Flowers Blooming Amidst Stormy Days
"I don’t want to go back to the days when my rights were being trampled upon. My right to speak was curtailed and even my laughter was restricted. It was September 21, 1972, the first day of Martial Law in the Philippines. Our school was closed down by the military being labeled as hub of student activism. Every corner was inspected and gates were closed.
Many of my classmates, school mates, student’s activists and my professors were detained, tortured and killed. Some went underground and joined the revolutionary movement. It was the first time I felt terror in the air. Military presence dominated civilian supremacy," recalls woman activist and artist Mary Grace Lobaton in a very heartwarming interview.
"I was in sixteen years old when I joined the Kabataang Makabayan. We were very active in organizing demonstrations and recruiting fellow students in the different universities. The student movement was very inspiring and almost everybody joined us in demonstration. It was the hey-day of hippy days. We wore mini skirts and sung the anti-war tune of Beatles”, smilingly remembers Mary Grace.
The thirty-seven years of the Martial Law was commemorated last September 21 by militant organizations all over the country. This day is still remembered by Filipinos as the darkest years in the current Philippine history after its colonial rule. Young activist at that time are already in their 50's and 60's today. Pain can still be seen in their faces with hearts crying as they tell their own stories in public and in personal conversations.
Why is this considered as the ugliest face of the modern Philippine society? Why do activists and women activist today continue to remember and resist new forms of Martial Law under the present dispensation of Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo?
Truly, in every page of history books, researches, publications, newspapers and words of testimonies reveal the glaring brutalities and violence Martial Law left in the minds and hearts of every freedom-loving Filipino. Against this backdrop of violence also marked the continued heroisms and courage of modern Filipino women who braved state’s anger and violence for freedom. However, this horrible thing of the past is recurring once more and is worse than before.
Glimpse of the Recent Past: Women in the Frontlines
President Ferdinand E. Edralin Marcos was the sixth president of the Second Philippine Republic. He ruled the country for twenty one from December 30, 1965 until February 25, 1986. Marcos was the longest president who ruled the Philippines under his military dictatorship.
Student activism rose in the 60’s. Student demonstrations and protests snowballed all over the country strongly criticizing the Marcos Administration of corruption and puppetry to US Imperialism. Kabataan Makabayan (Nationalist Youth) organized in 1964 spearheaded the campaign for social change.
Martial Law was declared in September 21, 1972. It hoped to quell the militancy of the growing mass movement against foreign control and puppetry of the US- backed Marcos governance. In 1969 and 1972, nationalist forces pressured Congress for formulating protectionist policies against foreign corporate powers and their local technocrats.
Congress passed a Magna Carta for nationalist industrialization as against the dictates of International Monetary Fund (IMF). There was a strong public opinion of nationalist agenda in formulating revisions in Philippine Constitution in 1972. . The Supreme Court ruled two decisions of nullifying sales of all private lands to American citizens after 1945 and the rolled back of oil prices by oil cartel. During these periods, the expiration of US military bases in the Philippines was soon to expire.
The growing nationalist movement both in the streets and in government, threatened the US economic and political interests. Thus, President Nixon speaking in the American Chamber of Commerce in Manila hailed Marcos’ proclamation of Martial Law.
MAKIBAKA was a legal organization of women in 1970. It was declared illegal by the Marcos Dictatorship upon his declaration of Martial Law. The organization’s founding chair Lorena Barros, anthropology major form the University of the Philippines and a poet went underground and was brutally killed by dictator’s military forces in March 24, 1974, Lorena Barros was an AB Anthropology Magna Cum Laude UP student and instructor who stepped up in the 70s and became one of leading icons for women empowerment, people's poetry and collective action for development. She became a martyr at the age of 28.
Susan (not her real name) was the Coordinator of Malayang Kilusan ng Bagong Kababaihan “MAKIBAKA” (Free Movement of New Women) told her story. Her tale portrays a mother who never had a chance of mothering her two children because of her love for country and the cruelty of Martial Law.
“My story is not so colorful during Martial Law but it moved my listeners to tears whenever I disclosed such experience. I was arrested and detained in 1974, one month after I gave birth to my eldest son. I was in detention for one year and five months leaving my son to my mother- in- law. I am just maybe lucky enough compared to my fellow activist because I didn’t experience being tortured or being raped because one of my captors was the uncle of my husband.
After one year and five months I was released behind bars but my husband was arrested in Manila. I had followed him in Manila and continue my women’s work there. He was detained for three years and was released 1978. We left our son to our relatives because it was very difficult working under militarized situation.
The economic and political situation was getting worse. Demonstrations and rallies were met violently by the Marcos killing machines. Political killings were on the rise. After my husband’s release from detention, we continued our activism in the rural communities organizing peasants and rural women for national liberation.
I gave birth to my second child. For the second time just like my eldest son, I was compelled leaving my daughter under the care of my sister for her safety. She grew up with my sister in the US. The pain of not having my kids on my side seemed unbearable but I couldn’t do anything at that time. I have no regrets looking back”, ended Susan with great pride showed in her eyes. Susan in her early 60’s is still an activist and is working full time in a women’s organization.
Alfred McCoy, a professor from the University of Wisconsin stressed in his paper on the Philippine human right situation during Martial Law that the Marcos regime's tally of 3,257 extra-judicial killings is far lower than Argentina’s 8,000 missing. But it still exceeds the 2,115 extra-judicial deaths under General Pinochet in Chile, and the 266 dead during the Brazilian junta.
Under Marcos, moreover, military murder was the apex of a pyramid of terror—3,257 killed, 35,000 tortured, and 70,000 incarcerated. In striking contrast to Argentina, only 737 Filipinos disappeared between 1975 and 1985. But nearly four times that number, some 2,520, or 77 percent of all victims, were salvaged—that is, tortured, mutilated, and dumped on a roadside for public display. Seeing these mutilated remains, passers-by could read in a glance a complete transcript of what had transpired in Marcos's safe houses, spreading a sense of fear.
“Waking up to martial law on September 23, 1972, and realizing that the government had taken over my newspaper and jailed my editors, I was seething. Trying to enter the Chronicle building on that Saturday morning, I hissed at the armed soldiers guarding the padlocked doors. Back in the car, I shouted invectives at them as we drove away”. This is an account of a woman publicist published by GMA news. Her mother was imprisoned and later sentenced by firing squad.
Media institutions were closed down and only government media were allowed to operate. Congress was shut down and business establishments of Marcos political opponents were taken over by him and his political cronies.
The terror and violence did not cow the Filipino women. They did not stay behind the closet of domestic homes but bravely stormed the military might of the dictator. They never stooped down in the stillness of the night instead ragingly said NO to the surging might of the dictator.
The days of the dictator ended in February 1986 through People Power Revolution. The “People Power” was first ever peaceful revolution in Asia that ousted a dictator and catapulted the first woman president in Asia, President Cory Aquino.
The Undeclared Martial Law: Arroyo’s Deadly Recipe Against Resistance
In April 2009, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston submitted his report stating: “killings have eliminated civil society leaders, including human rights defenders, trade unionist, and land reform advocates, intimidated a vast number of civil society actors and narrowed the country’s political discourse”.
In eight years of President Gloria Macapagal presidency, her human right record almost surpassed the former dictator Marcos. KARAPATAN, a human rights organization stated in their 37th year Martial Law Anniversary commemoration that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a new dictator, who along with her cohorts, has put the nation under an undeclared martial law for almost a decade. The same human rights violations -- the extrajudicial killings, the abductions, the enforced disappearances, the torture, the numerous forcible evacuations, the stifling of the people's voices -- are reminiscent of the Marcos' era, but made worse with the disguise of booming economy, peace and democracy which the Arroyo regime tries to project.
Karapatan reported that the Arroyo’s Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine National Police, already took the lives of 1,093 victims of extrajudicial killing, 209 disaparacedos, more than a thousand victims of torture, and hundreds of thousands of victims of forcible evacuation.
“April 12, 2007, it was also the day I lost everything. Not only did I lose my mom, I lost my dreams, I lost my hopes, I lost my future, all my plans, our plans, they will never be played out. That day I even almost lost my sanity but then someone brought me back to reality. And so here I am, still standing, breathing, living this broken life.
April 12, 2008. It has already been a year. And all I can say is that this situation is driving me crazy. I battle with depression almost everyday. My feelings are so fragile now that small problems or disappointments would cause me to cry and remember better days with my mother, which would cause me to cry more and more because I miss her so much”, cries Tamara Dominado while reading her letter in celebration of her mother’s 53rd birthday. Tamara was thirteen years old when her mother Luisa Posa Dominado was abducted.
Luisa Posa- Dominado , together with her companion Nilo Arado a peasant leader was abducted last April 17, 2007. Luisa was a pre-martial law student activist and political detainee for rebellion case during the Martial Law period. She was detained for more than six years and escaped twice from in prison. She continued being an activist after her released from prison in 1990’s. Though, she survived Martial Law of the Marcos Dictatorship she never survived the undeclared Martial of the Arroyo government. She is still missing and her families and friend continue seeking justice from the present government.
Melissa Roxas is a writer, poet, community health worker and, incidentally, an American citizen of Filipino ancestry, a Fil- Am woman activist who was abducted by military in May 2009. She was surfaced by the military after six days of beating; harsh interrogation and “dry submarine” torture wherein a plastic bag was put over her head to simulate drowning and caused her to suffocate.
The semblance of the Marcos Martial Law is on the picture screen and full of deceipt in the name of “strong republic” and “war against terror”. Like President Marcos, President Gloria Macapagal uses her iron fist silencing the nationalist movement. Like Marcos, she is pushing for the revision of the Philippine Constitution to stay in power beyond her term and the full implementation of IMF foreign intervention policies in the name of globalization.
The Filipino Women Struggle for Freedom Will Prevail
The war on terror of a tyrant will soon be thrown in the dustbin of history and herstory of struggle will forever be cherished. The people, the women had been fighting hard and long. The resolve for social justice and peace can never be cowed by the killing machines of tyrants.
In November 2008 , the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that the government violated provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in the 2003 murder of Eden Marcelllana and Eddie gumanoy, stating that failure to investigate the killings “amounted to a denial of justice”.
The unveiling of human right violations committed by the Arroyo government gained public attention at the international level. Different churches and human rights organizations actively supported and spearheaded the campaign at the international level by conducting international fact finding missions in the different parts of the Philippines and lobby work in their own countries.
The mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends victimized by the monstrous and sharp claws of state terrorism rose up and continue rising up. These courageous women never sleep without making history a part of their day. They are like flowers blossoming, expanding their petals and blowing their scents even during stormy days.
Even when the sun covered by the dark clouds and the strong cold winds shaken their stems, these flowers stood firm and never lose its radiance. Their beauties are best reveal in their most trying times. Likewise, the flowers that fell and weathered nourish the garden of resistance.
However, the powerful woman monster continues whipping its tail with impunity.
Filipino women must therefore call all women of the Philippines and the world to unite against tyrants and dictators. Tyrants and dictators have no place in this world. They must be stopped. International courts and tribunals must make them answerable to their crimes against humanity. Human rights violation cases must be filed in international courts and justice must be served. Only through organized and determined women’s voices with arms fist together in solidarity with domestic and international advocacy groups can tyrants be made answerable.
If I remained silent, the silence of those who can not speak will remain in the dark caves of uncertainly. They will be forever silenced. They will just be statistics in the record sheets of human right violations of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo,” says Mary Grace.
As the curtain of the day started closing and the lovely starlight of the night shine in, the memories of Martial Law is a cherished lesson for Mary Grace and the other Filipino women in their continued fight against tyranny in the Philippines present times###
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.