Young Filipinos join a protest led by religious leaders to mark the 46th anniversary of the declaration of martial law on Sept. 21. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
Priests, nuns and activist groups in the Philippines have called for an information campaign to counter what they described were attempts by the heirs of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to "whitewash" history.
The call came on the heels of a television program that featured Marcos' son, Ferdinand Jr., and Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos' defense minister and martial law architect who led an attempted coup that precipitated the 1986 "people power" uprising that ousted the dictator.
In the program aired last week, Enrile claimed the Marcos dictatorship never killed, tortured or arrested dissidents. There were no massacres under Marcos, he claimed.
Nardy Sabino of the Promotion of Church People's Response said Enrile's comments seemed to have the blessing of Duterte, who has said he would retire if the younger Marcos was installed as vice-president.
Marcos Jr. has been contesting Maria Leonora Robredo's victory during the 2016 vice-presidential race.
Former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel, a critic of the Marcos dictatorship, warned that Enrile was setting the stage for the Marcos family's return to power.
"They are hallucinating to deny history for their own political survival and interest," said Sabino, who enumerated the names of priests killed during Marcos' 20-year rule.
Oblates priest Eliseo Mercado Jr. said Enrile had opened a "can of worms" with his interview.
"I personally heard the testimonies of witnesses [of massacres]," said the priest, who called on Filipinos to flood social media with stories of personal suffering during the years of martial law.
"I heard all the gory details," said Father Mercado, referring to the massacre of at least 1,500 Moro people in Mindanao in September 1974. "No amount of perfume or detergent or balm will wash away the smell of blood on your hands unto death," said the priest.
Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said it is "impossible to build peace on lies."
"The blood of the people slain in these massacres stains more than just the hands of Marcos," the governor said.
He said Enrile, as defense secretary, would have known about the killings, especially those involving military personnel.
"How can [Enrile] say there were no martial law victims? Why is he revising history?" said Carmelite priest Christian Buenafe.
The priest said it was Enrile, when he was a senator, who signed a law creating the Human Rights Victims' Claimants Board. The law allowed compensation for more than 11,000 victims of human rights abuses during the time of Marcos' reign.
In a statement, the influential Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines said the church has played an important role "during the dark years of martial law until the fall of the dictatorship."
A task force organized by the religious group has documented human rights abuses during the dictatorship, listing 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.