By Raïssa Robles
(I gave this brief speech when I was a discussant in Friday’s University of the Philippines forum, “Never Again, Never Forget: Martial Law, the Academe, and the Public”. Being neither a UP professor nor a state employee who is banned from expressing political opinion, I felt I was free to point out how one presidential candidate was closely mimicking what the Dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, did in 1972. My deep thanks to the UP College of Social Sciences and Philosophy and the Department of History for inviting me to be part of their historic two-day Forum.)
In this election, Filipinos are faced with a tough choice: Do they want democracy, no matter how deeply flawed, or do they want a dictatorship, where they hand over all their civil and political rights and trust the dictator to do good by them.
When I wrote my first book on Elpidio Quirino, I made it a study on state corruption. My latest book, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, is a study of one-man rule, how Marcos set it up, how he used torture and atrocities to perpetuate it.
It’s a lesson the Filipino people have not been able to absorb, perhaps because there were few books written on the subject which zeroed in on the atrocities. Those who intimately knew about it could not write it because they were still emotionally broken by the experience or had things to hide.
Although the events took place over 35 years ago, the topic was also still a minefield for libel suits. I realized early on that my approach had to be partly historical, and partly investigative in a journalistic manner.
Fortunately, I had taken a course on Historiography under Professor Taylo, although I had to drop the subject due to work. And Professor Donata Taylo was a very demanding teacher. She wanted us to read the original documents in Spanish and my Spanish wasn’t that good.
Another person who taught me research for historical purposes was Dr. Ricardo Jose, who was even then gathering eyewitness accounts on World War II. I joined him in some of the interviews. Later, my husband, Alan, who is the editor of my book and who reads extensively on history edited my drafts teaching me me how to structure, source and write history in an engaging manner.
My aim for this book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again was simple. I wanted the reader to understand how a highly charismatic person could seize power with sweet promises of reforms and a better life and rule indefinitely.
Once written I hoped that even decades from now the text would resurface if a great, great, grandchild of Marcos would again paint a glowing picture of his ancestor the dictator and use that to campaign for the presidency.
Let me cite an example of how this works. In 2007, the Vatican announced that the Spanish priest Gabino Olaso Zabala was to be beatified a martyr who died for his faith in Spain.
Unfortunately for Zabala, one of his torture victims, Father Dacanay, had written about his ordeal in 1897. In 1982, American writer and Episcopalian missionary William Henry Scott included the priest’s narrative of his cruel torture, which he called the “bamboo foot”, in his book Cracks in the Parchment Curtain:
“The victim is made to squat down on his haunches. A thick bamboo is passed beneath both knees, and then his two wrists are tied together in front with a rope, with his arms under the bamboo on each side. In this position, the victim is nothing but a ball, for if he attempts to move, he is sure to roll over on the ground. … In this contorted and painful position, [the guards] struck me many blows on the shoulders with a thick bamboo they call “brute” every time I answered in the negative, leaving me horribly swollen and bruised.”
Augustinian priest Fernando Rojo, who had pushed for Father Zabala’s sainthood, conceded that the torture incident was not taken up during the vetting process since it was not known. Filipino theologian, Father Dionisio Miranda, cautioned that honoring a “former torturer will be sending a highly ambiguous message which will ill-serve the interests of the Church, Augustinians and the ‘Blessed Gabino Olaso’.” He added, though, that Olaso’s subsequent martyrdom “deserves to be considered as having washed away all his sins by dying for his faith”.
When I was finishing my book last December, I was startled to see Rodrigo Duterte copying from Marcos’ techniques in imposing his dictatorship. And people who should know better – the educated, the wealthy and the powerful – applauding him, idolizing him.
For instance, one of the first things that Marcos did was to expand the size of the military, especially those who were directly under his most faithful general Fabian Ver. Duterte told Reuters news service last December that he would form two new army divisions to tackle security threats. That’s more or less 8,000 men. Would these two divisions constitute an army within an army, which is basically what Marcos had with Gen. Ver?
More recently, Duterte modified his statement saying he would need only 3,000 men. Still, that strike anywhere force would be under his direct command or that of a trusted general.
Last October, Duterte told Rappler:
“It’s going to be a dictatorship. It’s the police and the military who will be the backbone. If they agree with you – if the right-thinking policemen and military men agree with you – then after 6 years, there will be a new set-up: maybe a federal type, less corruption, and a fresh air for the next generation.”
Duterte also announced that he would increase the pay of police and the military, which is what Marcos also did.
Duterte said he would execute drug traffickers. Which is what Marcos did with Lim Seng early on.
Duterte said he would send the Army to “smash” Congress if Congress opposes his moves to fight criminality, Which is also what Marcos did in 1972.
Duterte said this week that if the Senate tries to impeach him over allegations of hidden wealth, he would shut down Congress. Before Marcos had imposed Martial Law, calls were mounting to have Marcos investigated for his hidden wealth abroad.
Duterte said he would also muzzle the judiciary, if the judiciary tries to question him. And that’s what Marcos did.
There are so many indications even today that Duterte – like Marcos – intends to violate the Constitution and his oath (as President) to preserve and defend the Constitution.
Duterte recently told graduating students of Lyceum University that he intends to put up a “revolutionary government”. He told them “I’m left of center something, but I’m not really a hardcore anti-government.” He called the Communist Party of the Philippines “too far Left. I do not agree with the armed struggle and the killing of Filipinos,” he said.
And yet he intends to kill Filipinos whom he defines as criminals.
One thing that the Marcos period should have taught us is this. Without the checks and balances of other institutions like Congress, the Judiciary and the Media, a dictator is free to define who a criminal is, who can be arrested and who can be put to death.
It doesn’t have to be Duterte, it could be someone else in the future – once that person sets himself up as a one-man rule, that person will define what a crime is and who the criminals are.
That is what Marcos did. He expanded the crimes for which one could be arrested. Duterte says only drug traffickers and kidnappers will be killed. But who is to say that if you offend him, you could also be put to death? At least two journalists who offended Duterte in Davao ended up dead.
A one-man rule, without Congress and with an emasculated Judiciary, will be making laws as the ruler pleases, just like what Marcos did.
And here’s the thing. To Duterte, Marcos is not a criminal. Duterte sees the plunderer, torturer, murderer and liar as a hero whose corpse should be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Heroes Cemetery). He also said he would grant former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s appeal for house arrest.
What few people don’t know is that one of Arroyo’s most loyal allies – retired Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon – was among those who prodded Duterte to run for the presidency. Esperon was an intelligence man who told me during a one-on-one interview that he spied on the Marcos opposition who were abroad. I can therefore see General Esperon playing an advisory role to Duterte on security matters.
Those who would vote for Duterte would be making a leap into the unknown. While he has vowed to stamp out criminality in the first six months of office, he has not spelled out what he intends to do for the rest of his six-year term.
Unlike Marcos, however, Duterte seems to be winging his plan to establish a dictatorship. Marcos took seven years to lay out an elaborate plan. Duterte intends to do it in months. That, I believe, is a recipe for disaster.