By Leandro DD Coronel
Finally, victims of the iron rule of Ferdinand Marcos have official proof that the dictator did violate citizens’ human rights and caused great anguish and suffering among the people.
Checks for $1,000 (equivalent to 43,200 pesos) have recently been distributed to a number of martial-law victims here. Eventually some 10,000 persons will receive the amount as evidence that their rights were violated during martial law. Marcos ruled the Philippines with an iron hand for 20 years (1966-1986), 14 of them under martial law.
The money came from a judgment of a US court in Honolulu on a case brought against Marcos by martial-law victims.
$1,000 is, of course, a piddling amount, almost an insult, but it’s value is in its being proof that Marcos disregarded citizens’ rights by killing, torturing or otherwise causing them harm and/or humiliation. To say that the amount is not enough to salve the wounds of those hurt by martial is a gross understatement. But it is, finally, official proof that martial law under Marcos did cause much harm, a lot of it fatal, on citizens whose only crime was to voice dissent against the dictator.
Nevertheless, some of the recipients of the judgment money have said that, even though it’s a meager amount, it would somehow help in, say, fixing a leaky roof, buy medicines for a couple of months, or pay some of the children’s school fees. Yes, many of the martial-law victims are of lowly personal circumstances so that any amount would go a long way in their personal needs.
But still, $1,000 is a pittance, especially for the families of those who died fighting martial law. $1,000 will never bring back the dead.
It is a pittance compared to the billions of pesos that Marcos and his wife Imelda plundered from the people’s treasury. What the small amount can buy are crumbs compared to the scandalously extravagant trinkets and baubles that Imelda gobbled up in her infamous buying sprees in the shopping capitals of the world. It is a pittance compared to the loss of unfulfilled lives.
So, forget the $1,000. The nominal amount is immaterial. It’s value, again, is in its symbolism that it is punishment against Marcos and his family.
And while it is just a symbol of the deadly abuses of the Marcoses, it is a powerful notice to the whole world that the strongman and his minions directly, willingly, and purposely caused many people suffering and loss in tragic proportions. This is especially important because up until this actual distribution of money to Marcos’s victims, his family had been boasting that they never did anything wrong because no judicial judgment had been meted on their patriarch or anyone of them in his family.
Indeed Marcos’s son, obscenely called Bongbong, had claimed on the 25th anniversary (last February 25) of his father’s ouster, that had Marcos the elder been able to stay in power, the Philippines would today be prosperous and be another Singapore. Marcos’s surviving family have been unremorseful over the plunder and pillage inflicted on the country by the patriarch and it’s this kind of hubris that sticks in people’s craw to this day. With still more hubris, Bongbong (who, inexplicably, was voted to the national Senate in the last elections — proof of the Filipinos’ flawed forgiving nature) has revived his family’s desire to have his father’s corpse interred in the Libingan ng mga Bayani or Heroes Cemetery.
So here is the proof — official, formal and in writing — that Marcos was guilty of grave abuses. Here is proof that Marcos had inflicted unspeakable mental and physical pain and hurt on his own countrymen. Here’s proof that he devastated his own country and set it back — contrary to his lightweight heir’s delusional claim — in unquantifiable economic terms.
But still, $1,000 is an insultingly petty amount. Much work, therefore, remains to be done for a full accounting of Marcos’s abuses and misdeeds. The wheels of justice have crawled at a painfully slow pace, typical of the country’s justice system. Those who are pushing the cases in behalf of the government and the Filipino people as a whole have their work cut out for them. It will probably take many more long years before a similar — hopefully more substantive and more definitive — judgment will be earned. Certainly, their contributions to fighting the heavy arm of Marcos’s martial rule are worth more, much more.
Incidentally, in the celebrations here of the anniversary of what we Filipinos call People Power — the toppling of Marcos in 1986 — not much mention has been made about the contributions of Filipino exiles and immigrants abroad. People in the Philippines don’t realize that the protest movements among Filipinos abroad contributed to persuading foreign governments, especially the United States, that Marcos was oppressing his own people and that he had to go. It took several years to convince the foreign governments that the fight against Marcos wasn’t waged on Philippine soil only but also on foreign shores. The contributions of many of us during those times should be recognized.
Marcos’s martial-law victims weren’t only the ones that were murdered, incarcerated, harrassed or otherwise intimidated. Marcos’s victims were all of the Filipino people of that generation.
While the recipients of the judgment money fully deserve their compensation, albeit insultingly small, all of the Filipinos who lived under martial law deserve sympathy and even commendation for surviving that era of terror and oppression. While those who were hurt directly by martial law deserve judicial redress, it should be made clear that we were all that reign’s victims.