Doctrine divides, Action unites


  February 2014

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 that
thrived under his dictatorship are still a threat to Filipinos,
including church people, almost three decades later.
(Photo from

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 system.

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.

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