Cardinal Jaime Sin was a witness to corruption and abuse during the time of Ferdinand Marcos. (Photo supplied)
On Sept. 23, 1972, at exactly 7:17pm, President Ferdinand E. Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law.
The proclamation ushered in 14 years of cronyism and corruption, the murder of dissenters, forced disappearances and other human rights violations.
Marcos said martial law was in response to an alleged threat to the country’s stability from the Communist Party of the Philippines and a purported rebellion in the Mindanao region by Muslim separatists.
Opposition lawmakers at the time such as Jovito Salonga and Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. accused Marcos of blowing things out of proportion to quench his thirst for power.
In a later report, Amnesty International said martial law under Marcos saw 3,257 victims of extrajudicial killings, 35,000 documented acts of torture, 77 disappearances, and more than 70,000 incarcerations without warrants.
Nearly 50 years after martial law was declared, many Filipinos believe authoritarianism has returned to the Philippines and that democracy, which many had died for, is being threatened once again.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s rule is perceived akin to Marcos’ martial law days due to the rising number of extrajudicial killings and messianic promises that often lead to the victimization of the poor and defenseless rather than national healing and development.
Attacks on press freedom, a common denominator between presidents, has been criticized as the weaponization of law to silence government critics.
When the media was critical of Marcos and his cronies, he issued Letter of Instruction No. 1 which ordered the press secretary and secretary of national defense to “take over and control … all newspaper, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media of communications, wherever they are.”
Marcos’ purpose was to prevent the use of propaganda that would undermine the faith and confidence of the people in the government and aggravate a national emergency.
He treated the media as the enemy of the state for allegedly supporting communist ideals that rattled the populace to lose faith in government.
Marcos, therefore, ordered the closure and control of certain media outlets like the Radio Philippines Network, Philippines Broadcasting System and the Daily Express.
When his intelligence units knew Cardinal Jaime Sin would deliver a speech against him via the Catholic-owned radio station Radio Veritas, Marcos’ soldiers bombed the station’s transmitter. Little did they know that the station had a small transmitter hidden beside its building.
A monopoly of the media was the norm. It was after all the most efficient way to form and control public opinion.
Marcos’ project began with closures accompanied by threats to journalists and news anchors.
No one would like to work for a company critical of Marcos after receiving news of disappearances like that of Primitivo Mijares, a close Marcos adviser and former head of the government Media Advisory Council.
Mijares wrote a book titled The Conjugal Dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos in which he exposed how the couple plundered the country’s coffers for their own political and personal ambition.
“The sense of urgency in finishing this work [his book] was also goaded by the thought that Marcos does not have eternal life and that the Filipino people are of unimaginable forgiving posture. I thought that, if I did not perpetuate this work for posterity, Marcos might unduly benefit from a Laurelian statement that, when a man dies, the virtues of his past are magnified and his faults are reduced to molehills,” Mijares wrote in his book.
Duterte’s move against international journalist Maria Ressa and denying a franchise grant to ABS-CBN Corp. are like Marcos’ plots to suppress dissent. Ressa and ABS-CBN were staunch critics of Duterte’s war on drugs.
In 2016, Ressa exposed Duterte’s troll farm creating fake news to shape public opinion. Fake news against Duterte’s political rivals was quickly picked up and shared on Facebook by trolls — individuals with fake accounts paid to advertise or popularize fake news and bully dissenters in social media.
With all these events happening, Philippine society needs a Cardinal Sin who will once again serve as the voice in the conscience of many.
Cardinal Sin, a former archbishop of Manila, became a witness to corruption and abuse during the time of Marcos. He criticized the dictatorial regime by saying that Marcos’ policies were contrary to the teachings of Christ in the gospel.
When he was criticized for meddling in politics he said: “Separation of the Church and state is like a railroad track. It cannot be closed to one another, neither can it be distant, because there will be a derailment. We [the Church] should cooperate with the government and the government should cooperate with us because we're serving the same people.”
The cardinal taught that sin was not merely personal but social and structural in nature. The Church’s mission, therefore, was not only to forgive sins that were personal but the root causes of it. Graft and corruption were structural sins that needed attention from the Church as well.
Cardinal Sin left a legacy of hope that the Catholic Church was not blind to the joys and cries, hopes and anguish of its people. Now that the Philippine nation is beset once again with structural sins, may church authorities be reminded of their pastoral role to guide the people of God towards a better society.
May the spirit of Cardinal Sin inspire clergymen and church leaders to address sins that are not only personal but structural in nature.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.