Satur C. Ocampo | Wrong post-martial law decisions still hound us

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Last Wednesday in New York, President Aquino made two statements, both related to the martial law dictatorship that Ferdinand Marcos imposed on our nation 39 years ago that very day and ended with his ouster in February 1986.

One was this remark during an interview: “The desire of one man and a group decided for the people then, and until now the people continue to suffer from the wrong decisions made.”

The other was P-Noy’s observation that in ousting the dictatorship the Filipino people sought “open and accountable governance.” The same wish motivated those who elected him President, he added, thus he is pegging his government’s program on fulfilling their mandate.

Let us delve into the first statement. Few would disagree that the wrong decisions made by the Marcos dictatorship continue to inflict sufferings on the people today. But such continuing ill effects cannot be solely blamed on Marcos. The succeeding governments, starting with the Cory administration, share responsibility for this lingering injustice.

Take the repayment of huge foreign debts, including those incurred fraudulently and whose proceeds went into the pockets of Marcos and his cronies. P-Noy cited the big loan for the construction of the Bataan nuclear power plant, which has been maintained but unused since Cory’s time. Through the years we repaid the $2 billion loan, plus hundreds of billions in interest.

Yet, P-Noy said nothing about Presidential Decree 1177. Through this Marcos edict a large chunk of the national income has been automatically set aside yearly to service the nation’s debts. President Cory Aquino ignored appeals for her to repudiate the fraudulent and onerous loans, and seek the condoning or renegotiation of others. Other voices prevailed; she opted to honor all debts.

Despite the extraordinary powers bestowed on her to repeal the Marcos decrees and institute reforms, Cory retained PD 1177, among others. The 8th Congress approved a legislation repealing the decree; still, she vetoed it.

P-Noy also remarked that, Marcos “did a lot of things that violated the rights of the people, including trying civilians in military courts.”

Trial of civilians by military tribunals (which I experienced in seven of my nine years as political detainee) was minor — compared with graver human rights violations: extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, massacres, warrantless arrests, indefinite detention without charges, torture and other inhuman treatment (which I and many others also experienced).

Such violations have continued under all the post-martial law administrations.

In large part, this can be attributed to the wrong decisions made, ironically, by the Cory government that had pledged to be “the exact opposite” of the Marcos dictatorship. Among these are:

1. Retaining the same Armed Forces of the Philippines — including the Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) — that Marcos used to enforce martial rule, without weeding out or penalizing the officers and personnel responsible for human rights violations, abuses of power, and corruption. This has engendered the climate of impunity that prevails until now.

2. Selectively retaining repressive Marcos decrees, letters of instructions, and national security guidelines. These have been applied mainly against government critics who, under the Arroyo government, were systematically vilified as “enemies of the state,” pursued with wanton viciousness and, in many instances, with fatal consequences.

I recall the utter disappointment of the late patriot and statesman Jose W. Diokno, named by Cory to head the Presidential Human Rights Committee, over this double let-down. He had strongly recommended the repeal of all Marcos repressive decrees and the dismantling of the CAFGUs, for the new government to begin on a clean slate.

3. Starting the unjust practice of “criminalizing political offenses.” Persons suspected as CPP-NPA/NDFP members who had been taken into custody were charged with common crimes rather than rebellion (as was done under martial law) — like murder, kidnapping, etc. My wife and I were subjected to such treatment; we came out clean after three years of court hearings.

This practice violates the Supreme Court “political offense doctrine,” laid down in the landmark decision on “People vs. Amado V. Hernandez” in 1956 and consistently upheld in eight subsequent cases. It affirms that common crimes committed in furtherance of rebellion “become absorbed in the crime of rebellion and can not be isolated and charged as separate crimes in themselves.”

At present, most of the 360 political prisoners across the country are charged with trumped-up common crimes, in violation of the Hernandez doctrine, per the human rights alliance Karapatan. Recently, Karapatan took presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda to task for claiming that the P-Noy government has no political prisoner, and no policy of violating human rights.

Karapatan reminded Lacierda that Marcos had made exactly the same false claims.

Regarding his second statement, P-Noy announced that his government has a road map, dubbed the “2012 Philippine Government Action Plan,” aimed at responding to the people’s demand for open and accountable governance. The plan, he explained, shows “how serious we are in transforming our system from one that operates through secrecy, impunity and collusion, into a government that embodies transparency, accountability, and citizen engagement…”

Question: Does this plan include rectification of the mistakes cited above? Abangan!

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