As a direct witness to history spanning 48 years since my graduation from college, I can say that we haven’t learned from history’s valuable lessons.
The intergenerational problems we have today were already being talked about in the ’60s; and if one were to turn back the clock further, whatever angered our revolutionary leaders over a hundred years ago continue to be felt today. It boils down to our “ugali” or character that shapes our attitudes and behavior. That has hardly evolved, proof that we’ve serially ignored history’s lessons.
Marcos’s martial law meant to end government capture by the old oligarchy and to shape a New Society, a New Filipino, a New Philippines. It began with good intentions but it eventually fell to the clutches of ego, power and corruption that created a new oligarchy or elite class that applied the same oppressive and suppressive techniques employed by previous colonizers, specifically, Spain and the United States, to sustain their hold on vast power and fabulous wealth.
Instead of being remembered for its infrastructure, agricultural and industrial development; investments in health services and cultural advancement, those were overshadowed by abuses in the form of monopolies, cartels, takeovers, profligacy, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, mass torture and killings which, consequently, defined Marcos’s martial law years.
Those were extensively recorded. In time we got to know how they lied about, and manipulated, the truth. For sure, some of its sins were exaggerated by haters and political opportunists; but, in the main, those of us who witnessed martial law can truthfully recount what it was really like.
Yet, since the end of martial law, revisionists have been trying to bank on society’s notoriety for forgetfulness as they hammer away at rewriting history, and trying to win over the young and gullible who never experienced it to believe their false version. It’s the classic example of self-interest over national interest.
That’s a major reason why we’re unable to close the chapter on Marcos’s martial law because there is no desire to own up to its failings and make amends. If only they would, then we would be able to say to ourselves, with confidence, that we should now move on with a keen sense of common purpose toward national unity for a better Philippines for all Filipinos.
Last week, my mouth fell in disbelief when I heard JPE utter untruths on television. Just like the time I almost fell off my chair when he launched his memoir around a decade ago where he said that Cory lost the snap elections, there was no electoral cheating and that the attempted assassination on his life was not staged. It was the exact opposite of what I heard over the radio in the morning of Feb. 23, 1986 when he and FVR were holed up in Aguinaldo after dramatically breaking away from the Marcos regime the day before.
He said, at that time that: he cheated for FM in the snap elections; “in his heart of hearts,” Cory won the elections; and staged the assassination attempt on his life to pave the way for the declaration of martial law. That confession actually triggered People Power. I was at EDSA the night before when there was only a motley group on Santolan despite appeals by Cardinal Sin and Butz Aquino. The dam broke when JPE confessed the next day.
Let me tackle two incredible things he said in that televised “tete-à-tete.”
No one was arrested during martial law for his political beliefs and criticisms of President Marcos? What about Nene Pimentel, Ninoy Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Lorenzo Tañada, Max Soliven, Rene Saguisag, Geny Lopez, Serge Osmeña, Nelia Sancho and Maita Gomez to name a few? They may have belonged to various segments of the political spectrum, from left to right, but were arrested for their common opposition to FM.
No one was massacred? Does it matter if mass murder was simultaneous or sequential, wholesale or retail? One thing is for certain — Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao were bloody sites for armed encounters against all kinds of enemies resisting martial rule. The NPA, MNLF and MILF, for example, steadily grew in numbers during that time.
In any case, Ninoy Aquino was killed while in the custody of soldiers at the airport upon his arrival. Primitivo Mijares was killed while working for the regime. Evelio Javier was ordered killed by his political rival who was the regime’s henchman in Antique. Cesar Climaco, another staunch critic, was killed in Zamboanga City. There are more listed in Bantayog ng mga Bayani.
The lack of transparency invites doubts and speculation. To date, the public remains groping for the truth: who ordered the killings to determine if FM deserves some or all of the blame; did they die as armed insurgents or as criminals resisting legitimate arrest; how many were false claims meant to bloat the count and frame the government? Without any segmentation, their denials would be labeled as self-serving and an attempt to evade command responsibility.
It’s been 46 years since the imposition of martial law in September 1972 and we’re still caught in a mind and time warp. We’ve yet to close the chapter on that historic period. We’ll never unite and move on because of the lack of humble acceptance of the grievous mistakes committed and render sincere amends. That’s one of history’s best lessons designed to melt the heart and tear down the walls of division. A good example is South Africa and how they came together after ending its bloody era of apartheid.
My dream is for that to happen in our lifetime, for like-minded patriots to make it our accomplished mission, where ALL SIDES that wronged others face one another with deep remorse, confess what they did, ask each other for forgiveness, and just go ahead in making amends to whoever in the spirit of universal brotherhood.
That will pave the way for our social transformation and unification, like I say time and time again, for a better Philippines for all Filipinos.
Rafael M. Alunan III served in the cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.