Martial Law victims recall the dark days; tell youths why activism is still a must

Sep. 25, 2012

Martial Law victims recall the dark days; tell youths why activism is still a must

Oscar Manila said, he did not deserve such punishment for fighting for what is right, recalling that youth activists like him during Marcos’ time only demanded change in the way government was run.


Davao Today

Davao City, Philippines —Their hair may be graying, their knees already a little wobbly, but their recollection of the dark days of Martial Law are still vivid as though it did not happen forty years ago.

Seeing a young man hoisted up a flag pole in the police headquarters from her detention cell was a nightmarish experience. He did nothing but violate the curfew, said Fe Saliño, a Martial Law activist, at the gathering in People’s Park on the occasion.

This was how cruel government could get against its citizens at that time, Saliño said as she recalled how the military carried out attacks indiscriminately in the mad dash to nip activism in the bud.

Where torture was the standard procedure by the military in obtaining the names of activists, Saliño was not spared. She was one of those who were forced to “go underground” as Marcos’ Martial rule casted the country in darkness.

Such mania in cracking down dissent, however, according to Saliño, did not leave with Marcos. For Saliño, it still can be seen in the way the military commits violations to this day.

Martial law redux

She cites for instance, the case of many hapless civilians who were victims of this same military and police highhandedness.

Saliño said, where the military intensifies its presence in the countryside in the name of the current counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, the trail of human rights atrocities increases.

Many ordinary civilians, Saliño said, were either killed or brought to detention by state security forces at the mere hint of involvement in the raging communist movement.

Military camps built near the houses of civilians and within village centers today, Saliño said, resemble the act of “hamletting” which was rampant under Marcos’ Martial Law. The military, however, justifies it as necessary to carry out the Oplan Bayanihan.

The current upsurge in the number of political prisoners, or “those detained for acts in furtherance of their political and social beliefs,” Saliño pointed out, is also an indication of the current crackdown on dissent, done in the same vein of Martial Law during Marcos’ time.

Many of these political prisoners, Saliño said, have been subjected to torture, and inhuman living conditions.

So far, under the Aquino administration, there have been 102 cases of killings of activists, journalists, lumad and peasant leaders who are involved in political organizations actively criticizing programs of the government

“What the military is doing today is what they did during Martial Law. They just changed masks,” Saliño said.

Saliño also decried the statement of Commission on Human Rights Chair Eta Rosales suggesting reforms in the Armed Forces after military documents during Martial Law have recently been declassified.

“How can the military change when not one of them was meted justice for what they did during the Martial law years?” Saliño said, adding that Martial Law victims have not yet even been indemnified, in spite of winning the lawsuits against the Marcoses.

“The Marcoses are still very much in power, and their cronies are still around, just colluding with whoever sits in Malacañang,” she added.

Oscar Manila, a student activist in Marcos’ time who was picked-up by military men outside the gates of the University of Mindanao, still recalls the ordeal he went through during those dark years.

“The worst type of torture I experienced was having two knives pointed in your throat while water is being dropped in your forehead. For the first few drops, you would think that you can bear it, but after a while, it hurts like crazy, and could drive you mad,” Manila recounted.

Manila said, he did not deserve such punishment for fighting for what is right, recalling that youth activists like him during Marcos’ time only demanded change in the way government was run.

The same calls for change echo to this day, he said, as the social milieu that the country found itself under Marcos’ time remains almost the same: a looted economy as government leadership continues to kowtow to US interests; a government in serious debt, with its people wallowing in rampant inflation, increasing unemployment while its leaders continue to mouth programs of poverty alleviation that do not redound to the public good, who in the face of these, continue to impose policies that suppress the dissenting people.

And for that, even in old age, Manila said, he could not stop being an activist.

The call to never forget

Manila encourages the youths to never forget the legacy of activists under Marcos’ rule: the indefatigable spirit of rising up against a government that already oppresses its own people.

Johnny Urbina, one of the youth activists who were recently arrested and detained while defending the barricading residents against demolition attempts by a landed family in Maa’s Bariquit Compound, said the experience of Martial Law activists is a challenge for him “to remain steadfast and give more to the task at hand.”

Urbina is an active member of Anakbayan, an organization of Filipino youth advocating “genuine national independence and democracy” for the country.

Among the crowd at People’s Park was 18-year old “Jimboy” whose parents joined the New People’s Army in the past.

Jimboy said he was made aware of his parents’ involvement only recently, and discussing about their activism during Martial Law, made him understand more the reasons why they ended up joining the armed struggle.

As an activist himself, he said the task at hand, is to educate the youth about society’s ills. “We need to do this so that the youth will understand society better, the people’s basic problems and be able to participate in effecting genuine change,” he said. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/

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