• Reading time:11 mins read

It is Ramos who should apologize over Martial Law ‘abuses’

IT is hypocritical, and plainly wrong, for former President Fidel Ramos to ask the Marcos family to apologize over martial law and its abuses—on three dimensions.

First, Ramos was one of the main pillars, even the strongest pillar, of the Marcos dictatorship, since he headed the national police, called the Philippine Constabulary from 1972 to 1981, that enforced martial law. Shouldn’t he apologize for that, instead of asking Marcos’ widow (what wife would testify against her husband?) or his children who were in their teens at that time to do so?

Second, if he wasn’t really in control of the PC, and wasn’t responsible for its alleged human rights abuses, then why didn’t he resign early during the dictatorship, which would have sent the message to the world that Marcos was bad? That could have hastened Marcos’ fall and spared the country the political-economic crisis of 1983 to 1985 which is the real cause of our underdevelopment for a decade. Shouldn’t he apologize for that?

Thirdly, if the extent of alleged human rights abuses were actually exaggerated, the product of communist propaganda that demonized Marcos as a fascist in order to ally the people behind their hidden goal to establish a one-party dictatorship, then why hasn’t Ramos—the best living witness of the martial law years—told us what really happened? He has published perhaps two dozen books containing his speeches, and yet has not written a single article on alleged human rights abuses during martial law, what he witnessed in that era.

Shouldn’t he apologize for our difficulty in having an accurate, balanced picture of that crucial period of our history, and even worse, for supporting the communist narrative versus Marcos? If Ramos just revealed what he knows, we would be able to decide conclusively whether or not the alleged human rights victims were, in reality, casualties of a war that the communist party chief Jose Ma. Sison himself declared as the “people’s war” to topple what he called then the US-Marcos regime.

Guess who? In these rare photo are the two living people who should apologize, if really needed, for Marcos’ strongman rule and its alleged human rights abuses.
Guess who? In these rare photo are the two living people who should apologize, if really needed, for Marcos’ strongman rule and its alleged human rights abuses.

Of course, Ramos had kept silent on this as it would have made him appear sympathetic to the strongman, so that Corazon Aquino wouldn’t have anointed him as her successor to the presidency in 1992. If he had talked about martial law, the anti-Marcos activist candidate Ramon Mitra or the fiery Miriam Defensor-Santiago would have roundly defeated him by labelling him with the Marcos camp, along with Eduardo Cojuangco and Imelda Marcos. Shouldn’t Ramos apologize for his political opportunism?

It was the PC, and not the other four services of the armed forces, that was Marcos’ network for enforcing martial law. Not only was the armed forces legally banned from dealing with civilians, but it was tied down during martial law fighting the Malaysian- and Libyan-supported Moro National Liberation Front in Mindanao.

Nearly all of the human rights abuses Marcos has been accused of were undertaken by PC units, especially through its national network of “Constabulary Security Units,” whose heads reported directly to Ramos. The most dreaded (or successful) of these was the Manila-based 5th CSU, credited with capturing most of the Communist Party leaders, including Jose Ma. Sison and the Manila-Rizal Regional Committee which I headed.

Cruelest case

The cruelest case of human rights abuses during martial law that the Left always presents to media as its Exhibit A against Marcos was student activist Liliosa Hilao’s torture, rape and murder, with her sister Marie also sexually abused while in detention. But the unit Hilao’s sister Marie herself said was responsible for this was the PC’s dreaded Constabulary Anti-Narcotics Unit, the CANU, which was even worse than the death squads killing drug pushers all over the metropolis now.

Were the CANU officers, and Ramos who had command responsibility over the crime, charged? No, the American lawyers cleverly indicted Marcos, as hundreds of millions of pesos compensation could be extracted from him because a Swiss bank account he allegedly owned had been confiscated, and was in government hands already. I doubt if they could have extracted a centavo from Ramos or the CANU offices.

I find it astonishing that two top communist cadres almost every year on the anniversary of martial law’s declaration seem to relish giving media details of their torture (one that his penis was electrocuted, the other that a tingting was inserted), and then condemning Marcos for their fate. Yet they seem to be afraid to mention that it was PC units, over which Ramos had command responsibility, that were responsible for their torture.

Take my case. I was arrested together with my wife Raquel and most of the party’s Manila-Rizal Regional Committee, and we spent two years in Marcos’ prisons. Who arrested us, and beat up many of my comrades? The PC’s 5th CSU. I was sent to the 5th Military Intelligence Group only for a few days, for interrogation aided by an injection of sodium pentothal.

That was it though from the military intelligence guys—no beatings at all, no psychological torture. I was also sent to the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, headed by Gen. Fabian Ver, where I was interviewed by bored-looking civilian bureaucrats, who looked more frightened of me than I was of them.

I don’t think Marcos ever heard of me. After Sison, Kumander Dante, and renegade Army lieutenant Victor Corpus,   I don’t think he even knew of the names of other communist leaders. But I’m sure Ramos knew me by name. My father, a lawyer, after he was told I was arrested by the PC, wrote probably a dozen letters to the PC chief Ramos asking for my release, pointing out that I had not been charged in court. Ramos didn’t bother to reply.

All in the family: How Marcos and Ramos are cousins.
All in the family: How Marcos and Ramos are cousins.

Only when my exasperated father decided to write Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile did he get a reply from Enrile himself (or maybe he just signed a pro-forma letter) explaining that Proclamation 1081 had given the state the authority to arrest anybody without charges.

It was only when we were released two years later that I learned that it was Ramos who issued the so-called ASSOs (Arrest, Search, and Seizure Order) against me and for all political detainees.

Shouldn’t Ramos apologize for that?

Those who didn’t participate in the anti-dictatorship movement, or didn’t care what was happening at the time, are unaware of Ramos’ crucial role for Marcos to rule as a strongman for 13 years.

His hold on the PC was as strong and indisputable as his loyalty to Marcos for one major reason: He was Marcos’ cousin. His grandmother,Crispina Marcos, was the sister of Fabian Marcos, the strongman’s grandfather. While that may seem a distant link, it is nearly being brothers among the clannish Ilokanos. Did that embolden the PC to commit human rights abuses?

Ramos’ father was also one of Marcos’ most trusted diplomats, whom the strongman appointed as his foreign secretary when he won the presidency in 1965.

Marcos trusted Narciso Ramos so much that he was his representative in negotiating with the Americans the reduction in the tenure of military bases from 99 years to 25. Nationalists should applaud that Marcos-Ramos feat, as the new treaty, called the Ramos-Rusk Agreement, shortened the lease that originally was to expire in 2046, so it would end in 1991 —when the Senate voted to junk it. Narciso was also Marcos’ representative in the founding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Bangkok in 1967. Ramos’ sister, Leticia Ramos-Shahani, followed in their father’s footsteps, and was appointed ambassador to Australia in 1981.

Because of his blood relationship to Marcos and his never-contested hold on the PC, Ramos was perceived during martial law as the regime’s most powerful man, next only to Marcos.  Defense Secretary Enrile was Marcos’ official Martial Law Administrator only since the strongman wanted his dictatorship  to be portrayed as built on solid legal grounds.  But Enrile was just the legal justifier; it was Ramos who was the muscle, his PC the organization that made the country follow the dictatorship.

The myth Ramos probably deliberately disseminated was that it was Gen. Fabian Ver, the commander of the Marcos Presidential Guards and head of the National Intelligence Security Authority, who was the storngman’s cousin, who ran his security apparatus.  

But Ver wasn’t related at all to Marcos but was just a Sarrat townmate, and from an unimportant clan. Ver was just Marcos’ chief bodyguard who had no business outside of securing Marcos.  Even Ver’s sons, PMA graduates Irwin and Rexor were limited in their roles as commanders in the PSG, assigned nowhere else. The NICA was, as it has been through the years until today, a weak agency run by  civilians with hardly any muscle nor brains. Ver or his NISA hasn’t been accused of any human rights abuses by even the most vitriolic critic of martial law.

Other than his being Marcos’ cousin, Ramos had another strength. He was perceived to be the closest to the US military establishment, having studied at West Point, with many of his classmates becoming the top brass of the American armed forces.

Was it coincidental that he abandoned Marcos when the US military establishment and President  Ronald Reagan  as well—who had been firm supporters of the strongman — bowed to the  State Department’s lobbying to jettison the dictator in February 1986?  Was it coincidental that Cory Aquino, who was backed by the US and even saved by US Phantom jets in the 1989 coup, unexpectedly picked Ramos as her successor, instead of Ramon Mitra who was her party’s choice?  Was it coincidental that Ramos became so critical of President Duterte after he announced a policy of separating from the US?

All this tells us of our sad penchant for condemning somebody out of power— preferably dead— and praising those who are in power one way or another,  no matter how they got there, and alive to fight back.

E-mail: tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

Facebook: Rigoberto D. Tiglao and Bobi Tiglao