Voices of hope against hope

In the Philippines, genuine peace that springs from the wells of justice remains a dream
Voices of hope against hope

Imelda Marcos, widow of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, emerges from a vehicle upon her arrival at the anti-graft court on Nov. 16. The court found Imelda guilty on seven counts of graft. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

Almost half a century after late dictator Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines the country's anti-graft court has ruled that his widow, Imelda Marcos, the former first lady, is guilty of graft. 

The 89-year-old Imelda has to serve six to 11 years in prison for funneling about US$200 million to Swiss bank accounts when she was governor of Metro Manila during the rule of her husband in the 1970s until the mid-1980s.

I was 9 years old when Marcos declared martial law. He closed Congress, silenced the media, arrested political enemies, and young activists.

As a student, I witnessed the displacement of urban settlers, the massacre of farmers, the killings, and the disappearance even of priests.

The so-called "people power uprising" in 1986 gave hope to the people, but the euphoria did not last long. 

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
The Marcos family came back. They were elected into office. In 2016, the remains of Marcos himself were buried in the Cemetery for Heroes.

The news of Imelda's conviction early this month was met with hope, but also skepticism. 

Loretta Ann Rosales, a victim of torture during the Marcos regime and later human rights commission head, said Imelda's conviction showed that "no one is above the law."

Daisy Valerio, wife of a victim of involuntary disappearance, said it was a "breakthrough in the continuing fight against impunity."

"I am hoping that our countrymen and women will not vote for any of the Marcoses [in the elections]. We should not elect thieves and human rights violators. Never again," she said.

Imelda is running for governor in Ilocos Norte province in next year's mid-term elections.

"It is a victory, yet incomplete," said Wilson Fortaleza of Amnesty International.

Jose Luis Gascon of the Commission on Human Rights said, "justice in the Philippines takes far too long in coming."

He said impunity has taken root since the period of the dictatorship and continues to this day. "The most egregious atrocities occur and hardly anyone is ever held to account," noted Gascon.

"I hold my breath as half of the conjugal dictatorship appeals," he said. 

"Even if her conviction is upheld, I have doubts that actual punishment will ever be meted out. At best, it is a moral victory against kleptocracy."

Ed Gerlock, a former political prisoner, said Imelda's conviction "removes the veneer of glamour and untouchability."

"Personally, I do not wish her ill, but pray that late in life, it might even be a kind of conversion. It is never too late," said Gerlock, a former Catholic priest.

Small and grand victories are important measures to combat against forgetting and to eventually attain much-needed peace. 

With impunity, violations of human rights are doomed to be repeated.  

In the Philippines, genuine peace that springs from the wells of justice remains a dream. To attain peace, we need to have justice. But it requires the healing of those hurt as well as confronting those responsible for the hurting.  

If justice is fully served on Imelda, it should be a model, a best practice for justice, in a wounded world where healing is imperative and where genuine peace seems unreachable.

Mary Aileen Bacalso is secretary-general of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances. For her commitment to the cause of the disappeared, the government of Argentina awarded her the Emilio Mignone International Human Rights Prize in 2013.

© Copyright 2019, UCANews.com All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.