By Raïssa Robles
I would like to thank the International Christian Organisation of the Media for this highly unexpected award. I would also like to thank Jose Aranas, Editor of the Focolare New City Magazine, who nominated me.
It is one that I will cherish, knowing that this award was only made possible with the help of so many people. I have a very lengthy ‘thank you’ list in my book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again.
For tonight, I would like to thank my husband Alan, my editor, fellow journalist and personal chef combined. The book Marcos Martial Law: Never Again is as much his as mine. He outlined the broad strokes while I filled in the details. He wrestled with my rebellious sentences.
My thanks to my son who endured late meals.
The book designer Felix Mago Miguel gave this book on torture and atrocities an elegant design without detracting from its horrific content.
The publisher, Filipinos for a Better Philippines, fully supported this book from start to finish. And kept nudging me and nudging me to finish.
I am also very grateful to all my friends in social media, on Facebook and Twitter, especially to the members of Cyber Plaza Miranda – people who congregate in my political website to debate, exchange ideas and information – because they kept my blog alive last year when I was secretly writing this book.
Why the need for secrecy, you might ask.
Let me answer by first citing the Holy Bible, which quoted Jesus as saying, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
What the Holy Bible didn’t say, was that before you get to know the truth and the truth sets you free, that period in between is quite scary.
There were times when I was writing this book – and my schedule for writing was like eight in the morning to 12 midnight – there were actually times I would fall asleep while seated in front of my PC and then decide to go to bed because I was sleeping more than writing.
Exhausted, I would fall asleep quickly . Then vivid dreams would start of someone being tortured and I was next. I would wake up suddenly and tell myself, wait a minute, I was never an activist. I was never tortured.
One thing I dreaded to do, but which I knew would make this book complete, was to interview those who had been accused of torture. I interviewed them, not because I wanted to shame them. But because I waned to understand how the best and the brightest could torture fellow Filipinos – ho they feel about what they had done, and hw, somehow, there could be a healing and redemption. Or would the wound caused by the torture continue to fester in the body politic.
For months I postponed doing this, wondering how I would have the courage to ask someone whether he had tortured people. Finally, after lots of prayers, I did.
You know, I have for many years now a lover’s quarrel with the Lord. I will not go into detail why. But last year I prayed a lot for strength of spirit. Because the truth that I uncovered was so terrible to behold.
There were times, while reading the cases of torture and transcribing my interviews, that I would find myself crying at the inhumanity of it all. It was those times that I wrestled with my prose to make sure that my emotions did not intrude into the historical narrative.
Two of the sources I interviewed specifically asked me not to name them. One allowed me to name him after his death. The other – a torture victim – did not want to be named even now, no matter how I tried to persuade him. He said, the military had not changed at all and he still feared what it might do to him. One of his torturers is dead while the other has retired and is now a “gentleman farmer”.
In his case, the truth has not set him free but has in fact gagged him.
One of the basic human rights that the Marcos dictatorship took away from Filipinos was “freedom of expression”. His downfall restored the right of ordinary citizens to criticize government and its officials and to seek redress for their grievances. Exercising the right of “freedom of expression” is what helps shape democracy. In our country, the government exists for the good of the people and not the other way around.
Don’t believe those who say that we have had no progress in our democracy since 1986. When Marcos fell, one out of every two Filipinos was dismally poor. Today, it is one out of every four. But much remains to be done and only a people discussing, debating with each other, criticizing government policies and suggesting solutions can help make this happen.
My book, Marcos Martial Law: Never Again, shows that a constitutional dictatorship, like what Marcos put in place, will not work. Ever. There is no such thing, either, as a “benevolent dictatorship”. That is all in the mind of a dictator.
One thing that a dictator hates is freedom of expression because he believes he alone is right and should be obeyed. No questions asked.
Now what I’m about to say may not sit well with some of you. Still, I have to say it because I believe you need to know it. You need to know that today, freedom of expression has become a threat to freedom of expression.
That is most apparent on Facebook and Twitter, which were intended to promote social networking but have now turned into anti-social sites filled with venom and hate.
Anyone who writes an opinion that is contrary to government policy, especially its “war on drugs”, is immediately dog-piled, mobbed, cursed and threatened.
Digging for the truth has again become more dangerous and scary, especially for journalists whose assigned role in society is to chronicle truth.
In closing, let me again quote the Bible, this time from the first book of Peter the Apostle who said, “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.”
And good night.