MANILA, Philippines – Survivors of torture and other atrocities under Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos marked 50 years ago Wednesday his declaration of martial law with demands for justice and an apology from his son – now the country’s president – in a stunning turnaround in fortunes for the once-maligned family.
Activists staged street protests and a musical concert and unveiled a documentary at the state-run University of the Philippines. They say the events were intended to prevent a repeat of the abuses and looting that began after Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines in September 1972, a year before his term expired.
The dictator was ousted in a military-backed “people power” coup in 1986 and died three years later without admitting any wrongdoing in exile in the US, where he, his family and friends had amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion. power
His son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide election victory, delivered a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. A small group of Filipino-American protesters mobbed him and at one point managed to approach him, berating him and repeatedly shouting “Never again under martial law!” When he got off a convoy and safely entered a building.
Neither he nor his top officials had made a statement about the martial law anniversary as of Wednesday afternoon.
For many survivors of torture under Marcos, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, the anniversary brings back trauma and painful memories of fellow victims, who were either killed by state forces or disappeared. They condemned efforts to shed light on the atrocities and portrayed the martial law years as a “golden era” on pro-Marcos social media.
“The wounds may have healed but deep inside, the anger and sadness is still there not only because I went through it but also because so many good and patriotic people died resisting the dictatorship,” said former cabinet official and women’s rights activist Judy Taguiwalo in 1980. Activists jailed and tortured for two years in the 1990s.
Taguiwalo, 72, apologized to the president and asked him to “stop lying about the horrors of martial law.”
Marcos Jr., 65, rejected such calls. In a TV interview last week, he said his father’s decision to declare martial law, suspend Congress and rule by decree was necessary to fight communist and Muslim insurgencies. He also said it was “wrong” to describe the late president as a dictator and denied that he and his family were whitewashing history.
Bonifacio Ilagan, a leftist activist who was detained for more than two years starting in 1974 and often beaten and severely tortured, said he could never accept Marcos as president. His sister was abducted by government agents in Metropolitan Manila in 1977 along with other anti-Marcos activists and has never been found.
“The trauma has come back with all its inhumanity,” Ilagan, 70, said, renewing his call for justice and Marcos’ unequivocal apology. “That’s why I couldn’t for the life of me say he’s my president.”
Loretta Rosales, former head of the Independent Commission on Human Rights, was arrested by military agents in 1976 along with five other activists and subjected to electric shocks and sexual abuse.
He said the president should comply with provisions of a 2013 law he co-wrote as a member of Congress that called for a museum to document the atrocities and commemorate the suffering of thousands of people.
The Act was used to compensate victims of torture. Separately, a Hawaii court found the elder Marcos liable for rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to more than 9,000 Filipinos led by Rosales who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, extrajudicial killings, imprisonment and disappearance.
Taguiwalo said the ousting of Marcos in 1986 was a high point, but poverty, inequality, injustice and other social ills still pervaded the country decades later. This allows political dynasties, including the Marcoses, to exploit deep discontent to their advantage.
“It’s not because we as humans are stupid or unforgiving,” Taguiwalo told The Associated Press. “I think the biggest lesson that we’ve always emphasized is that it’s not enough to overthrow a dictator or give back a certain amount of free press and academic freedom, civil and political rights.”
“You have to show that democracy works for the majority of people who should have jobs, land and a decent livelihood,” he said.