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Justice at last for 70s freedom fighters

Compensation for Marcos abuses is a bold step

  • Susan F. Quimpo, Manila
  • Philippines
  • March 5, 2013
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On February 25, I joined thousands of people on Edsa, site of the 1986 people power "revolution," to mark the 27th anniversary of the restoration of democracy in the country.

I was with about 150 people, so-called survivors of martial law. We were each given a yellow visor, a yellow pin, a yellow VIP card to wear around our neck, and a white shirt with the words "Martial Law Survivor" printed on the back.

The group I was with once belonged to a different "revolution," one that was clearly not identified with the color yellow. The revolution we belonged to was a red revolution, one that believed in ending the US-backed dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and the crony institutions with a military solution. With a red army of 37,000 guerrillas and an underground network of cadres in all sectors of society, we sought to do just that.

Our red revolution fought long and hard, and lost. And the dear price we had to pay was measured by the tens of thousands arrested, tortured, raped, killed or disappeared.

It would be hard to reconcile the old black and white newspaper pictures from the 1970s of youthful activists storming the gates of the presidential palace with the group of middle-aged and senior citizens wearing “martial law survivor” shirts. A respected writer and one-time student leader/activist who walked with me to the commemoration site sighed with relief saying, “Thank God there’s a porta toilet!”

We came like war veterans on parade, some hobbling on sticks, others ribbing the other about wearing yellow, recalling that in our youth we said we’d rather be dead than yellow.

We came because, finally, 40 years after the onset of Marcos’ martial rule, the Compensation Bill remunerating human rights violation victims was to be signed into law. We came because, finally, the Philippine government acknowledged that the state under Marcos violated the human rights of its own citizens. We came because, finally, despite the onslaught of revisionist versions of martial law history, the truth has prevailed.

President Benigno Aquino was bold, some may argue, even foolhardy, to support and sign a bill that squarely states that government is accountable for its actions and is required to compensate the citizenry it had wronged.

One recalls that during the first year of the administration of Aquino’s mother, Corazon Aquino, she was overwhelmed by willful armed forces.  A manic witch-hunt of suspected communists ensued, and international human rights groups alleged that the number of arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings and disappearances of activists in 1987 alone surpassed the violations during the first three years of martial law.

But still Aquino signed the Compensation Bill into law.

Some of those who were with me at the yellow-confetti-ridden commemoration of the people power revolution did not share my jubilation. They asked about human rights violations perpetrated by the state after martial law. When are those owned and acknowledged?

What about the abductions of student leaders Sherlyn Cadapan, Karen Empeno and Jonas Burgos?

I share the grief and anger of the families of Sherlyn, Karen and Jonas, for I too have experienced their sense of ambiguity and loss. But there now exists this new law, and this new law states in no uncertain terms that state-sponsored violations of human rights did occur, that it is wrong, and that it should never happen again. And because this new law exists, it should not take another 27 years for justice to be served.

Susan F. Quimpo is author of "Subversive Lives: A family memoir of the Marcos years" a story of the Quimpos, a family of activists, and their experiences under martial law.

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