By ATTY. NERI COLMENARES
Bayan Muna National President
In 1986, Ferdinand Marcos was one of the most powerful dictators in the world. He was the President and therefore controlled with iron fist everyone in the executive branch. He issued laws through presidential decrees, so he was Congress. He issued warrants of arrest through the Presidential Commitment Order, so he was the judiciary. He was called a dictator because he held the entire government in fear of his power over the three branches of government.
Marcos was intolerant of dissent and repressed all dissenters. The question was not whether anyone has the right to speak, but rather, whether there will be a severe consequence the moment you exercise the right to speak—you have the right to speak ONCE, after which you will be subject to presidential attacks, imprisonment or even death. Many who dared to speak out like Sen. Lorenzo Tanada, Sen. Jose Diokno, Sen. Ninoy Aquino, Chino Roces, and the thousands of activists who opposed Marcos were red-tagged, labeled communists, NPAs or coup plotters and were sent to prison. I was an 18-year old activist when the military arrested me for opposing the policy of Pres. Marcos to ban student councils and school papers. I was heavily tortured and spent a total of 4 years in prison for the “crime” of expressing my opinion through rallies and speeches for the return of student papers and organizations.
Pres. Duterte has the simplistic penchant for solving all problems he encounters with brute force such as EJK, martial law, and emergency powers because he believed that the Filipino people had to be “shock and awed” for reforms to succeed. Well, Marcos is proof that shock and awe through the exercise of dictatorial powers is not the answer and cannot be the solution. Marcos not only failed to solve the problems of the country but actually worsened these problems. While we have big-ticket projects like the Cultural Center, the PICC, big highways to the north or the San Juanico Bridge, we were also saddled with billions of dollars in debt which only worsened our poverty since government could not sufficiently fund health, education and other social services because we have to pay many of these loans. Worse, a large chunk of these loans was siphoned to corruption and in the bank accounts of Marcos and his sycophants. We continued to pay these loans as late as five years ago, diverting billions in our national budget for loans, a large part of which was not even used for the Filipino people but for private interest. Worse, checks-and-balance institutions were further compromised and institutionalized. Legislative and Judicial fear of presidential powers continued long after Marcos.
But yes, the Filipino people can exercise their collective will if they have enough of the oppression and exploitation. One fateful day in 1986, the powerful dictator met a more powerful force — the Filipino people. On February 25, 1986, one of the most powerful dictators in the world bit the dust and suffered the fate of many dictators — being overthrown by the people.
It is not true that 1986 was about Marcos and the Aquino’s. The Aquinos were a spent political force in 1986, and they no longer had the power to command the millions of people to risk their lives and earn the wrath of Marcos by going in the millions to rallies in EDSA, Cebu, Davao and many other cities throughout the country. While we were outraged by the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, EDSA was a culmination of killings and imprisonment suffered by thousands of nameless Filipinos who suffered the consequence for the exercise of their constitutional right to speak and express dissent.
While EDSA was a victory against the dictatorship, it made the mistake of only changing one man instead of the system of corruption, oppression, and exploitation that rose to extreme heights during martial law.
Many of the corrupt, the cronies, the death squads, the red-taggers, and sycophantic subordinates who enthusiastically implemented the President’s commands and even his mere wishes, never went to prison and made to account for their crimes against the people and the political opposition.
This is the reason why, when President Duterte’s reign ends, we must make sure that the death squads, the corrupt, the red taggers, and the sycophantic Duterte subordinates will go to prison and made to account.
Those who abuse while in power must learn the most painful lesson in life— walang forever.
This is the only way that we can put the flesh in our call of “Never Again”. For only if we end impunity through accountability and justice can we make sure that the horror that was martial law will never happen again.
For the youth of our country, you must relive the spirit of EDSA because your future is at stake.
For the boomers like me, there is no retirement from the battle for freedom and democracy, even if it is long and arduous. We will win the battle for freedom and democracy because we are on the side of the just. We will win the battle for freedom and democracy because we are on the side of the truth. We will win the battle for freedom and democracy because we are on the side of the people—we are the people. # nordis.net