Being Right

Of course, martial law per se cannot be a bad thing. Otherwise, that presidential power would not have been provided for in the 1935, 1973, and then the 1987 Constitutions. Even the draft constitutions being considered today include martial law provisions.
If anything, the negative thing that can be said is that the martial law provisions in the current Constitution have been so emasculated as to make it utterly futile. The president, employing his commander-in-chief powers, could address emergencies a whole lot more and quickly without resorting to martial rule. But that’s another column (“No highs, all lows, with martial law,” June 24, 2017).
When Filipinos speak of martial law, the default referral is to that of Ferdinand Marcos’s 1972 declaration, of which last Friday was its 46th “anniversary.” There are at least five other instances of such declarations in Philippine history but because of today’s political partisanship, despite repeated calls for “never again,” Marcos’s martial law is the one kept continually alive in the public minds.
Almost to the point of ad nauseam.
Yet, despite the persistent droning about the supposed evils of martial law, bizarrely no impartial objective study on that major part of Philippine history has been made.
Academic and fellow political commentator Dr. Antonio Contreras said it best in one Facebook post: “Martial law is a complex period in our history. Different kinds of people had different kinds of experiences. Those who took up arms against the state, or were sympathetic to them, naturally had different narratives compared to those who lived through the period as compliant, obedient citizens. And in between are others who had different stories to tell, some positive, some negative, and many others that are mixed.”
The point here is of the probability that many claiming to be martial law victims were not arrested for their political or religious beliefs but because they were charged with crimes. The question that we should be concerned with is: were the charges valid?
One tried and tested way is through the operation of the rule of law, investigating and trying each individual case, the best being through open court proceedings. Failing that, at least an independent methodical thorough and objective historical research based on direct testimony and documentation.
However, as of today, we don’t know and at the rate we’re going we’ll never know.
Media is content with portraying martial law victims heroically abused for their “struggle.” Which, when you think of it, makes no sense.
barbed wire
Even then, media always fails to consider that the “struggle” (however good the objective) oftentimes involves what is considered in the Revised Penal Code as rebellion, sedition, arson, destruction of property, physical injuries, and murder.
If we condemn EJKs because the ends do not justify the means, then why we condone it here?
This becomes all the more relevant when we realize that only 15% of the 75,730 abuse claims filed were recognized as valid by the Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board to date.
Furthermore, human rights abuses are a different question and should not detract from the reality that crimes against the State (hence, crimes against the Filipino people) may have been committed. Which the state is duty bound to stop and impose accountability.
Were there abuses done to those arrested? Yes, apparently. But that’s a separate question again from whether if their arrests were lawfully done and if those arrested were actually guilty of the crimes mentioned above.
Finally, assuming that abuses were committed, whether it was done as policy or incompetence of higher ups to control soldiers on the ground or breakdown in change of command, in other words “attribution,” is an entirely different question again.
People keep saying “never again” but never again to what? Against defending the country?
Or incompetence? Or corruption while defending the country? Or misusing the law to stifle dissent? How will we know for sure?
It would have been great if a court or research body made a methodical and transparent effort to reveal the truth. But that was never done because of people immediately and emotionally (becoming very personally invested) in either taking the line of Marcos officials or alleged victims of human rights abuses, failing miserably to test both sides for veracity.
News columnist Tito Hermoso pertinently asks (also on Facebook): “With all these victims of Martial Law,…why wasn’t a Commission, vested with Constitutional powers formed? The RevGov of Cory formed the PCGG which was able to do something, but why not for the victims? Oh, its so easy to blame ‘Command Responsibility’ but it does not provide closure to the victims families. xxx This is the question that should be posed to those still living who were part of the RevGov of 1986. Why? Surely its neglect/failure/avoidance of investigation was not simply to perpetuate a ‘Holocaust’ as a perpetual, unfinished, unresolved indictment of the Marcos regime?”
Indeed. Far better questions than merely inanely repeating “never again.”
Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence.
Twitter @jemygatdula