Second of 4 parts
LAST Monday I debunked as totally false the following statement that has been repeated scores of times not just by anti-Marcos propagandists but even by academics who obviously threw their academic training to the dustbin because of their political biases. An obscure senatorial candidate in a recent televised debate also cited it, claiming the figures were “in the record.”
“Amnesty International has estimated that about 70,000 people were imprisoned, 34,000 were tortured and 3,257 were killed during the Marcos dictatorship.”
Amnesty International never made that “estimate.” I presented data and their sources last Monday, that while 70,000 were indeed incarcerated, this was only in the first two weeks of martial law, with the number of political prisoners — mostly Communist Party and New People’s Army as well as separatist insurgents — at any one time numbering around 1,000, and that by 1986 President Corazon Aquino could order the release of only the 400 remaining.
The 34,000 tortured was a figment of a US academic’s imagination with totally no basis at all, way above the 2,104 even a communist-controlled conspiracy got government to officially recognize as victims of torture and given compensation. The 3,257 figure of those killed was from the communist-controlled Task Force Detainees, which reported to the world as “extrajudicial killings” and “disappearances” what were really CPP, NPA and Muslim insurgents killed in battles with the police.
But how did that false estimate supposedly made by Amnesty International emerge that became the most popular statement that Marcos was a bloody dictator?
It was first concocted by a rabid anti-Marcos US academic named Alfred McCoy, which he wrote in 1999, 13 years after Marcos’ fall in 1986, in a paper titled “Dark Legacy: Human Rights Under the Marcos Regime.” It was written for a conference organized by the Ateneo de Manila University “On the Legacies of the Marcos Dictatorship,” the proceedings of which had its foreword by President Cory. McCoy wrote: “Under Marcos, military murder was the apex of a pyramid — 3,257 killed, 34,000 tortured and 70,000 incarcerated.” That sentence would be repeated verbatim so many times in the technique of Nazi propaganda genius Goebbels’ to be believed as true.
McCoy’s paper doesn’t say where those “data” came from. He reveals this only in his 2009 book, Policing America’s Empire: The US, the Philippines and the Rise of the Surveillance State. It turns out the data wasn’t even from his own research.
It came from another American writer, the anti-establishment academic Richard Kessler, in his 1989 book Rebellion and Repression in the Philippines. Kessler presented his purported data on the number of killings to bolster his point that such killings continued even in the three years after Marcos fell. That is, under Marcos from 1975 to 1985, there was an annual average of 296 killings, almost unchanged from the 244 annual average under Cory Aquino from 1986 to 1988. The reason for this obviously is that the NPA insurgency — and its casualties — continued even after Marcos’ fall.
Without any “fact-checking” as it were, McCoy believed as factual — a no-no for academics — Kessler’s wrong information. This came from a very biased source, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines. TFD has been incontrovertibly controlled by the Communist Party of the Philippines, whose main propaganda tack has been that the Marcos, as well all succeeding Philippine administrations have been brutal fascist states killing and torturing their own people.
McCoy wasn’t an objective academic. He was merely looking for information that could support his thesis that the Marcos era was worse than dictatorships under military juntas in Brazil, Chile and Argentina in the 1970s. Using Kessler’s 3,257 figure, and concocting the 34,000 figure of those tortured, he concluded: “Marcos’ tally of 3,257 killed exceeds, for example, the 266 dead and missing during the Brazilian junta’s most brutal period (1964–1979) and even the 2,115 extrajudicial deaths under Gen. Augusto Pinochet in Chile (1973–1990).”
What McCoy deliberate didn’t mention are the facts that there were no fierce communist and Muslim insurgencies raging in Brazil and Chile at those times. There were in our case, resulting in casualties falsely reported as “extra-judicial killings.”
McCoy’s aim was to claim — proven so false by nearly all scholars — that “among the authoritarian regimes of the 1970s, the Marcos government was exceptionally lethal.” That is so totally not the case, as most people who lived in the country during those years would attest. In fact, by 1981, Marcos was so confident of a stable political situation that he lifted martial law and established through elections a parliament — although he still exercised one-man rule. By comparison, the genocide of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia under Suharto and the brutal military dictatorships in Korea, among others, Marcos was inarguably the most benign that he could even refer to it as the “smiling martial law.”
The Yellows, however, correctly calculated that quoting a “McCoy” in claiming widespread human rights abuses during the Marcos regime wouldn’t really have much traction. So, they got Butch Olano, the head of the Amnesty International’s Manila office and a longtime NGO activist, to smuggle it into a statement not of Amnesty International itself, but of its Philippine office which has become an anti-Duterte, anti-Marcos, pro-opposition propaganda platform.
This falsehood was in a 900-word “public statement” of its Philippine office issued on Sept. 21, 2018 entitled “Philippines: Restore Respect for Human Rights on 46th Anniversary of Martial Law.” The statement was mainly a harangue against President Duterte’s administration’s alleged “extrajudicial executions” in its war against illegal drugs.
It was only in the closing “background” paragraphs of the statement: ” From 1972 to 1981, some 70,000 people were imprisoned and 34,000 were tortured; over 3,200 people were killed.
The statement did not say nor could it claim that it was an estimate of Amnesty International, and it couldn’t attribute the source as McCoy’s paper written 19 years earlier. But that was enough. The Yellow forces made it seem to be the conclusion of Amnesty International based on its investigation, in order to take advantage of the institution’s credibility and most people’s familiarity with it.
What the Yellows did to exaggerate wildly figures on alleged human rights violations during Marcos’ time, they have also done in the case of casualties in President Duterte’s anti-drug war. Deliberately distorting Philippine National Police reports since 2017, Rappler, its CEO Maria Ressa, Columbia University’s Sheila Coronel, Vice President Leni Robredo and many Yellow commentators have claimed to the world that those killed in Duterte’s drug war totaled 30,000 from its start in 2016 to 2020.
That’s five times bigger than the 6,201 as of September 2021 reported by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, or the 6,840 as of June 21 reported by the Investigative and Research Group of ABS-CBN, an opposition media venue.
Correction: In my Monday column I wrote: “My count of those tortured — as reported by NGOs and by the victims themselves in the books they wrote — total only about 800, all occurring in the 1972 to 1974 period.” It’s not 800 but only 80.
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