Impunity on extrajudicial killings is a Marcos legacy


Last Tuesday presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella was quoted as telling reporters how President Duterte felt about the drug-related killings, both by the police and vigilantes, under his watch: “I think he’s very concerned and, in fact, bothered and troubled. He is deeply and profoundly concerned.”

Did Abella accurately fathom the President’s innermost feelings on the matter?

By way of backing up his words, he averred that Duterte shared the sentiments of the many groups and individuals who have been expressing alarm over the extrajudicial killings (more than 1,000 victims in just over a month). Moreover, Abella said, the President had ordered an investigation of the death of some drug suspects who may have been victims of extrajudicial killings. (Is that order apart from DILG Secretary Ismael Sueno’s directive to PNP Chief Ronald dela Rosa and the Napolcom to probe allegations that policemen were behind the summary executions of drug suspects?)

If Abella correctly read Duterte’s feelings and if the latter’s investigation order would seriously be carried out and produce quick results, the public could probably heave a sigh of relief.

Coincidentally, Human Rights Watch – which has expressed concern both by the drug-related executions and the state security forces’ continuing extrajudicial killing of leftist activists, indigenous peoples and peasant and labor leaders – has urged President Duterte to seize the opportunity to “reverse the failings of previous administrations by giving priority to the human rights problems that have persisted in the country.”

The President, the international group suggested, must act decisively “to signal that his government will protect the rights of all Filipinos and roll back the country’s culture of impunity.” It specifically called attention to the “widespread impunity for members of the state security forces involved in serious human rights abuses” which has been going on until now.

Human Rights Watch hit the problem of impunity head-on. But while it referred to the failings of previous administrations to stem human rights violations, it didn’t say how, and when – under whose administration? – the culture of impunity began to rise and proliferate.

I have written about the culture, or climate, of impunity several times in this space and have pinpointed the Marcos dictatorship (September 1971-February 1986) as the one principally responsible and therefore primarily accountable to the Filipino people.

And credit for courageously, truthfully and graphically documenting the rise and prevalence of impunity goes to the human rights formations, starting with the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (formed by the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG, founded by the eminent patriots Jose W. Diokno and Lorenzo M. Tanada) in the mid-1970s. Today the vigilance is consistently led and sustained by the human rights alliance, Karapatan.

Ferdinand E. Marcos staged a coup of his own presidency by declaring martial law, arrogated power solely to himself, and used the combined military and police forces and their so-called civilian auxiliaries (notorious paramilitary groups, such as the CAFGUs) as key instruments for securing his rule and for repressing and doing its worst to suppress every real or imagined opposition. In a short span of time the state security forces became increasingly abusive towards the people and fatally brutal towards suspected “enemies of the state.” Why? They realized they had been given power over the life or death of every common citizen. They felt assured of being protected by the dictator against any attempt to charge, prosecute and punish them.

And to this day no military or police officer of significance, nor any civilian superior, has been arrested, prosecuted and penalized for the 70,000-plus cases of illegal arrests and detention, 35,000 documented torture cases, thousands of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, massacres and other human rights violations during the martial law period.

Sadly, after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship by the so-called people power uprising wherein the key implementers of martial law – Juan Ponce Enrile and Fidel V. Ramos – emerged as “heroes,” the new government of Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino retained the entire existing military and police apparatus, including the notorious CAFGUs, that served the dictatorship. The new government also retained many of Marcos’ repressive decrees (which Ka Pepe Diokno, named chair of the Presidential Committee on Human Rights, unsuccessfully tried to have rescinded).

Consequently, under each one of the succeeding post-dictatorship administrations, the killings, forced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests and detentions and other forms of human rights violations have continued unchecked.

If we want to put an end to this nefariously overextended climate of impunity, it is necessary to officially establish the accountability of Ferdinand E. Marcos the dictator, plunderer, and usurper of power, along with his collaborators and minions.

And as far as Marcos is concerned, the least the Duterte government should do is to disallow his mortal remains from being buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, either as former president or as a soldier. He has been conclusively discredited on both counts: ousted by popular uprising that earned admiration across the world, and his falsified military record debunked by the highest authorities. Why, we now learn – from a research-verification report by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, which opposes his burial at the Libingan – that even his promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the army was something that he faked himself!

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Published in The Philippine Star
Aug. 13, 2016

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