Moving On from Martial Law?

“Time and pain are necessary in determining the value of our personal belongings, possessions, and things that make us alive…”

That’s my Philosophy professor speaking. I was seated in the last row; as the curtain hindered the sun, we were discussing Axiology or the study of value. He gave us a clearer perspective regarding the topic by extracting our personal experiences.

A set of index cards were at the top of his table; he picked one of my classmates. “When was your last break-up? Gaano kayo katagal? (How long was your relationship?),” he asked.

“Noong last November po, Sir,” she answered tremulously.

“Hindi ka ba nasaktan? Hindi ka ba umiyak? (Did it not hurt you? Did you not cry?) the professor asked her again. She seized her left wrist before she could say anything. But through her eyes, the class saw her suffering from her last break-up. My professor had nothing to say but a judgement: “Sigurado ako hindi ka pa nakaka-move-on. (I’m sure you haven’t moved on.)”

If it takes a long time for us to forget the pain of the past, it is an indication that we attach value to these memories. On the other hand, the reverse is true. We may dismiss the importance of certain events if we do not make sense of our previous sufferings.

And one such event that has always caught my curiosity is Martial Law.

Martial Law in the Eyes of a Millennial

Obviously, I haven’t been born yet when Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was the President. I have always asked myself: “Bakit kaya hindi maka-move on ang mga biktima ng Martial Law? Bakit kaya masakit pa rin ang kanilang mga alaala?” (Why can’t the victims of Martial Law move on? Why do their memories still bring pain?)

What pushes the victims to preserve the dark memories of the past? Are they just too caught up in the past to live in the present? I decided to look into the stories of those who survived and those who died during Martial Law. Considering the numerous violations of human rights recorded back then, how easy is it to forget and move on if it happened to you or your family?

Based on the database of Amnesty International, more than 70,000 people were jailed and 34,000 more were tortured after the declaration of Martial Law (Proclamation No. 1081). No less than 3,000 people were killed by militiamen. These victims defended their rights amid the adversaries that threatened their lives. They fought bravely against tyranny and oppression.

Former Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares was 18 when he endured torture and imprisonment. An officer made him watch the ordeal of a fellow detainee that underwent electrocution through a wire that was inserted in his genitals. Also, a member of the defunct Philippine Constabulary played a game of Russian roulette while a gun was inside the mouth of Rep. Colmenares.

Another heartbreaking story was that of 23-year-old Lillosa Hilao who was raped and blatantly tortured by troopers from the Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit. She was heartlessly killed at Camp Crame. Postmortem findings revealed she had a swollen face, cigarette burns in her lips, injection marks in her arms, handcuff marks in her wrists and bruises in her torso.  She was one of the victims who died less than 24 hours after abduction.

They assembled peacefully and fought against the dictatorship to champion human rights; to protect members of their family who could be killed anytime and anywhere, and to stand against the atrocities of the Marcos rule.

In all the places where student activists were arrested, tortured and murdered, their pain still scream silently within its walls. It all happened during Martial Law. Who muted their voices? Whose hands are their blood on? How can you wipe away the tears of the survivors and the loved ones of the departed?

Some netizens are forcing people to forget the traumatic events that happened during Martial Law. For unity? Before forgiveness, there should be justice. We should be bothered that some can easily move on without any admission of guilt from the responsible parties. How will the pain disappear if no one is owning up to the mistakes of Martial Law?

No one from the Marcoses have even tried to retract or even recognize the wrongdoings of the Marcos administration. He may not be the mastermind of all the extra-judicial murders and enforced disappearances of his time but as the ruler of the country, the buck stops with him by virtue of command responsibility.

Worse, there are active attempts now to revise the history of the dictatorship through social media. Thus, we must all remain vigilant.

Nullifying Numbness

The historian George Santayan once wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Martial Law is not only about the Marcoses nor the Aquinos. Those dark days should not be limited to the discussion of who is a hero or who is a villain. Remembering the horrors of Martial Law sends all of us a more relevant message today.

If Marcos apologists and loyalists will continue to discredit the wrongdoings of the Martial Law era to our youth and the coming generations, history just might repeat itself again. That era taught us that human rights matter. And if we fail to remember that lesson, we will experience bitter reminders.

There are those who say life was better during Martial Law. It is easy to diminish the human rights violations back then because many of these supporters likely never had to embrace the pain of losing a loved one due to injustice.

If it’s not happening to us, why should we care? That’s the logic of some — what is there to fear if you’re not doing anything wrong. But what if by bad luck you become an unfortunate victim? This is what’s worrying. These killings can happen to anyone.

And we see the same situation happening today. There are people who remain oblivious and indifferent as deaths under investigation happen recklessly every night.

The Philippines is turning once again into an urban killing field. We can’t even blame the police for everything. There are unknown men taking advantage of the war on drugs, for better or for worse. Vigilantes are bypassing trial courts. More dead bodies are piling in the streets. All it takes to justify a murder now is to put up a cardboard next to the corpse.

So as not to repeat the errors of the past, we should learn and remember its lessons well.

Moving on is an essential step to healing. But there is a right way of doing it — and that is to recognize the pain and not to dismiss it as non-existent. Pain demands to be felt. It shouldn’t be ignored nor forgotten because it allows us to value everything that makes us alive.

“Just embrace the pain until there is no more,” said my professor as he ended his discussion.

[Entry 172, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Kyle Aristophere Atienza.

Kyle Aristophere Atienza is a Communication Major studying at the Far Eastern University. He is a community developer, social worker, and advocate of social entrepreneurship. He believes in human mutuality through compassionate actions. The discrimination he experienced during his early life started his interest to protect marginalized sectors.

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