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Unfair, and stupid to ask Bongbong to apologize for Martial Law

I argued in my column Monday that Ferdinand (“Bongbong”) Marcos, Jr. was indisputably the most qualified among the vice presidential candidates, because, really, his rivals were political and moral midgets that I wondered what in the world convinced them to think they could occupy the second-highest post in the land.

I gave three reasons for my claim. Only Bongbong proved to be intelligent, moral, and courageous as to fight President Aquino’s two major plots: to convert the Supreme Court into his stamp-pad by removing Chief Justice Renato Corona from his post and to lay the groundwork for an independent “Bangsamoro” state in the heart of Mindanao. The third reason was that only Marcos, Jr. could boast of a lengthy experience in both the executive department, with 12 years as governor, and Congress, where he has served nine years.

However, those condemning Marcos don’t really care about such rational arguments but simply intone, as if this would make them virtuous: “Never again.” They are referring to the 13 years of Marcos rule that they claim have become known as the country’s darkest period. In their medieval mindset, they believe that Bongbong has the “spirit,” the “essence” of Marcos, the evil dictator. The liberal ones among those from this anti-Marcos crowd demand that at least, Bongbong apologize for the sins of his father.

That’s unfair, stupid and ignorant. Why should a son apologize for the alleged evil deeds of his father, which have yet to be proven beyond all doubt?

The real, objective history of the Marcos strongman rule still has to be written, with the prevailing narrative written mainly by the victors of EDSA I: The Yellow Oligarchs, mainly the Aquino-Cojuangco, Roxas-Araneta and Osmena clans who were crushed by Marcos; the Communist Party, which could attract allies in a country so anti-Communist, only by portraying the Marcos state as a cruel, ruthless dictatorship; and the US State Department in that era, which was experimenting on creating a template that was very effectively used in defeating the USSR, by fomenting “People Power Revolts” against cruel dictators in its satellite nations.

The Marcos-was-pure-evil narrative, though, couldn’t explain very real political and social anomalies.

First, a significant part of the nation obviously does not that believe Marcos was so evil, or these people wouldn’t have given his wife Imelda and his top crony Eduardo Cojuangco huge numbers of votes, which together made up 28 percent of the votes cast in 1992, more than the winner Fidel Ramos’ 24 percent. After 30 years of anti-Marcos brainwashing, the Ilocos provinces – and those predominantly speaking Ilocano – are reportedly still “Marcos loyalists,” although this would be finally tested in Bongbong’s vice presidential candidacy this May.

Martial Law images? Only the one in black-and-white, the rest are from the Mendiola and Hacienda Luisita massacres
Martial Law images? Only the one in black-and-white, the rest are from the Mendiola and Hacienda Luisita massacres

General Order No. 16

Second, if human rights abuses were so bad during the dictatorship, why did Filipinos vote Marcos’ police chief Fidel Ramos President in 1992 and his Defense Secretary/Martial Law Administrator Juan Ponce Enrile as senator three times?

To clearly delineate responsibility, Marcos even issued General Order No. 16 just a few weeks after Martial Law was imposed in 1972. It ordered his then Defense Secretary Enrile to set up and chair a “Command for the Administration of Detainees,” the sole authority tasked to deal with those detained under the powers of Martial Law. Enrile appointed Ramos as its commander. Yet, they want to blame the happy-go-lucky Bongbong who was 15 to 28 years old during that regime.

Yes, Enrile and Ramos defected from the Marcos side in 1986, but if blood were really on their hands, which would have been the case in the prevailing narrative of “thousands killed and detained” during Martial Law, there would have been so much anger against them, that they would have been asked to simply retire and fade away, certainly not to be President and senator.

There is one glaring example of what is probably a hoax over Martial Law. We have all been reading and hearing for years, reported in sickening ABS-CBN documentaries every February, and quoted by various people – from the most gullible yet megalomaniac blogger in our country to a 2011 article by an esteemed professor, Paul Hutchcroft – that, to quote the latter: “Under his dictatorship, 3,257 were killed, 35,000 tortured and 70,000 imprisoned.”

While more often declared as if it were an official census number needing no source, a few have actually cited the source of these figures: University of Wisconsin professor Alfred McCoy, a respected academic who seems to give the figures a lot of credibility.

After much effort, I found the McCoy publication that reported those figures: a 2006 book –A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from the Cold War. McCoy even claimed the figures exceeded those in dictatorships known to have been really brutal, as in Chile and Brazil.

What surprised me, though, is that he pointed to two other books as his sources of basic data: Richard Kessler’s 1989 Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines and Rev. La Verne D. Mercado and Sister Mariani Dimaranan’s Philippines: Testimonies on Human Rights Violations.

These are hardly objective, neutral reports.

That book was the only one written by Kessler, whose CV says he has “40 years experience working on foreign policy and national security issues” – a description that would fit a CIA operative or asset.

Anyone who was with the anti-Marcos movement would know Rev. Mercado and Sr. Dimaranan, who had both passed away. They were at the vanguard of the movement within the Protestant and the Catholic Churches, and among the first to have been imprisoned when Martial Law was declared.

It is astonishing how an academic, a tenured professor, could cite as indisputable data those provided by obviously partisan non-academics and known very militant anti-Marcos activists. McCoy’s “information” is then taken as academically rigorous information, since the figures are claimed to have come from him, a known academic, and not from Kessler and Mercado-Dimaranan.

Kessler’s book was primarily on the communist and Muslim rebellions, which makes me suspect that he was referring not to extra-judicial executions by the military but to the casualties during these two bloody insurgencies, which, after all, the State had the duty to crush.

Extrapolated killings

But what floored me was how McCoy got his “3,257 etc.” figures. He extrapolated them, adding the figures of Kessler and Mercado-Dimaranan, both of which, in the first place, are very partisan, inaccurate reports.

Didn’t it enter his mind that if there were killings, detention and torture, they could have occurred only during the first years of Martial Law, and then decreased in the latter years of the strongman’s rule, after sadistic  rogue officers and soldiers had been weeded out, the two insurgencies contained and the young fire-brand militants (like me) had chosen to live quieter lives?

This, in fact, is what could have really happened, based on Amnesty International (AI) reports. Surprisingly, the AI 1975 report says it was Marcos himself who told its staff that “altogether, some 50,000 people had been arrested and detained since Martial Law.”

The government, however, claimed “substantial numbers of detainees had been released that by May 1975, only 6,000 remained in detention, the AI said. AI in its 1981 report then quoted the Command for the Administration of Detainees as saying that the number of political prisoners fell to 1,931 in 1980, and dropped further to 344 in 1981.

What has almost totally been omitted from the anti-Marcos diatribes is what AI delineated in its 1981 report:

“In a speech marking the lifting of Martial Law in January 1981, President Marcos said that more than 8,800 officers and men had been dismissed from the AFP during the period of Martial Law (for various offenses including torture and ill-treatment of detainees.)” AI quoted similar reports, with numbers provided, made by Gen. Romeo Espino, whose record to this day remains unblemished by any accusation of human rights violations as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines from 1972 to 1981 and the two defense undersecretaries during the Martial Law period in charge of the AFP’s relations with civilians, Carmelo Barbero and Jose Crisol.

I can’t cite more realistic data, though, on human rights abuses during that period, as no academic has bothered to check McCoy’s figures. You may, however, count all of the claimed “salvagings” and torture in AI reports from 1973 to 1981, which even report the names of the victims, and you would not reach 300.

While we should mourn the extra-judicial execution and torture of even one Filipino, the numbers are important. It would determine if killings and torture were a deliberate policy of the Marcos regime, or whether these were anomalies committed by the same kind of sadists in uniform that obviously, based on AI reports after 1986, have continued to hound the Philippine military and police.

After all, even without Martial Law, horrific massacres such as the Mendiola and Hacienda massacres under two Aquinos, have been undertaken by the military and the police without anyone having been brought to justice.