon sa pagbibintang na ako’y KAGUMA – (Kapisanan ng Gurong Makabayan),” Lamangan says. “Kaga-graduate ko lang ng high school”, he says, adding that both instances also saw him as a torture victim.

[Translation: I was young when they arrested and incarcerated me for two years under the charge that I was part of KAGUMA. I just graduated from high school (in 1973).”]

Lamangan has moved on to becoming an award-winning filmmaker, and is now part of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines and the Directors’ Guild of the Philippines.

Dalena, meanwhile, recalled their house being a refuge seeking for those who wanted protection from the authorities.

“Yung mga magulang ko, ang memory ko ay sila yung mga tagapag-tago ng mga aktibista na tinutugis ng militar kaya lumaki kami na may mga kabataang hindi pinapakilala sa amin,” Dalena said.

[Translation: I remember my parents used to hide activists being chased down by the military, and so we grew up with children whose names we do not know.]

Dalena was born in 1975 – three years after Martial Law. Today, she is a social activist and renowned for her artistic photographic prints titled Erased Slogans which saw how the Marcos dictatorship suppressed its opposition. By digitally removing the text in the placards, Dalena sought to encapsulate the magnitude of the dictatorship’s attempts to stifle dissent.

One of Dalena’s films, Alunsina – which was done only this year - is part of Daang Dokyu’s first bloc of films. Alunsina depicts the struggles of children and families in an urban community gravely affected by the current administration’s war against drugs.

Among the other documentaries shown in Daang Dokyu’s first wave are:

• Marcos: A Malignant Spirit (1988), which contained rare footage of the excesses of the Marcos family and recorded conversations between Marcos and his then-aides, produced by ABS-CBN News and anchored by the late veteran broadcast journalist Angelo Castro, Jr.

• Mendiola Massacre (1987), a newsreel of the Mendiola Massacre which happened in 1987 and was produced by Lito Tiongson, AsiaVisions, and the IBON Foundation

• Imelda (2003), a documentary produced by Ramona Diaz which sees Imelda Marcos herself talking about her own life story from the 50s and the post-Martial Law and post-EDSA eras

• A Rustling of Leaves (1988), a documentary produced by Canadian filmmaker Nettie Wild which documents the post-EDSA security situation and the threats from both the left and the radical right. The film finally premiered in the Philippines after 32 years.

Daang Dokyu organizers say the films have garnered over 10,000 views in just 24 hours. It will remain available until Monday midnight through their website. 

Meanwhile, Migrante International launched an online protest action via Zoom to denounce what it calls similarities between Marcos and and current President Rodrigo Duterte.

Dubbed the Global Online Rally: 48th Anniversary of the Martial Law Declaration, members of the organization took to teleconferencing to denounce both the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, as well as what the organization calls “fascist conditions” of the community lockdown combined with the Anti-Terrorism Law, the War on Drugs, and other concerns.

Arman Hernando, Migrante Philippines head, called on the public to stop the proposed bill which would celebrate Marcos’ birthday as a holiday in the former dictator’s bailiwick of Ilocos Norte.

“Gusto po naming ipabatid at dalhin sa OFWs, kanilang pamilya at buong sambayanang Pilipino ang malaking hamon para tutulan at itakwil ang historical revisionism – ang pagrerebisa sa madugong record ni Marcos at ng pamilya niya,” Hernando said.

[Translation: We would like to inform and bring to the attention of OFWs, their families, and the whole Filipino nation to oppose and reject historical revisionism, particularly the revisions to erase the bloody record of Marcos and his family.]

Participants came from countries such as the United States, and Canada, as well as some European countries. They held noise barrages and cultural performances during the 90-minute online protest, which happened early Sunday afternoon.

Duterte's "de facto" martial law?

In a separate release on Sept. 21, human rights group Karapatan criticized the Duterte administration's response to the health crisis, saying it "altogether discarded the people’s welfare in favor of exploiting the pandemic to further establish what can only be described as a de facto martial law."

The group cited Duterte's various appointments of retired generals "with bloody track records of human rights violations" along with the deployment of military and police forces in the enforcement of quarantine policies.

On the same date, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque countered these remarks during his virtual briefing, saying today's context differs signficantly from martial rule then, which was in place as he grew up.

"Dati-rati po, naisasara ang Kongreso, naisasara ang Supreme Court," he explained. "Ngayon po, wala nang ganyang kapangyarihan ang Presidente."

[Translation: Before, Congress and Supreme Court can be shut down (by the President.) Nowadays, the President doesn't have such power anymore.]

"Ang deklarasyon ng martial law ngayon, pupwedeng kwestyunin sa Kongreso, pupwedeng kwestyunin sa hukuman dahil nga po natuto na tayo sa mapait na karanasan natin sa Martial Law nung 1972," Roque added.

[Translation: If martial law was declared at present, the Congress and the court can question it because we have already learned from our bitter experiences in Martial Law in 1972.]

Marcos signed Proclamation no. 1081, placing the entire Philippines under Martial Law on September 21, 1972. This began a period of authoritarian rule which lasted for 14 years.

While Marcos lifted the state of Martial Law in 1981, he retained dictatorial powers until he was ousted from office in 1986 after the People Power Revolution.