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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

Martial law then and now

Martial law then and now

Today's protesters see the clear links between the martial law regime of the late President Ferdinand Marcos and current President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Jimmy Domingo)

Published: October 05, 2017 05:00 AM GMT
The Philippines under Duterte is becoming hauntingly similar to that under dictator Marcos

It was the first time since World War II when the people of the Philippines suffered harsh jackboot oppression and wanton plunder.

President Ferdinand Marcos at the end of his second term in 1972, and fearing loss of power and influence, declared nationwide martial law, abolished Congress and vowed to continue in office.

Martial law swept away the sovereign rights of the people under the constitution protecting their lives, liberty and property. Marcos declared himself absolute ruler with legislative powers to rule by decree. Tyranny had arrived.

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Thousands of opposition leaders, party members, journalists and outspoken critics of the corruption of Marcos's previous years in office were rounded up and executed or jailed. Others fled abroad.

Many young idealists and freedom-loving youth fled to the mountains and forests. There they formed a resistance movement called the New People's Army based on communist ideology. It continues as a force to this day. 

The Marcos years witnessed the summary executions of many young people.

I remember in St. Rita Parish, Olongapo City, a young boy, 16 years old, a drug suspect who had escaped from the local jail, was found by police hiding in a hillside shack. They called him to surrender. In front of the neighbors he came out and was ordered to kneel down and the police shot him in the head. It was a horrific execution of an innocent boy. 

Like the murders of youth today in the war-on-drugs, no evidence was needed, just the bullet to the head or a dagger plunged into the heart by killer police, serial killers, and psychopaths high on drugs and crazed with power and impunity and highly paid for their body count.

That's how it was then and is now.

The brutal Marcos regime plundered the nation of billions of dollars and tons of gold. Only a fraction of that ill-gotten wealth has been recovered.

Private businesses of the opposition and critics were confiscated, the owners killed or driven into exile, their properties taken over by Marcos cronies.

Death squads spread over the nation. Bodies were found on the roadside, tortured and killed. Militias went wild and vented a reign of terror on church people. The slogan of the campaign was "Be a patriot and kill a priest."

Marcos also had a war-on-drugs. He cracked down on pushers and distributors and jailed thousands of young drug users and dependents. He executed in public on live television an accused Chinese drug dealer; no evidence or proof was needed to establish his guilt. That caused a worldwide sensation.

The oppression and jailing, torture and killing of critics without trial is a brutal legacy being imitated today.

Sex tourism was allowed to proliferate under the regime and foreign pedophiles were everywhere a source of foreign revenue that Marcos was desperate for to prop up a faltering economy. There was the case of Rosario Baluyot, a young girl sexually abused by a suspected U.S. serviceman. She died a horrific painful death in the inadequate and discrepant Olongapo General Hospital. A broken part of a sex toy was found in her body, causing severe infection from which there was no cure.

A tourist was found, arrested, charged and found guilty just to cover for the U.S. naval base at Subic Bay beside Olongapo City. His conviction deflected accusations of the rampant sexual abuse by American troops against poor Filipino women and children in city's main industry —  "sex for sale." 

When a child sex ring, composed of U.S. Navy men abusing children as young as 9 years old was uncovered by Preda social workers, the regime tried to close down the child-care center and deport the founder.

This was the legacy, too, of martial law, a spreading sex industry turning Filipino women and children into prostitutes for foreign customers.

There was a total dependency on U.S. military might to supply the martial law police and army with weapons used to suppress the Filipino people. It was soon after the People Power Revolution drove Marcos from power that the Preda campaign to remove the bases and convert the infrastructure into an economic zone became a coalition of the willing and was a resounding success.

Much of the Marcos legacy remains known today despite efforts by his rich family members to clean up his image with a burial in the cemetery for heroes, the declaration by Duterte of a holiday to celebrate the birthday of Marcos and the failed effort of his son Bong-bong Marcos to get elected as Duterte's vice president. 

Today, those who idolize Marcos are repeating history and his March of Madness, and imitating the worst killing spree and atrocities of his martial law regime.  We have martial law today in Mindanao and perhaps all over the nation soon. The voice of reason crying out for justice and an end to the killing must grow louder and persistent until peace and justice come to be.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.


UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia