By Roberto Verzola
THIS essay on martial law is particularly addressed to the millennials, although it is also for the general audience. It is both a personal and a political account. I will try to separate the personal from the political in this story. I will tackle both, but separately.
Since I was tortured by the Marcos military, martial law is obviously very personal for me. For years, I held the anger within. I wanted to write a full account for posterity, so I tried to keep every detail in memory. I did not want to forget anything. But the writing repeatedly got sidelined by more immediate demands of work and family. Perhaps as the memories tried to find a way to surface, I had nightmares about the ordeal. I would wake up in a silent scream or out of breath. Sometimes, the nightmares were vivid. At other times, they dissolved from memory as soon as I woke up.
It was like that for nearly 40 years, until the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) Alumni Association 1968-1972 asked me to contribute a chapter in their martial law book project.
Despite the tight deadline, I agreed immediately. In a few weeks, my draft was done, and the book project’s staff took over. My personal account of the martial law years, the torture ordeal in particular, was published in 2014. It is now part of the public record. Anyone can read “Lest We Forget”, my particular piece of a giant puzzle, as people try to reconstruct the Marcos martial law years and render their historical judgment.
Having written the details down, I do not have to remember them anymore. I can now leave them behind. I can now allow myself to forget.
Forgetting is my first step towards forgiving. (I can almost hear some of my dearest colleagues mumble, “No way!”)
I said this part was personal. I want to forgive. I need to forgive, not for the sake of the Marcoses, but for my own sake. For my own mental — and therefore physical — health. It is unhealthy to keep the anger and hate within for years. It is a cancer in the mind that consumes its victim. The cancer can define one’s entire life.
In fact, I am now ready to say in public that I have personally forgiven Ferdinand Marcos — may he rest in peace — for the ordeal I went through in the hands of his military, acting under his orders. I have personally forgiven my torturers too.
SHIFTING TO THE POSITIVE
Many movements today thrive on anger and hate. The typical media image of the activist is an angry young student shouting slogans at the hated police. For years, I myself have been a convenor or leading member of organizations that defined themselves in terms of what they were against, instead of what they were for.
In 2003, after the 30-day hunger strike I led against GMO corn, I finally decided to focus henceforth on positive advocacies, issues like renewable energy, organic farming, sustainable housing, macrobiotics, natural healing, low-power radio stations, free software, and so on. My daily activity today revolves around renewable energy and sustainable technologies like the system of rice intensification (SRI). There is little anger or hate in these advocacies, mostly joy and love.
That was the personal. Let us now go to the political.
My personal perspective is not debatable. But my political perspective is. I welcome a debate on the following political perspective on martial law.
The 1972 martial law declaration was the product of the unique conditions of those times as well as the work of two major contending political forces.
Many factors obviously contributed to the declaration of martial law, such as international trends, economic crisis, and personal motivations. I will add an important one — we had national elections for three consecutive years. This is a truly unique incendiary condition which will not be repeated for a long time.
THREE CONSECUTIVE NATIONAL ELECTIONS
In 1969, we held a presidential election. This was the election that won Ferdinand Marcos an unprecedented second four-year. The Philippine Constitution did not allow a third term. His first year was marked by lots of protest questioning the legitimacy of his election win and condemning his widespread use of “guns, goons, and gold”.
In 1970, we held another national election, a special once-in-a-lifetime-election for delegates to a Constitutional Convention (Con-con). After that election, the Con-con organized itself and met daily to draft a new constitution. The daily Con-con debates were scrutinized closely by the media and the public. It was becoming clear that Marcos wanted to extend his rule, which was impossible under the old Constitution.
In 1971, we held a third election, the senatorial and local elections. On August 21, the opposition’s senatorial line-up was nearly decimated, when their proclamation rally in Plaza Miranda was bombed. The opposition blamed Marcos; Marcos blamed the communists. In response to the bombing, Marcos authorized warrantless arrest and detention (the legal term is “suspension of the writ of habeas corpus”), targeting mostly protest leaders. The bombing and subsequent arrests, however, turned the anti-Marcos tide into a flood. This was the year I turned into a serious student activist. The flood led to a landslide victory for anti-Marcos candidates. It was a clear indication of the public mood.
These three consecutive election years made sure that that every Filipino of voting age, especially the most politically active ones, got deeply engaged in politics and debate. It kept the political pot simmering, building up the heat towards the boiling point.
THE POLITICAL DANCE OF TWO FORCES THAT BOTH WANTED A DICTATORSHIP
That the political pot actually boiled over and culminated in the martial law declaration, however, was the conscious work of two major political forces.
The first was Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies. They were driven by insatiable greed as each took a big personal slice of the Philippine economy. The Marcos family got the biggest slice of all. To prolong their feasting on national wealth and income, Marcos and his cronies wanted to extend their rule indefinitely. To do this, they had to overcome the political opposition, the media, and the growing protest movement. They were apparently ready to impose a dictatorship, if that was what it took to keep the stream of ill-gotten wealth coming.
The other contributory political force was the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed force, the New People’s Army . The CPP wanted to set up in the Philippines, through armed struggle, its own type of dictatorship, which it explicitly called a dictatorship of workers and peasants. The CPP would later turn this into a dictatorship of the proletariat, following similar models that had triumphed earlier in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. To implement its program to seize political power through armed struggle, the CPP had organized the NPA in 1969. Soon, the NPA was aggressively recruiting, expanding, and killing government spies and other “bad elements” in every region of the country. Where it felt strong enough, the NPA launched deadly ambushes against government soldiers.
While smaller roles were played by other political forces such as the opposition political parties, the churches, and the more loosely-organized social-democrats, it was the escalating violence and armed conflict between Marcos and CPP forces that made martial law inevitable. Martial law would sideline the weaker unarmed forces, but it would strengthen the Marcos and CPP forces. The armed Muslim separatists/autonomists gained strength too.
HOW THE CCP’S ARMED STRUGGLE HELPED BRING ABOUT MARTIAL LAW
The key role of the CPP in bringing about martial law is highlighted by the following CPP armed actions:
1. For years, the CPP blamed Marcos for bombing the Plaza Miranda opposition rally. But the truth finally came out, as it invariably does. Bombing victim Senator Jovito Salonga, who almost died from the shrapnels, initially believed that Marcos ordered the bombing. Salonga collected various testimonials over the years and eventually became convinced that it was the CPP that did it. My own conversations in prison with some penitent CPP leaders and subsequent inquiries with other leaders also confirmed it. Had the CPP role remained a secret, the act would have been celebrated by the CPP leaders who ordered it as a stroke of political genius. The bombing decimated the opposition, isolated Marcos, drove him to extremes, and pushed thousands of illegalized urban activists into the underground and the open arms of the New People’s Army. CPP leaders continue to publicly deny its role in the bombing. When people speak of “historical revisionism”, be warned that this is a practice in communist movements too. (Google “Plaza Miranda bombing” for details.)
2. In 1972, the CPP implemented a daring project to secretly bring in by ship thousands of weapons and ammunition into the Philippines for its armed struggle. The weapons supposedly came from North Korea (the North Korean and CPP leaders were literally close comrade-in-arms, apparently) and were to be smuggled through MV Karagatan on the Isabela side of Luzon and MV Doña Andrea on the Ilocos side of Luzon. Unfortunately for the CPP, the military found out just in time, and only a portion of the arms shipments actually made it. While in prison, I spent many months listening to the details of the project from those who planned and implemented it. (Google “MV Karagatan Dona Andrea arms smuggling.”)
3. In the years leading to the 1972 martial law declaration, the NPA had rapidly expanded and established what it called guerrilla zones and guerrilla areas in practically every region in the country. In its most advanced areas, NPA regular forces (full-time soldiers, as opposed to part-time guerrillas) were starting to practise platoon operations for its raids and ambushes. Martial law provided a bonanza of political officers, commanders and fighters for the growing army. The CPP was following the classic Maoist model of a guerrilla war “surrounding the cities from the countryside”. Together with the forthcoming thousands of weapons from North Korea, the CPP was already anticipating the second stage of its armed struggle, the “strategic stalemate”.
Both intent on their own types of dictatorship, the Marcos and CPP forces fed on each other’s violence. Even without the CPP, Marcos was bent on staying in power anyway. Even without Marcos, the CPP was bent on waging armed struggle anyway. Together, they each provided a convenient excuse for the other’s moves. It was a vicious cycle of escalating political violence and military conflict that inexorably led to martial law. The cost in human suffering was terrible, not only among those caught in the crossfire, but also to both sides of the conflict.
THE PRO- AND ANTI-MARCOS DEBATE AMONG MILLENNIALS
The debate about the Marcos martial law regime is very much alive today. It is usually most visible every August and September, as the Ninoy Aquino August 21 death anniversary (and Plaza Miranda bombing anniversary too) segues into the September 11 Marcos birthday and the September 21 martial law anniversary. Although I have personally focused on positive advocacies, I continue to belong to the anti- side of this political debate.
I would like to share my analysis of when and how this debate may be resolved among the millennial generation.
WHEN? IN 2022
In 2022, most of those who went to school in the new millennium will be of voting age.
This is the year when President Duterte’s term ends. It will therefore be the year when millennials will be participating en masse in choosing a new leader of the country.
The year 2022 will also be the 50th anniversary of the Marcos martial law regime. Everyone, anti- and pro-Marcos alike, will be debating martial law with special intensity, given two additional contexts:
The first is Duterte’s Mindanao martial law declaration, which will presumably put many Duterte forces on the pro- side of the debate. Martial law to millennials will be Duterte-style martial law.
The second is the expected candidacy of a Marcos in 2022. Can anybody doubt that a Marcos will be running for election as the country’s new leader? The Marcoses have been preparing for this comeback for decades. They have been active on the Internet and social media for years. The 2016 vice-presidential run was the first step. They clearly have the organization, the money and the momentum.
HOW? JUDGMENT BY AN ELECTORATE OF MILLENNIALS
In 2022, expect a battle royale between pro- and anti-Marcos forces, played out through the national elections and among millennials. The issue will be Marcos and martial law; the trophy, the highest elected position in the land.
The result of this political contest, like it or not, will be seen as the historical judgment of the millennial generation of Filipinos on the Marcos martial law regime.
Millennials never lived through the Marcos years nor through the EDSA revolution which overthrew Marcos. Thus, with few exceptions, they can be objective about judging the Marcoses.
Like a judge trying a crime suspect, millennials are neither suspects nor victims of the criminal act. To render a fair and objective decision, a judge must be educated properly about the law, and must study carefully the details of the case.
If the 2022 elections are seen as a public trial of the Marcos martial law regime, then the role of the crime victims is to document our ordeal in enough detail and with enough credibility for the millennials to appreciate the merits of our accusations. I have personally done my part by putting my ordeal on record. The most complete set of accounts by victims is probably held by the Commission on Human Rights. Obviously, the side of the accused will be doing its own documentation too.
It is my hope that, this early, millennials will become aware of the enormity of their historical responsibility and will prepare themselves properly for this role.
The winners of the 2022 elections can be expected to claim that “the people have spoken”. They will see election results as a vindication of their position.
A win by martial law defenders will truly be a bitter pill for martial law victims like me to swallow. An even more bitter pill would be the ensuing revision of history. As political realists say, “History is written by the victors”. Rewriting history is indeed a common affliction among those who are after political power.
BACK TO THE PERSONAL
I will end by going back to my personal decision to focus on long-term positive advocacies. Consider a mixed race from the same starting point, on the same road. It can involve sprints, medium- and long-distance runs; a marathon; and the little-known ultra-marathon. The sprinters dash like mad and will know the results in a few seconds. The ultra-marathoners will be running non-stop for a few days and not all will finish the race.
The advocacies I chose are like ultra-marathons. My positive advocacies of renewable energy and sustainable technologies deal with threats to our existence as a species. Some of these, you already know, like poisons in food, global warming and climate change. But others, you may not have heard about, like the sixth wave of species extinction, gyres in oceans, and microplastics in drinking water. These issues are often “out of sight” and therefore “out of mind”. (Google them!)
Ultra-marathoners cannot join a sprint or even a long-distance run, even if they wanted to. They will exhaust themselves too soon. They can only utter short greetings and engage in brief conversation, as others pass them by. Many Duterte issues are sprints. Marcos issues are medium- to long-distance runs. I am often asked to join these advocacies. I cannot be active in many of them even if I want to. I can only engage in brief conversations like this one. You will have to choose what advocacy to focus on. You are welcome to join us ultra-marathoners.
Just the same, I recognize that we are all running on the same road, and the races we are running are all interrelated. But I suggest you stay away from violent, especially armed, advocacies. And keep your eyes open against virtual prisons too.
The author is a senior fellow of Action for Economic Reforms. During the martial law years, he was part of a group that published the Taliba ng Bayan, one of the first underground newspapers against the Marcos dictatorship. He was arrested in 1974 and spent three years in jail as a political prisoner. The original version of this essay was delivered as a speech by the author in a forum on martial law at the University of the Philippines on September 16, 2017. This version has been edited.