Friday, June 18, 2021

Maglana: Martial law and historical injustice

IT BOGGLES the mind: this tendency of the Duterte administration to wax eloquently about historical injustices against the Bangsamoro, indigenous peoples, and Mindanao in general without referencing horrific experiences during the time of Marcos’s martial law and not recognizing the risks of a repeat performance under the current one put in effect by Proclamation 216.

Aside from notoriously known violations like the 1974 Taqbil Masjid massacre in Palimbang, Sultan Kudarat and the 1971 Manili massacre in Carmen, North Cotabato, there were many lesser known crimes against civilians like the 1978 incident in Buluan where soldiers shot at 15 farmers.

Even more transgressions were likely committed against indigenous peoples who are at the frontline of defending forests and mineral lands from intrusions, except these were not documented and widely disseminated.

Although steps have been taken like documentation by the Commission on Human Rights of the Palimbang massacre and compensation under the Human Rights Victims Claims Board (HRVCB), government actions from the time of President Cory Aquino onwards have not been adequate.

From the lens of transitional justice-dealing with the past, developments in Philippine society post-Marcos dictatorship indicate that we have not been able to satisfactorily deal with martial law.

We see manifestations of what lawyer Ruben Carranza of the International Center for Transitional Justice described as efforts to cultivate “a version of Marcos that depicts his dictatorship as necessary, its repression justified, its corruption no worse than that of other politicians and his legacy as far better than that of the presidents that followed.”

That we observe these in the work of people who, in all likelihood, have been directly mobilized by the Marcos network is not surprising. But hearing pronouncements and actions from President Rodrigo Duterte, himself, endorsing this white-washed version of Marcos and the Marcos years is disappointing.

Many supporters of President Duterte, who are earnest in their hopes for redress of historical injustice, have been duped into uncritical acceptance of Marcos presence and influence among the bloc of Duterte supporters.

Key to this is the ongoing systematic and insidious scheme to reduce Philippine society into only two camps: supporters of Duterte and those against him. This binary thinking has paved the way for wholesale political rehabilitation not only of Marcos, but also of disgraced leaders Erap Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and their enablers.

The two-camps and destabilization by anti-Duterte forces storyline is being used to justify the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a reaction to the ICC's preliminary examination of allegations of human rights violations under Pres. Duterte. For good measure, the narratives of anti-meddling from foreigners—a perversion of nationalism in this case—and alleged poor performance of the ICC have also been introduced.

The tragedy is that international courts like the ICC are one of a few critical mechanisms to ensure that justice is accorded to those victimized by massive violations under repressive regimes when it is not possible under domestic formal justice settings.

Lessons from history bear out that authoritarian control over governments is absolute to the point that redress might not be had even when dictators are no longer in power.

In such cases, lawyer Carlos Castresana Fernandez, Public Prosecutor of the Spanish Supreme Court and member of the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, recommends applying the principle of complementarity and trying out alternative domestic jurisdictions, universal jurisdiction, hybrid mechanisms, and international justice mechanisms.

It is ironic that an administration ushered into power by tapping into legitimate grievances and thirst for justice would strip Filipinos one of the options for obtaining justice.

But it is not at all surprising. History is also replete with accounts of tyrants who tried to put themselves beyond the reach of law.

As was the experience of Castresana in Guatemala in the first decade of the 2000s, those who seek justice can look to help from international quarters. Even those who seemed “untouchable” at one point can be subjected to effective criminal investigations.

Guatemalans finally saw those responsible for high levels of violence, criminality, a collapsed security and justice system, poverty, deep-seated corruption, and indigenous exclusion brought to justice. A former president and many top-level ministers, judges, police and military officials, and business people were held accountable.

Tyrants may manage to constrain the hand of the law for a time. But there is no staying the long arm and firm hand of justice.

Email feedback to


SunStar website welcomes friendly debate, but comments posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of the SunStar management and its affiliates. SunStar reserves the right to delete, reproduce or modify comments posted here without notice. Posts that are inappropriate will automatically be deleted.

Forum rules:

Do not use obscenity. Some words have been banned. Stick to the topic. Do not veer away from the discussion. Be coherent. Do not shout or use CAPITAL LETTERS!