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Human rights abuses under Cory as bad as dictator’s record – Marcos critics’ own data

That conclusion is based on statistics on human rights abuses during the Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino regimes, presented in Richard Kessler’s book Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines (1989: Yale University).

Ironically, Kessler’s statistics have been the basis of historian Alfred McCoy’s repeated claims that the human rights abuses during the Marcos regime were worse than those in the infamous Latin American dictatorships, since, as he wrote, “Marcos’ tally of 3,257 killed exceeds those under the Brazilian and Chilean dictatorships.” That 3,257 number has become the most-used figure to allege the ruthlessness of the Marcos rule.

Even that attention-hungry blogger recently turned cut-and-paste writer was also referring to McCoy’s figures when she arrogantly asked Bongbong Marcos to apologize for “the 3,257 murders during his father’s regime.”

What these Marcos critics didn’t bother to examine was Kessler’s data, on which McCoy almost completely relied for his report.

Quite ironically, Kessler presented such statistics in his book published in 1989, in order to point out that human rights abuses had not at all subsided even when Cory Aquino assumed power until 1988, the last year for which data was available.

“International groups, such as Amnesty International and the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights, issued reports in 1988 that suggested that the human rights situation (under the Aquino regime) was at least as bad as it had been under Marcos” (emphasis mine). As table 5.1 indicates, human rights violations – always a problem in the Philippines – did not cease with democracy’s return.” (p. 136).

Mendiola massacre of January 1987: Shouldn’t Aquino apologize for this?
Mendiola massacre of January 1987: Shouldn’t Aquino apologize for this?

Demonstrating either their bias or an utter lack of real academic rigor, McCoy and his most avid fan in this newspaper, someone with a PhD to boot, did not even mention that Kessler presented his data mainly to show that human rights violations continued under Cory. The table (5.1) in this column, scanned directly from the book, shows the following, unedited except for the arrows to emphasize that the data involves the Marcos and Aquino regimes:
hr20160418The figures, indeed, show that human rights abuses continued under Cory Aquino. The 7,444 arrests in 1987 were even the highest in the 14-year period. Extrajudicial killings continued.

These academics’ partisanship and betrayal of their discipline is demonstrated, though, by the fact that they merely added all the cases during Martial Law. The number of disappearances and extrajudicial killings, therefore, from 1975 to 1985 totaled 3,164.

Again showing his anti-Marcos’ bias, McCoy obviously thought this figure was low, so he looked for another source claiming a bigger number. This was provided in another book by known leftists Rev. Verne Mercado and Mariani Dimaranan – showing 93 more. Not explaining why he chose this higher figure, McCoy came up with that now infamous figure of 3,257 people killed under the Marcos regime.

But this figure means nothing if not compared with anything else. Kessler, in fact, presented his data for comparison with the first three years under Aquino, which I summarize in the following table:

We would just be making an inane apples-and-oranges comparison if we just looked at the totals, since these do not take into account the fact that the Marcos cases span 11 years against Cory’s three.

To evaluate how bad the human rights situation really was during the comparative regimes, the average per year should be taken for the years under Marcos and those under Aquino.

The figures are shocking.

There were three times more arrests per year under Cory than under Marcos: 3,627 against 1,960. The average of those killed and disappeared during Cory’s watch was 244 annually, which isn’t too far from Marcos’ 296.

Now, as they want Marcos Jr. to apologize for the human rights abuses under his father’s government, shouldn’t they ask President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his sisters to apologize for those during their mother’s time?

This is, in fact, the reason why Kessler presented his statistics, to show that human rights violations continued under Cory, and may have even worsened. In fact, before he presented his “dry” statistics, Kessler gave vivid examples of human rights abuses under Cory:

“In April 1987 a member of the United Farmers’ Organization was kidnapped by a local vigilante in Cebu City, her body, with her head and leg hacked off, was recovered over a week later. In May, a thirty-year-old woman, eight months pregnant, and another young woman, disappeared. Their bodies were later discovered, headless and stabbed multiple times. That pregnant woman’s abdomen had been slashed open and the fetus ripped out. One day in June, a farmer hoeing his field in Negros was attacked by several vigilantes, who accused him of being a Communist rebel. He was decapitated and disemboweled. They took the head of the local military commander who told them that the man was innocent. The head was abandoned in a ditch, to be recovered later by the man’s wife.” (Kessler, page 136)

As that blogger melodramatically claimed she cried as she cut and pasted reports of human rights abuses under Marcos, I hope she also shed a tear or two for such horrible killings under Aquino.

Vigilantism, which Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is espousing, is really a main cause of human rights abuses under any government. As Kessler explained in 1989, observing the first three years after Marcos fell:

“Vigilante groups had sprung up all over the country with the tact or direct support of the military and the government during 1987 after a year of relative calm in the insurgency. In Mindanao were the Alsa Masa in Davao City, the Eagle’s Squad, the United People for Peace; in Negros, the Philippine Constabulary Forward Command; and in Cebu, the Tadtad and the Citizens’ Army against Communism; even in Manila, the police began giving weapons’ training to civilians forming neighborhood patrols.”

Kessler concluded of the Cory Aquino regime: “The government appeared powerless to restore the rule of law.” And yet Duterte, 30 years later, espouses the opposite, to discard the rule of law?

It is sad that a Filipino academic gets to be so gullible over McCoy’s allegation that she would even go as far as accuse those who question such figures (like me) that they “insult the memory of those thousands who were savagely killed.” Such attribution of motives to seekers of truth is so blatantly unacademic, that somebody should find out if she really has a PhD.


Kessler is also a bit intellectually dishonest in that he claimed that the source of his table was the “Task Force Detainees-Philippines, Philippine Human Rights Update (Manila, monthly issues for the periods covered.)” This isn’t accurate, as exactly the same table had come out in TFD’s publications. This means that it wasn’t Kessler who compiled the data for that table by poring over the TFD’s monthly “Human Rights Updates.” He simply copied the summaries provided by the TFD, and assumed the group was objective in its reports.

This is the bigger problem in estimating the real extent of human rights abuses during the Marcos era. There is no way now really to determine if the TFD’s data, its sums for each year, are accurate and objective. This is because TFD wasn’t an objective observer. During Martial Law it was totally controlled by underground cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Communist activists released from prison routinely manned its offices before they went underground again in the 1980s. Trust me, I was a cadre at that time. Because Filipinos are rabidly anti-communist (thanks to the US), a major way — the only way in the case of the middle classes — for the Communist Party to get them as allies was to portray Marcos’ regime as so ruthless and evil, which everyone should fight against.

That purported academic should have at least browed TFD publications that echo faithfully Communist Party statements. These almost always refers to government as the “US-Aquino regime,” which is the formulaic term the communists and only the communists use to refer to an administration. (Then “Aquino” is substituted for “Estrada,” and then “Arroyo”).

For that purported academic to claim that the TFD is a “highly regarded Catholic body” espousing good governance, again shows how bad her critical and research skills are.

“3,257 is a number that chills the blood,” that purported academic wrote. I think it also froze her brain cells dead.


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Cris Eugene T. Gianan

    Interesting. I was searching for some things related to Brocka’s Orapronobis, and finding this article made me intrigued. I would like to ask however: are you in essence, criticizing the Aquino admin, or the Marcos admin? Or both? Do you mean that the data on the HR abuses are wrong? Just to clarify. (This article may be a month old but it is still relevant)

  2. flippinflips

    Thanks for the information. Most, if not all, anti-Marcos literature cannot stand up to academic scrutiny and historiography. Even McCoy’s data is doubtful. The 1975 and 1980 Amnesty International Reports on human rights abuses cannot be valid until most of the accounts have a corresponding oral histories or memoirs. With 21st century forensic science or criminal justice systems, no Martial Law abuse victim has ever stepped forward to compile the stories of the 10,000 human rights abuses claimants. And to think that some of these alleged victims were supposedly educated in UP or colleges and universities.

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