Betrayal of EDSA:
A Throwback to the Martial Law Era?
Edre U. Olalia
The People Power Revolution in the
Philippines removed Ferdinand
Marcos from power in 1986, but the human rights violations
thrived under his dictatorship are still a threat to
including church people, almost three decades later.
(Photo from www.positivelyfilipino.com)
After 28 years of platitudes and grand rhetoric, this year is the
height of insult and affront for victims of the Marcos dictatorship
as President Benigno S. Aquino seems to ignore years of effort at
creating fundamental change for the benefit of the majority of our
people in the Philippines.
In a fundamental sense, the Aquino presidency has practically put us
back precisely to the martial law era: to the age of widespread
corruption and the systematic marauding of government coffers; to
monopolies and oligopolies by a tiny elite living ostentatiously
amidst penury; to a degrading quality of life and the diminishing
economic power of the ordinary Filipino who is deprived of basic
social services; to flagrant state violence and vicious attacks on
human rights and the callous denial of such; to the failure to
attain real justice in a discriminatory system despite the “rule of
law” shibboleth; to U.S. intrusion and domination in political,
military, social and economic affairs; and to unresolved roots of
the armed conflict raging in the countryside. Indeed, the only thing
missing might be the blanket military and legislative powers
exercised by Ferdinand Marcos—or essentially maybe not.
One outstanding betrayal, among so many, is Aquino’s appointment of
a police general as head of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB).
It is reminiscent of Marcos’s own dependence on a loyal army and
police and his revolving door policy—one important facet of which is
appointing retirees to political positions. In selecting a state law
enforcer with no natural affinity, track record or known advocacy
for human rights, Aquino, in one fell swoop, demolishes whatever
gains and progress martial law victims have achieved.
The human rights victims are not beggars and are not concerned
merely with seeking compensation for themselves for past and
continuing atrocities. Rather, it is rewriting the history of human
rights violations during the martial law regime that is the larger
concern. By insisting on his choice that escapes reason and common
sense, Aquino is effectively exonerating the entire system that
perpetrated the abuses, justified their occurrence and concealed
them with a veneer of impunity. This outcome is nothing short of
contempt and revulsion for “fellow” victims of the martial law
regime. The present has become the sum of all our fears: that “never
again” will happen again.
Do not the headlines of today—spiraling consumer costs,
dissatisfaction or distrust with government, unbridled corruption,
breakdown of “law and order”—echo those of the past?
Are not the perils of earlier times— extrajudicial killings,
enforced disappearances, torture and a lack of certain
accountability—still menacing us today?
It may come in different shapes and sizes, but fear will always feel
the same. The sheer dread of losing out to an “unjust” rule of law
permeates our society as the same ruling elite play around with the
Or, as the more things change, the more things, indeed, basically
remain the same. In the end, no real sense of history comes from the
ivory tower of caciques.
As the people become increasingly perceptive, however, our governors
can no longer take comfort in pedigrees or camouflage pretentious
self-righteousness. It will take only a little while though before
it becomes obvious that, from the point of the view of the people,
the beginning of the end of the old society must genuinely start
anew, a chance to squeeze out of the gridlock of the long and
winding road of so many things that are wrong in Philippine society.
* Edre U. Olalia is the secretary-general of the National Union
of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) in the Philippines.