MANY times and situations in Philippine national life have called for the application of transitional justice-dealing with the past (TJ-DwP) and recent events underscore the severity of consequences when it is not systematically pursued.
The list covers not only horrendous abuses committed by Spanish, American, and Japanese forces in pursuit of their colonial agenda but also those that occurred under Filipino watch. More contemporary examples include the Marawi crisis of 2017 and extrajudicial killings related to the anti-illegal drugs campaign.
But the rule of Ferdinand Marcos from December 1965 to February 1986 stands out as a period showcasing massive and systematic abuses of human rights directed not only at specific groups and communities but also the entire nation. To advance the interest of his family and those aligned with him and also perpetuate themselves in power, Marcos caused—through direct orders, by setting up the environment that enabled it, or plain inaction—violations of civil, political, economic, and cultural rights at such a scale and over a long period of time that Marcos became part of a global line-up of brutal dictators and his wife Imelda became an updated symbol of Marie Antoinette associated with vulgarity and excess. Worse, Filipinos of today still feel the consequences of these violations particularly the onerous foreign debt that we are still paying.
There are many frameworks and responses for post-colonial and post-authoritarian situations. But the incorporation of TJ-DwP is important to address human rights abuses that in the move to the new dispensation could end up being swept under the rug.
TJ-DwP is not a special type of justice but according to the United Nations is “justice adapted to the often unique conditions of societies undergoing transformation away from a time when human rights abuse may have been a normal state of affairs.”Undertaking TJ-DwP deliberately entails mechanisms and measures in pursuit of four pillars: the rights to know, justice, reparation, and guarantee of non-recurrence. All four pillars are important and have reinforcing effects.
A number of efforts related to TJ-DwP were initiated after Marcos was ousted in 1986. These include the creation of mechanisms such as the Commission of Human Rights (CHR), Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), and human rights offices in the security sector. Laws on reparation (RA 10368 and 10766) were passed and gave birth to the Human Rights Victims Claims Board. CHR undertook an initial investigation of the Palimbang massacre committed under Marcos and planned to establish a museum on the Marcos Martial Law period. The Constitution also has more stringent provisions on the declaration of martial law.
However, the Transitional Justice and Reconciliation Commission established as part of the Bangsamoro peace process noted that the initiatives, while good, came across as piecemeal rather than part of a comprehensive strategy and did not enjoy the support coming out of broad and transparent consultations. Things were indeed happening, but it wasn’t clear to many Filipinos why and to what end.
This weak constituency for holistic TJ-DwP post-Marcos is among the reasons the Philippines seems to be reversing many of its democratic gains. Another, and perhaps bigger, reason is that there are insidious and highly-funded forces at work to erode and even undo initiatives to bring the Marcoses to justice and prevent another dictatorship. These schemes were started years ago, have incubated well, and found a better environment under the Duterte administration.
The schemes include efforts to discredit and cripple the CHR and undermine and remove those in judiciary and executive offices such as the Ombudsman and COMELEC that are opposed to the ‘political rehabilitation and revival’ of the Marcoses. Recently, the House voted to abolish the PCGG and transfer its functions to the Office of the Solicitor General that is headed by an official who is an open campaigner of the Marcoses.
To those who insist that these are simply to streamline governance and without the blessings of Malacañang, the Presidential Spokesperson said that most of PCGG’s functions have been accomplished. This, despite the gnawing sense that only a small portion of the suspected US$5 to 10 billion plundered by the Marcoses has been recovered.
The challenge is greater under an administration described by observers as “Duterte but propped by interests aligned with the Marcoses, Arroyos, and even Estradas” whose leadership were contested in their time. But there is no better time to resist authoritarianism and elite rule than when they are shamelessly rearing their ugly heads.
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