In the Philippines, martial law victims fear their stories will be erased under ‘Bongbong’ Marcos

Hong Kong

Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jnr. There was an uncomfortable sense of deja vu for some elderly Filipinos who met US President Joe Biden in New York last week.

But it was not so much a visit 40 years after Marcos’s father and president of the same name, Ronald Reagan, welcomed him to Washington.

50 years have also come – almost to this day – Marcos Snr. he placed his country under martial law, beginning a notorious 14-year period in which thousands of people were killed, tortured and imprisoned.

Mr. Marcos He went on a six-day charm offensive, attending the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly World Bank and business groups, thousands gathered in the Southeast Asian island nation to remember the victims of her father’s care. Exhibitions, documentary screenings and seminars were held to tell the stories of the abuses that took place after the imposition of martial law on September 21, 1972, and two days later they were released to the public.

Their main hope was to ensure that these atrocities would never be forgotten or repeated, but many of them fear that Marcos Jnr.’s ascent to the world stage is just one more step in restoring the family name, and not just crimes. that his dictator father has been swept under the carpet, but that recent abuses are also being ignored.

History teacher and human rights activist Loretta Ann Rosales remembers being tortured by the police and the military during martial law.

He was arrested twice in the 1970s for participating in street protests after some of his students reported to the authorities that he had criticized Marcos Snr’s regime.

Human rights activist Loretta Ann Rosales is behind the military photo taken when she was arrested in 1976.

Her captors poured burning candle wax over her arms to partially suffocate her with a belt and waterboarded her for hours.

In his worst experience, the torturers mangled his body by cutting wires on his arms and legs and giving him electric shocks.

Now, at the age of 83, she considers herself lucky to have survived, and has dedicated her life to human rights activism and to preventing such atrocities from happening again.

The Philippines has officially acknowledged that 11,103 people were tortured and ill-treated during martial law. Between 1972 and 1986 there were also 2,326 murders and disappearances, before Marcos Snr. they were thrown in a popular uprising. They are commemorated by the government-funded Commission for the Remembrance of Victims of Human Rights Violations.

But the actual number of victims may be much higher. According to Amnesty International, at least 50,000 people were arrested and detained under martial law between 1972 and 1975 alone, including church workers, human rights activists, legal aid lawyers, labor leaders and journalists.

What Rosales and other survivors fear is that the lessons of that time are in danger of being forgotten.

Marcos Jr., who was democratically elected in May by a landslide, has defended his father and refused to apologize for his actions. He has said that it is wrong to call his father a dictator and, during the presidential campaign, he praised Marcos Snr. as a “political genius”.

“The fight for human rights in the Philippines began 50 years ago, and it continues today,” Rosales said.

“It is the historical distortion that we are fighting against, not to be silent, not to forget,” he added.

Survivors fear that it is not only the past that is being distorted, but also the present.

Marcos Jnr.’s predecessor as president, Rodrigo Duterte, has been widely criticized by human rights groups for his war on drugs, with Philippine police allegedly committing 6,235 murders outside of 2016, according to a government report.

Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the International Criminal Court in 2018, weeks after its prosecutors said they planned to investigate drug war killings. Mr. Marcos Sara, whose vice president is Duterte’s daughter, has refused to re-enter the court.

Meanwhile, rights groups say activists and independent journalists continue to be targeted by violence and threats in the country.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr.  He will arrive at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 20, 2022.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson warns the United Nations General Assembly of the “misleading picture of human rights in the Philippines” by Marcos Jnr. since he won the presidential election.

“Members of the UN must stop swallowing sugar-coated platitudes about human rights,” Robertson said.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines remains abysmal, and so far Marcos has shown no desire to significantly change it,” he said.

Mr. Marcos When Reagan visited in 1982, there were protests over his human rights record, but they remained silent. It was the height of the Cold War and Washington saw the Philippines, home to US military bases, as a key ally in Asia.

Forty years later, Marcos Jnr. arrived last week to attend the United Nations General Assembly, there were protests again, with activists chanting “Marcos, never again” outside the New York Stock Exchange and the UN headquarters in New York.

Relations between the US and the Philippines remain strong. And with China challenging US military dominance in Asia, the importance of that relationship has taken on renewed importance in recent years.

In the White House’s reading of the meeting, Biden spoke of the US’s “ironclad” commitment to the defense of the Philippines and to Biden and Marcos Jnr. Discussing the South China Sea – where Beijing is accused of ceding maritime territory to the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations.

Given the strategic importance of the relationship, activists have little hope that the US will pressure Manila to call out the violence and economic plunder that occurred under Marcos Snr.

It has been stated that Marcos Snr went to Hawaii. and the family fled after being ousted in the People’s Power revolution (after the death of Marcos Snr. in 1989, other family members were allowed to return to the Philippines).

Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Snr.  and his wife Imelda, in Honolulu (Hawaii) on February 28, 1986, after overthrowing the dictator and fleeing into exile.

During their meeting on September 22, Biden referred to Marcos Jnr.’s election victory as “a great victory” and spoke of the “critical importance” of the US-Philippines alliance.

A White House readout of the meeting also said the pair discussed “the importance of respecting human rights,” but Rosales was unimpressed.

“(Marcos) never mentioned martial law and the military’s atrocities against the people… let alone the killing of innocent people suspected of selling drugs. Those are the concrete realities on the ground,” said Rosales.

What Rosales and others would like to see is a confession from Marcos Jnr. the wrongs that happened under the care of the father – and the certainty that it will not happen again.