Marcos atrocities: the pain continues

Ferdinand MarcosThe stories are as varied as the forms of torture, but these sordid tales all scream in pain; the cries reverberate beyond the confines of the prison cells and locked-up chambers of 40 years ago.

To this day, the thousands of victims of the military rule imposed on my country on 21 September 1972 still carry the marks of the torture they suffered in the hands of the military – rape; sexual assault; beatings; electrocution; enforced disappearances; being buried alive; shot in cold blood; hog-tied; water torture; solitary confinement; sleep deprivation.

The list goes on and on – and so does the memory of pain,sealed in the victims’ weary voices, their bruised hands, blank stares, burnt legs and the wounds that they carry. And to those who have disappeared, their loved ones’ empty nights of waiting desperately.

Last Friday saw the 40th anniversary of the start of the military regime. I hadn’t yet been born when dictator Ferdinand Marcos put the country under martial law, but the stories are told and retold by the survivors up to this day.

One victim, now a human rights worker, narrates how she was gang-raped by the members of the military; another remembers the exact chilling moment when the barrel of a gun was shoved inside his mouth and when every click meant either his life or death as his captor played Russian roulette while interrogating him. One child will never forget the image of his father shot before his very own eyes.

‘One will never forget the coldness of a gun’s barrel shoved into your skin,’ he says.

A journalist who wrote against the dictatorship suffered severe torture in jail. He was beaten on most nights, given electric shocks and his captors took turns pressing their lighted cigarettes on his skin.

Activists, human rights workers and journalists were captured and beaten. Many survived, but others disappeared in the dead of night, forcibly taken from their homes, never to be seen again. There were thousands of victims in the 14 years that the country was under the dictatorship.

Ferdinand Marcos justified the declaration of martial law, saying months of terrorist attacks needed some drastic government action.

But history would later tell us that Marcos’ defence minister, Juan Ponce Enrile, staged his own assassination to justify military rule.

In 1986, after the fall of the Marcos regime, democracy was restored. Political prisoners were freed and close to 10,000 human rights victims have now filed a class suit against the Marcos estate.

Yet, 40 years later, my country is far from being free. The cronies of the Marcoses remain in power. The business empires they grew during the Marcos years are even bigger now, while at least a third of the 94 million Filipinos live on less than a dollar a day. Hectares and hectares of agricultural land remain in the hands of landlords, despite a comprehensive agrarian reform programme that mandated the distribution of land to farmers. The economy continues to sag in debt, with expenditure far exceeding revenues. Members of the military continue their human rights violations. The press is now under attack by a new law that restricts free speech online.

Extrajudicial killings are rampant, and the only son of the dictator Marcos, who carries the same name as his father, is now a popular member of the Senate of the Philippines.

Photo: philippine presidency under a CC Licence