Last year, the 41st the anniversary of the declaration of martial law, I wrote a long post about you ending with, “Old as you are, you may never be brought to justice. And I doubt your conscience bothers you, enamored as you seem by unearned wealth and the pomp of your dishonorably gained positions. But I remember and will remember, with the hope that history will, like me, condemn.”
How much has changed in less than a year.
And now, as you, a 90-year-old, are confined to a hospital under arrest, let me charge you with what has been in my heart all these years. Because I do accuse you. And not just with the plunder charges the government has filed against you.
I accuse you of torture and murder. Not just of people unknown to me, but also of my friends. I accuse you of having committed the crime of plunder long before you stole your PDAF as a senator.
I do this not out of vindictiveness, but out of a need for healing that you owe me and all those who passed through martial law. I do not do this in anger, but in order to share with those who did not go through those years. They need to understand why you and those like you should never ever be allowed to have power again.
Now is a good time. If we did not learn our lesson then, it is time to look back now – time to realize that those who betray the nation are likely to betray it again. As you have done after martial law.
Ah, what catharsis to write this! What a relief to be able to call you names. I remember how you would punish people who criticized you, Marcos, and your cabal. This is what you did to my friend and former Philippine Collegian editor, Abraham Sarmiento, Jr. You imprisoned him for writing editorials critical of martial law. You released him only after you personally expressed displeasure over the editorials. I know because he told me. He stuck to his principles after release. You imprisoned him again and kept him in a cell until his health had so deteriorated he died shortly after his second release. Even as you seemed to recover your career, I often comforted myself with the thought that at least the sacrifices of those who fought the dictatorship allowed me the freedom to criticize you. That I did not do so daily was merely because of my limitations and not out of new-found respect for you.
Do you think I have forgotten my mother’s years of excruciating worry as she watched me go deeper and deeper into the anti-dictatorship struggle? Oh, how her friends would comfort my mother, “Don’t worry, Rita. If she gets caught I will agree to his advances and spend the night with him in exchange for your daughter’s freedom.” Yes, even then we knew that you were a predator as well. You were so lascivious my humble family knew of two people whom you had propositioned. You abused power to the maximum. You made us see with clarity what Hannah Arendt calls “the banality of evil.”
Detention, torture during martial law
And I, like many who lived through those years, knew of your evil as a daily reality. My first job as a young doctor was with a health and human rights organization. I worked with those who had been tortured. Those days, detention and torture were almost a sure-fire combination. So I and a couple of colleagues would make the rounds of the detention centers with every new report of an arrest, hoping that, with a quick response, people would be tortured less, not killed.
We would present ourselves at the detention centers to any officer who would see us. (They never had a real system for us. That would mean some form of accountability.) We had to be brave because we knew at once this marked us as communist enemies. But they also had to have a semblance of regularity. So our requests would be considered. If the officer was a tough psychopath, he would just say “no” outright. But this would give us ammunition to go squealing to international human rights groups.
So we would often have to wait for hours for someone from the Judge Advocate General’s Office (JAGO) to make a decision. I never met anyone from JAGO then. I did often get turned away by that office. If the JAGO turned us away, we would write you. Very rarely, for reasons unknown, you or JAGO would agree to our visit, often after weeks of delay. We always thought the delay was to ensure the torture would continue. Marcos, you and your military believed in torture as an investigation technique. After the torture, you would have us wait a few more days until the physical evidence of torture had disappeared. If there was enough international pressure; if you wanted us off your backs; if our seeing the detainees would not cause you any harm, you let us see them.
But they would tell us their stories. A detainee was lucky if all he or she got was getting beaten within an inch of their life. (I guess they left that for the amateurs called fraternity boys.) Electrocution, water boarding, rape and other forms of sexual harassment, sleep deprivation, hearing your wife being raped, hearing your comrades being tortured, being asked to sit on a block of ice while naked – your minions were so depraved in what they created.
Six weeks ago, labor leader Romy Castillo died of lung cancer. In 1984 your military electrocuted his testicles, put a barbecue stick up his penis, repeatedly submerged his face in a feces-filled toilet bowl. They beat him and played Russian roulette on him. I cannot forget the day, shortly after his ordeal, when I visited him in detention. I will not let you forget his story nor escape your liability for it.
Your military killed my childhood friend Lorenzo Lansang when he was only 19 years old. He was summarily executed in a field in Quezon province. Your hands are smeared in his blood and I will always point out how bloody they are.
I blame you and Marcos for the corruption and brutality of the military and police today. I still keep abreast of the torture situation. And it looks like the police and military have no idea how to interrogate and investigate without varying degrees of torture and intimidation thrown in. They have become addicted to it. All those recent reports of human rights violations by state authorities? Your face is on the logo.
And I remember that your wealth came from the thievery of the martial law years. It does not therefore surprise me that you stole your pork barrel funds.
You find me too dramatic? I could fill entire pages with more stories. And I am not alone. How lucky that I am much younger than you. I and my cohort will live after you and tell our tales.
Dear Johnny boy, I bet you miss the days when you could have imprisoned me for this. When you could have had your military rape me as revenge. I, on the other hand, am so glad you are under arrest now. Defanged, at last. Hopefully forever.
Unlike you, however, I would not wish torture upon those I truly think are enemies of the people. In short, I would not torture you. I would not deny you seeing your lawyers or doctors or relatives as you did to so many during martial law. It is fitting though that you may suffer in detention more than usual. I do note that you may be experiencing pain because you are old and infirm. I note it.
Your conviction will be so good for our country. It will show that such diabolical behavior will not always be rewarded. That somehow power can end and then a price will have to be paid. It may deter future wrongdoing. It may convince a few more people not to value the things you value.
The only thing I am afraid of is that you are morally incompetent. So much of your record indicates “sociopath.” I fear that it does not matter to you what people think or will remember. It isn’t right that your punishment will be so short because you’re not likely to live 20 more years. That was the amount of time you kept our people subjugated to martial law. So I can only hope that you at least care enough so that the last days of your life can be lived in regret.
I am hoping you care about how history will remember you. You did write and spend for the publication of that lie of a memoir. So I hope that you live to see your conviction. That after your conviction, all those you intimidated and harmed before, during, and after martial law will find the courage to tell their stories. I hope that you live to hear those stories.
But for now, this is my story. And before you go, I want you to know that the other stories will come. It’s called History. It’s called karma. – Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada-Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in Psychology. She is Professor of the Department of Women and Development Studies, College of Social Work and Community Development, University of the Philippines. She is also co-founder and Chair of the Board of Likhaan Center for Women’s Health.