By Robert J.A. Basilio, Jr.
Not every coffee-table book is offered free to the public.
But this one is.
Marcos Martial Law: Never Again by author, journalist, and blogger Raissa E. Robles “is available at absolutely no cost,” said a flyer distributed during the book’s soft launch on Tuesday, roughly 30 years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship. “It is free, just as the Philippines should always be!”
But as with all things gratis, getting a copy comes with certain terms and conditions.
To receive a freebie, an e-mail request needs to be sent to email@example.com, the e-mail address of the group which funded the book.
Second, the free book is only available in digital format and covers only the preview version of the whole work. Which only means that the book’s free digital version — as requested and received via e-mail — will only feature Chapter One or the book’s first 60 pages. (The full 240-page print version, which will be put up for sale, is set to be launched in March while other subsequent editions and formats — digital and otherwise — are currently being discussed.)
All things considered, the freebie itself is not a bad deal; not by a long shot.
After all, the book may very well be one of the most easily readable but thoroughly researched books about a sombre subject that always begs to be remembered: the atrocities of the Marcos dictatorship with 3,257 murdered, 40,000 tortured, and over 60,000 illegally detained.
“This is a study of a benevolent dictatorship,” Ms. Robles said during the launch held on Tuesday at the Ateneo Law School Amphitheater in Rockwell Center in Makati. “When a person tells you that he wants a benevolent dictatorship, then I want that person to read this book and decide for himself or herself, is it worth the cost of human life and suffering?”
Her remark underscored several subjects discussed in the book’s first chapter, the print version of which was given free during the launch to guests, which included former Senator Rene A. V. Saguisag, who wrote the book’s foreword, and journalist Teodoro M. Locsin, Jr., who lent some pictures from the Philippines’ Free Press, a weekly magazine that was shuttered during Martial Law, to be used for the book. Author Vergel O. Santos, former BusinessWorld publisher and a close friend of the Robleses, also attended.
With over a hundred footnotes, the first chapter, among others, examines the murder of Luis Manuel “Boyet” C. Mijares, son of Primitivo Mijares, a confidant of President Ferdinand E. Marcos who later turned the tables on him.
Besides writing The Conjugal Dictatorship, a 499-page book that exposed Marcos and his spouse Imelda’s excesses, Mr. Mijares pere testified against his former boss’ corruption and human rights abuses in a US House committee hearing in the mid-1970s.
Mr. Mijares, not surprisingly, disappeared shortly after that.
In 1977, Mr. Mijares’ 16-year-old son, Luis Manuel was found murdered, “[h]is head was bashed in… burn marks and dark bruises all over his body,” the book’s first chapter said. “On his torso, an examining doctor would later count 33 shallow wounds apparently gouged with an ice-pick… Several meters away from where the body had fallen, somebody found an eyeball.”
Mijares’ wife, Priscilla “linked in no uncertain terms her spouse’s disappearance with her son’s murder,” the book said. “She said she had obtained a lot of information that ‘during the torture of my son the father was made to appear by the torturers to witness his son’s agony.’”
To this day, the cases of Primitivo and Luis Manuel Mijares remain unsolved — just like the thousands of murders and human rights violations that have taken place before, during, and after the Marcos regime.
“While the fall of the dictatorship ended nearly all of the state-sponsored atrocity, it didn’t really stop: there are still disappearances, torture and murder going on, though not in the colossal scale seen in the Marcos regime,” said a statement about the book written by Alan C. Robles, the book’s editor and the author’s spouse, which was posted on his Facebook account. (Besides being a journalist himself, Alan Robles remains the only Filipino to have lectured at the Berlin-based International Institute for Journalism).
“Using official records, Marcos’ own books, reports of local and foreign human rights and lawyers’ NGOs (nongovernment organizations), eyewitness accounts and interviews with survivors and military officers, Robles situates the regime’s crimes — which included murders and numerous massacres — within a brief historical narrative that relates how and why Marcos declared Martial Law,” said the statement, adding that the author interviewed two presidents — Fidel V. Ramos and Benigno S. C. Aquino III — for the book, along with several generals.
To further demonstrate the dictatorship’s brutality, two guests — University of the Philippines history professor Ricardo T. Jose and renewable energy advocate Roberto S. Verzola, a victim of human rights abuse during Martial Law — showed how the military used a World War II field telephone to electrocute its prisoners.
The piece of equipment “is meant to connect to other phones in the battlefield,” Mr. Jose said, fiddling with a 70-year-old field telephone that he brought during the launch. “In order to ring up the other phone, you used a hand crank that turned on a generator that went through the terminals which in turn rang up the other phone.”
However, Mr. Verzola — who wrote for an underground newspaper during Martial Law — was forced to be acquainted with the phone’s other functions.
“My interrogators tied the end of one wire around my right index finger and inserted the spoon into my pants, on my right waist, until it rested where the leg meets the lower abdomen, near the crotch. My body would complete the circuit,” Mr. Verzola said, reading from an account which he wrote for Not on Our Watch: Martial Law Really Happened. We Were There, published in 2013.
Whenever his interrogators spun the crank, Mr. Verzola said he would let out “a grating shriek of helplessness, desperation, and terror.”
Mr. Verzola added that he was telling his interrogators “a tall story about how I joined [the underground movement] and they knew I was lying.”
“Had I given an inch away from that tall story, they would have insisted on more which would have prolonged the sessions of torture,” Mr. Verzola said. “In a way I considered myself luckier than others, even while I was being tortured. This [form of torture] was not meant to kill. I knew people who have gone through torture and it was torture to death.”
In her remarks during the launch, the author also debunked claims by the Marcoses — especially Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. who is running for vice-president in the May elections — that while human rights violations took place during the regime, it was never a policy by the Marcos government.
“We have presented evidence in the book that that is not true, that that is a lie,” Ms. Robles said during the launch. Lawyer Robert Swift, who represented more than 10,000 victims of human rights abuses, “was able to get US Ambassador [to the Philippines] Stephen W. Bosworth to testify in court — that in one of many conversations, [president] Marcos told him specifically that he knew all along about the torture but it was okay because ‘they were communists,’” added Ms. Robles, who, like her husband, worked as a reporter at Business Day, the precursor of BusinessWorld. “I intend to put the testimony of Bosworth in the book which will show how the Marcos lawyers tried to impugn Bosworth’s credibility.”
From the get-go, Ms. Robles also denied that the book launch was scheduled in time for the May elections, especially with Senator Marcos in the running for vice-president.
“Is [the book] supposed to make Bongbong Marcos lose?” she asked during the launch. “I don’t know because you can’t predict what would happen because of a book. The timing [of the book launch] is accidental. It was supposed to be launched earlier but it’s my fault. I should have released it much earlier when I realized that the memory [of what the Marcoses did] was fading.”
She added: “There is always danger of dictatorship. That’s what I’m trying to say. Not just of Marcos but somebody else; somebody with sweet promises, somebody charming can come to the national scene and say, vote for me and I will give you a crime-free society.”
But more than invalidating spurious and self-serving claims made by the Marcoses and their supporters and more than refreshing the memories of those who have forgotten, the book goes beyond than just the content and, for that matter, its subject.
Marcos Martial Law: Never Again is also a professionally designed coffee-table book with fonts and leading (spaces between the lines) that are easy on the eyes without disrupting the sobriety of the message nor the intent of the messenger.
Every page has a graphic element — either a photograph, a cartoon, an illustration, or a sidebar — that emphasizes the book’s general theme and flavor.
“We agreed long before we even started writing what the book should physically look like,” Alan Robles said in a separate e-mail.“We hashed out the color themes and concepts for the cover with our artist [book designer Felix Mago Miguel] who is really outstanding.”
In short, as far as the Marcoses and Martial Law are concerned, the book — if the first chapter is anything to go by — is about substance as it is of style; function as it is of form. Imelda R. Marcos, a patron of the arts herself, would be pleased. But then again, she might not.