The Iron Fist and the Reign of Silence
The Philippines was built on a foundation of struggle. We think we are free from the clutches of darkness; when in fact, darkness is a shadow that is always just behind us. Forty-five years ago, this darkness took on the form of Proclamation No. 1081, a document enacted by then President-turned- Dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, stating that the country shall be placed under martial law so as to quell all forms of lawless violence and rebellion. Beginning as a response to an onslaught of protest and violent acts against the government, typically by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA), martial law rapidly morphed into a dangerous beast that put the country in a chokehold.
Many remember the era of Marcos’s reign as a “golden age”. Some of my own family members have even offhandedly stated that martial law was beneficial to the country as it was the most disciplined they have ever seen Filipino citizens. However, many of our countrymen fail to see and understand what really went on behind the discipline that the Marcos administration forced upon every individual curfews, veiled threats, detainment, torture, and even death. A video by the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses to Malacanang in 2016 showcased a vivid contrast between the perspectives of young voters and survivors of martial law. These young voters expressed their views on martial law as a “good time for the Philippines”. One young woman stated, “The law was followed and people were disciplined.” An elder woman then recounted her experience with the era. “I’m a human rights victim from the time of the Marcoses,” Lourdes Victoriano says in Filipino. “I was part of a group of protesters… I was part of the Urban Poor Association. I was detained, and I was raped.”
These survivors described their experiences with detainment, rape, beatings, and torture. This video, and the comments beneath it, readily exhibited how quick and easy it was to put on rose-colored glasses and look back at the era as a time of progress, peace, and prosperity despite the data and the narratives that state otherwise.
Multiple stories of torture and abuse during martial law have been told, and the fact that a great number of Filipinos still reject the notion that the administration brought upon only terror and quiet bloodshed is truly disquieting. Maybe to individuals who lived a life of luxury and privilege, the Marcos era existed in their favor; on the other hand, those who chose not to fall for empty promises of safety and security were those who witnessed first-hand the outright abuse of power. This absolute power that Marcos gave himself as dictator granted him and the military the capacity to prevent and terminate any and all acts of subversion or rebellion by use of any means possible. The mere sentiment of insurgence warranted an arrest, as anyone who spoke out against the government would disturb the supposed peace, a blemish on the façade of iron-fisted reign.
If anything, the name Liliosa Hilao will forever be engraved in my head as a Filipino student, writer, and activist who penned essays and articles against the death of democracy in the Philippines. Because of her sense of justice and defiance, Liliosa was taken captive by soldiers and was beaten, raped, and tortured one of the first victims of martial law. Additionally, protesters, activists and their family members were also subjected to various torture methods that ensured their silence and the silence of anybody else who dared criticize the government. Treatment of political prisoners ranged from beatings, electrocution, and Russian roulette, to the infamous San Juanico Bridge torture and being made to sit naked on blocks of ice. With such numerous and detailed accounts of inhumane and unjust enforcement of martial law, one would think that more people were aware of and against the way the country was run. Unfortunately, to many elderly and youth alike discipline meant quiet, but sometimes, as Twenty One Pilots said, quiet is violent. Behind this blissful ignorance lies suffering and bloodshed.
I can only imagine a world in which questioning the government could cost people their lives. Back then, a 21-year-old student named Archimedes Trajano questioned presidential daughter Imee Marcos about her abilities to lead the Kabataan Barangay youth organization in a press conference during martial law. Trajano also posed a query about her father’s involvement in the numerous human rights violations. Weeks later, he was found bloodied, beaten, and tortured on the streets of Manila and for what?
“I can only imagine a world in which questioning the government could cost people their lives.”
Even today, we students are still afraid to ask about martial law for fear of getting reprimanded for challenging authority. In a world of such diversity in thinking and perspective, oppression is the biggest hindrance to progress as a society. I am, myself, an advocate of being socially and politically aware, and what that entails is learning learning from history, from people, gaining knowledge from a source and developing ideas until you come to a conclusion. As Dan Brown states in his novel The Lost Symbol ̧ “Knowledge is a tool, and like all tools, its impact is in the hands of the user.” Debate and discourse stem from given facts, so access to freedom of speech and freedom of information drives society forward. So what happens when truth, knowledge, and information are made purposely inaccessible to members of society?
Silence was a command given to the media as well, with Marcos ordering the shutdown of major media outlets and independent journalism alike following the speculation that mass media engaged in propaganda and subversive activities linked with the Progressive movement. Information no longer circulated from these sources, and “truth” belonged only to the dictator and his right hand men. Now, if I were a dictator wishing to pacify my citizens, my main course of action would be to spread manufactured truth or, simply put, lies so placing the source of information in my hands would count for a cold, calculated move that would wipe away any and all traces of freedom and democracy left in the country.
“Knowledge is a tool, and like all tools, its impact is in the hands of the user.”
When I first encountered martial law in Social Studies class, the one thing that stuck to me was the knowledge that journalists and writers involved with activism composed a good number of detainees during the period. Being an aspiring writer myself, I then can’t help but to imagine what my life would be like if I did not have the freedom to express my opinions that if I even breathed a word against the dictatorship, the price could be my life. I could not do what I loved to do for fear of the police taking me away. I am a new generation writer and truth-seeker and I am lucky to even have the opportunities that so many martial law-era kids never had, and I intend to make the most of them. Speaking up about current issues is important to me, so ignorance is something I cannot tolerate. I detest false information or “fake news”, and I will strive to find truth, always.
The youth now deserve to know and understand that forty-five years ago, the Philippines was plunged into the Dark Ages, and in turn, for nine years, many of our fellow Filipinos suffered in silence, despair, injustice, and disregard for human rights. We cannot go through something like that ever again and I refuse to let thousands of people’s stories of struggle and fighting for freedom be for naught. It is this thought that was fundamental in my decision to, without hesitation, join the Humanities and Social Sciences strand for senior high school. I want to be able to learn more about history, humanity and the darkness that may trap us in its clutches, as well as how to shine a light against it.
“Being an aspiring writer myself, I then can’t help but to imagine what my life would be like if I did not have the freedom to express my opinions that if I even breathed a word against the dictatorship, the price could be my life. I could not do what I loved to do for fear of the police taking me away.”
Although, the times we live in today do breathe hope into the world anew in various forms of media that shape and influence thinking. A staunch user myself, I can definitely say that social media has granted me the opportunity to read about people’s stories and experiences, and learn from them, which is more than I can say about ignorant individuals who presume violation of human rights is in any way justifiable which is extremely relevant at this point in time, what with the infamous war on drugs that the current administration has been pursuing for over a year. This war on drugs is now almost synonymous to the extrajudicial killings that involve both police and Duterte supporters, and is uncannily mirroring Marcos’ time as dictator. Youth being killed without due process have ignited a flame of anger and disgust in Filipinos nationwide; and moreover, cases like Kian delos Santos’s have truly presented signs of power abuse by the administration. And if that is not enough, a House Representative meeting last September ended with a motion to grant the Commission on Human Rights a budget of one thousand pesos for 2018. As I’ve said, the history of the Philippines is built on struggle, and the notion that our own current government thinks so little of Filipinos’ human rights brings about a sense of foreboding similar to when one hears the words “…president declares Martial Law”.
I have tried my best to write about relevant issues, and lately my topic of choice has been the eerie similarities between then and now: martial law, and extrajudicial killings and the current administration, incorporating them into pieces I enter in contests, pieces I write for my blog, school projects, and even just tweets or any other social media posts. I strive to make as many people as I can be aware of the dangers of abuse of power or otherwise. Having the freedom to even write this without the repercussion of death-by-administration is a gift given to me by those who suffered in chains, those who fought against tyranny, and those who refused to keep silent in times of crisis. It is a gift that I will be utilizing for the rest of my life, and I have a long way to go, but right now, I am a student and a writer determined to stand for freedom, awareness, and humanity because, as the College Editors Guild of the Philippines’ motto states, “to write is always to choose”.