WITH the anniversary of martial law declaration tomorrow, its critics have revved up the propaganda line they have been exploiting for half a century. Even an otherwise intelligent journalist, Sheila Coronel, the head of a unit at Columbia University, in speech in an obscure college in Ohio had to shame the country and mouth the line, “Thousands of dissenters were tortured, killed and jailed during Marcos’ reign.”
What Coronel nor other Marcos haters never mention is the fact that the bulk of these “dissenters” were cadres of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its New People’s Army (NPA) as well as Muslim separatist organizations that launched a full-blown war to establish their own Maoist dictatorship of the proletariat or dictatorship of the imams, respectively. Indeed, the CPP founder Jose Ma. Sison and his wife Juliet were dubbed by the Human Rights Victims Claims Board as mere “dissenters” and awarded P2 million for having been jailed and allegedly tortured.
It was a bloody war in terms of the government casualties. According to Defense department records, the CPP-NPA killed 6,176 Armed Forces soldiers from 1972 to 1985, the Moro insurgents, 12,223. Should the government not have fought these insurgents so their casualties would have risen to a hundred thousand, as happened in Colombia, where the government’s response to the insurgency was weaker?
And how many “dissenters” were killed? If we use the data of the Human Rights Victims Claims Board, 2,793. This is just a third of the 6,176 AFP soldiers killed by the NPA. Of course there were atrocities, torture and rape, but all evidence show these were not widespread at all, occurring mainly a from1972 to 1974, before the Marcos government instituted controls on military operations and fired thousands of uniformed men. How many did the CPP torture in its paranoiac drive to clean its ranks of alleged military agents? Some 4,000, of which 98 percent were proven to be innocent of the charges.
It was only mostly the armed “dissenters” who were killed in firefights with the military. There were those who vehemently criticized martial law (at least in their classrooms) — such as Francisco Nemenzo (who was a top cadre of the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas that gave up armed struggle before becoming UP chancellor and then president), UP sociologist Randolph David and economist Solita Monsod. I would even include former senators Jose Diokno, Jovito Salonga and Aquilino Pimentel. But they joined the armed struggle and were not harmed at all. Even those who organized peasants and workers but did not violently fight the government, such as the Federation of Free Farmers and the big labor federations were unharmed.
This is an incontrovertible fact: most of those “dissenters” killed during martial law were not just dissenters but waged war against government, whether as combatants or support staff as well as “commissars” of the NPA, i.e., members of party units that directed them.
Yet even an academic institution such as my alma mater the Ateneo de Manila, refuses to accept this incontrovertible fact, because it is their ideological conviction that Marcos was the Devil incarnate.
The Ateneo even launched a media campaign recently to “remember eleven Atenean martyrs who fought martial law.”
About eight of them actually joined the Communist Party and even its armed wing, the New People’s Army. Yet the eulogies to them, even one written by an academic, Ateneo School of Government dean Antonio Laviña, does not mention this important fact, only that they “joined the underground.”
I recruited two of these into the party, Ferdinand Arceo and Edgar Jopson. “Ferdie” would join the armed propaganda units of a fledgling NPA unit in Iloilo to be killed and ambushed by the police thinking they were bandits. Edjop of course would rise through the party ranks and become a central committee member and a member of the Mindanao Commission that directed the bloody insurgency in Mindanao, which had become the NPA’s center of revolutionary war. He was killed in a military raid on his unit’s safehouse as he tried to escape, after having been captured and escaping twice.
These Ateneans were true believers of Marxism-Leninism, and were men of such integrity they wouldn’t have wanted to be labeled as “martyrs” or victims of martial law. They were Red revolutionaries.
If there is anybody to be condemned for the deaths of these young Ateneans and other youths who decided to join the armed struggle, it is the CPP chairman in the 1970s, Jose Ma. Sison.
He didn’t believe that Marcos would impose martial law saying it would be “political suicide” for him. When martial law was indeed imposed, he thought Filipinos, used to democracy, would immediately rise up and topple the dictator. Sison then wrote in the party newspaper that there was national outrage against martial law, and that the countryside had become fertile ground for NPA recruitment.
“All over the country, the people are brimming with revolutionary hatred for the US-Marcos dictatorship, the violent opposite of national freedom and democracy which they cherish,” Sison wrote in the Oct. 1, 1972 “special issue” of Ang Bayan.
Thinking that what his Party needed was simply enough arms, Sison even ordered another attempt in 1974 to smuggle arms into the country from China — an operation that miserably failed as the vessel MV Andrea ran aground in a reef after a storm. Still though, Sison urged party organizations in Metro Manila and other cities to deploy their new recruits to the countryside to join the NPA, or organize the first NPA units, although he mostly lived until his capture in 1976 in the comfort of a middle-class bungalow in Parañaque.
Worse, Sison made it appear that the NPA had grown so much since its founding in 1969 that it had developed impregnable guerrilla bases in Isabela and other rural hinterlands. That was a lie: in 50 years the NPA has not been able to establish a real base that could resist a military onslaught.
Still though, Ferdie, other Ateneans and many from UP as well as other universities believed Sison’s lie and volunteered to join the NPA — to be practically helplessly killed by Army commandos in some jungle. Instead of Chinese-manufactured M-14s, they were given vintage World War 2 rifles and pistols as well as home-made shotguns, and told to be “self-reliant” — i.e., kill soldiers and police and confiscate their arms. They were easy pickings for the military, who were themselves brainwashed that the NPA were heavily armed, that it was foolhardy for them to first ask and shoot later. Many were killed by the local militia, who thought they were cattle-rustlers.
Those who joined the insurgent NPA and its boss, the CPP, chose violence in order to topple the government. Whether they saw martial law as unjust, deserving to be overthrown, is irrelevant: in very plain terms, they chose to kill the military and the police to further their belief in the communist revolution.
Should the martial law government’s armed forces have just thrown down their arms, abandoned areas where the NPA roamed and terrorized the population, and desisted from defending themselves and the Republic, instead of killing the armed communists in firefights?
Those who condemn the martial law era, deliberately or not, ignore this fundamental reality during martial law: there were full-blown armed insurgencies that attempted to overthrow our democratic system by force. These were the thousands of dissenters — 2,793 to be exact — who were killed during Marcos’ reign, to use Coronel’s words.
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