Martial Law

[OPINION] Time to move on from Martial Law?

John Leo C. Algo

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[OPINION] Time to move on from Martial Law?

Graphic by DR Castuciano

'It is clear that many of us do not understand the true meaning of freedom'

Most Filipinos are like kids. They do not care about logic. They only understand who is in front of them. And they tend to follow their parent, no matter how abusive he is. 

We are obviously seeing it during the Duterte administration, whether out of fear, apathy, ignorance, or ego. The sad part is we have seen this before. 

Nearly five decades have passed since then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines. While he claimed this was done to suppress civil unrest and communist threats, it became glaringly obvious that he simply took advantage of the chaos to create a dictatorship that plundered this nation for the next 14 years. 

The impacts of Martial Law are so devastating that we are still feeling the consequences today. By the time Marcos was kicked out of Malacañang, the Philippine economy was in bad shape from the corruption and heavy borrowing from other countries. Poverty rates drastically increased, the value of the peso went down, and the country’s reputation crashed. Truth be told, all of us are still paying for the trillions worth of debt today. 

No matter how hard the Marcoses try to make us forget, we remember that thousands were killed or tortured during this time. Their human rights were undoubtedly violated, their families suffered…and the dictator’s family does not even have the decency to apologize and admit to the crimes. 

Why would they? They are still in power, shamelessly portraying themselves as leaders for change. Remember that Imelda Marcos was found guilty of graft in 2018 and sentenced to prison, yet she is still not behind bars. And now, the dynasty’s newest politician who does not understand why the votes for President and Vice President are not the same is likely to win in 2022 just because he is a Marcos and capitalizes on unhealthy loyalty.

Nevertheless, arguably the most important fallout from the Martial Law era is our newfound appreciation of freedom. The restoration of democracy in 1986 gave hope for Filipinos to reverse the wrongs of Marcos, his family, and his cronies, and finally place our country on the right path. 

Obviously, not all wrongs have been corrected and the post-Martial Law leaders are to blame for that. But that is another conversation. That also does not redeem the Marcoses and friends from their damage to this nation. Two wrongs do not cancel each other out; this is not a telenovela. 

Even the Guinness World Records recognizes Marcos as responsible for the greatest robbery of a government. It seems everyone else worldwide already knows that the Marcoses should be punished…except for many Filipinos.

It is clear that many of us do not understand the true meaning of freedom. The same freedom that thousands died for during the Martial Law era is now being used by DDS and Marcos loyalists to try to rewrite history. Just because you see the word “free” does not mean you can just do whatever you want without consequences. 

Freedom is universal, but not absolute. We all know that too much of anything is bad for us. We have our rights, but with them are responsibilities and limits. When what we do harms others, that is where our freedom ends. The conversation then is no longer about, “I’m just exercising my rights;” it becomes about, “You abused your freedom and hurt others.”

Supporting an obviously corrupt, incompetent leader is like not wearing a mask in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic; they are irresponsible uses of your freedom. 

When we let people get away with abusing their rights, their freedom, and their power, that is the death of justice and accountability. When we let criminals rewrite our past and suddenly become heroes, that is the death of our history and identity. 

Just look at some of the big corporations, for example. Their profit-first practices have destroyed forests, polluted oceans and rivers, and ruined many communities. But because our leaders let them get away with their actions, we see the same issues repeat over and over again. 

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That is what people like Toni Gonzaga, who endorsed her wedding godfather Bongbong Marcos in 2016, just do not understand. Gonzaga was trying to be fair and neutral in her coverage of potential 2022 election candidates, but as a wise man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

When you allow someone like Marcos to shamelessly deny and lie about what his family has done since the Martial Law declaration, it is disrespectful to the victims of their abuse and corruption. When you show absolutely no humility for your wrongdoings or empathy for others, you are enabling the culture of violence, fraud, and misinformation that is ruining the Philippines. 

When you think about it, Duterte is implementing the COVID version of Martial Law right now. Lockdowns, military personnel in places where they should not be, extrajudicial killings, the economy in recession, his cronies getting rich too fast to be hidden…just like old times, right? 

[OPINION] Time to move on from Martial Law?

Let this be a lesson to all of us to be the living examples of “Never forget, never again.” We must fight this misinformation and historical revisionism about Martial Law or Duterte’s cheap copy of it, be they in textbooks or social media. We must fight to ensure that greedy, corrupt people get punished for the injustices they have caused. It will not be an easy fight and it might last beyond our lifetimes, but we must try rather than simply live and suffer. 

Whether you believe it or not, truth is, the fallout from Martial Law is an issue of national significance. This means that we all are stakeholders, and we have the right to resolve this for good. There is no neutral anymore.

Moving on is not an option, not until justice is served. If Marcos is a hero, we would gladly be the villains. Many people secretly prefer to watch the villains anyway. Wait, is that why the Marcoses and Dutertes are still popular? –

John Leo Algo is a climate advocate, environment researcher, and citizen journalist. He is as sick and tired of the toxic sociopolitical culture in the Philippines as many of us.

Voices is Rappler’s home for opinions from readers of all backgrounds, persuasions, and ages; analyses from advocacy leaders and subject matter experts; and reflections and editorials from Rappler staff. 

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