On July 11, 1983, Redemptorist priest Rosaleo Rudy Romano left his convent on a motorcycle in Cebu City. A white government car and and two other motorcycles blocked the priest's way. A witness said an armed military operative alighted from the car, snatched the priest's bag, removed his crash helmet and sunglasses, and shoved Fr Romano into the car. The car sped off, and the priest was never seen again. Fr Romano's disappearance was just one of the hundreds of similar cases that happened during the years of martial law under former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Many were arrested and tortured. There were those who disappeared but were fortunate enough to surface again. Others were not so lucky. "We remember the courage of those who have fought to bring down the dictatorship, those whose lives were sacrificed for freedom to be attained, and those who survived and continue to struggle and fight any form of repression," said Franciscan Sister Crescencia Lucero, chairwoman of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP).
For 40 years, the TFDP, which was established by the Association of Major Religious Superiors during the height of martial law, has remained witness to incidents of human rights violations in the country. The organization has documented 5,531 cases of torture, 2,537 cases of summary executions, 783 cases of involuntary disappearances, 238 incidents of massacre, and 92,607 cases of arrests during the two-decade rule of Marcos that ended in 1986. On Friday, human rights advocates led by TFDP vowed to stop martial law from ever recurring in the country again. The group was among a gathering of survivors from those dark years, held simultaneously in various parts of the country in commemoration of the disappearance of Romano. Sr Lucero said the years she spent in human rights work has made her stronger. "But despite my optimism, there is a bothersome thought that I continuously struggle to push away," she told ucanews.com. "I fear that the way things are going [in the country], there may be a chance that there will come a day when the Marcoses will once again be at the helm of power," the Franciscan nun said, referring to reports that Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr is running for president in the 2016 election. "God forbid. That is one nightmare I would never wish for anyone to go through," Sr Lucero said. Loretta Ann Rosales, a former human rights activist who now heads the government's Commission on Human Rights, said the key problem is that Filipinos have already forgotten the past. "If you look at the government, in Congress alone, you will see a lot of martial law loyalists," she told ucanews.com. "The people of Marcos are still there, and they continue to wield economic and political power," said Rosales, adding that it is a reality. "If you want to be a game changer, you have to go deep into the roots of the problem and develop your critical mass that can think and analyze the situation," she said. The problem that the Philippines is facing when it comes to human rights, she said, "is not just a question of economic plunder, civil and political rights violations, and the distortion of the entire bureaucratic system. It is the entire government." She added that martial law was a "lynchpin" that links the "distortion and manipulation within the government in terms of corruption and patronage politics. "The government still serves the vested interests of some people," she said. "Until such time that we will be able to correct the bureaucracy, and what it is for and how it is formed by martial law, nothing will ever change," Rosales said. On Friday, TFDP launched a “virtual museum of courage and resistance”, which contains pictures of victims of human rights violations, human rights advocates, incidents during the dictatorship, memorabilia, and the list of victims of martial law whose cases have been documented by the organization. "Let the museum be TFDP’s small contribution in the resistance against lies and deception being spread to portray the martial law years as this country’s glory days. The truth must come out. It must be told and upheld at all times," Sr Lucero said. "We owe it to ourselves, we owe it to Fr Rudy Romano and all those who have been martyred during martial law, and we owe it to the future generations to remain vigilant. Let us not become complacent."
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